On the Equality of Men and Women

On the Equality of Men and Women

Long, long ago, in a faraway land, a young Shaolin monk named Kwai Chang Caine was troubled about the notion of “equality.” He had heard many people say that we are all equal, yet he saw differences that made him wonder about that. So, he requested an audience with Master Po, the wisest man he knew.

Master Po agreed to talk with him if Kwai Chang would walk with him. As they walked, Master Po was silent for a long time, so Kwai Chang began to speak….

KC: Master Po, do you think that men and women are “equal?”

PO: What do you think, Grasshopper?

KC: Well, I think so. After all, that’s what I read in the newspapers, and all our leaders say so, and it kind of feels right to think so, doesn’t it? After all, we shouldn’t discriminate against people based on sex, religion or race, should we?

PO: Hmmm….. What does this word “discriminate” mean to you?

KC: Well, according to the dictionary, it means “to make a distinction in favor of or against a person or thing on the basis of the group, class, or category to which the person or thing belongs rather than according to actual merit.”

PO: Then is discrimination a bad thing?

KC: It seems unfair.

PO: Suppose you are gathering monks to work on the new dining hall, which will be made of wood. Would you seek those who have skill in carpentry, or those who have none?

KC: Why, I would seek carpenters.

PO: Is that not “discrimination” by your definition?

KC: Well, … I suppose it is. I’m choosing men based on their category of experience. And if I find later that they are unsuitable, I’ll assign them other work, or let them go. But I’ll also be willing to consider others if they appear to have talent and a desire to learn.

PO: But will you give those two categories (skilled and unskilled) the same consideration?

KC: No.

PO: And why not?

KC: Because it is unlikely that an unskilled person will perform as well as a skilled person without much training, and we want to get the building completed without extra cost or delay.

PO: So then discrimination is not, of necessity, a bad thing, Grasshopper?

KC: I suppose not, Master Po. It is frequently useful to make judgments based on groups, categories and classes. They may not always be the correct judgments, yet they are useful nonetheless. But what of the difference between men and women? Are they not equal?

PO: Equal in what sense? Do you mean that all women are equal to all men? That any woman is equal to any man? That a particular woman is equal to a particular man?

KC: Let’s consider the last case – that a particular woman is equal to a particular man. It seems to me that if they are both hired to do the same job, they should get the same pay. Is it not so?

PO: Why should it be so?

KC: Because they are equal, of course!

PO: Do they have equal abilities in all respects?

KC: Well, no, I suppose not. Women tend to be less strong than men. They tend to be less aggressive than men, and they tend to be shorter than men.

PO: So you recognize them as a class or group or category, and make statistically valid judgments based on that?

KC: Yes, I guess I do.

PO: Would you then support the employer’s right to pay a woman less if he thinks that she will not perform as well as a man with the same job?

KC: I suppose so, but what if she does perform as well as a man? Should she not be paid the same?

PO: Is that for the government to decide, for you to decide, or for her employer to decide? What sort of control should we have over others? Is this not an issue for the market to decide?

KC: OK, I agree. But … but … what about opportunities? Suppose a woman wishes to become a warrior? Should she not have that opportunity?

PO: What does it mean to be a warrior?

KC: That one will fight to defend the country.

PO: Are women really equal to men in their ability to fight like this?

KC: Well, not as a group, but surely there is some woman who is better at fighting than some warrior.

PO: And if she is placed in a group of male warriors, will her presence affect the group differently than a male’s presence would?

KC: Ah, I see where you’re going with this. Although her ability may be great, her effect on the group will not be conducive to martial discipline, hence she is not “equal” in that respect. I see that the notion of “equality” is a subtle thing.

PO: Yes, Grasshopper, it is a subtle thing. Even though she might excel among those other warriors, her presence there should be rejected because it would destroy the unity of the group and eventually reduce its effectiveness as a fighting force.

KC: But those other warriors are wrong! They have outmoded ideas about women, and should learn new ways of thinking about the sexes. They all have male guilt and …

At that point, Master PO turned to Kwai Chang and slapped him so hard that the boy’s eyes rolled back in his head and he fell to the ground. Master Po sat down next to him and began to meditate. After a few minutes, the boy began to stir.

KC: Oh… uh…. Thanks, Master Po. I guess I needed that.

PO: No problem. We all need a wakeup call once in a while. Now, where were we?

KC: We were talking about equality and what it really means. I think I see now that equality is a complex issue, and that many people have knee-jerk reactions to it. And “equal” doesn’t mean “the same.”

PO: OK. So perhaps “equal” in the sense you use it means “equal rights under the law?”

KC. I guess so.

PO: Then what are the just laws we should have? Should we have laws that force strip clubs to hire ugly women to work the poles, and short men to be hired as professional basketball players, and bald men to do shampoo commercials? After all, these are forms of discrimination, are they not?

KC: I see your point. No, I don’t think we should have such laws, but I’m not sure how to decide about other things, like equality of opportunity.

PO: Ah, Grasshopper, we may all strive to be other than what we are, and are always free to do so. That freedom, however, must not place a burden on others to “level the playing field” as it were. The world is what it is – and we are all what we are. For a woman to deny her true nature is her ‘right’, but that does not impose an obligation on others to accommodate her desire. Is it not so?

KC: I’ll have to think about that.

And so they continued to walk in silence for a long time.

< to be continued …>

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