Sunday, March 13, 2011

Are we equals?

I'm never quite sure what to make of things like this:

I support the cause of women's equality, and agree that the problems enumerated by narrator Dame Judi Dench are serious ones, but I feel like the type of equality she's asking for can never quite be reached, in the same way that we can never completely eliminate crime, homelessness, and violence. It's an asymptotic thing; we can get close to, but never actually reach, zero.

So at what point do we say enough is enough?

Her closing remark answers that question: "Until the answer is yes, we must never stop asking." Her statement is a reminder that, though we may never complete the work, we are not exempt from it. That perspective recasts this entire video for me and redirected my opinion on it. There will always be that last bit of equality to strive for, and as things stand today that "last bit" is pretty large.

That said, as I watched this video I was reminded of the epidemiologist that observed AIDS patients are now living long enough to die of other things. The video points out that two women a week are killed by domestic violence in England; that's tragic, but in 2008 (the most recent year I could find numbers for) murder rates for male victims were 225% higher than for female. So if we want to talk about violence as an indicator of inequality, let's consider the full picture.

The gender salary gap in America is still a problem, but during the recession unemployment is significantly higher for men (pdf). Furthermore, college admissions are skewing strongly female (57% since 2000), and young boys are more likely than girls to be illiterate, drop out of school, and go to jail. All factors likely to lead to lower lifetime earnings.

Remind me again which way that "inequality" arrow is assumed to be pointing?

My goal is not to play a game of "Who has it worse?"; that's a game you only lose by winning. The answer, of course, is to work on improving the environment for everyone. But that's part of why I have trouble with messages like that in this video, whatever the oppressed group in question. Archaic assholes aside, and I think we all can agree that is a demographic that needs to be quietly and quickly shuffled to the side, most members of the "privileged" group tend to honestly believe these "equality" problems were already settled. So seeing a video like this causes...confusion.

"I thought this was taken care of", the internal monologe goes. "What, exactly, still needs to be done? Am I supposed to apologize? Write my Senator? Donate money?" Compassion, and confusion, have been generated, but without a clear channel for these energies the mind deals with the stress by converting the emotions into something easier to deal with.

Like anger, or resentment.

I appreciate a good piece of messaging; I liked the video for the narration, even if I didn't understand what they hoped to achieve with Daniel Craig. For most of it, though, my primary emotional reaction was defensiveness. "Those poor women," I thought, "how they are suffering! What wicked, shameful group is oppressing them so?

Men? me?"

I thought one of the goals of equality was to prevent media messages from making people feel bad about themselves because of gender, race, or equality; how does it help the cause to turn the tables on the "oppressor"?

Harry Chapin set a good example (in an interview that I now cannot find, dang it!). He talked about coming back to school the day after Thanksgiving break, and having the principal address the class, saying, "We did a great job with our food drive, collected a lot of food for a lot of families! Now let's talk about what they're going to eat tomorrow..." 

Ironically, this is also the tactic used on Biggest Loser; let's acknowledge our successes, celebrate them, and talk about how we continue moving forward. This is a format most people respond well to; it acknowledges both the work done and that still remaining, and provides a gentle, irresistible pressure to continue. Leave the stark, bleak, frightening messages for actual life-and-death scenarios, and politicians trying to raise money.

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