“For there is no longer Jew nor Greek, neither free man nor slave, neither man nor woman,” says Pseudo-Paul, the apostle to the Americans, “but all are equal in Christ Jesus.” He has been studying his Pseudo-John, wherein the risen Lord says to Peter, “I have been praying for you, Simon, that you might strengthen your brothers, and that they might strengthen you exactly the same, not a tithe part of a hair the more or the less.” Or his Pseudo-Matthew, wherein Jesus advises us that in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be neither first nor last, but all will be equal. Such teachings inspired the poet Pseudo-Hopkins:
Glory be to God for equal things,
For skies of one unalterable blue,
And equidistant stars of one same light,
For flat land without falls or rocks or springs,
For men who march when all the others do,
Plotting out squares of cities left and right.
Conformity, correctness, and consensus,
All things diverse, perverse, but in one hue,
With straight, queer, trans, black, Hispanic, white;
So judges judge, who are beyond defenses
Tocqueville shrewdly observed that in democracies the passion for equality flattens everything down to the same dull mediocrity. Men will even cede exceptional power to the state to do the flattening. We are not talking here about procedural equality before the law. When a man is on trial and the facts are in dispute, the goddess Justice binds her eyes and sees neither his riches nor his poverty, nor does she care how dark his skin is, or whether he flaps his r’s like a foreigner. Nor are we talking about whatever metaphysical equality lay behind Jefferson’s poetry in the Declaration of Independence—an equality that is self-evident only to those who understand that when we deal with man created and enriched by his Creator, we verge upon infinities, “for in their looks divine,” says Milton of Adam and Eve, “the glorious image of their Maker shone.” Thus, to weigh the intrinsic value of one man as opposed to another is beyond our capacity. We lack the measure for it: We cannot plumb an infinite sea. It is not that Jack is just as deep as Mary; the act of comparison ceases to make sense. Each is human, each is divine, and that is enough.
But when we lose the sense that man is made in God’s image, we must compare, and then the physical, moral, or intellectual superiority of one man is not felt a gift to his brothers. It is perceived to be a threat, or an intolerable offense. Better, then, to be slaves all. I am far from the first to note that you can have equality or liberty, but not both; as you can thirst for equality or justice, but not both. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn was fond of citing Ulpian’s formula for justice: suum cuique, to each his due; and because the human race comes from nature and not a factory, because we encounter a healthy and genuinely human diversity, people of each sex, all ages, some rich and some poor, some industrious and some indolent, some virtuous and some indifferent or vicious, the specifics of what is due must differ from person to person and from time to time.
So man must not fall prone before a mathematical formula: Men are not chemical equations or counters on a political board game. Insofar as we insist upon the formula, we do not humble ourselves; we humiliate ourselves. We mimic the cardinal virtue of prudence with the inhuman vice of bureaucratic slavishness. We mimic another cardinal virtue, justice, with punctilio: neatness in the petty, carelessness or disdain for the great. Although justice in many circumstances demands equality, equality itself is not simply the content of justice, nor can it be, because except for specific purposes and in specific regards, we cannot even define what equality is, nor can we always have equality for one purpose or in one regard, without admitting massive inequalities in other regards.
Let me give an amusing example. Recently a prominent soccer team in Australia suffered an embarrassing defeat. Three or four goals make a high score in soccer, but this team lost 7-0, meaning that the whole game must have been played on their end of the field. The winning team must have had a huge number of shots on goal, while keeping their own goalie from having to do much at all.
Obviously, the lopsided score suggests a lopsided inequality in talent, speed, agility, and stamina. But the losers, the Matildas, are Australia’s national women’s World Cup soccer squad, ranked fifth in the world, and they reached the last World Cup’s quarterfinals. What happened? Did they play a squad of men? Had the sheilas been drinking?
No to both questions. They had not been drinking. They were “rusty,” their coach said, and were trying to get in shape before the summer spate of competition. But their opponents were not men. They were boys—and not even older boys. They were a team of boys under 15.
Let’s put this in perspective. Suppose the Mets were to play an exhibition game in March against a team of very good Teen League boys, 13 to 14 years old. What would happen? The boys would be fortunate to hit a single fair ball, and I doubt that their pitcher would survive one inning. Or imagine that the Steelers were to play an exhibition game in May against a very good junior-high football team. Actually, we cannot even imagine it. One of the boys would be crippled or killed on the first play. It cannot happen.
