EQUAL BUT DIFFERENT
DO YOU BELIEVE IN EQUALITY?
Nowadays we talk about ‘equality’ and ‘everyone being born equal’, but what exactly do we mean?
We speak of ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘equality under the law’ but if we are unsure about the concept of ‘equality’ in the first place then these phrases don’t mean a whole lot.
People have said to me, “But humans are different, so how can they be equal?” or “We have to have difference – it’s just natural” and “I’d hate it if everybody was the same…”
These arguments are mistaking ‘Equality’ for ‘similarity’ or ‘sameness’. This kind of mistaken thinking is often a cover for discriminatory practices.
These arguments take the form of;
Women are different to men, so they shouldn’t earn as much as males,
Black folk are different to Europeans so it’s alright to enslave them.
But different doesn’t mean inferior.
Obviously there are differences between people, but there is no intrinsic reason why that should preclude equality.
Equality means everyone has the same right of respect from other individuals and to be treated fairly by social institutions.
Equality means we all have the same right to self-expression, self-determination and the chance to live and grow. Clearly there is a long way to go to achieve this.
What we are saying can be summed up by the phrase, “Equal but different…”
Click here to listen to the brilliant Au Pairs sing about this idea.
Our diversity is our strength, not an opportunity to discriminate against others.
Although the majority of us live in modern societies that claim to be democracies, there are plenty of old ideas still circulating that hark back to the pre-democratic systems that promoted inequality.
These hierarchical systems of social organisation are the biggest obstacles to developing truly modern societies where everyone has an equal stake and input into all aspects of life.
It’s worth briefly examining the ideas that were used to justify inequality in the past.
(Latin; scala naturae, literally “ladder or stairway of nature”) was a concept derived from Plato and Aristotle and developed more fully in Neoplatonism.
The Chain charts a fixed hierarchical structure of all matter and life.
The chain starts from God and progresses downward to angels, demons, fallen and renegade angels, stars, the Moon, kings, princes, nobles, men, wild animals, domesticated animals, trees, other plants, precious stones, precious metals, and other minerals.
Each link in the chain could be divided further into its component parts.
In medieval feudal society, the king was at the top, succeeded by the aristocratic lords, next came the merchants and then the peasants below them.
Solidifying the king’s position at the top of humanity’s social order is the doctrine of the Divine right of Kings.
In the family, the father was considered head of the household; below him came his wife; below her, their children.
This mistaken notion that some are more important than others underpins racist and sexist thinking, and that some nations can dominate other countries.
While there are small differences between people of various races, there is more divergence within each race than with other races.
However, there are marked differences between the sexes – this is called Sexual Dimorphism.
Men and women have different bodies statistically, meaning men tend to be taller and heavier with more muscle than women. However individuals may not display these attributes – some women are taller than some men for instance.
Crucially, modern research points to differences in brain organisation and processing systems, and I think this is really important.
Men and women think differently yet this isn’t taken into account in education and other aspects of life.
In my next post I will examine these differences in more detail.