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What Equality Really Means

So, if you're a woman you want equal rights. When was the last time you stopped to think about what that really means? Or maybe you should just ask yourself what it really means to you. In a world filled with the backlash from men's groups, and expressions of internalized misogyny from other women, it may be time to re-examine what constitutes true equality.

Leaving aside the physical and hormonal differences between men and women, let’s concentrate for the moment on heterosexual relationships between men and women on the intimate level. The first issues that crop up start early in the dating arena. For the moment we'll assume that the man and woman make identical salaries.

The first part of the dating game occurs when one person asks another to go out with them. According to a survey conducted by Psychology Today, 93% of women surveyed preferred to be asked out, while only 6% preferred to do the asking. Men, for their part, overwhelmingly preferred doing the asking. 83% of men would rather proposition a woman, and only 16% wanted to be propositioned. Out of the 55 heterosexual women surveyed, only ten women had actually asked a man on a date during a year of being single. Of the 31 men surveyed, only four men had not asked a woman on a first date within the same time frame of single-hood.

Leaving aside the fact that this information comes from a very small sampling of the population, that is a big gap in gender equality right from the start. Men get the nerve-wracking task of making the first high-risk move in a relationship, and they seem to prefer it. Women statistically prefer the more passive role, which takes away a great deal of control and power in the relationship. Men can perceive a role-reversal as a threat to their masculinity, whereas a woman can perceive a man as emasculated when he doesn't take the more assertive role.

The second portion of dating and relationships has to do with the financial aspect. A standard touted by many in modern society is that the person who asks for the date is the one who pays. Considering the gap regarding who does the asking, it's no surprise that men are expected to pay for the date. Now, quite often when a relationship progresses beyond a first date, women will start picking up the tab - at least every once in a while. What this boils down to, however, is that any relationship that never goes beyond a first date falls almost completely on the man's shoulders, and in the majority of cases even when the relationship follows through to subsequent dates, the man picks up the tab more often than not.

When it comes to gender roles in relationships many women would argue that they don't actually want to be a man; they only want equal rights. The thing about rights is that they tend to come with responsibilities - and resentments. By going through the forums for dating sites like Plenty of Fish and looking at the questions on Yahoo! Answers, readers will soon discover that men do, indeed, resent at least part of the inequity being thrust upon them. There are some who resent women who say they want equality but are unwilling to pay for dates. Some of the resentment comes from men who feel as though they're being taken for granted, particularly during dates where it becomes clear that the woman really isn't enjoying their company.

The most commonly offered suggestions, as well as the most commonly accepted ones, are to either expect the person who asked for the date to be the one who pays, or to at least offer to pay your share even if you were asked.

Beyond the dating world, relationships are still fraught with gender gaps that very few people acknowledge. People in long-term relationship are still assigning themselves gender-specific roles and chores. Men are generally expected to take out the garbage and mow the lawn, not to mention pumping gas and making repairs around the house. Women are still expected to be the more domestically inclined, and it's an expectation they have of themselves, not necessarily one that men have of them, although that may be generally the case as well.

Once, while I was pumping gas, a woman who was doing the same right next to me asked, "Why isn't he pumping your gas for you?" She was referring to my then-husband who was seated in the passenger seat of my car. I was shocked to the core. The idea that a woman still thought that it was a man's job to pump gas was unbelievable to me. It was my car, my gas, and my money. I could maybe see her asking the question if he'd been in the driver's seat, but the fact is she had no way of knowing what our relationship was, or whether or not he was even capable of getting out of the car without assistance. She simply jumped to a conclusion. My response to her was succinct, and probably not all that polite, about there being no such thing as a man's job.

Of course, this brings us to the subject of wages and employment. According to all available statistics, men still get into the high-power, highly-paid positions far more often than women do. This isn't confined to North America by any means. However, there are some issues here that often go unaddressed. A good example of this has to do with women in firefighting. In this case sexual dimorphism is a serious factor to be considered. Not as many women are physically capable of completing the training required of firefighters. The training itself is not an arbitrary or unreasonable demand, as it involves what is likely to occur on the job. The LAFD has been attempting to increase its percentage of female firefighters for some time now, to the tune of some very hefty financial figures.

According to an article in LA Weekly, as of January 2008 there were only 27 active female firefighters in the Los Angeles Fire Department, in a department with 3,940 members. National numbers referenced in the article told a tale of only 2.5% percent of the 300,000 firefighters in the country being female. As horrifying as this might be on the surface to feminists everywhere, it isn't for want of trying. The LAFD was mandated to increase its percentage of women in the department to a minimum of 15%, and fell far short of the mark.

The women who do manage to get through the physical rigors of training still have to face a work environment dominated by men and certain dangerous disadvantages. According to A National Report Card on Women in Firefighting, 79.7% of professional female firefighters are faced with ill-fitting protective gear. Now, take a moment to stop and think what this means. Exposed flesh for a firefighter results in third-degree burns. Any person not completely covered by their protective gear will be seriously injured while being exposed to fire. Only 20.9% of men complained of a similar problem. The fact is, the equipment is not properly made for women. In this same report it was revealed that 84.7% of women felt they had received different treatment because of their gender, compared to 12.4% of men.

As much as women profess a wish to be equal in everything, there are some very specific differences between men and women that preclude full equality. This means that most women need to forgive themselves for not being able to haul 180-pound ladders, or 240-pound humans. Most of us simply can't do certain tasks - at least, not without a lot of extra physical training being involved. Of course, there are also a lot of men out there who can't be firefighters, either.

There are some choices that women are making that are detrimental to equality between the sexes, though, that are not necessary. These are the choices that women have to look closely at to determine what equality really means for them. Are you defining equality the same way others do? Are you sitting in a car waiting for a man to open a door for you, or do you jump out on your own? Do you expect male strangers to hold open doors for you, or are you holding open your share of doors? Who takes out the garbage in your house, and repairs a light switch? These aren't big questions in the grand scheme of things, but it will give you something to think about as you consider how equal you, personally, want things to be.

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Rain Stickland is a Canadian writer with a passion for ferrets and a love for sentient creatures. She produces The Kovacs Perspective, hosted by Steve Kovacs.

Her professional background includes freelance writing, consulting, technical writing, procedures manuals, payroll and HR, investment analysis, and accounting. She owns a company that develops and manufactures safe pet toys, and donates the proceeds to ferret shelters in Canada and the US.

Rain's writing background includes topics such as stem cell transplants and feminism, and position papers on charitable organization development. She's also a staff writer for a popular online feminist publication. A crime-fiction series is in the works, as she continues to contribute to various online and print publications.

Follow her on Twitter @RainStickland

You can follow her blog at: Torrential Rain

Future articles can be found at: Soul of Wit where she will contribute articles formerly written for SearchWarp.com.

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