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Life Issues

The pursuit of equality between the sexes seems to be gaining a new degree of traction lately. In the last few days I have noted at least two news items in which there is yet another call for equality between the sexes in a wide range of areas in society.

The first report raised the issue of equality between the sexes in the corporate workplace so that women are more represented in the upper echelons of the business world.

The second report dealt with the possibility of women serving in the military in front line combat positions. Again, the call is for equality between men and women in this hazardous role.

Right up front let me emphasise that I support those endeavours that seek to remove unfair and bigoted discrimination towards women. Such bias denies women the opportunities to find a greater degree of fulfilment in their own lives and a greater sense of equality with their male counterparts. Further, it robs society of the unique contribution that only women can make to the overall benefit of the particular community where they belong.

But there is a deeper issue here that I want to identify and it's this:

There is a great difference between being equal and being the same.

I hope you pause a moment and consider this statement because it is indispensible to the effective fulfilment of the diverse roles and relationships that make up the human society. Being the 'same as' is very different from being 'equal with' in our relationships.

My concern is that we will fall into the trap of thinking that sameness is identical with equality and that we will settle for something that is less than the best for all concerned. Equality is not the same as conformity. In fact, conformity is the enemy of equality.

The popular thinking as it relates to the two examples mentioned earlier goes something like this:

If we could just get more women into the board rooms of our big corporations, that would make them equal with men. If we could just get women into the front line combat situations, they would then be equal with men.

My response to that kind of thinking is this:

No, what we would have is sameness, not equality. The logic behind those conclusions is flawed because of the failure to see the difference between equality and sameness and that, in turn, leads us to make decisions that rob us of the very fulfilment that we seek. The people in the two examples above will not necessarily be equal just because they become the same.

Perhaps one way to explain what I mean is to point out the difference between unity and uniformity. For example, consider the illustration of an orchestra. Note the wide range of musical instruments, each producing very different sounds as the orchestra 'warms up'. The conductor comes to the podium and, under his/her direction, the different instruments produce harmony and unity.

The differences are harmonized, not eliminated. In fact, those differences are indispensible if unity is to be achieved. If all the instruments played the same note or if the orchestra was made up of 76 trombones playing the same note, that would be uniformity, not unity. The goal is unity, not uniformity. Just so with our situation, the goal is equality, not sameness.

So, what does sameness look like? It looks like and acts like everything else and everybody else! It might wear the same uniform, adopt the same conduct, have the same hairstyle, behave in the same way - in fact, it might do everything possible to clone itself so that differences are minimized or eliminated. Is this true equality? No, it is sameness and conformity. It is also a crying shame!

What disappoints me in all this discussion about so-called equality is the desire to either minimize or eliminate the very differences that are the key to true equality.

When is a woman truly equal and equal to what or to whom?

We have all heard the expression, that he or she is "equal to the task". By that we mean that the person who is charged with a particular task possesses those skills, resources, knowledge, motivation and experience that match or are equal to the requirements of the task at hand. It is not a question of gender but a question of suitability.

Imagine a set of scales. On one side is placed the demands of a particular task and on the other side is placed the exact resources to balance or equalise or match those demands. That's equality.

A woman is truly equal ( i.e. neither inferior or superior) when:

a. She is free to embrace and express the uniqueness of her femininity to the fullest degree.

b. She is not encumbered by the social agenda of expectations that would deny her that fulfilment by eliminating the very differences that are indispensible for her equality or emphasising those differences to marginalise her.

c. Such a woman has nothing to prove to anyone.

While we are acknowledging this uniqueness of a woman, let's also affirm that the same is true for a man.

A man is truly equal (i.e. neither inferior or superior) when:

a. He can embrace and express the uniqueness of his masculinity to the fullest degree.

b. He is not encumbered by the social agenda of expectations that would deny him that fulfilment by eliminating the very differences that are indispensible for his equality or emphasising those differences to marginalise him.

c. Such a man has nothing to prove to anyone.

Anything at all that blurs those differences and seeks to melt them into one gender is to be resisted with all of our combined might and intention. It's when we try to deny, misuse and abuse those differences that we run into real trouble. The problem is not with the differences. The problem is with the abuse of those differences.

So, let's celebrate those differences rather than eliminate them. They each bring a uniqueness to the society in which they are found. For those who can receive it (and not everyone can or will), what I have outlined is, I believe, consistent with the Biblical statement in Genesis 1/27 NLT

"God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them".

There are, no doubt, very good reasons why God made us male and female. So let's not try to obliterate those differences by pursuing sameness but rather learn how to enhance them and bring them to their full glory so that we have equality.

Viva la difference!!

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