2013-10-17

Unequal Rights

This is a short film talking up the Equal Rights Amendment.

Now, I fully expect that there will be calls to lynch me, since any attempt to open dialogue or, God forbid, question, established "feminist" dialectics provokes violently-jerked knees and is read as treason against the very Kingdom of God herself.  Having said that, I have a thought or two...

I've always wondered about the ERA, and I've always felt it as a desperate rear guard measure, because women actually have more rights, because of their different biology (and it's concommitant importance to society and humanity in general), and things like the ERA and the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing everybody the same rights may actually prevent the recognition of these.

Women can reasonably claim:

1. need for provision in the workplace for the fact that they bear children and need to nurse them for a space of years -- not just "day care" (which arguably men also need).

2. greater health care costs for childbearing and the care for their uniquely female1,2 medical needs

3. greater (average, typical) costs for childcare. Even if these are borne by some "spouse" or "partner", costs of special supplies (nappies, baby clothes, breast pumps, etc.), food (for children and themselves3), special doctors, etc., are incurred because a woman had a baby.

4. Cost of education, support of a child (who does not bring income), again, regardless whether paid by somebody else, these costs come into play as a result of childbirth -- a uniquely female occupation.

5. Incapacity or near-incapacity for one or more days per month due to menstruation symptoms.  In Japan, women get one or more "seiribi"  生理日 which they may freely use each month to take off work when they are having a particularly bad day.  Is this a good way to deal with this issue?  Is it currently being addressed at all in the USA?

6. The need for contraception1

7. The need for abortions1

8. The need for access to work and other environments which will not endanger their pregnancies (or fertitlity in general).

Most of these men need not at all, or with greatly-reduced incidence or typical expense.  There are probably several other points that could be made in terms of women being equal, yes, but having special needs that seem to have been ignored on the other hand.  We may be mixing things up in terms of:

1. equality under the law
2. equal (fair) treatment in terms of public services, etc.

It seems that women deserve to be treated differently than men in certain contexts and situations.  This is a dangerous idea, and it might even be a wrong one.  It might also be difficult to implement in a climate where women are considered to be equal to men under the law, and somehow therefore "equal" in the sense of being the "same" and therefore having exactly the same personal needs.  This seems to me wrong, but also a danger of being codified if we are not careful about legislation.

The question of equal pay.  I can't say whether this argument actually matches the data -- and I think the data are confusing and perhaps widely misinterpreted -- but it seems that the burdens to do with biology must have a tendancy to impair women's earning power, especially in a society, like the USA, where the workplace and elsewhere is so desperately unsupportive of it. If a woman has several children and takes months or years off for maternity leave, just to take one tiny example, she will not only sacrifice the pay from that time off, but also set her career back and cut her maximum lifetime income as well as total income. Caring for a child also cuts the amount of time one can spend on the job, or denies the more high-paid jobs which are more time-consuming, require lots of travel, odd hours, etc.

Some of these disparities may be unsolvable, since we care less about men's health for the very same biological reasons that we care more (and have to care more if we're to have a next generation) about women's health.  We could preferentially give "non-dangerous" jobs to women and therefore leave all the really bad jobs to men and whatever "good jobs" were left over.  Maybe that's not fair, but maybe if something like that were done, it would really be more fair, more fair to women, and the "bad" jobs such as coal mining, radiation work, construction, etc., would get more attention and be "cleaned up" as a result.  It seems unlikely, given that those jobs get very little attention now, and are already the almost exclusive domain of men -- again, we care little about the horrible conditions many men have to work in, and that may or may not be an unrelated issue.

This would all be very hard to legislate, in any case -- not so much for the lack of political will (which is a huge problem), but for the "statistical" nature of it, i.e., how to count what "preferential" means.

Why not just tax men more and give women money, especially when they have children, like they do in France?  This idea is appealing -- 50 million Frenchmen can't be wrong, after all, as they say -- but my concern is that the ERA and the 14th Amendment might be in the way.  It would be unfair legal  treatment of men to take their money simply because they're men  and either keep it as a special tax or give it to women, or whatever.

