The Quest for Equality: Myth and Reality

Male and Female

Male and Female

Violence against women has been on my mind a lot lately. High-profile cases such as Chris Brown’s alleged beating of his girlfriend, Rihanna, and New York State Senator Hiram Montserrate’s alleged assault on his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, not to mention the not-as-well-known uptick in incidences of female genital mutilation in Great Britain, added to the astonishing figure of 130 million living women who have been permanently scarred by this horrifying procedure, plus the fact that one out of every three women has been sexually or physically abused in the course of her life, well…let’s just say I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

True to my Virgoan nature, I have been trying to analyze why this keeps happening to women. Why are statistics like this accepted and acceptable?

My theory is that there are two main factors involved. One is our society’s desire to blame the victim for her situation; a desire which has been newly energized by our Reagan-loving President, Barack Obama. I wrote about this epidemic of victim-blaming some time ago, here. But the second factor is one I haven’t articulated before: the myth of female physical equality.

I understand that feminism historically has striven to balance the two sexes by using many different tactics. One such tactic is to claim that women are equal to men in every single way. Forgive me if I lose my feminist creds here, but I find this idea to be laughable, and perhaps harmful.  Nonetheless, it has taken hold of our imaginations. After all, isn’t it fun to watch a taut and toned, 100-pound Alyssa Milano kick 200-pound demon ass on “Charmed?” (She never even messes up her hair, or gets a scratch on that rock-hard abdomen, or twists her ankle in the five-inch platforms she wears!) But in reality, how likely is it that a woman can actually beat the hell out of a man who is really fighting back? And if she can’t do that, then how can she be equal to a man in every way?

I’ll tell you something. I was a student of karate for a year and a half. When my Shihan told me that in order to advance in the dojo, I needed to join the Friday night fighting class, at which time I’d have to fight large, muscular black belts and possibly break limbs, I looked at him, rolled my eyes, and quit. I know my own limitations.

Unfortunately, once you go down the road of claiming women are equal to men in every single way, it can lead you to places you don’t want to go. For example: If women are 100% equal, then there should be nothing special about a man hitting a woman, because she’s physically strong enough to defend herself. Right?


Even getting this generation of teenage girls to see violence as abuse has its own challenges. Tricia Rose, who teaches African-American culture at Brown, said that the singers and their young fans are a generation steeped in commercial hip-hop, which has influenced the smack-down tone of so many recent comments. The qualified support of Mr. Brown by a few male artists also gave cover to his fans’ fidelity.

“This is the air that hip-hop breathes,” said Ms. Rose, author of “The Hip Hop Wars.” “The celebration of a stereotype of an aggressive, physical, often misogynistic masculinity that often justifies resolving conflict through violence. It can’t be held responsible for this, but it can’t be ignored.”

Moreover, teenage girls can’t be expected to support Rihanna just because of her gender, youth culture experts say. They see themselves as sharing equal responsibility with boys. Parity, not sisterhood, is the name of the game (emphasis added).

During a presentation about dating violence to ninth graders at Hostos-Lincoln Academy this week, one girl said, “If they hit you, smack them back. Both my parents say that to me.” (emphasis added)

When Danielle Shores, 17, a high school junior in Austin, Tex., heard about the fight, she thought: “Yeah, men hit women, and women hit men. It was blown out of proportion because they’re celebrities.”

She sounded miffed. “My best friend got hit by her boyfriend, and I don’t see people making a big deal about it,” Ms. Shores said.

There is a lot of violence among young partners. Although the study of abuse in adolescent relationships is scarcely a decade old, the incidence is startling. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 10 percent of teenagers report being hit or slapped by a boyfriend of girlfriend.

Some studies suggest that girls are more likely than boys to report being aggressive within a dating relationship.

But Dr. Elizabeth Miller, an adolescent pediatrician at the School of Medicine at the University of California, Davis, pointed out: “The numbers of girls who sustain serious injuries, and the sexual violence sustained against girls, is much higher than boys.” (emphasis added)

Um, duh. As a general rule, men are a lot bigger and stronger than women. Why can’t some feminists admit that? And why can’t we admit that there is no excuse, ever, for a man to hit a woman because of that simple, biological fact?

