“Can a privileged white male like me talk about equality and diversity?” While clearly suffering from ‘white-male guilt’, former Victorian politician Rob Hulls, writing in the Fairfax press, grudgingly answered in the affirmative. Bully for him, but that he thought the question worthy of sweating over is instructive. White men are not the flavour of the times. Indeed, those supporting Donald Trump are often described in left-wing media (e.g., in The Huffington Post) as “angry white men” whose influence is dwindling in the racial mixing pot.
I take no personal credit as a white man but it seems queer to me, without in the least belittling other parts of humanity, that the very part of humanity which has made this modern West, in which gender equality and ethnic and sexual diversity can flourish, is the subject of scorn and derision. I will focus on gender equality.
Men and women are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28) and therefore equal; no ifs, buts or maybes. And, in any event, indubitably, life is better for everyone and infinity less mean spirited in societies in which men and women have equal status. But, as we all surely know, that something is closer to God’s intention and better, doesn’t necessarily mean it will hold sway. For most of history and in most places it hasn’t. To wit: bad things have happened, are happening in many parts of the world, and can happen in our part of the world unless we guard the ramparts.
Equality as a state of affairs is often misunderstood. Turning to arithmetic: two plus two makes four but, equally, so does one plus three. Being equal is not the same as being the same. When it comes to men and women there is one important and statistically significant difference across all ethnicities and cultures. Men, on the whole, and with few exceptions, are stronger and more aggressive than are women.
Throughout most of history women have occupied a secondary position to men – certainly outside the narrow confines of the home. Their childbearing role undoubtedly contributed to this. But, undoubtedly, their lesser physical strength and aggressiveness were defining. This hasn’t changed, yet women in the Western world now occupy positions of authority in all walks of life.
Feminists say there is still work to do, and there may be around the edges. No doubt prejudicial sexism still exists in dark recesses. But the major battles have been won — in the civilised world.
Consolidation is not inevitable. Regression is possible, as shown by Islamic countries and Islamic enclaves in the West. Hijabs and burkas have made a comeback. Does anyone, apart from the ride-with-me feminist sell-outs, think this is a fashion statement? They are symbols of male oppression of women. Women are regularly killed, beaten and threatened for not wearing them. Search online. Have a look here, for example:
On hijabs, many – too many – Muslim women (and schoolgirls) living in the West ‘choose’ to wear them, with some saying they are signs of their fealty to God. The Stockholm Syndrome comes to my mind; and, in the case of schoolgirls, parental and Islamic-school pressure. But leave that aside. Within limits of decency and, in many situations, recognisability, it is the right of women (and of men) to wear what they like. But it seems to me that when you know that millions of women wear hijabs only under threat of physical harm it is disingenuous to pretend this away and create an impression that freedom to wear what you like is the predominant factor in play. It is not hard to imagine the despair that this betrayal must create among women under threat of battery for transgressing culturally-imposed dress codes.
Why has the status of women improved so much in Western societies? Birth control has undoubtedly helped in the last sixty years, but the suffragettes, and others beforeand after, have been on the case for a lot longer than that. There are, no doubt, many contributing factors. But I suggest that the determination of women to achieve equality would have been stymied but for the central and supportive role played by ‘privileged’ white men.
I will quote the opinion of one such man writing in 1869:
“That the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes – the legal subordination of one sex to another – is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other.” — John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women
While JSM was particularly farsighted in his day; as a body, give or take, white men have provided a protective path to gender equality. Sure they have fought rearguard actions to slow progress along the way; all the same, they have progessively given way and at each stage have moved – and vitally so – to enshrine women’s newly-won rights in statute and in societal norms.
Because men are physically stronger they have the power, if collectively led by, say, a pack of primitive religio-ideologues, to take away women’s equality. It sounds simplistic and ridiculous to say that in this modern age. Nevertheless, would young women in Afghanistan be again wearing black all-encompassing ‘bee-hive suits’ if they were stronger than Afghani men? Of course they wouldn’t.
Ultimately, physical strength matters. Unless constrained by civilised values, power does come out of the barrel of a gun or a fist, as confronting as that might be. If the barbarians that I’m thinking of were ever to take over, liberated women would likely find themselves again ‘barefoot and in the kitchen’, so to speak; and, by the way, the LGBTI crowd wouldn’t fare too well either.
Good white men and true, and now also of varied hue, will be required in the sequel to keep women equal.