My point is not to advert to the Grand Canyon that opens up between men and women when they go out onto the athletic field. It’s the public policy I’m thinking of. The Australian women’s soccer team is financed by the nation. The local boys’ team, not so. But the boys are by far the superior soccer players. Suppose, instead of the boys, we had the Australian men’s soccer team; the result would have been not a mere massacre, but obliteration—20-0, perhaps? I’ll assume that the men’s team also receives support from the state. Why should equality in funding be expected, when equality of performance is not? Take sex out of it. Suppose the poorer team were made up of handicapped men. Their play might inspire us for their courage and perseverance, but it could never compare with the beauty of the play by men in perfect health. Should they, too, expect equal funding? Or suppose they are merely over the hill—over 40. What then?
I can quantify the problem for those who are superstitious about numbers—numerolators. The tennis star Chris Evert was once known as Chris Evert Lloyd, when she was married to John Lloyd—a fine doubles player, but never much on the men’s side in singles. In her book Lloyd on Lloyd, Chrissie, then the top woman tennis player in the world, said that there was one person she had never beaten and could never beat, and that was John Lloyd. This was a few years after Billie Jean King defeated a 55-year-old Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. Riggs, an inveterate hustler, had recently demolished Margaret Court, who was still in her prime, in what he then called the Mother’s Day Massacre, 6-2, 6-1. Riggs has passed to his eternal reward, whatever that may be, so he will not be able to confirm or deny the rumors that he threw the King match. One way or the other, it should have been an embarrassment to King to give up a single game to a man a quarter of a century older than she was, but the sexual politics of it all prevailed, and the only thing that people remember is that a man lost to a woman.
Chris Evert and John Lloyd did not stay together. Perhaps forgetting that affectionate admission in her book, Chris went on to demand that the women receive equal purses for their side of the tournaments they held in common with the men. And again we find ourselves trying to follow the pea as the egalitarian huckster switches the shells here and there and everywhere. What is to be held equal to what, and why?
I don’t care what money tennis players make. If we consider the matches as entertainment, I suppose you can say that the purse should reflect the popularity: If people want to pay to see the Williams sisters grunt and lunge across a tennis court, I’ll shrug and say there’s no accounting for taste, but let them be rewarded accordingly. Yet there are other ways to look at it. The women’s matches at the Grand Slam tournaments are best-of-three sets; the men’s are best-of-five. So the women actually make much more than the men do, if we consider not the purse but the pay by hour of public performance. Or we could look at money per set, or per game. Since the men not only play more sets, but play more competitive sets—the difference between the top male player and the hundredth best is much smaller than the difference between 1 and 100 on the female side—there will be a greater number of close sets, and so a greater number of games per set. That is not to mention the greater drama, the greater possibility of upsets, and so forth.
But the thing staring us in the face is the plain fact that the play, the thing remunerated, is not equal, nor is it close. If you were watching Jimmy Connors and Björn Borg, or Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, or Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, you were watching the best tennis in the world, period. If you are watching the Williams sisters, you are not watching the best tennis in the world, not by a long shot. You are watching some nice tennis; just as you would be watching some nice baseball at the state high-school championships. It would not be the Yankees and the Red Sox.
We can establish the point more easily by replacing sex with age or some other physical condition that compels us to restrict the range of competitors, to discriminate and to “exclude,” as the silly slogan has it, just so that some people will be able to compete at all. If you watch a championship in the Eastern 150-pound Football League (now the Collegiate Sprint Football League), whose players have to be under a modest weight limit, you will be watching exciting football, but it will not be the same sort of thing as a game between Michigan and Ohio State. I don’t want to dismiss lightweight football, which ought to be pursued by far more schools than do so now. I am only saying that it is absurd to demand that the little guys be awarded, say, equal scholarship money as those who play football without any cordon to shield them from competition. The same thing would apply to a senior league, whose players can compete only because the younger men are excluded. It may be fine to watch the old guys on the links again, with the greens and fairways not too challenging; to see Watson and Nicklaus going at it, and to reminisce about tournaments 40 years ago. But it would be absurd for the elders to demand that the PGA increase their purses and make them equal to those of men with whom they can no longer stay on the same course.
