On the 27th of February, I attended a lecture at LSE on “The Ideas of Equality: Feminisms of the 21st Century”. I was privileged to hear a panel of four different speakers: two of whom left a big impression on me. Many of the subjects that were touched upon resonated deeply with me. I hope to write on some of those themes later on but primarily, I want to discuss a topic that was brought up: the illusion of equality.
Dr Heide Mirza, one of the speakers, said that we live in a dangerous era where there is a perception that we live in times of “post-race” and “post-feminism” with the civil rights movement and the suffragette movement far behind us, as if we’ve reached a nirvana where we have it all. Now, we have reduced the “hurt parties” to white men. Oh how the tables have turned.
Professor Sophie-Grace Chappell later spoke about how our liberal freedoms and rights are at risk. We are in a time where there is a big and accepted platform for white, rich politicians to preach anti-women, anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-race speech.
What I see is that we currently live in an era where the word “equality” is a magic buzzword that, quite frankly, achieves very little. There is an attitude that has been well incorporated into the developed world that racist and sexist days are over because the movements have come and gone. This actually further marginalises women and people of colour. Guess who gets hit with the double whammy? Women of colour. Time and time again, we are excluded from public discourse pushed through by white feminism. The idea of intersectionality is now also a buzzword that is politicised and abused to pretend that women of colour are no longer marginalised exceptionally because mainstream feminism is now “inclusive” irrespective of race and sexuality.
We have over-used the word “equality” to the point where it no longer has the weight it did. Whether this is because our perception of being in a “post race” and “post feminism” state (and thereby marginilise the still existing social issues and, dare I say, oppression) or not, that’s up to you to decide. I also see that the “equality” many people fight for is a blanket term that doesn’t seem to achieve anything. I see that this is because of ‘speech act’ of our inclusivity of intersectionality, as stated above, where it claims to aid other minorities without actually actively doing anything to achieve the claim.
So how do we change this? This brings me back to a lecture I went to (and wrote about) earlier on “Muslim Feminist” where the speakers spoke about the idea of equality and justice. There is a rather famous cartoon where there are three men of different heights trying to see over a wall. Equality is giving them all the same size blocks but this means only the tallest can see over the wall. Justice is giving them different size blocks so they can all see over the wall. Is this not what we aim to achieve when we speak about equality? How then, can we ask everyone to be treated the same when we are innately different, whether it is race, gender, sexuality, or background? We ask for fairness in a fundamentally unfair world – the kind of unfair that is both changeable and unchangeable. By changeable I mean the social issues and structures that we are fighting against and by the unchangeable I mean we are all born different, talented in different ways, weak in different ways to one another. We are in an inherently unfair world, so to ask for equality is unreasonable, but rather ask for justice – for an opportunity to level the playing field so we can all see over the wall.