Feminism vs Equalism, and why we need both

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In the previous column I had discussed some myths about feminism — vague notions that give a bad name to the simple and fundamental concept that aims to establish equality between men and women, even as it recognises the differences between them. I had also talked about how a lot of people, many of them unaccepting feminists, believe that feminism is unnecessary as it is encompassed by ‘equalism’, the general concept of equality of all.

Now, we must talk about equalism in order to justify the existence of feminism to its critics. A number of people who believe in equality between the two conventional sexes give preference to the concept of equalism which, they believe, takes care of all that feminism needs to do. Equalism is the belief that all human beings, irrespective of gender, race, caste, class and any other distinctions, are equal. So what is the need for feminism in order to attain equality between men and women? Equalism already takes into account equality between everyone, including between males and females. So doesn’t equalism render feminism useless?

The issue at hand is not as simple as it sounds. In reality, even as feminism is united with the cause of equality of everyone in general, the two concepts deal with differential issues altogether. Equalism isn’t equipped to deal with the deep-rooted prejudices against women that must be considered from the prism of male vs
female discrimination.

Let’s consider the example of an office with a large number of employees at different positions. Now, while all employees — from the peon to the CEO — must be dealt with with respect and must have all rights pertaining to them as employees, the differences of designation and hierarchy between them need to be taken into account. For example, while the CEO will have her/his own private cabin, the clerks will be accommodated in a common working area; or the white collar employees may have a fancy conference room which the blue collar ones may not have access to.

In that office, if the clerks are made to sit in a hot and humid basement without air-conditioning where the working conditions are too harsh, while the high ranking employees sit in comfortable and fancy cabins, ‘equalism’ comes in the picture. All employees must be treated with equality and thus they all must, irrespective of the positions that they hold, be made to work in comfortable spaces.

Now, let’s assume that a male and a female employee have the same designation and the same salary. Let’s say the woman out performs her male counterpart, as per the company’s records, but is given a lesser pay hike than the man (perhaps the CEO believes that women needn’t earn as much as men because men are the primary bread earners and women’s incomes are supplementary — a very widespread notion indeed! Watch this space for more about it). This case falls under that of gender discrimination. Now, if there is a third employee who is dark skinned and is not involved in group work because some people do not like his skin colour, it’s a case of racism.

All these cases are of inequality but each one of them falls into a separate category of inequality that has its own enormity and history.

All over the world, there are various kinds of discriminations against several groups of people on many grounds. The several struggles for equality may fall under one umbrella, that of equalism, but each one of those struggles has its own respective challenges and goals and needs to be respected and fought from a specific perspective. The generalisation of all such struggles against bitter biases would dilute the seriousness and sensitivity required by each one of them.

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