First off: the desire for equality has been an important idea to promote and organize around (in abolition, women's struggles, gay rights, etc) and it will no doubt continue to be an important idea in the future.

 

Without claiming that equality is a 'bad' thing, is it possible to question the ways equality is talked about in contemporary debates?  For example, I often hear conservatives latching onto equality to fight affirmative action policies and ant-racist strategies.  Is it possible that the idea of 'equality' has outlived its usefulness in certain areas?

 

Equality is often discussed in a way that assumes we should already be equal, and because that is the 'end goal', I think we often end up thinking passively rather than actively.  If we are looking for equality between men and women (for example) we tend to wait for government to fix things.  We hope that affirmative action, equality of opportunity, equality of education, etc, will end sexism.  I would not claim that these policies have done nothing to tackle sexism, but by depending on them alone we forget that sexism is often perpetuated in culture, in thought, and in action.  It doesn't make sense to depend on government to 'fix' sexism in this context.  For example, almost all Hollywood films are shot according to an implicit (heterosexual) 'male gaze' where the camera is like a set of male eyes.  Women get 'checked out' and objectified; we see shots of female body parts and the female figure, but we don't see the same shots of male characters.  This can't simply be stopped or changed.  Prohibiting sexist culture would mean an oppressive government that banned certain books, tv, film, etc.

 

We need to be able to tackle sexism (and racism/heterosexism/classism/etc) on our own at a communal and relational level.  I think this is the only way to create productive change at a 'micro' level (in terms of thought, culture, beliefs, etc).  This means being critical of sexism and oppression in our society, and analyzing things like the 'male gaze' in film.  How does 'equality' fit into this personal and communal process of working on sexism?  Other than saying 'we should all be equal (eventually) and oppression is bad', can equality be a useful way to think about cultural issues surrounding oppression?  Can 'equality' be used productively to think about strategies that actually subvert or challenge sexist thought and culture?