I have seen the enemy, and the enemy is us.
Our own bodies seem to be a part of the problem of inequality. While women and men can have equal intelligence, work skills, emotional intelligence, and work experience, there are still some inherent physical differences. Women tend to have smaller physical frames than men (rendering them more vulnerable to sexual assault, among other things). Women and men have different hormones which can influence their feelings and reactions. And clearly, there are reproductive differences. If a woman wants to have a child, she is in for at least 9 months, likely more, while the man’s role is largely done in 15 minutes (clearly the man can choose to invest more, but history shows that this is not required).
Clearly, to reproduce, men & women need each other. Men just need a bigger investment from women than women need from men. Limiting female roles gives men more to do (namely, provide for women), but now that we’re no longer killing our food for a living, women are capable of providing for themselves, even when childbearing (which is welcome news to those men who weren’t that good at hunting anyway). Men who don’t bring much to the table other than raw meat, muddy boots, and sperm are no longer needed (and get those muddy boots off the table! to say nothing of the other thing). As a result of this societal shift, all humans are elevated.
Of course, any of the above listed physical differences could be viewed as an advantage or a disadvantage depending on the social construct. Being smaller could make one more agile and less vulnerable to being killed in war. Hormonal differences can be an advantage in freeing women from an unhealthy and ever-present obsession with sex. Bearing children can be an advantage in that maternity is always known even if paternity is only known 97% of the time, so if children are an asset (rather than a burden), women could be at an advantage because of childbearing if that was our societal construct (it isn’t, at least not now–in agrarian societies, children are a sort of do-it-yourself labor force).
So, how do we solve for these biological differences to create equality? There are usually two opposing approaches:
- Counter the inequalities. This usually means making all people equally accountable or equally unaccountable through choices or legislation. In practical terms, it usually results in lowering female accountability rather than elevating male accountability which would be tougher to legislate. Some examples of methods to equalize reproductive inequities:
- The pill. Since men are not impregnated by random sex with strangers, this made it so women wouldn’t be either.
- Abortion. Because men are never burdened by unwanted pregnancy, this ensures that women are not either.
- Align with the inequalities. This is “steering into the skid.” Instead of trying to find ways to make the sexes equal, this method attempts to embrace the differences by creating social constructs that reinforce and reward the differences. Some examples:
- Polygyny. This can be seen as a way of paying homage to the inherent male-female reproductive differences by allowing men to fertilize multiple partners simultaneously while obligating them to financially support all the partners and offspring. In the early LDS construct, females were free to divorce husbands who failed to provide for them or for whom they did not feel affection. Proponents of polygyny would say that the biggest casualty is the illusion that men are designed for monogamy, although science shows that both men and women have to fight natural impulses to remain monogamous.
- Proclamation on the Family. This is an attempt to reward and value the differences based on a prescribed list of gender-based characteristics. Its rhetoric binds both men & women to their families.
Clearly, the church has favored the second approach while society at large has favored the first approach. As I mentioned, the first approach also has a tendency to reduce personal accountability, especially toward children. Children are still assumed to be a liability (idealists would say an investment), which they are, depending on the societal construct (those farmers who want that child labor). The second approach attempts to improve parental accountability by increasing male accountability and reinforcing female accountability by rewarding limited choices. Both approaches have their fail points. Clearly the second approach is unenforceable and entirely voluntary.
So, which approaches do you think are needed to improve equality? What approach do you believe God would advocate? What better approaches (if any) would you suggest? Discuss.