In our passion and advocacy, we feminists often fail to anticipate counter-arguments, and thus are unprepared and flustered when they are presented. I feel that we should argue that females and males are equal because of our shared humanity. Nothing else need be said, and what counter-argument can realistically be presented? Who is going to come right out and argue that a woman is not a human being? Although this subtext is certainly present in the anti-feminist movement, bringing this dark meme into the sunlight would certainly destroy it.

Some feminist tactics work, and some don’t. I say, let’s ditch the myth of female physical equality, and promote the reality that women and men are equal because they are human.

What say you?


19 responses to “The Quest for Equality: Myth and Reality

  1. There is a new movie out this weekend, “Observe and Report” starring Seth Rogen, that features a scene about date rape. This movie is being touted as a “comedy”. Funny, huh?

    I also hold any actress willing to play the role of the victim as much responsible for this crapola as I do the team of male stalwarts who put this together and sold it as “entertainment”. It is far from it. If this is “comedy” then we have surely lost our footing as this movie is sure to be a box office hit this weekend owing to the massive publicity and the drawing power of the star.

    Saying that this is comedic art and should not be taken seriously is obscene. I have yet to see any feminist group, or one feminist voice, raised against this travesty. Permission has been granted to denigrate women once again while the male population will more than likely feel vindicated for holding those same thoughts.

  2. PJ – I saw a review of the movie in Entertainment Weekly. The reviewer is a woman. I got as far as her statement that “women are portrayed as sluts and skanks” and thought, no thanks!

    I had no idea the movie was about date rape too. How gloriously “politically incorrect!”


  3. I love the logical way you made your points, madamab. Though I have no Virgo at all (mostly Scorpio, Taurus), I too am looking for ways to make sense of so many strange issues of today.

    I totally agree about the importance of physical differences, and all the great points you made there. And that should be talked about.

    I would just add a few things. Women are equal in every other way, which is mentally and emotionally. Actually, it’s been shown that women are superior in multi-tasking, and in integrating the emotional and intellectual functions. This might not be popular to say but I would say men are superior strengthwise, but women are superior in lots of other ways, especially social skills, emotional understanding and connection, awareness and understanding of others. Which is why I think the world would be a more peaceful, understanding, intelligent, just, HAPPY place if women were running it. I could go on about more differences but I’ve already gotten away from your main point.

    But I want to make sure if we’re giving men this superior physical strength point (which is important re the violence issue) that we don’t give away the whole store. (Insert virtual smiley face here -my technical skills are inferior. Is this because I’m female ? Nah, probably just old. I can’t do plumbing either. But I can do carpentry.)

  4. It is more than disgusting, it is obscene. And watch, it will be “numero uno” on the weekend box office ticket sales. Seth Rogen has a major following and has been all over the talk shows chatting it up.

    And I know that you digress with me here, but the women who agreed to take part in this movie are equally culpable for the message this sends. Shameful!

  5. Don’t worry, speaktruth. As you know, I am 100% on board with women running things! I just think that we deserve equal status under the law because we are all human beings, not because of a blind insistence that we are equal to men “in every way,” which has a hole the size of Alaska in it and can be very easily refuted.

    PJ – Yup, we do disagree on that to a certain degree, but I love ya anyway.


  6. I agree with you madamab about the need to acknowledge that men and women are not exactly the same! We need to start with “we are human first and foremost” and move on from there.

    This new Seth Rogen movie is hard to judge without seeing it. Some years ago “Life is Beautiful” was bashed for being a comedy about the Holocaust. That was before people actually saw it.

    Also, I’m not sure women running the world will result in rainbows and unicorns. Women have ruled empires before – and they ruled with iron fists. Human nature is what it is and I think it transcends gender. I do think that women should be able to screw up the world just like the men have, though! 😉

  7. DYB – No offense, but I really hate that argument. “Women have ruled before and they’ve done it XXXXX.”

    No, women have NOT ruled before, in the way I am suggesting. A woman ruling over a government that is 90% men is not an example of how a female ruler/President with a government that is 50% women would rule.

