What Exactly Do We Mean By Equal?

I am a feminist. I wear shirts that say “Riots not Diets” and tweet articles about women's issues. I am the founder of the feminist club on the campus of my women's college. I could probably take someone down with my feminist, pro-equality, social justice rhetoric. But it seems to me that there is a disconnect between fighting for these issues, for women, men, and trans*people to have equal opportunities, in my relatively comfortable feminist bubble and the real world.

I want to kick and scream about women's issues because I am a woman, and damnit, you better hear me roar. But by doing this, I feel like I'm also ostracizing myself from the rest of the world, like I'm counter-productively labeling myself as different when I'm ultimately fighting for equal commonality.

Eleanor Tabi Haller-Jorden came to speak at my school's version of TED talks, and addressed this point. Sheryl Sandberg's concept of "leaning in" has sparked a big controversy in the feminist movement: feminists now debate whether or not we should act like men and lean in, or remind them that women shouldn't have to match the way men behave, but rather have a different but equally valuable way of being. Tabi supported the latter, of women refusing to conform to the standards and behaviors men have set, of being treated equally without acting identically.

While I understand Tabi's view -- that women should be treated the same whether they are loud, opinionated, bossy, or not -- if women are not actively confronting men but rather advocating for a completely separate way of existing, how are we going to get them to consider our perspectives and get on board rather than view us as oppositional or separate? We need men to fight this battle with us, or else the gender hierarchy in place will continue to exist. The split of a disenfranchised group from the whole may be therapeutic and necessary to discuss issues in a safe space, but can't be a permanent state. If we maintain a separate but equal mentality, we'll never get to the root of these problems of inequality.

I think we ultimately need to ask ourselves if pro-equality movements are about loudly identifying as and maintaining categories of difference or about working together to gain equality?

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Courtney B
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