I still think it's a very interesting idea from the standpoint of The Principle of Externalities, in that women provide a service, effectively for free, of bearing, and, for the greater part, raising children.  If they do a good job of it, society benefits, and if they do a bad one, society suffers.  Society provides some services for free to help women, such as public schools, but that may be about it, really.

There are a number of problems to be addressed.  One is the issue of public services.  As has been argued in the gay marriage debate, it's not so much whether gays should be able to get married, per se, but the fact that so many privileges and public services and entitlements have been loaded onto marriage over the years.  To deny anyone the right to marry (and thereby to receive these payouts and legal considerations, such as inheritance), would be legally unfair.

So should all men pay into a fund so that that money be disbursed to all women?    Does that somehow constitute some kind of obligation on the part of the beneficiary women vis à vis the contributing men, legal, ethical or perceived?  That would be an undesirable, perhaps very undesireable side-effect, if so.  Would a low-earning man taxed more have a right to complain since there are women who earn much more than he and yet are taxed less (especially if said women don't actually have children of their own)?

This brings us to another issue.  We really can't get around the fact that fertility must be controlled.  On one hand, we can't afford to pay for too many childbirths, and on the other the planet can't take much more, either.  The state certainly seems to think that it has the right to control women's fertility (sloppily, in the USA, since measures taken seem to produce more unwanted births, while China's draconian forced abortions and such...well, they probably wouldn't fly in the USA...not for now, anyway).  This is my belief, and maybe I'm wrong, naive, whatever, so I hesitate to use the word "opinion", but I think that if left to their own devices (in a more ideal world), women will do the right thing, stop at two children, not be totally irresponsible with their childbearing.  Having said that, if we're going to tie childbirth, that uniquely female purview, to disbursment of benefits -- which may be a great idea -- it seems that we have to cut it off after the second child.  That may be a tough pill to swallow.

Here's a clincher.  If you want to ask whether women are treated fairly and whether there's the political will to do so, I find that the treatment of the disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act to be a telling example.  Women are 50% of the population, probably an overwhelming majority of them will have children during their lives, while the fraction of disabled persons get millions of dollars spend on wheelchair ramps and special elevators and such.  Women's needs, on the other hand, seem to go completely ignored.

I am not saying it's wrong to spend money to help the disabled.  I don't want to get lyched a second time on top of everything else.  I'm trying to make the point that a fraction of that money could potentally help 50% of the population to be integrated into the workforce to an even greater extent.

I don't know if women need or want special breastfeeding work zones, places to rest during the day, baby food and nappies either provided or appropriate places to buy them or store them (vending machines?) or just what, but I think that the dialogue should be opened, and that men should be included in it.  Things like "day care" (still pretty useful, but still deprives mum of contact with her baby and what about the first few years of life?) and separate restrooms (the wheelchair-bound need ramps, but women don't really need separate restrooms) seem to be very much half-measures.

Separate restrooms.  How did these happen?  Can we say that once women reach equality in the workforce, they won't be needed any more?  The cliché is true: I've had several significant meetings just during the past month or so with coworkers and superiors in which decisions where made during chance meetings in the restroom, away from the ears or participation of any woman.  It probably doen't help, and it's a "spiritual" step in the wrong direction.   I don't know what to do about it, though.

There is a lot that is wrong.  We've come a really long way in my lifetime, which is not to say that there is not still a tremendous amount still to do.  We may be at a crossroads.  I think the time has come to involve men in the process, and ultimately look at the ways that men are ill-used by the system and consider how that might be put right as well (which may be an even harder proposition than getting women where they need to be).  We need a roadmap to a solution.  We need to write down what we think we need, even if it seems impossible, and start to map out how to get it.  Tired and wrong-headed memes like "The Patriarchy" and "Rape Culture" are probably hopelessly inaccurrate as well as completely useless in pointing the way to a solution.  We need positive metaphors that celebrate women, their specialness as well as their equality to men in most things that matter, and the wholesomeness and joy that I believe is possible in the cooperation between women and men.


1I am assuming that gynecological treatment is more costly than even "full care" that an average male would require
2Breast cancer is as common as prostate cancer, but might still be more costly, tending to appear earlier in life (when it does appear). Need reference here.
3Supposedly only a soldier in boot camp uses more calories than a nursing mother.

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