    There are real-time examples to prove this argument. Some governments, like the Welsh Assembly, have implemented 30% and beyond, and the style of governing is now completely different.

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m right about this. You should just learn to accept it.


  8. It’s true that former female rulers have ruled over male-dominated governments. But do you really think there will be no more wars and aggression with women ruling 50% of governments? Will there be complete social and economic equality?

  9. According to herstorians like Riane Eisler and others, there was a time, pre-patriarchy, which is pre Judeo-Christian religion, where there were truly matriarchal societies, not run by one woman, but by society of women. These societies were more humanistic, peaceful, all the isms which are associated with the “feminine” side of our nature.
    This even has a biological correlation with the left side of our bodies. Every person has these masculine and feminine characteristics. A healthy person has them in good balance. We need both softer, gentler qualities and aggressive, tougher characteristics to be productive, high functioning beings. The problem is that our society respects and values those masculine qualities way too much. Hence, even women who become leaders are expected to possess them in an unbalanced way.

    Which explains why Hillary was bashed so much and had to prove how “tough” she was. When in a society where women in all countries were leaders, communication, fairness, negotiation, creative problem solving, caring for all people’s true needs, would take precedence.

  10. Yes, DYB. I think that’s exactly right, as speaktruth mentions – it seems to have been the case historically.

  11. I agree with you that on average women are physically smaller than men.

    And I agree with you that violence against women is more prevalent than violence against men.

    But I don’t think I see the connection. If men and women are the same size, that still doesn’t make it okay for men to hit women or mutilate their genitalia. I think once you start allowing size to be an excuse you open up the door to dangerous territory (it’s okay for me to hit my wife—she can benchpress as much as I can).

    And that doesn’t even take into account that people often have difficulty acknowledging physical strength disparities without at the same time reinforcing or exaggerating them (i.e., discouraging women from getting physically strong, and encouraging men to get physically strong).

  12. madamab> I guess I’m a cynic!

  13. You are so right. If you look at how TV shapes societies ideas look at all the shows where the women are portrayed as being just as tough, strong and effective as their male opponents, which isn’t how the real world works. 20% more muscle mass makes a huge difference in physical effectiveness. The other narrative thread I have noticed is the eccentric male having a female superior who handles him, as if she was his externalized keeper, cause he’s just sooo special he has to have one!

  14. A.Y. Siu – I just don’t think the argument that women are physically equal to men should be the basis for equality. It should not ever be used to make that case.

    I think the argument itself is leading to a perceived equality which is increasing societal acceptance of domestic violence, as the article suggests.

    I can’t get worked up about whether or not we encourage women to get fit or encourage stereotypes. The scientific facts are indisputable. If women want to bodybuild, let them. It still won’t make them physically equal to men.

    DYB – You can be cynical once we have 50% of women in office and a female President and things don’t change at all.

    Deal? 🙂

  15. madamab> I wonder if I’ll live long enough!

  16. DYB – That’s so true, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry!

  17. madamab: Thinking about Monday for a trip into the city. I might be able to meet you for a drink after work, depending on your schedule. You are welcome to drop me an email (I think you have access to our email addresses) if you are interested.

  18. Stateofdisbelief

    The problem with the phrase equality is that so many people try to interpret it as meaning all things. However, that ignores the fact that as women we tend to be more nurturing and compassionate towards others – that is sorely needed in our society as a foundational premise.

    Physical strength is not necessary for 99% of the tasks that are performed daily throughout this country, including the work of the presidency.

    Femininity is only a hindrance when the patriarchy tries to sell it as such in those “patriarchal educational materials.” They’ve had the reins long enough and they Fcked things up royally. They need to move the hell over and get out of our way. We’re coming through.

  19. Amen! Preach it sister SOD!

    Heck, you don’t need superior strength to be Secretary of Defense – just ask the Spaniards.