You know, despite the best efforts and good intentions of pretty much every feminist out there, we still encounter those disheartening individuals who say they support gender equality and women’s rights… but not feminism. I have made posts before about calling it Humanism, a mistake because Humanism is a philosophical belief system about the destiny of the human race as being “to be good people”. However, perhaps you or someone you know says it’s not feminism they support but egalitarianism? An egalitarian society is one in which race, income, gender and background do not affect what rights you have, everyone gets the same chances and that’s that. Awesome right? Ehh…
Egalitarianism was the philosophy that served as the starting point for fair and equal societies, the argument stood as thus – everyone is fundamentally the same, we are all human, we all therefore deserve the same as one another. In the early days of society, those who spoke of egalitarianism got the ball rolling for the formation of fairer societies in which equal rights were not available. Slavery, colonialism, sexism, many creeds of people were denied the most basic of resources on flawed grounds and egalitarianism is the idea that this can be rectified by giving everyone the exact same entitlements. A great concept, if everyone was given £100, everyone is £100 better off right, especially those who are without any money right? Well the problem with this idea is egalitarianism fails to take into account some factors that might drastically alter how far that £100 goes – maybe you already have £100,000, what’s £100 more? Maybe £100 isn’t enough to pay off £500 of debt? Maybe what you need more than money is a home and food? Maybe your problem, say, a disability, can’t be fixed by throwing some money at it? Egalitarianism doesn’t address this, everyone gets the same resources, everyone has to make do.
Feminism, as a concept, only really existed as a combination of ideas and legal battles and protests, taking its name as a means to represent the under-represented class of citizens at its time, women. Women wanted the same rights as men, rights to an education and to ownership of property, to be allowed to divorce unfaithful men and to be allowed to earn their own keep. However, what is often overlooked is what feminism stood for and still stands for – gender is not a fair basis for discrimination of any kind. Feminism grew to encompass the idea that no discrimination is acceptable and a feminist will not stand for discrimination on the basis of sexuality or socio-economic status just as much as they won’t stand for discrimination based on gender, because every human issue affects every human being, regardless of gender. To the outside world, you are defined by your gender, your race, your religion, your sexuality, and feminism says that whatever the world sees, you are never fair game for being discriminated against. Feminism was the word chosen for the movement that defends the rights of those that were unspoken for, it was the name given to the gauntlet cast against the uncaring majority. If a feminist claim isn’t one that seeks to achieve equality in terms of rights and protections for all, it’s not a feminist claim and feminism is still a valid name, though that’s a blog post in itself.
Egalitarianism opened the door to this discussion for the masses when people proposed the concept of an equal society but feminism is the only mainstream movement actively making strides to achieve just that, in fact one must consider that what we often seek is equity, not equality. Equity Theory, as it is known, is the recognition that our varying backgrounds not only make us who we are but that they must be reflected in what must be done to render us all equals. Confused? Say you have a room full of people to feed and you offer everyone in that room peanut butter sandwiches. Here is the difference between equality and equity:
EQUALITY: “You are all entitled to a plate of peanut butter sandwiches”
EQUITY: “You are all entitled to a plate of peanut butter sandwiches but if you are wheat-intolerant, allergic to peanuts or just don’t like sandwiches, we’ll fill your plate with something more appropriate”
Like the £100 analogy from earlier, just offering everyone £100 is equal means but not a fair playing field, some people only have that £100 and some have that £100 added onto the £100,000 they have in the bank. A fair society is one that levels the playing field so there is nothing outside of the individual’s control that is affecting their chances at a happy life. Equity, therefore, is the offering that if you need more, you can take more and if you can give more, you should give more so that we all share in the wealth and thus, share in the happiness of a secure life. Where does Feminism fit into this? Feminism, at this buffet, is the person at the buffet table telling people not to push and shove because we should all get what we want, everyone deserves to eat and that even if you are entitled to your sandwich, which you are, you shouldn’t force your way through the crowds because when it comes down to that, it’s the weak that get left the crumbs at the end.
The notion of equality can be exploited but equity is harder to fool if implemented correctly. Feminism seeks equity and for a truly fair society, so should we. To fight for social justice and a fair standard of living for all, where all needs are met and everyone feels safe, valued and able to contribute, is to be a feminist and that names does not need to change. By our very human nature, we are social animals who want to better the world we live in, even those of us who commit crimes think we are doing the right thing in some capacity, so a society of equity would ensure everyone’s basic needs were met whilst everyone’s talents were put to use. That is what feminism fights for, that is what a fair society is and that is why we are not egalitarians, we are feminists!