I looked up at the bicycle box, a little perturbed. It sat high above my head on a shelf that I could reach only with my arm completely outstretched. I yanked on the corner; I could tell it weighed about 50 pounds. Had it been a little lower, I could have dragged it out for the customer, but it was not. Frustrated, I looked around. One of my co-workers saw me and quickly looked away. I called him over to retrieve the box I needed. Later, I asked him if he had noticed I needed help and ignored me. He replied he had noticed but didn’t want to offend me by suggesting that because I’m a woman I needed help.
He thought that to state the fact that I am not physically capable of performing a task of strength would offend me. How could the statement of such a fact–a fact that does not reflect any failing on my part–offend? Where would he get the idea that to recognize such a fact could be somehow harmful or offensive to me?
He gets this idea from modern, or “second wave”, feminism. Where first wave feminism sought legal and political equality with men, second wave feminism has sought to eliminate all recognition of the fact that women are different from men. Women or men who seek to rationally recognize such differences are branded sexist and those who seek to evade them are seen as progressive. This leads to the bizarre situation in which a man wouldn’t hesitate to assist another man, but is afraid to help a woman for fear of being labeled sexist.
Clearly, this is absurd. We have to discriminate between men and women, because physiologically they are different. There are tasks requiring physical strength that women simply cannot perform, which is why women and men do not compete against each other in sports. At my job I have to find a male co-worker to bring down bicycles hanging on the ceiling. I am incapable of putting on some tires, pumping 120 pounds per square inch in the tubes, removing some pedals, and carrying boxes of bicycle locks. I recognize my strength is not sufficient to perform these tasks, but theirs is (even the weakest and youngest among them). These are minor tasks in my job, but ones I am unable to carry out.
Fortunately, the amount of physical strength a person possesses is not relevant in most contexts. It certainly does not make a person more or less human, more or less rational. A woman is just as entitled as a man to individual rights–life, liberty, justice, and property–which first wave feminism fought for. But this does not mean that differences between the sexes can simply be ignored.
Differences between the sexes are not superficial and insignificant. Is it “progressive” to make believe physiological differences don’t exist? Am I a sexist for preferring to marry a man to a woman?
The answer is of course no. Being just towards women does not require pretending that women are different than they are, it requires treating them as they are– human beings with specific physical traits that are different from men.