Friday, April 11, 2008

Fairness vs. Sameness

A dinner table conversation turned to this topic the other night. I can't quite recall its origins... probably something to do with food quantities or bedtimes or chores but it has been funny to see that the topic is also cycling through an on-line discussion on my campus at the moment. The issue at hand there is whether or not it is "fair" to the men of the university community that there is a Women's Resource Center on campus and not a "Gender Resource Center," "Men's Resource Center," or just plain "Resource Center."* As you might imagine, there are a couple of contributors (and I literally mean 2) who got and keep the discussion rolling with insightful comments such as "all the women I know are strong" and "to have a resource center for women tells women that they are weak."

I'm on sabbatical and trying to stay out of the fray, but I have been checking in on things. It has been fun to see my colleagues -- most of whom are women's studies faculty -- answer the critics from their various disciplinary perspectives. You put a philosopher, psychologist, sociologist, and economist together -- all citing evidence -- and there are some pretty convincing arguments on the ways in which women are situationally disadvantaged by their gender (though not necessarily only their gender) and the core set of resources that might be made available to mitigate these disadvantages. Of all the comments, though, the only one that sent my brain somewhere new came from a literature professor and I thought I would share with you a link to the short story she recommended.

Maybe it is just the sponge-like brains of children, but my kids got it pretty quickly that something being fair did not mean that things had to be the same for everyone. That thinking about what is fair might better be done through looking at what people need rather than counting out the beans so that everyone has the same amount. I wonder if the critics of the WRC will be willing to try and wrap their brains around that.

*By the way, the WRC is really about more than women. In particular, much of the programming goes to support the LGBT community, those with non-conforming gender identities, community involvement, and childcare. Interestingly, that the center's scope was wider than "women" doesn't seem to have been the source of the original objection to the WRC.


Stella said...

"Harrison Bergeron" is one of my favorite short stories of all times. It never ceases to amazing me --this need, or maybe insistence is a better word,to reduce to the lowest common denominator.

Stacey said...

Interesting... is such an understatement. Evan has been talking about this society that he would create, where classes do not exist and there would be rations so everyone would be equal. He keeps saying that he hates the free market. Like, why do we pay for parking? Why can't we just park in the A2 parking lot without giving money, Luka asks? i say, because the money is going towards maintaining the facilities and Evan mutters, that's what I hate about a free market society.

Of course, when pressed about his own society there are ALL KINDS of problems to deal with.

I like that he's thinking of such things, it's just all so complex.