So, hey, let’s all stand up and cheer! Time for equality for women in America! Sounds good, right? Who’s not for that? Let anyone say they aren’t in favor of “equality” go to the back of the classroom and face the wall. For the next 30 years or so.
We are all for good things and, you know, fairness. No one wants to go back to the bad old days where women were often dismissed as domestic help, baby-makers and little else. We have undergone major changes in our society and many of those changes are seen elsewhere around the world, including in Europe. The idea that women should, must, have the capacity for full participation in society is widely accepted. We now have women CEOs of major corporations, many more in academic, legal, journalistic and even engineering pursuits. All across the board, things have changed.
One might reasonably ask, is this enough change? That is the wrong question. Instead, we should ask ourselves: what is equality? How will we know we have achieved it and will we then be able to stopping shouting about it at the annual festival of narcissism called the Academy Awards?**
Equality is not something that is achieved, finished, done. It is, further, a dynamic concept that changes as conditions change (otherwise known as a dialectic or a duality). “All women” might become “equal” to men, but then what happens to the men? Are they then relegated to an inferior status, inheritors of the sins of their grandfathers, pushed off to the side because of the errors of generations before them?
How do you know when you have equality? Does that mean 60% of all the high level, prestigious jobs in America are held by women? 70%? 90%? Oh, okay, women have 90% of the high paying jobs, so that proves we have equality? It is a cliché to say that we should have equality of opportunity, but we can’t guarantee equality of results, but the saying embodies a larger truth: equality does not mean that everyone will be equally successful. Besides, “opportunity” opens a whole new can of worms, new problems. We can’t achieve perfect equality in that area either. We can try. We can try to treat people fairly, to judge them on their accomplishments and talents, but we will never achieve perfection.
Equality is an elusive idea. Standing up and cheering at the concept, at this stage of the game, is kind of silly and jingoistic. You see, there have to be actual, demonstrated grievances in order to marshal corrective action on a wide basis. Most of the grievances raised by the women’s movement of the late 1960s and through the ‘70s have been addressed in one way or another. Some have been close to fully resolved. One can always come up with new complaints to keep the music playing, but, after a time, it gets rather tiresome. Shouldn’t we be moving along, developing and, after all, showing some gratefulness at how much change our society has embraced? How much revolution do you want?
We all need to be looking after those in our society who have been cut out of the deal. White women making tons of money, especially those who make millions of dollars for putting on make-up and pretending to live the lives of others, complaining about inequality produces a discordant note. Would it not be better for well off, indeed rich, white women who have so much offered to them to be complaining about the lives of others?
The American women’s movement over the last 30 to 40 years has always been excessively America-centric. Women being sexually mutilated around the world got virtually not attention. Sexual trafficing? Nope. Virtual slavery? Nope. Forced marriages at a pre-mature age? Poverty? Hunger? Starvation?
There’s a reason that the American movement did not want to address the needs of the poor here and the enormous abuses of women elsewhere. The reason is this: contrasted with the lives of white, middle class women here, the plight of women around the world would make their complaints look petty, the outgrowth of some sort of excessive, academic inspired preoccupation with selfish, personal needs.
Former president Jimmy Carter, age 90, announced recently that he plans to devote the rest of his life to the plight of women around the world. In doing so, he mentioned that 90% of the women and girls in Egypt have been sexually mutilated. (This, in most cases, involves cutting off the clitorus entirely or in part and the skin around it to deny a woman sexual pleasure, presumably to control and limit her need for intimate relations in order to keep her more “loyal” to her husband. These procedures are often done by other, older women with filthy knifes that can cause infection and death.) One of the first times I ever even heard about this horrid practice was during a speech that Ted Turner gave at the National Press Club many years ago. I never heard nor read it mentioned by any of the champions of women’s rights like Gloria Steinem.
If Jimmy Carter can dedicate his life to the cause of women in less wealthy nations, why can’t comfortable, well off women in the U.S. do the same? Wouldn’t an active, working commitment to making change be a better way of achieving it for yourself and those around you? Further, is the call for “equality” actually that, or is it a mask to get better jobs, and higher pay, for those who are already well set? Is it a call for fairness or, perhaps, extra fairness for me, appropriate? Put another way, is this just social lobbying to help women who have, at this moment, great advantages and loads of money compared to many in our country and throughout the world?
Doug Terry, 2.26.15
**(People who spend part of the year acting, directing, etc. and getting paid huge amounts of money to do so, then spend another part of the year congratulating themselves on how well they’ve done, then, on top of that, they get to lecture America, all of us, on our shortcomings? There’s some sort of cosmic dissonance in this situation. The main reason actors want to be known for supporting certain striking social issues is that they realize their jobs, on an important level, represent a sustained life of superficiality that embarrasses them, but then they get paid millions to keep on doing it. They want the world to know they have a brain and are compassionate, even though they have fully embraced a means of earning money, and a lifestyle, that emphasizes their appearance and ability to mimic the emotions and facial expressions of other people. There is great artistry in what they do, but, taken on an individual level, it is not inherently great art. Yes, there are a few actors who have managed to slip off the bonds of casual, drop-in involvement in social and political issues, but they can generally be counted on one hand.
Artistic works in all mediums can greatly influence the way people think and act in life, which is one of the major reasons that artists are considered more significant figures in our society than plumbers or roof repair people. Yet, highly paid actors, save a very few, are not in the business to “change the world”, they are in it because it is a job they like to do and they get paid extremely well to do it. Acting has its benefits. But, if someone truly wanted to be a social activist, would they be in movie acting at all? They more likely would be spending most of their time working for change rather than shouting about it at the Academy Awards, trying to make themselves look good in the process.