The Power of Equality

I wrote the following on a Skepchick thread, and thought it could be more broadly applied to several situations:

Let x = the “worth” of a woman, and y be the “worth” of a man. We’ll both agree, these should be equal, right? That is x = y. Great.

Now let’s say a is the power that women hold in society. And let’s make b the power that men hold in society. We want equality here, too. So, ideally:

ax = by
…But wait, if x = y, then a = b. But, again, I think we can agree that is not the case: women do not have equal power in our society. Alright, let’s do something about it:
(a +i)x = (b + j)y
…Where i is “what we’re doing to empower women” and j is “what we’re doing to empower men”.

More often than not, what I see people arguing on the internet is that i should equal j (usually, in the form of 0), and that things will all work themselves out in the end.

That math doesn't work.

The problem here is that people want to define "fair" as "equal treatment".  This is a mistake. It's a mistake because of the equation above: there cannot be "fairness" when the equation is already imbalanced.  Fairness means "appropriate treatment".  And what is approrpriate is not always (perhaps not even often) equal.


Jap said...


"Sure, we all have different areas of 'passion', but must we limit on the basis of 'she’s female, therefore more deserving'? Why not encourage more skepticism in general instead? Why assume all skeptical women who take to the podium are the same - that all are guaranteed to be great presenters, well-versed researchers? ...I am now more of the mindset that 'less women is the status quo anyway' and get to supporting science _in general_ for the good of all."

Jeremy Rice said...

Thanks for stopping by.

I don't understand the first sentence of your comment. Areas of passion? Are you saying that women want different things than men, so we shouldn't work towards changing that?

Encouraging skepticism in general is always a good thing. :) Just remember that "in general" means "52% women"!

As for the last assertion (less women is status quo), I disagree.

But regardless, I do agree that science "in general" is a good thing!

Jap said...

'I don't understand the first sentence of your comment. Areas of passion? Are you saying that women want different things than men, so we shouldn't work towards changing that?'

I was quoting from the blog post I cited in the tiny url -

As far as I can see it, people in skepticism want very much the same thing but may have 'strengths' in different areas of have particular interests that may lend more towards one issue than the other at times (for example, a relative that was pushed to support mediums to the point where they became bankrupt might have one more passionate about shutting down psychics on TV).

Nothing is easily argued as more 'vital' than another. It's all part of reducing harm.

'In general', might mean 'for the benefit of a world population of 52% women too', but we can hardly expect to have that sort of success rate! There's too many other factors. But skepticism should be about the scientific method and thus gender neutral.

'Less women is status quo' in skepticism because it is rather like that in science too. But it shouldn't be used as an excuse to not get working on issues, that might happen to appeal to both genders. To focus only on women-based ventures seems odd when there's such an overlap anyway. Take the recent skeptical parenting blog carnival. Most of the contributors are men / raise issues important to both sexes (or even not even defining themselves as one or the other gender!).

There's work to be done and to be bothered about the political correctness and notion that every woman has to be x to be a REAL skeptic -- who cares. There's bigger things at stake.

That's pretty much what that blog entry and the comments said anyway, from what I see. There's more essays there too on the issue.

Jeremy Rice said...

I think it's great that you want to promote skepticism as much as possible. Get to it. Kudos and godspeed.

For me, feminism is also a pretty important topic, so I choose to focus on it as well as skepticism. Racism, too. And liberalism. You would have a very difficult time convincing me to abandon any of those topics in preference of skepticism alone.

We've all gotta fight the battles that are significant to us.