Those with the patience to read through the comments on this blog might have come upon an interesting exchange towards the bottom of my last blog thread.
Some of our regulars were taking issue with me over the issue of equality and my habit of saying “Meh” to demands for equal treatment of men and women. I thought it would be worth a thread of its own to set out what I mean.
I’ve written before that there is a commonly held fallacy that the way you achieve social equality is to treat everyone equally. The problem is that if you start from a position of inequality, to treat everyone equally is to sustain and conserve that inequality and it can even serve to widen inequalities (consider the effect of a flat poll tax on economic inequalities, for example.) There’s also the analogy that if a 5’ tall person is standing up to their neck in water and a 6’ person is standing alongside up to their waist in water, and you add another six inches of water to the barrel, you are treating them equally – but not fairly.
However there is a wider issue here, and I think it is absolutely at the heart of the political difference between me and Philip Davies or more generally, me and the men’s rights movement.
In any kind of evaluation or appraisal of social justice, equality can be a pretty good proxy measure. If you successfully pursue the goals of social and economic justice, human rights, civil liberties and human wellbeing, you will usually end up with people coming out roughly equally across lines of gender, race, culture or whatever.
If you find yourself with large discrepancies – for example the vast majority of rough sleepers being male or the vast majority of victims of sexual violence being female, then you can use that as a pretty good indicator that you’ve failed to establish the kind of just society we seek, on that measure at least.
The key point, however, is that pursuing equality as an end in itself can lead you to some terrible conclusions.
To illustrate, ask why we might want more support and counselling services for male survivors of sexual abuse. Do we want those services because there are thousands of men who desperately and urgently need help and who are not getting it, or do we want those services because women get them and so it is “only fair” that men do too?
In the abstract this can look like quite a theoretical distinction but it has immense real world applications.
For example, if your goal is equality you can achieve that by closing down a load of Rape Crisis services for women.
If you are following an equality agenda, this comes out as a good thing. If you are following an agenda based on any kind of humanity and compassion then it is monstrous.
Again, back to our old pal Philip Davies, who stands up at MRA conferences and talks about the unfairness of the judicial system and sentencing. He wants it to be “more fair” by which he means “more equal.”
But he does not support prison reform in any meaningful sense, he does not want to end our appalling over-dependence on custodial punishment, overuse of remand or anything similar. He wants to make it more fair not by imprisoning fewer men but by imprisoning more women. And again that, in my opinion, is monstrous.
A couple of years ago the (then) equalities secretary Nicky Morgan made a big play of boasting about new statistics showing that the Tory / Coalition governments had narrowed the gender pay gap to its lowest level ever.
Here is how they did it
The lowest paid quarter of the population had seen their wages plummet since the financial crash of 2008. The lowest paid quarter of women had seen their earnings drop by 40p per hour. The lowest paid quarter of men had seen their earnings drop by 70p per hour.
The result? A closure in the gender pay gap, a step closer to equality.
Who had gained? Nobody. Everyone was losing (except possibly the employers.)
One could at a stretch propose a Spirit Level-type argument about relative wealth, but even that doesn’t hold up to a moment’s consideration. Women and men do not earn, keep and spend their money independently. Those men who saw their wages plummet will, in many or most cases, be helping support families, feed children, throwing their money into household budgets and when adult male salaries fall, women and children in the real world suffer (and of course vice versa with women’s salaries.)
This is one reason why you won’t often find me tweeting or blogging about the gender pay gap – closing it as an end in itself is a highly dangerous objective. You will, however, find me writing and wittering on about how we socialise boys and girls in to different arbitrary and power-based gender roles, about opening society’s minds to the possibilities of women engineers and male teachers and childcare workers, about every member of our society having the opportunities to fulfilment and self-actualisation through family, lifestyle, education and careers.
Sort out that stuff and the gender pay gap may one day disappear. If we do sort it out and then find that women and men are still making different choices with different implications for their earnings…