Peter Altschul, MS Copyright 2021
July 3, 2021
Several years ago, my family and I spent the fourth of July weekend at a time-share near Branson, Missouri. On the way there, we stopped at Lamberts, a restaurant where servers hurl rolls at customers and serve large amounts of greasy, Southern food. While waiting for our order, Louis, my then 14-year-old stepson, announced that he was all for women being treated the same as men but–
Annoyed, I tuned out. I’ve heard variants of this phrase coming out of the mouths of Rush Limbaugh, Dr. James Dobson, and other conservative Christian men who seem to believe in women’s rights — for those women who agree with them.
“Rolls, anyone?” called a waiter, followed by excited “over heres” and the sound of rolls thudding into hands.
“Schools treat girls better than boys,” Louis continued, and he’s right. Girls outperform boys there, in part because they tend to be more compliant and organized than boys.
“But why aren’t there more high school girls taking science classes?” asked my wife, Lisa, who recently received her PhD in biomedical engineering. She has a point; girls drop out of math and science courses as they get older.
“And if a girl hits me, is it OK for me to hit her back?” Louis demanded.
“Yes,” Lisa declared. “You have a right to defend yourself.”
But boys tend to be stronger and heavier than girls, I thought.
“There is a difference,” I proclaimed, “between treating people the same and treating people equally.”
“What?” Louis asked.
I repeated my statement.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
Our food arrived, and the conversation drifted elsewhere as we devoured meat loaf, pork steaks, fried shrimp, and burgers.
“Hey, what about this equality-same thing?” Lisa asked.
“Explain,” rumbled Joseph, my then 15-year-old stepson.
“You know about the discrimination blind people face while trying to find a job?” I asked.
I spoke about how many employers screen out applicants with visual impairments when they require that candidates have a valid driver’s license.
“That’s discrimination,” Joseph half-shouted with a smile in his voice.
I smiled. “This would make sense for candidates to be treated the same if the jobs required someone to drive regularly from place to place,” I explained, “but more and more employers seem to be requiring this of all jobs.”
“Maybe they want to be sure that employees have a way to get to work,” suggested Ana, my then 22-year-old stepdaughter.
“Or maybe they’re trying to screen out people with substance abuse problems,” Lisa added.
“I don’t know what an employer’s intent is,” I responded. “But many otherwise qualified visually-impaired people see the driver’s license requirement and don’t bother to apply. And I think that hiring managers subconsciously connect “no driver’s license” with “can’t do the job.”
“So there’s more flexibility involved in treating people equally than treating people the same,” Lisa suggested.
“And equality is sort of an ideal that we should work towards,” Louis mused.
While driving home after a weekend of swimming, barbecuing, and boating, a statement that Josh McDowell, a Christian evangelist and regular guest on Dr. James Dobson’s radio show Focus on the Family, flashed across my mind.
“Rules without relationships result in rebellion,” he declared.
Rules maintain order and promote a treating-everyone-the-same ethos; we all must follow them or suffer the consequences. Respectful relationships change subtly over time based on the values and needs of the participants. They acknowledge differences and work towards managing them in an equitable way. Quality relationships support rules, and dysfunctional relationships result in…well, the Brits sure know what happened beginning on July 4, 1776.
Happy Fourth, everyone!