August 2009

Equal, Not the Same


I love mowing my lawn — seeing the green lines left by the mower, figuring out how to go around obstacles, and how good it looks when I’m done. Then comes the most fun part, sweeping the grass clippings off the sidewalk. It is fun because it often includes visiting with my neighbors as they stroll by, with or without their dogs.

A few years ago I took over this task from my husband John. For awhile folks were surprised to see me doing it. They asked if John was away, was he sick, why me instead of him. There were even some people who questioned us, claiming that I had taken over “men’s work.”


I’ve been thinking about assumptions people make about each other, about who is suited for what and about what is proper. Surely this is a form of prejudice.


Two of the teachings of the Baha’i Faith are elimination of all forms of prejudice and the equality of men and women. If people were truly free of prejudice there would be no reaction to a woman with an “able bodied husband” mowing the lawn. And a true recognition of the equality of men and women would include realizing that “equality” does not mean “sameness.” A task would simply be done by whoever is willing or available. Furthermore, sometimes the less capable person would do it in the interest of “capacity building” or just because they wanted to. In our competitive culture, it is too often the “best” who does a job rather than someone else who can do it well enough and is eager to contribute their time and efforts.


Taking this idea to a global scale, every child should receive not only adequate food and health care but also opportunities to develop their capacities. There is potential especially for girls, as they become educated and enter all fields of endeavor, to make huge contributions to the creation of a just world – a world that will be known for its vigor, cooperation, harmony, and a degree of compassion never before witnessed in history.


In the early days of the “feminist movement,” men were blamed for our social ills and told that “they” needed to change in order to fix things. I now think that a more balanced, and ultimately more successful, approach calls for everyone to continuously grow and develop. Personal growth of men and women alike is required for true equality, as all assume responsibility for transforming the societies in which we live. Men must use their influence, particularly in the civil, political and religious institutions they tend to control, to promote the systematic inclusion of women; and they must be motivated by the belief that the contributions of all people are required for society to progress. Worldwide, women must become educated and step forward into all arenas of human activity, contributing their particular qualities, skills and experience to the social, economic and political equation.


If my mowing was even noticed here, then what must be the cultural barriers preventing girls and women elsewhere from developing their capacities and pursuing their interests? Surely everyone should be free to grow and to contribute — unbound by others’ pre-judgments.



© Jaellayna Palmer 2009