When it comes to the debate over women's equality, some people seem to believe that unless we say simply "equality," and not "women's equality," we're not really talking about equality at all, but "special rights." It's an intresting argument, because the premise of such is that women are not people, that gays are not people, that any group that is a subset of people is not in fact comprised of people, just that subset.
Let me back up a moment.
Whenver I hear "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," I always hear the joke answer-chorus:
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose [like a lightbulb]
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows [like a lightbulb]
I suggest to the people who hear "women's equality" or some such thing, and hear in their minds "special rights for women," that maybe they try this little exercise: Whenver you hear someone talk about how their rights are compromised or diminshed or undermined, you can hum your own answer chorus, And they are people, too.
I know, I'm going against the orthodoxy here. Folks on the right attacked "identity politics," and many on the left have bought into that tag and all the baggage associated with it: the idea that somehow if people have differences, and we recognize these differences, then somehow we're trying to designate "special rights" or some such thing. We must be a melting pot. Everything must be homogenized -- preferably into the form and standards of the dominant group -- for anything to be acceptable.
Yet we don't have a melting pot in this country. It's more like a stew. Everything flavors everything else to some extent, but a potato is still a potato, and a carrot is still a carrot.
While I would agree that "identity politics," like any political vein, can get out of hand and lead to seeing ghosts of oppression everywhere, there's something to be said for honoring and respecting differences -- without denying all these myriad peoples, groups, cultures, etc. their basic humanity.
And yet we are now asked by so many -- mainly people who enjoy some measure of the privileges of the established dominant hierarchy -- to ignore those differences, because it's really bad to be different, because then you are saying that the only way to equal rights is to designate special rights, and that's just unpalatable.
Myself, I don't buy it.
There are subsets of our culture that encounter challenges, discrimination, problems, etc. that are rather unique to their demographic. Young boys, for example, are being raised in a combination of coddling environments where "self-esteem" must not be diminished by anybody, especially a teacher or coach, while at the same time are raised on a form of popular media entertainment that is anti-social at best: first-person shooter video games. To me that's a recipe for disaster. What kind of monsters will some of these boys grow up to be? Spoiled, aroused by violence, inexperienced at social interactions, especially conflict resolution.
Yet would we be served by pretending that it's not primarily boys who enjoy these hyper-violent games featuring cop killing, mass murder and lots of graphic blood and gore? I don't think so. Yet I also do not believe that addressing this as a boys' issue would be somehow allocating them "special rights," either!
I feel the same is true for an issue like reproductive rights for women. If it helps these diversiphobic-politics types, we could say:
The state should not have any power to force a woman or man to get pregnant, remain pregnant or terminate pregnancy.
Does that make it better? To me it just sounds silly. Maybe in a few years, when men start carrying in-vitro children (and I expect someday it will happen, if we don't manage to blow ourselves up first), such language would make sense.
But today, here and now, the fundamental right of soveriegnty over one's own body is being challenged and denied to women in several areas. Men are not under the same kind of legislative and litigious assault. Are women demanding "special rights" when demanding only what everyone else enjoys as a right?
And so regarding the question, Why should women get special rights?...
What if we flip around the entire question of "special rights" and ask, instead: Which basic human rights should be denied to women?
It's the same question, phrased from the opposite side of the coin. And it reveals the premise of those who say "women's equality" would mean "special rights": that women are not people, too.