How Equal is ‘Equality’?


Recently, I asked a friend of mine, who identifies as queer, if he thought that his rights as a member of the LGBTQ+ community were more important that the right to freedom of religion. We were discussing whether it was ethical to expect a devout Christian minister to marry people of the same sex. The reply I received was something along the lines of ‘Christians have had their rights on top for so long, now it’s someone else’s turn.’ Now I hope you find this reply as concerning as I did.


Firstly, this answer was in the name of ‘equality’. However, I hope you see that it is not. It is assuming someone will always be ‘on top’ and endorsing, not the equalising of the two rights, but the reversal of a status quo. This is perpetuating dominance, not promoting equality. Simply changing who is on top changes nothing. There will still be marginalised people, unheard people, censored people. We should be fighting for equal rights, not dominant rights.


However, all too often this is the case. I have sat in countless seminars with my fellow students, listening to all the usual tag lines of ‘liberalism’ and ‘progression’, only to have names thrown my way and my ‘friends’ start treating me differently because I had an opinion different to the majority of my peers. How is this liberalism? Too often the actions of liberals have informed me that I can have a voice and equality… as long as I agree with them. Is this free speech? I hope not. So, I held back in seminars. I allowed myself to be silenced because I was outnumbered and scared. Then, a particular favourite lecturer of mine called me out. He told me that he knew I was holding back and that he would have to mark my participation down if I continued in silence. He used a phrase which I think is particularly pertinent: ‘illiberal liberalism’. He then proceeded to rant for ten minutes in the cold outside the lecture hall about how he hated students that called themselves liberals but then attacked those on a different side of the political spectrum. Do you see what I’m getting at? If we call ourselves a free society, everyone’s voice must matter, even when we don’t like what they say.


Furthermore, this applies to another idea I have came across. I am sure we are all aware of the insufferably self-righteous young people on the news after the Brexit referendum, trying to tell the world that the older generation should not have voted in this election because it was not their future they were deciding. Firstly, just under 30% of young people voted leave, not an insignificant amount. It was not simply the decision of an older generation, it was mine too. Stop appropriating and generalising my vote. Secondly, where is the respect for life experience? Parents make decisions which they think are in the best interests of their children, even if their children cannot see it. They have experience which gives them more wisdom. My brother is definitely glad my mum had the wisdom to forbid him from shaving his head when he was 10. He didn’t agree at the time but he is insurmountably thankful when he looks through the photo albums today. Thirdly, why have we become the society that suggests excluding entire sections of society from voting? I would almost bet that no one would have been making this suggestion had the older generation predominantly voted remain. So, essentially, these young people are saying, this section of society should not vote because they disagree with us. This is not equality. This is not even democracy. This is dictatorship. The whole aim of democracy is that everyone, no matter what, no matter who, has a vote. Every vote is equal, even when we don’t like what they say.


Now, I would like to be awfully presumptive and offer some advice. Everyone’s vote matters. Every vote counts. So consider for a second those politicians who encourage you to vote for them because they are ‘first female in position x’ or ‘first queer running for y’. We should never vote based simply on these tag lines. Read their manifestos. Read their literature. Find out if their values agree with your own. This is how we should decide who gets our votes. A woman asking for your vote simply to have a first female whatever is not real feminism. She is asking for special treatment, not because you agree with her, but because she is a woman. Real feminists are the politicians who go out and prove why they deserve to be there, not the ones who ask for special treatment to make their road there a little easier. I have seen attacks on Margaret Thatcher because she wasn’t feminist enough. All I could gather from this article, however, was that she did not talk about feminism and equality, not because of anything she actually said, did or voted for. If you disagree with Thatcher’s politics, that’s okay, but evaluate her as a female politician against, for example, Hilary Clinton in the presidential race. Thatcher did not ask for special treatment. She fought her way to the first among equals by going out and doing the job in the same way as any man. Clinton ran a campaign based on the possibility of the first female president. Momentous? Yes. A truly feminist campaign? I cannot see how. If Thatcher is anti-feminist, Clinton can only be more so.


Additionally, I find it equal parts interesting and heartbreaking that I can only be feminist if I need the right to kill my own child. Can I not believe that everyone is equally important, including the unborn? Can I not be a feminist and believe that those with Down’s Syndrome, club foot or cleft palette are not somehow invalid because they are not wanted? Can I not be a feminist and believe that adding the trauma of abortion to the horrific trauma of rape will only exacerbate the trauma, not heal it? Can I not be a feminist and believe the unborn females are not less valid than unborn males because of what their family wants? Must I be forced to choose between feminism and the belief that a right to life is not dependent on being wanted?


The truth is, I have come to believe that the feminist movement is not about those enviable aims of the HeForShe movement, it is about a section of society coming together to tell other sections that they are not worthy, not helpful or not human because we are different, we disagree or we are inconvenient. This is not equality. This is dominance because they do not like what we say.


In Northern Ireland, the party who hail themselves as the champions of this kind of equality are also routinely pictured waving signs reading ‘England get out of Ireland’. Clearly aimed at my community of Northern Irish Brits. For the record, I’m Ulster Scots so my ancestors are Scottish not English. Not only are they offensive, they are inaccurate. But the claim that I somehow have less right to my own birthplace, simply because of who my ancestors are, is fundamentally offensive to me. Take someone like Dev Patel as an example. Born and raised in England, it would be shockingly racist to tell him to ‘Go back home’ or tell him he had less right to be in his hometown because his ancestors are different to someone else’s. Yet my ancestors are different to those in this country who identify as Irish but still too many times I have been told to be quiet or go home or leave the north alone. This is my home. My wonderfully complex, diverse and confusing home is not less my own because I have Scottish heritage and not Celtic, even if you do not like what I say.


So. Once more for those in the back, my voice is not less valid because I disagree with you. We can be friends who disagree. We can be friends with different nationalities. Tolerance is not the same as endorsement. We are uncomfortably close to those famous Orwellian words, ‘All animals were created equal, but some are more equal than others.’

Ruth Douglas is 22 years old and graduated from QUB in July with a First Class Honours in Drama.


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2020