If you don’t act for equality, it doesn’t matter how much you want it, you aren’t going to get it. Almost nobody is acting for equality so we aren’t getting it.
Many people think they are acting to create equality, but their behavior is counterproductive to equality, despite their intent.
Why do I say people aren’t acting for equality? What are people doing if they aren’t acting for equality?
Many people belong to groups that they feel are disadvantaged. They feel they don’t have the same opportunities. Or that social structures are holding them back. I should say we because everyone everywhere has claim to some way they are held back. The most common ways are by sex, skin color, belief, income, etc.
Many people in a disadvantaged group work to help their group. They feel, “most of society is above us or has advantages that we don’t, so to level the playing field, we should boost ourselves up.”
There is no group where the only difference between them and the rest of society is that they are oppressed in some way. Every group has some source of pride, joy, advantage, or something. Likewise, no group has only advantages relative to society. Every group has some challenges.
In that context, only helping your group is not working for equality. People outside your group know their problems. Even if they know your problems, they see you going for the advantages you lack, but also know that no one is helping them with their disadvantages. They sense you’re working hard to get advantages you lack but not to sacrifice the ones you have, nor to help them on the ones they lack. You might give lip service, but no one helps others like they help themselves.
I’ll pick one example, but it’s not unique: most people with political and business power are men. So many women work to increase women’s access to that power. That makes sense if you think women are unfairly held back and that men aren’t, or even that men are benefiting from it and you don’t think past there.
But men know that that’s not the only difference. The overwhelming number of people who die on the job, who die in wars, who are in jail, who are homeless, and so on are men too. Men die younger, commit suicide more, drop out of school more, and so on. Nobody is trying to create equality there. Everyone wants to reduce workplace fatalities, war, homelessness, and other areas where men appear disadvantaged, but almost never in a gendered way like they want to increase access to political and business power.
In fact, many people believe that inherent differences between sexes lead men to behave in ways that lead to these undesired outcomes—that men deserve these outcomes—but not that inherent differences could explain differences in the areas people want, like getting power. I don’t know if inherent differences play roles at all, which is irrelevant to my point anyway. My point is that if there are differences, saying they exist sometimes and not others makes you sound like you want to help yourself, not act for equality.
If you say the different groups have no inherent differences, then saying you want equality in the areas you like but not the areas you don’t shows that you are helping yourself, not acting for equality.
Any man knows that just because the President is a man doesn’t give him special access to power. He’s still more likely to be jailed unfairly, get hurt on the job, and is at risk to be drafted. He expects to die earlier.
Whether inherent differences explain social differences or not, if you try to help your group but not others’, your behavior leads others to suspect you and resist your work.
The same happens with skin color. Everyone I’ve ever met wants more access to political and business power for non-white people. But even to discuss the representation of basketball players or the top popular musicians by skin color seems taboo. I think a lot of people believe that professional sports creates a reasonably fair competition so that blacks are overrepresented in many sports not out of racism but because of inherent differences. Well, if inherent differences explain representation in sports, is that the only effect they could have? The media consistently portray whites as relatively uncoordinated, lacking rhythm, more nerdy, and so on. If you say we should have more blacks in Congress but not more whites in basketball, on stage, and so on, you aren’t working for equality. Your behavior will lead others to resist you.
I don’t have a position on whether inherent differences between groups explain differences in social standing. I’m looking at the situation from a leadership perspective and considering the results of their behavior without judgment. I see many people working to help themselves but almost no one working for equality where they succeed more than others.
I think it’s hard for most people who feel they are oppressed to allow that others feel oppressed too—that others might be oppressed, especially in the group they feel is oppressing them. From the belief that “I am being oppressed, someone must be oppressing me, we have to right this wrong,” to allow that the group you feel is oppressing you is suffering too undermines your goals.
But that belief is not the only way to see the world. It’s possible that such beliefs contribute to sustaining things as they are, creating resistance to different groups working together, even opposition to it.
To continue with my first example above, in my lifetime I’ve heard many women press for more representation of women in education. Now women outnumber men in college, graduate degrees, and more. I hear no voices on a comparable scale pressing for more representation for men today. If they had pressed for equality all along in a non-gendered way, they’d see as much problems today as before. But I still hear voices for more women now—specifically in STEM fields. I wrote a few months ago how a leadership education committee I belong to that at some meetings numbers at least 2:1 women to men and sometimes 6:1 still works for more women in leadership education, but not more men in their own group, let alone more men in, say, grade school education.
I see calls to help some groups relative to others. Where are the calls for equality?
Again, I’m not taking a position on what actions anyone should take, nor am I presenting this as a sex-based or skin-color-based issue, though I expect people will misread this post that way, only that I’m aware of many groups working to help themselves but almost no one working to achieve equality.
I would be surprised to hear female voices pressing for more help specifically devoted to men in the way it’s devoted to women to lower men’s homelessness or suicide rates.
It might lead more people to support them.
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