What is equality?

Equality, is equal human value. 

Women and men have equal human value. None is secondary to the other. However, the 19th century has created a rapture in the human condition. Some see it as a leap forward, today it’s more common than before to regard that human earthquake as destructive, the truth is probably somewhere in between, but regardless, the 19th century has seen the reversal point, when humans stopped being restricted by nature and nature became restricted by humans. This was the climax of about 10,000 years of civilization formation, after which civilization eventually stopped being an organization to survive nature, and reached the point of becoming a means to control nature. The problem since then, is that humans, are also part of nature.

This posed for the first time questions of self-control, self-restriction: what was until then primarily restricted by nature, by a force majeure, for which no human can be held accountable, increasingly became the causal result of human affairs. This rapture, this reversal, was a result of a renaissance, that led to a scientific revolution, which drove a technological revolution, all culminating in a political revolution – the forming of republics, the forming of human self-governance, self-restriction, self-determination (aka democracy).

It is customary to project from the life we know since, backwards, onto all of history, and to assume that whatever we know about humanity from the 19th century and onward prevailed throughout all of history, but this is primarily a projection. Prior to the 19th century and throughout the past, rulers controlled all of humanity. The ruling classes comprised both men and women, who ruled over both men and women. The ruling classes oppressed both sexes of the subordinated class, not only women, and within that class, men and women were not competing against each other or ruling each other, but trying to cooperate the best they can to survive nature – nature was their restricting factor prior to the reversal of the 19th century, and not each other. Lacking technology to assist them, each in a couple contributed whatever skills he and she had to their mutual survival. None had “high paying positions” or “professional independence” – none was secondary to the other, each had equal and unique human value, which was imperative for survival.

And then, during the 19th century, due to the reversal point that civilization had reached, something suddenly changed. People could for the first time rule their lives – nature was increasingly put under the shackles of technology and rulers gradually replaced by self-governance. Prior to that period, the concept of equality as the same legal rights given by states to all, wasn’t invented yet. Even the enlightenment regarded rights as god-given and not as state-given. Only during the formation of republics circa 1848, the innovation that equality means same rights to all was articulated. Up to that point, what prevailed between the two sexes was nature’s definition of equality, which is based, rather than on the concept of same rights to both, on different, privileges, to each sex, creating incalculable equivalence, the only conceivable measure of which is the very fact that humanity has survived and flourished, as well as a plethora of literature from 2.5 millennia written by men and by women. And it is at that point, that men and women started finding themselves at a disparity.

It is anyone’s guess why men progressed during the 19th century more than women. These were the first generations that acquired reading and writing skills in masses and men got to be literate in greater numbers earlier (before that, humanity was mostly illiterate); men acquired property more frequently (before that, land belonged to the rulers, be it a male or a female ruler, and 25% of rulers were women); and when voting rights appeared, more men acquired them (women started voting in the 18th century, in England and in the US, but in smaller numbers, as the vote depended on owning property or wealth, since rulers wanted to keep the number of people with this right very small, thus giving this power by a criterion that few would meet – wealth similar to that of the ruling aristocracy).

Today we call the disparity forming in the 19th century, chauvinism. But back then, male chauvinism, while having some expressions throughout history (alongside a matching female-supremacy sentiment captured in tales as that of the Amazons or in stories as Lysistrata, a play that depicts women as incapable of endorsing violence and war, and so on), was not an explicit stance as it would become by the 20th century (and one may assume – as a result of the circumstances evolving in the 19th). One explanation for the disparity forming throughout that era, could be the destruction of the farming community and the formation of the industrialized city. Prior to the invention of factories and slums, humans lived in small farms. Both the man and the woman worked in and around the house, each performing chores that were partly similar, like harvesting, and partly different, like construction and sawing (to those who think that the dissociation between men and sawing and association between women and sawing is founded on an arbitrary cultural stereotype, I strongly recommend to inspect the fingers of a construction worker to see first-hand how years of manual labor deform the fingers’ structure and control, and how delicate tasks such as sawing become impossible; sawing and construction is one example to how surviving nature was what forged unique human value of each sex based on the unique and necessary skills of each sex. As for the sawing example, of course today the aforementioned associations are usually groundless. We only mentioned them to show the falsehood of the contemporary assumption that all associations between sex and function are arbitrary. Most such associations have a concrete and rather recent source rather than being arbitrary). That is to say, women as men, worked – they worked in farming, as still seen today in every rural traditional society, as in eastern Europe for example, where women work, with men. Women were not confined to the house but working, all through history. But when they moved into the city, the domain the woman had with the man in a farm, was cut down to a flat. Work in factories was extremely lethal – this is a period of a very early stage in technological development with no workers’ rights, and workers were crippled, burnt, boiled and crushed as a matter of routine. Other types of work were not as prevalent as today. And this new arrangement in these cities, had started to rewrite the previous state of equal human value when both were facing nature and a ruler, and trying to survive.