Women tennis players defend equal purses in their case on grounds of equal popularity. As I say, I have no argument there, and I don’t care what the tennis organizations do. I am only noting the hands at swift work on the shells. For if we are talking about equal popularity, then no female sports in high schools or colleges can lay claim to much support at all. They are dead financial losses. If colleges were not coerced by a strained reading of Title IX to support them, they would wither on the vine. Every sport has a few fans, and players have friends and family, but on grounds of popularity, or of monetary drain from the school without any compensatory publicity or television revenue to speak of, all women’s sports and many men’s sports would have to yield. Why must my school, Providence College, build a state-of-the-art softball field whose dimensions are similar to those of the Little League stadium in Williamsport, have a dozen or so players on scholarship every year, and shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars in upkeep, salaries, and travel? What exactly does the college community receive in return?
What is supposed to be held equal to what, and why? Is it opportunity, rather than participation? If so, and if twice as many men want to play a sport as women, even if they receive no scholarship money, why should they be penalized two or three times over? They are excluded from competing on the women’s teams: Those are the quintessential safe spaces, like women’s gyms. Then they are not good enough to make the men’s teams unless the squads are allowed to be bigger, even though they play the same sports as the women and play them much better. Then the greater good they bring to the community must also yield to that bare demand for equality. In all of this, we see the work of one inequality after another.
At Grove City College, the pea is under a shell labeled “equal participation,” but there we are not talking about sports. We are talking about attendance at college to begin with. This equality is quite literally by design: Grove City, an evangelical Christian school, has exactly the same number of dormitory rooms on campus for men as for women. That means that every year they accept exactly the same number of each sex for admission to the freshman class. Yet Grove City has had to bear the complaints of feminists, who say that young women are treated unequally, since Grove City must dig a little deeper to find qualified male candidates.
Yet this is the rationale used everywhere when colleges dig a little deeper to find qualified female candidates for admission to various programs—in mathematics, for example. In such a case, equality is not something to enforce now, but to aspire to later; people are treated unequally now in order that a future state of equality will result, meeting the specifications of the people who insist upon it, for their political purposes. Grove City College has no utopian scheme, no shimmering vision of New Stepford, wherein everybody, male and female, will do all things in the same numbers and the same way and with the same degree of excellence or mediocrity. All Grove City has is a certain fixed number of beds in their dormitories, and perhaps an idea that, after all, plenty of such young men and women have in the past married one another, and sent their children to their alma mater in turn.
Perhaps it is not the bare qualifications alone that we ought to consider, but need: All other things being roughly equal, we ought to give the job or the place on the team or the spot in the freshman class to the person who needs it more. We would then be treating people with equal consideration for the human situation in which they find themselves. But at this point it is hard to understand why we should appeal to equality at all, rather than to justice and mercy and the common good. A feminist may claim that a young woman who has had few female mentors in the sciences is in greater need than her brother is, and that is why we should favor her promotion, or the promotion of a female professor who could be a strong mentor to other young women after her. Yet that sword cuts two ways—or, rather, in every conceivable way. If you try to grasp it from any angle, you will bleed.
Women now outnumber men in college; so then perhaps men are the ones in greater need—of male mentors when they are in high school, and of men who can inspire them in college and whip them into shape. There are programs (sociology, art) that are top heavy with women; so maybe male professors in those fields should be sought. Moreover, young men who fail in high school or college often turn to self-destructive behavior; the cost to them and to their society is greater. That surely is a case of need. Or a married man applying for a job has a wife and children depending upon him; he needs the job more than does a single woman or a single man or a married woman whose husband is also a professional. For it is not common that marriages long survive the unemployment or underemployment of the husband.
We are caught in a thicket of definitions, reservations, exceptions, exclusions, preferences, considerations, and contradictions, one that can never be cleared out. If we want equal opportunity, not taking sex into account at all, then we might have two basketball teams, two hockey teams, and so on, but they would be called varsity and junior varsity, and if the women can’t compete, that’s not our fault but their Maker’s. If we want equal participation, then we will never have equal opportunity—there will always be thumbs and forefingers or elbows on the scales. And if we are talking about more than sports, we will have to have “affirmative action” for the new minority on campus, the men. If we want our best shot at picking out a genius from the rough, applying the rule of equal consideration of possible benefits, then we will seek out those extremely intelligent young people, the oddballs, who do not engage in 15 sports and 15 clubs, and whose grades are probably not the best; but these will come disproportionately from the boys. If we are after rare genius rather than high competence, then history and common observation would tell us also that we should look for it among the boys. If we apply equal consideration of need, then we look to those whose failures will cost our world the most, or to those on whom more people now depend or will depend.
