Terrance Heath

'Equal By Comparison' Is Not Equality

Filed By Terrance Heath | August 04, 2014 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: human rights, inaction, justice, perfect as enemy of the good, women's rights

earth-from-space-western-hemisphere.jpgThe Guardian's Jessica Valenti makes an excellent point about a common right-wing tactic for arguing against equality:

I'm wary of broadly painting Western women as universally less oppressed than others - there are actually many ways the U.S. lags behind other countries on women's rights, like political representation, corporate power and parental leave - but it is true that American women have more legal rights than women in some other countries. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women aren't allowed to drive. In Afghanistan, a woman can go to jail for leaving her abusive husband. Brazilian women can't access abortions, nor can women in Ireland. According to a 2011 UN report, 127 countries don't explicitly outlaw marital rape.

But is that really the standard by which people want to judge equality? So long as we have the right to vote, drive, go to school and work, American women should shut our mouths and be grateful to American men for allowing us to have that much?

The righteous fight for bare minimums doesn't have much of a ring to it. The goal of feminism is justice - not to just be better off than other oppressed women. There's no such thing as equal by comparison.

This is very similar to a common argument against LGBT equality in this country. I can't count how many times I've had someone, usually an American conservative opposed to LGBT equality, say "You should go to such-and-such country, where those people are 'really oppressed.' Then you'd appreciate how good you have it here already."

Mind you, we know that this is often said by people who are involved in movements that export to other countries the kind of oppression they'd like to impose on us back home. The draconian anti-gay laws in Russia and Uganada are prime examples of the role of the extreme religious right in the U.S. directly influencing extreme anti-LGBT laws. So they have a direct hand in doing the actual oppressing. (Uganda's law was recently struck down by the courts on technical grounds, leaving the door open for the country's parliament to pass it again.)

Like Jessica Valenti said, righteously fighting for bare minimums doesn't have much of a ring to it. We're not fighting just to be better off than people who are oppressed elsewhere. There is no such thing as equal-by-comparison.

It's a common right-wing tactic to try and change the subject, by asking "Why aren't you talking about this instead?" Usually "this" is something going on in another country. But I think with the laws in Russia and Uganda, we've seen that fighting for equality isn't an either/or question -- as in either here at home, or some other country.


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