How is gender equality represented on the web? Philosophy: back to basics.   no comments

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This post will cover defining equality and looking at some of the arguments against equality.

In order to look at gender equality at all, let alone on the web in relation to philosophy, the first logical step is to go back to the very basic philosophical question of ‘what is equality?’. The idea of treating all human beings as equals originated thousands of years ago, and with that age old ideology comes differing views and definitions of equality itself. Philosophy commonly defines four different types of equality: moral/ontological, legal, political and social.

Moral/Ontological Equality: This type of equality has been defined in several ways, but all to the same end. One definition is “the fundamental equality of persons” which takes the religious view that all are equal under God. Others have a less theological take but still denote that all human beings should be valued the same, without preferential treatment irrespective of the situation. For example, the ‘all women and children out first (or debatably all wealthy women and children out first) principle’ used on the titanic, would not hold true.

Legal Equality: Otherwise known as ‘equality of result and outcome’; this advocates that all people should be treated the same with respect to the laws they have to follow, and subsequent retribution if they fail to do so. Historically in America, black Americans had a substantially higher chance of receiving a conviction or a harsher punishment than a white American; in a truly legally equal society, all citizens would be tried against the same standards, without taking race, gender, religion or any other factor into consideration.

Political Equality: This equalitarian stance otherwise known as is based on all members of a political community should have an equal say when it comes to making laws or voting in public elections. Therefore no country where anyone who is considered a ‘lesser citizen’ and therefore not allowed to vote (e.g women up until the 20th Century, or the working class until the 19th Century) could claim to be ‘politically equal’.

Social Equality: This is the idea that all members of a society should have equal access to it’s resources and equally benefit from it. The fact that realistically (certainly for Britain) more money can buy you better health care, debatably better education with access to private schools, and the fact that our country still arguably holds class divisions means that we do not enjoy social equality. Unfortunately even countries/governments that have attempted to use communism (a socialist movement to create a classless society) still suffered from corruption and attempts to un-equalise the balance.

After defining these different types of equality, would it then logically hold that ‘gender equality’ would be where both genders can enjoy all four types of equality with no differentiation between them; which would also mean that in terms of how both genders are represented on the web, the way they are viewed, their legal and political rights in relation to the web, and the resources they are allowed access to on the web, should be exactly the same for both?

There are many arguments against these definitions of equality, that therefore would potentially invalidate the question above, as those characteristics of equality would no longer hold true.

The first argument against equality is that different elements of equality aren’t compatible; society is not by design equal. Even if it were possible to conceive a true ‘classless’ society, jobs/salaries/positions within society would still be different, and therefore ‘unequal’; and why shouldn’t they be? If one position requires a higher skill level than another, why shouldn’t the most skilled person for the job secure it? This then poses the question ‘should everyone be afforded equal opportunities, or just the ability to gain the skills to gain access to those opportunities in the first place?’. In relation to gender equality therefore, shouldn’t women and men be given the same starting blocks, with the capacity to make of it what they will. One gender shouldn’t be automatically considered over the other for any position, it should be based on skill, but both genders should have the abilities to gain those skills. To look at this matter in relation to gender representation on the web, it would logically follow that both genders should have the ability to hold any position socially on the web (e.g both should be able to contribute to academic resources) and they should be judged on merit and knowledge not gender.

The second argument is that it is impossible to adhere to full social equality. To enforce such strict rules would be tantamount to introducing a totalitarian rule over society. It has also been argued that a totalitarian esque rule doesn’t work as human nature means that society will always eventually rebel against such a strict rule; rendering utter equality infeasible. It would therefore be almost as impossible to ensure utter gender equality on the web. It would still be marginally easier than ensuring it completely within society (as unless we drift into the fictional realms of totalitarian novels such as 1984; the government has yet to work out how to read or control our thoughts) as all web traffic and content can be monitored, but it would still be a monumental task.

The third argument is that radical steps towards equality aren’t necessarily desirable. At what point would we be compromising our personal liberty in favour of forced equality? This resonates with the popularly quoted concern ‘political correctness gone mad’. Has the desire to treat everyone equally, and not cause offence irrespective of gender, race, religion etc gone too far? At what point would say a gender inequality based joke or phrase e.g ‘get back in the kitchen’ be considered a point of humour between friends, and at what point would it be regarded as blatant sexism and an example of gender equality?

My essay will address equality in it’s origins looking at all of these different types, in addition to the arguments against them to study how one would go about ascertaining the representation of gender equality on the web from a philosophical standpoint.

[1] D. Johnston “Plato, ‘Democracy and Equality'” in Equality, Indianapolis, USA: Hacket Publishing Company Inc, 2000, ch. 1, pp. 1-9.
[2] B. S. Turner “Types of Equality” in Equality, student ed. New York, USA: Tavistock Publications Limited, 1986, ch. 2, pp. 34-56.

Written by Samantha Kanza on October 21st, 2013

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