Pay attention, folks, because this lesson is important. It's important for feminism, for humanity, for respect and tolerance. So read closely, because I don't get this fired up over nothing.
There's this activity I do in my class. All the students sit in a circle, and I ask everyone to take off his or her left shoe and throw it into a pile in the center. Once the shoes are all piled up, I begin re-distributing them, one to each student, completely at random. Then I tell everyone to put on the new shoes. And inevitably, there begin the complaints.
"This isn't my shoe!"
"It's too big!"
"It's too small!"
"This doesn't fit me!"
Whatever the specific complaints are, very few students are actually happy with their newly mismatched pair of shoes. "What's wrong?" I ask. "I did everything fairly. You all have two shoes - one for your right foot and one for your left."
"But Miss David," they say, "they aren't the correct shoes!"
"Oh," I say. "You want the shoes that are best for each of you individually? Not just any shoe I find?"
"Yes!" they all say.
"But," I say, with furrowed brow, "that doesn't seem fair. I wanted to treat you all EQUALLY." I point to a boy with somewhat large feet, and a nearby girl with smallish feet. "He'll have more shoe than you will," I note. And without a doubt, someone unknowingly gets right to the heart of the issue:
"It doesn't matter who has more shoe, Miss David. It matters that we all have the right shoes for us."
And THAT, my friends, is the difference between equity and equality. Equality means everyone gets exactly the same outcome - two shoes - without regard to individual differences - large or small feet, for example. Equity means everyone gets the same quality of outcome - shoes that fit their individual needs.
A lot of feminist arguments are either poorly worded, claiming to desire equality for women in situations where they would actually prefer equity, or misunderstood as demanding equality when they are, in fact, demanding equity. This has become remarkably apparent to me in the recent barrage of posts about women bloggers and how they earn - or fail to earn - respect for their work. Catherine wrote this in her MamaPop post:
What is radical about it is that we push on, demanding to be heard, and demanding recognition of our worth as mothers, women, writers, business-people, innovators, people, against the ignorance of those who would keep us down.
Some have interpreted this as a half-hearted and hypocritical demand for equality, when it is actually anything but. Demanding recognition as mothers and women sort of fundamentally requires an expectation that we will not be treated exactly the same as a man would. Why would we want to be treated exactly like men anyway? In case you didn't notice, WE'RE NOT MEN. What we're demanding is not equality - it's equity.
We demand respect for doing a damn hard job and doing it well. We demand respect for creating a community that inspires and uplifts in the face of some of life's greatest challenges. We demand respect for refusing to compromise our femininity in the face of professional obstacles. We don't demand the EXACT SAME RESPECT that men receive - that's like demanding everyone wear the same shoes, regardless of size. We demand the respect that is most fitting to our stations, but damn it, we still demand the respect. We are women, and we should be treated as women - to do otherwise would be to ignore plain facts. But being treated as women should not automatically mean being treated as less serious or less important, and that's the problem with having an article about our work in the field of blogging - which really is primarily a technological field - placed in the "Style" section of the New York Times.
We are not screaming our heads off to be placated with promises of equality. We are not men - do not treat us as men. We are women, and we demand equity.