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.”

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