One can only hypothesize that as an asymmetry was starting to build because of the change – with men finding themselves having more weight in the household economics and being more exposed to the environment – when progress was disseminated it reached them first, as literacy, ownership, and as a consequence, as legal rights regarding ownership and workers’ rights and consequently as voting rights. It is clear that prior to that, in ancient history men had privileges that women didn’t have, but women also had privileges that men didn’t, such as being compensated financially in case of a divorce even if the wife was from a rich family and the man from a poor one (as in Judaism). When during the 19th century rights were being defined formally, it was done without awareness among men and women that this new system may and will eventually replace a primitive balance that was founded on equivalence. Neither intended nor suspected that states will become so powerful that anything not formalized as a state-given right will not be attainable at all, and that formalizing rights could thus create inequality. It is safe to say that the humanist revolution of the 19th century, although triggered by women’s protests just as by men’s, left the women behind. It took 100 years, from the mid-19th century until the mid-20th, for both men and women acting together as humanists, to correct this and create equality, which was reached by the 1960s (much before female separatism, known as Feminism, had appeared in the 1970s based on forgetting most of this recent history as well as on the erasure of almost all of the history that preceded that period to feed the perception formed by this amnesia).

That rapture of the 19th century, had re-defined human value. And until this very day we were left, especially in capitalist societies, with the deep concern – now we are nature, now we are our own restricting factor, hence, the ancient factor called nature that determined human value as the unique value of each sex, indispensable for survival, became obsolete. Now a few women try to argue that according to the scales they would like to adopt for human value, men are secondary to women, and a few men try to argue that other scales for human value, that they want to adopt, make women secondary. And the fact of the matter is this: there are no objective, physical, concrete, measurable scales for human value past the reversal point, when humans became the restricting factor of nature instead of vice versa and therefore of themselves – humans are the ones who determine the scale of human value, and, choosing such a scale thus becomes, not a competition or a research objective, but, a moral, responsibility. I would recommend you to choose: humanism. Believing in equal human value of all humans as a matter of principal.

Equality between the sexes is not sameness between sexes. This is because sameness does not grant equality. In homosexual couples, both are of the same sex, they are as “same” as conceivably possible for heterosexual couples to try and become – does that alone grant that both in a homosexual couple are equal in their relationship?

Equality is not identical numbers. If the two sexes were able to achieve sameness, then identical numbers in each and every domain separately would have been the criterion for equality. But if the sexes can never achieve absolute sameness, insisting on identical numbers in every domain separately would create inequality, not equality. Because one would have to demote some who are more competent, and promote others who are less so, to reach the numbers, but by this one will be engaging in discrimination by sex and favoritism by sex, the very opposite of equality. It is extremely challenging to tell in which domains identical numbers represent equality, and in which, identical numbers represent inequality. An extremely well-controlled assessment of equal opportunity at all stages, equal cultivation at all levels, and equal baseline competency, will need to be obtained, without bias, in order to make these distinctions correctly to avoid being the ones creating inequality. And this is immensely difficult to achieve. However, we can safely say this: we need to be attentive to these three factors, and not to eventual numbers. Because if we focus primarily on numbers, we are almost guaranteed to be introducing bias to our assessments of those three factors, and hence to be increasing inequality rather than decreasing it.

Rather than identical numbers or sameness, equality, is first and foremost, equal human value. This is the determination that human value is not set by level of sameness with any model, nor by weight in numbers in any domain. But by the internal human content that a human being bears by being human.

Continue reading in Lovism: A Humanist Alternative to Feminism, available on amazon.

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Cover picture: People vector created by svstudioart – www.freepik.com

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