Is Equality Compatible with Natural Differences? (Or Does Equality Have to Be Engineered?)
Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He serves as executive editor of the journal Perspectives on Political Science, and has been chair of the politics and literature section of the American Political Science Association. He also served on the editorial board of the new bilingual critical edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals. He has written or edited fifteen books and over 200 articles and chapters in a wide variety of venues. He was the 2007 winner of the Weaver Prize in Scholarly Letters.\r\n\r\nLawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004 – 09. His most recent book, Modern and American Dignity, is available from ISI Books.\r\n\r\nFollow him on Twitter @peteralawler.
Consider the big effort being made to engineer equality at a particular Swedish pre-school. Here's the meat of the article:
Breaking down gender roles is a core mission in the national curriculum for preschools, underpinned by the theory that even in highly egalitarian-minded Sweden, society gives boys an unfair edge.
To even things out, many preschools have hired “gender pedagogues’’ to help staff identify language and behavior that risk reinforcing stereotypes.
Some parents worry things have gone too far. An obsession with obliterating gender roles, they say, could make the children confused and ill-prepared to face the world outside kindergarten.
“Different gender roles aren’t problematic as long as they are equally valued,’’ says Tanja Bergkvist, a 37-year-old blogger and a leading voice against what she calls “gender madness’’ in Sweden.
Those bent on shattering gender roles “say there’s a hierarchy where everything that boys do is given higher value, but I wonder who decides that it has higher value,’’ she says. “Why is there higher value in playing with cars?’’
At Egalia — the title connotes “equality’’ — boys and girls play together with a toy kitchen, waving plastic utensils and pretending to cook. One boy hides inside the toy stove, his head popping out through a hole.
Lego bricks and other building blocks are intentionally placed next to the kitchen, to make sure the children draw no mental barriers between cooking and construction.
Director Lotta Rajalin notes that Egalia places a special emphasis on fostering an environment tolerant of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. From a bookcase, she pulls out a story about two male giraffes who are sad to be childless — until they come across an abandoned crocodile egg.
Nearly all the children’s books deal with homosexual couples, single parents or adopted children. There are no “Snow White,’’ “Cinderella’’ or other classic fairy tales seen as cementing stereotypes.
Rajalin, 52, says the staff also try to help the children discover new ideas when they play.different interests and abilities because of their natural differences needs to be abandoned.
The Swedes seem to think something like this: Because men are good at fighting and ruling, they will inevitably set a sexist agenda if we let them. Sure, some women can fight with the best of them and distinguish themselves politically. But even acknowledging that fact can be viewed as part of the patriarchal conspiracy. Human excellence is still being defined from a male view, and women in general will never be as excellent as men in general. I'm tempted to say that equality, in this view, requires that we engineer a response to a natural, political tendency.
We have to deconstruct the stereotype--even if it's rooted in nature--that abilities and interests have anything to do with what each person is given by nature. We can't say, for example, that women have different interests and abilities just because they're the ones, by nature, who have the babies. We can say, as the Supreme Court does in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that women are free to define themselves however they please--and so not as moms. But surely we really can't say that men, at least at this point in our technological development, are free to define themselves as reproductive machines for the state or as the source of the replacements we so desperately need to keep the species going.
Nor can we say, in Sweden at least, that the eros--or the emotional capacity to love--of men and women is naturally different. This hyper-egalitarian thought, someone might say, flatters men. The view of the classical Greeks (the poets, Plato, and so forth) was that women excelled in private, intimate life by nature--both sexually and by being closer to children--and men invented politics, in part, in revenge.
So in Plato's Republic the construction of an egalitarian educational program for the ruling class is done by men on men's terms. That is, the goal is civic justice, and not what's best for parents, children, and friends. A city constructed by women wouldn't have taken justice so seriously that it abolishes what makes life most worth living for most people. A city constructed by women also wouldn't ban great literature--about, say, fascinating women such as Snow White or Cinderella--just because it "cements stereotypes" or, in other words, calls into question the reigning idea of egalitarian justice.
How could wholly "gender neutral" engineering really be good for friendship? The best friends take into account everything about each other. And everyone knows that bromance or male bonding is different, usually, from even a Platonic frienship between man and woman. And it makes a lot of difference whether or not someone really, really wants to have sex with a friend.
Have I forgotten the gays again? Well, I will assert that gay men have different interests in some ways from straight men, and I can say that while regarding gays and straights equally.
So I'm reminded of the shower scence in the sci-fi movie Starship Troopers--taken as it is from the egalitarian political engneering found in the Republic: Men and women warriors showering together naked without any sexual "issues." I don't think attempts to make that fantasy real would improve life as we know it.
Swedish pre-schooling, I agree with the blogger, is in the thrall of sexual madness.
(Thanks to Andrea Lowry for calling this article to my attention.)
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