And after all of that, we will still see that sometimes the demand for equality in one respect not only produces or presumes inequality in another, but destroys the very thing that is to be subject to the egalitarian rule. We can return here to the Australian women’s soccer team. Suppose that sex is not to be recognized at all in law. Then if that team is to receive government assistance, it must be open to men. But we see what would happen if it were open even to boys. It ceases to be. There is no such thing as a women’s soccer team that admits boys, because the admission destroys the thing as such. A women’s gym, such as Curves, that suddenly decides to admit men does not become a women’s gym open to men. It becomes something essentially different, something like Gold’s Gym or the YMCA. It ceases to exist as such. The YMCA, admitting women, ceases to be the YMCA.
When the Virginia Military Institute was all male, and enjoying the support of a majority of the women voters of Virginia, some women who wanted to enroll filed suit, and the case went to our princes and princesses on the Supreme Court. Essentially, the plaintiffs were begging five members of the principate to nullify the wishes and votes of millions of their fellow women. Let us now discuss the inequalities. A majority of the women of Virginia cared enough for some of their sons to give them, with public support, the unique opportunity to study with other men and to be trained as soldiers. That did not mean that they loved their sons better than they loved their daughters. It might well mean that they loved their sons equally; and because they did so, they took into account differences in desires and needs, just as you would if you were making out a grocery list. Everyone deserves consideration, which at dinner usually implies inequalities in calories.
The Supreme Court ruled against VMI, though how it could do so while there were still 60 women’s colleges around the country, all of them receiving government funds and a couple of them state-run to boot, I do not know, except that VMI stood for something opprobrious to the feminist egalitarian. The women who filed suit wanted the VMI experience—the military training. And precisely because some young men not only thrive on that but need it profoundly, as the president of the college, Josiah Bunting, testified, it could not be allowed to stand. Bunting described the careers of young men in trouble whom only a place like VMI could save. “So what?” asked Prince Stephen Breyer.
VMI worked for those men because VMI was all male. It was of the essence of VMI, just as the female-only clientele is of the essence of a women’s gym, and the female-only obsessiveness is of the essence of a women’s studies program, regardless of the occasional hapless male who might find himself in one of its courses, like a hobbit in Shelob’s lair. Princess Ruth Ginsburg gave the game away when she insisted, almost in the same breath, that there must be no differentiation between the men and women at VMI, although of course physical requirements would have to be adjusted to meet the needs of women. There was to be a strict equality, except when there wasn’t, and the equality or the inequality was to be determined in favor of the women. Princess Ginsburg’s self-contradiction was a more sober version of the breathless inconsistency of the woman lawyer who had brought a similar lawsuit against the Citadel, in South Carolina. Almost in the same sentence she said that now the Citadel experience would be granted to women as well as men, and that the Citadel would never be the same again. She did not perceive that the latter end of her statement contradicted the former.
Now it is perfectly reasonable for men to say, “You know, our daughters will never enjoy athletic competition unless we keep the boys off their teams,” and thus support the inequality involved in making one team open to people regardless of sex, while reserving the other to women alone. But then it is also perfectly reasonable for women to say, “You know, some of our sons really need the severe direction of other men, and that will never happen unless we keep the girls out of those particular schools,” and thus support that inequality. In each case, the differences bear forth a concern for justice—rather than mistaking equality for justice tout court.
Such are the things that reasonable people take into account. That is what they once did in the 364 days out of the year that were not overseen by the Court Princes, and what their legislators did on the other day. For that is what legislation is really all about: coming up with ways to promote what people see as the common good, which includes reserving to individual persons their due. Legislating is not the realm of judges at all, because they can know no more about the stuff of the question at hand, and as judges can have no deeper insight into the common good, than can any of their fellow citizens. Their metier is to determine what the pertinent law is and how it is to be applied in a particular case, and whether one law is reconcilable with another. What the law should be is not their business. When they determine law by means of a necessarily incoherent egalitarianism, they become tyrants in fact—though they may be both sillier and more contemptible than tyrants of old, and, if we do not consider the case of unborn children, less likely to cut throats.
But we do have some consolation. I hear the Matildas are slated to go against a team of kangaroos, and it’s better than even money on the ladies.