In the Fight for Equality, Parity is Not Enough.
Parity is not enough.
You may be wondering, if women achieve parity — 50/50 — surely that’s the equality we’re looking for?
The thing is, if we only shoot for parity — for 50/50 — we’re never going to get there. All we’re doing is shoe-horning women into deeply patriarchal systems where women have been disadvantaged for millennia.
It is not just luck-of-the-draw that we live in a world where S&P 1500 CEOs named John, Robert, William or James outnumber women CEOs four-to-one. It is not mere coincidence that most of the world has never had a woman leader, and even those that have, not for very long. And it is no fluke that a mere 1.7% of all billionaires are self-made women. The glass ceiling is not a recent installation, but a reflection of the long history of systemic oppression, discrimination, and erasure of women; of treating women as second-class citizens — that is in the short history where women are considered citizens at all, and not property.
That’s just the top end. At the other end of the spectrum, 62 million girls cannot go to school, and in 70 countries, girls face violence just for trying to go to school. Child brides, honor killings, female infanticide, genital mutilation, domestic- and other forms of violence against girls and women are still common-place accepted practices in vast parts of the world. And across the spectrum, women bear the cost of unpaid unrecognized labor, poor women most of all. From the Second Shift to walking miles every day to fetch water, from being the caretaker at home to doing emotional labor at work. In the US, white women are still paid 78% of what white men are paid, while black, Native American, and Latina women are only at 54% to 63%. The earnings gap has not diminished in a decade.
You probably know all this already and much much more. So why then, in a world that is so deeply unequal, through and through, do we believe that going for parity is going to be enough?
To achieve parity, we have to progress far beyond just trying to get to 50/50 in our current world. While great strides have been made — to the point where we can even talk about equal pay, compared to only decades ago, where debate still swirled around whether women (at least the ones who had a choice) should work outside the home at all — we are still only at the tip of the iceberg.
“Women were welcome to come in as workers but not as co-makers of the world. For all their numbers, they seldom rose to positions of responsibility or power. The few who did fitted into the system as they found it. All standards, all methods, all values, continued to be set by men.” — Emily N. Blair
Sound familiar? The above quote is by suffragist Emily N. Blair from 1924. 1924! From this perspective, despite all the progress of the last century, we are still “fitting into the system” where “all standards, all methods, all values continue to be set by men,” and a small set of men at that.
Feminism has far too often left behind women of color and women who are poor, those who have and continue to face more difficult obstacles, who have had to bear the heavier burden of inequality, and who still have a longer way to go towards parity. Intersectionality is a word that is only beginning to pierce mainstream consciousness.
To achieve equal treatment for all women, not just parity for privileged women, we have to rethink the entire framework in which we live our lives — our economic systems, our social norms, our language, the millions of events that we experience and absorb every single day that we don’t give a second thought to — the very stuff of our lives. Because a world in which we can achieve parity, in which women and men can truly be treated equally, will look radically different than the one we live in today. It has to, because the world we live in today is at unprecedented levels of inequality, where most people have scant opportunity to fulfill their potential, and where half the world’s wealth is held by the 1%, who are predominantly men. So just because we can get a couple more women added to a list by Forbes, or onto a Fortune 500 board, or even to the White House, those are only steps taken in a world that is the product of thousands of years of patriarchy, and two centuries of capitalism, which has exacerbated inequality and continues to do so.
Steps are good, but to achieve parity we need a leap.
Capitalism is not going away soon, but we collectively have to start learning, examining, and questioning the predominant economic system that is a product and perpetuator of white patriarchy. We can not only struggle for more seats within such a system, we must look beyond to design economic and societal systems where equal opportunity is built in.
Trying to reach parity in our current world is not enough to get us there. We need to imagine a new world where parity is possible.