The (In)Equity of Womanhood

March 8 was International Women’s Day and, at every turn, social media hummed with that favorite buzzword, “equality.” But as I learn and grow as a feminist, I tend to favor “equity” over “equality.” When we talk about equality, we tend to talk about similar treatment across the boards. Equity acknowledges that not everyone is the same and actively working to fill in those gaps to even the playing field. Teacher Amy Sun penned an excellent article about how her experience as a classroom teacher impacted her feminist viewpoints. Equal pay, in particular, is a recurring topic. Women are paid, on average, 78 cents for every dollar that men make.

Image courtesy of UNA Gender Crosstalk Initiative

Yet, as Audre Lorde so aptly reminds us, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate these differences.” Too frequently, cries of equality tend to homogenize differences between women. It is important to note that women of color experience a larger gap and that it may be more acute depending on the state. If there is already variance within this pay gap inequality, will a broad “equal pay” initiative actually address these differences?

Here’s where equity comes into play. The concept of equity tends to make people uncomfortable. After all, this is the United States, the great melting pot, right? But this idea that everyone is born with an equal shot at success grossly ignores the country’s history of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. Fighting for an equitable pay gap solution, for example, acknowledges that some women hold low paying jobs because they don’t have access better paying opportunities.

Salon writer Brittney Cooper revisited this subject recently as she explored rifts between white feminists and feminists of color. Cooper explains, equity and justice focus on meeting needs and not just giving them lip service. Under this framework, equity acknowledges that prejudices and disadvantage are deeply ingrained in the culture and works to counter their affects. No one’s getting a leg over anyone else; instead, it’s about systematically targeting societal failings so everyone can access the same opportunities. In the pay gap example, it’s worth wondering what impact helping women at the low income end of the pay scale could not only have on the affected population but on the wider community.

This week, the United Nations begins a session centered around Gender Equality. But when I heard a radio news piece on the session, the reporter used the term “equity.” I hope the General Assembly knows the difference between the two and works towards comprehensive solutions that help women rise.


Originally published at ladycollective.com on March 9, 2015. For updates, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Tumblr @ladycollective.