Balance v. Fairness

Talk to me about history and you will almost certainly come away convinced that I’m a militant feminist. The injustices and limitations wreaked on women through the centuries do make me boiling mad.

And yet, on a recent wine-tasting trip, I had no desire to visit the winery which touted the fact that it was “all woman owned.” In fact, hearing the fact trumpeted made me wish to avoid it.

Yes, I know the stats. Twice as many businesses are owned by men as by women. Working in the legal industry, I hear the constant hullabaloo about the fact that only about 31% of lawyers are women. “We need to make more opportunities for female lawyers so the legal profession reflects the wider population,” I hear over and over again.

Yet only 5.8% of nurses are male, and I’d guess there isn’t the same concern in that industry about evening out the sexes. If men are less drawn to nursing than women, as it appears they are, isn’t it possible that women are less drawn to lawyering than men? And if so, is that a bad thing?

It’s not to say that there aren’t still real injustices between the sexes, such as the fact that women make 77¢ for every dollar earned by men. Even when the sample is adjusted for the usual justifications for why that is, such as maternity leave, it doesn’t get much better. That should not be the case, and I know that – like the civil rights movement of the 60s – it will only change once an intense glare of attention is directed at the issue.

But when a business makes a big deal over the fact that only women own it, I can’t help thinking that a business wouldn’t think it necessary to advertise that it’s “all male owned.” It seems to me – correctly or not – that emphasizing it betrays a desire to raise women over men, not just bring them equal.

Women dominating men for the next 10 centuries or so would certainly bring some balance to history.  But it wouldn’t be fair.

So much of life is a pendulum, and there often aren’t easy answers about how to correct injustices without perpetrating them on the opposite side. But when looking for those answers, there are two things to remember: “balance” is not the same thing as “fairness” – and “equality” is not the same thing as “being the same.”

Book Review: One Perfect Day – the selling of the American wedding

Growing up, I never believed I’d be one of those adults who “didn’t have time to read.” Couldn’t comprehend it. And yet… it’s funny how that works. So, to enforce my new goal of reading at least one educational book each month, I present Part One of a new monthly series of non-fiction book reviews.

Having spent our entire courtship and engagement fighting the consumeristic, wedding-industry fueled ideas of what you “must have” to make your wedding what it “should” be, when I ran across another review of this book not long after our wedding I thought it would make for an interesting read. It does. In fact, the hardest part of writing this review was choosing the right number of relevant quotations. The author, Rebecca Mead, has a refreshing ability to get at the heart of the issue, and I found at least one priceless line or paragraph on each page. For instance:

Young women today often refer to bridal magazines as “wedding porn,” and the analogy – with its suggestion that the contents of bridal magazines are somewhat illicit, eminently compulsive, and pathologically fantastical – is a good one. Bridal magazines offer an invitation into a fantasy world, but the editorial tone they strike is one of the utmost practicality, as if there were nothing the least bit extraordinary about [their excesses].

or,

The bride, [Peter K. Hunsinger, Conde Nast executive] told a newspaper interviewer, is “kind of the ultimate consumer, the drunken sailor. Everyone is trying to get to her.”

Flattering, isn’t it? Puts the whole wedding industry’s perspective into perspective. Unfortunately, brides are buying in to the need to buy everything the wedding industry tells them to, whether it makes sense or not:

The Brooklyn [wedding] planner told me that her friends felt they had to give their guests wedding favors because they didn’t want their guests to think they couldn’t afford to do so. The fact that they couldn’t afford to do so was an unfortunate reality that would be felt after the party was over, when the next rent check or grocery bill was due.

As Mead continues, she examines the role of tradition, religion, and the American consumer experience in general:

The idea that couples can invent tradition on a personal level is a much shakier proposition… for on what level can anything be said to be traditional if it neither has been observed in the past nor is certain to be observed in the future?… Tradition is one of those words, like homeland or motherhood, that is most frequently invoked when what it represents is under threat, or is in abeyance…

The notion… is a familiar one in the contemporary culture of weddings: that a wedding ceremony, like a wedding reception, ought to be an expression of the character of the couple who are getting married, rather than an expression of the character of the institution marrying them.

I wish I’d read this book before planning our wedding, as several of the viewpoints she pointed out as slightly ridiculous were ones we had fallen foul of in spite of our best efforts to be different: for instance, that “A good set of wedding photographs can be called upon to justify all the expense that preceded them; and the anticipation of acquiring a good set of photographs can also encourage that expense in the first place,” (both sides of which thought I remember having) and that it is important for a wedding to be “not only a warm celebration among family and friends but also a spectacular and original event” (which is a sentiment I particularly remember my fiance voicing).

Yet after all these small insights, Mead’s conclusion is sadly unsatisfying: she has no conclusion. Viewing a wedding as a purely material opportunity to express one’s sense of style clearly leaves something to be desired, but what should it be? Two final quotes:

What is a wedding for? That sounds like a question to which there ought to be an obvious answer, but when I posed it to a group of soon-to-be brides and recently-married women… the room fell momentarily silent, and then everyone broke into slightly embarrassed laughter…. They had become accustomed to thinking about the event in terms of floral decisions or styles of photography, with the larger purpose of the wedding a distraction from the more pressing questions of logistics…. All wanted their wedding to be significant… but there was no consensus on where that significance lay.

The Viva Las Vegas wedding chapel offers the following proposition: that if a wedding ceremony does not have the meaning that most of the time we unthinkingly expect of it – if it does not initiate a couple’s intimacy, if it does not amount to a transition to maturity, if it does not indicate an intention to start a family, if it does not require the sanction of a religious authority, if it need not be witnessed by the couple’s community, and if it does not necessarily commit them to a life-long union – then it might as well be a lark as anything else.