Rittelmeyer tells her readers, "If you take one idea away from this post, let it be this: Don't be fooled when feminists say they want equality, not sameness. It may sound like a concession, but it isn't one". On that point she's (partially) right. It isn't a concession. Wanting equality is different from wanting to turn the world into something depicted in the Fairly Odd Parents season 1 episode "The Same Game" - where Timmy wishes the world into a uniform grey by wanting everyone to be the same. Feminism, at its heart, celebrates differences; feminism, at its heart, allows for choices to be made. Feminism, at its heart, celebrates both the career woman and the stay at home mom as being representative of women being free to make the choice that is best for them. Feminism, at its heart, celebrates the same sort of choice for men, so men who want to be caregivers or are more comfortable with the job that allows them flexible hours are not discouraged from those jobs either by societal pressure or by that industry's own standards. The difference between "sameness" and "equality" is something that almost every student of history can describe; when Jefferson wrote "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal", would Rittelmeyer declare that Jefferson was a latent communist who meant that all men are created the same? Well, it is possible she would; I'm not too familiar with her writings, as this is the first piece I've ever read by her; but generally, the accepted reading of the line is not that all men are inherently the same - with the same talents and skills and deficiencies - but that all men are of equal worth, especially before such institutional forces like the law; that a man's place in the hierarchy of life should be determined by his own pursuits and his own luck and strengths rather than who birthed him. It is the declaration of that, and an aspiration that a man like John Adams or Andrew Jackson or Barack Obama should and can attain the highest office in the land even without being of noble birth, or having familial contacts. Obviously, it doesn't always work. Obviously, things like inherited wealth and inherited poverty and legacy privileges and racial privileges and gender privileges can greatly (and often unduly) shape the course of one's life.
And that gendered privilege is where Rittelmeyer loses me again when she says, "Put it a different way and this becomes obvious: 'Men and women can be different, but the differences can't matter'. A pipe dream only marginally less foolish than trying to eliminate gender differences altogether". I think Rittelmeyer needs to do some fact checking; first and foremost, what needs to be checked is the idea that "men" are a homogeneous mass of sameness, and that "women" are a separate homogeneous mass of sameness. Really, haven't we ever met someone of our gender and had nothing at all in common with them other than our chromosomes/genitals? Wouldn't Rittelmeyer be a little perturbed to be grouped as the same as women like, say, me? After all, I'm one of those crazy feminists who believes in equality of the sexes! Then there's this: men and women can be different, just like women can be different from other women and men can be different from other men. But - and this is a big but - biological differences like who came out with what sex organs is not a worthwhile enough difference to deny a woman a job in a traditionally male field or a man a job in a traditionally female field. If a woman wants to be a mechanic and is good at it and can fix my car up nice, let her have at it. If a man wants to be a kindergarden teacher and is good at it and can get all of those kids to take a nap, then what argument is there for not letting him?
And then there's this other part in the equality business, the part about perception and the role it plays in wage disparity. And that is that gender inequality leads to an inequality of wages, both in the wages paid and opportunities presented in the same company (like Lilly Ledbetter vs. Goodyear) and in wages earned in traditionally masculine professions versus feminine professions (can anyone tell me the difference between a hairdresser and a barber, aside from gender, for one to make $10.68 an hour while the other pulls in $11.31?). Which in turn plays into what areas of study we push men into and women into. For instance, women were once thought to be too delicate to write anything considered serious fiction. There is a reason the Brontes wrote under male pseudonyms. So there are two issues here; one is, if there are differences among the sexes, is one ostensibly and objectively weaker as to deduce that they are, in point of fact, unequal? Or does that perception of inequality stem not from objective fact but from personal and societal prejudices?
That idea of societal prejudices deciding who is better and keener and finer and who is less is right in another statement Rittelmeyer makes, that being "If you need more evidence, consider... ...the difference between telling a child to be more grown up and telling him (not her) to 'be a man'." That isn't evidence of gender essentialism. It is very possibly evidence that gender - and gender norms and ideals - are constructed by society, and that they must be learned. It is evidence that we put great emphasis on what we see as "guy" behavior and what we attribute to "girl" behavior. It is the same as "boys don't cry"; except, boys do, until they have it beaten into them that it is not manly to cry, that to cry is to be weak, and that emotions are weaknesses not to be entertained. We see the world through a gendered prism; we find fault with those who do not live up to our idea of what the different genders should be. A guy who likes romantic comedies is derisively called a "fag"; a girl who excels at basketball has it scribbled on the bathroom stalls that she likes "pussy". And if Rittelmeyer does not think that kind of policing of gender conformity doesn't have an affect on how people behave and how they interact with the world, then - to quote Rittelmeyer directly, "I'm at a loss". If Rittelmeyer can't see how the opposite is true, how girls are socialized to play with Barbies and boys with Matchboxes, how we gender children from the moment they emerge from the womb, how we see and construct their behaviors through the gender we interpret them as being, then again, "I'm at a loss". I will say this, though; more than a lifetime ago, the (rich, white) women were expected to faint early and often - and no doubt they did, what with the corsets. There were fainting couches, and women were not expected to overly exert themselves, lest they hurt their feeble woman brains - as The Yellow Wallpaper scarily depicts. Now? We're hating on men who take naps, because we are inherently prone to exerting ourselves; we are "wired" to clean, to see the home as the place "where the real work gets done". The reason I can't believe in gender essentialism and the inherent differences in the sexes is this very fact. The lines and definitions of what is inherent to each gender change based on time and cultural inclination.
I disagree with Rittelmeyer on yet another point, that being "A culture that cannot acknowledge gender differences has hobbled itself". I think a culture that cannot acknowledge how it creates gender differences has hobbled itself. A culture that honestly believes that the genders are inherently different has little sense of history, because if it acknowledged history it would have to acknowledge the progression and mutation of gender differences. A culture that honestly believes that genders are inherently different and unequal has less ability to prosper and to accept ideas and innovations coming from a diverse group of people. But what's more, a culture that fails to recognize the various ways gender is constructed and how one half of its population is diminished due to the perception of gendered importance fails to recognize how it has failed its own people.
As I have said before, I am not a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the "it's all nurture!" club. But that doesn't mean that I am not wary of the science surrounding gender; after all, that science has burned my gender before, and burned severely. That doesn't mean that I can't recognize how being inundated with gendered images changes my perception of myself and my abilities. It doesn't mean that I am not affected by the fact that there are so few female protagonists, and even fewer proactive female protagonists. It doesn't change the fact that Pixar - one of the biggest and most talented and most successful children's film studios - hasn't made a film with a female protagonist yet. It doesn't change the fact it took me through WALL•E to recognize that fact. It doesn't change the fact that shows and movies with female characters can very rarely pass the Bechdel Rule. And it doesn't change the fact that I have been shaped and at times neutered by gender expectations the world holds even as my parents tried valiantly to raise me in a gender neutral environment. It doesn't change the fact that in saying that I don't know how to cook, I've been declared "a princess", but it is just expected for boys not to know how to cook. These are ways our world genders us. That isn't to say that some girls aren't more girly and some boys aren't more manly - and let's just acknowledge that sad state of affairs for a moment, shall we, that feminine behavior is given a childish and diminutive description and masculine behavior is given the grown up description; that right there is an affirmation that the inequality between the genders is more societally based than biologically based. But it does demonstrate how truly entwined the two are in creating who we are and who we grow up to be.