Comments on various threads here have made me think about an issue I’ve always had. People (women, blacks, Latinos, just about everyone) complain about inequality a lot, but in my experience there is more complaining than there is inequality. This is not to say that inequality doesn’t exist. But I still think it’s sometimes more perceived than real.To give an example:
Once in high school I was at a math competition. There was a reporter there who was interviewing several girls about whether they felt like they were at a disadvantage studying math and science as girls. They all said yes. I thought, “Bullcrap.” I had the same opportunities to study math and science as any of the guys at my high school. They had the same opportunities as me. We had the same teachers, took the same classes, studied the same subjects, could join the same clubs, could get the same books from the library. Where was the difference?
One interesting thing I noticed was that all of these girls had on suits or skirts, and had makeup on and their hair done. I, on the other hand, had on no makeup (I never wore makeup) and jeans and a flannel shirt, because I was there to take a written test, and figured I should be comfortable. The reporter didn’t try to interview me. Then again, I also wasn’t sitting around in a group of girls gabbing — I was drawing some interesting features of the campus we were on. I still have those drawings. And I was the only girl to win the competition, or even place in the top three (there were different competitions for each grade level).
I couldn’t help thinking that if those girls were more concerned with the math and less concerned with their hair and makeup they would have been just fine. But then again, I’ve always been a little elitist about my refusal to conform with social norms.
So I wonder, was there really inequality? I certainly had no problems. Was this because there was no inequality? Was it because there was some, but I refused to acknowledge it? Was it because there was some, but I was just talented enough to overcome it? Were the other girls disadvantaged simply because they thought they were?
How much inequality is real, and how much is just perceived? And how much do we perpetuate inequality by believing that it’s there?
- 23 February 2007