Friday, December 15, 2017

Women and Men

I was reading Peter Beinart's The Growing Partisan Divide Over Feminism at The Atlantic, and something stood out for me. A quarter, or maybe a third, of the way into the column, Mr. Beinart makes the following observation: "But what’s driving the polarization is less gender identity—do you identify as a man or a woman—than gender attitudes: Do you believe that women and men should be more equal. Democrats aren’t becoming the party of women. They’re becoming the party of feminists."

While this is a common formulation, it misses something important - a definition of "equal." And that omission is important, because equal doesn't mean the same thing to all people, as I often find when I discuss Steven Pinker's social trilemma; that a society cannot be simultaneously "fair," "free" and "equal." Oftentimes, people are adamant that a society can be simultaneously "fair," "free" and "equal." And they can demonstrate that this is true - they just have to use different definitions of "fair," "free" and/or "equal" than Mr. Pinker himself does.

One of the things that I find separates the stereotypical Liberal from the stereotypical Conservative understanding of equality is the degree to which it is correlated with identicalness. The stereotypical Liberal position tends to posit a very high degree of correlation between the two. For instance, despite the common wisdom on the gender wage gap, many detailed analyses tend to place the overall difference at a few pennies, once you start controlling for certain factors. And in many cases, even that remaining difference comes down to flexibility in work - that is that people who require flexibility in their working hours tend to earn slightly less than people who have their schedules dictated to them, even when doing the same work. While it's relatively easy to see how this might be a workable trade-off, for some people, pay is equal only when paychecks are identical. If that means robbing people of some flexibility or making others effectively pay for flexibility they don't need, then so be it.

While the stereotypical Conservative idea that men and women are different, yet complementary and equally important parts of a greater whole is seen in some sectors as simply a cover for entrenched sexism, it makes perfect sense to them, likely because many things in the world work this way. Generally speaking, we understand that two things can be equal, without always being identical. A simple example would be two cars. We can understand that two cars can have the same feature sets, gas mileage and price, yet be easily distinguishable from one another.

To be sure, an article on whether partisanship has an impact on views of gender equality may not be the best place to hash out what has been a contentious argument on exactly what makes two people "equal." But it's still worthwhile to recognize the idea that not everyone defines equality identically. Simply writing off the Republican understanding of what it means to be "equal," in favor of the Democratic one doesn't make the argument any stronger. It simply shows a substantial portion of the population that they aren't being listened to.

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