Three of our daughters did their undergraduate studies at Wellesley College, a truly wonderful all-women liberal arts college near Boston.
We love almost everything about Wellesley, from the rigorous academics and small, intimate classes taught by full professors to the gorgeous campus complete with its own lake.
You might wonder about the social life at an all-women’s college, but students cross-register with M.I.T. and interact with all the other great universities in the Boston area. Wellesley happens to be Hillary Clinton’s alma mater. And Madeleine Albright’s.
It is also a very liberal environment and a historic and perennial leader in the feminist movement.
Which brings us to our point: We love feminism when it is defined and devoted to the true celebration of womanhood and to the worthy goal of complete equality with men. We don’t like feminism nearly as much when it goes in the opposite direction — advocating gender irrelevance, complaining that things that are different cannot be equal and essentially saying that the only relevant and powerful roles are those traditionally held by men.
Our three Wellesley grads receive various alumni newsletters and bulletins. Our youngest daughter was telling us about a recent issue that she felt essentially portrayed gender as a problem and a curse. She felt the article suggested that children should have a chance to choose their gender, and that genitalia and other physical characteristics were not that relevant and should not be the determining factor.
(Our daughter, by the way, loves writing outrageously conservative responses to articles like this — just to stir the pot and try for a little balance.)
We think that this kind of negative and skewed thinking about gender stems from the misdefinition of equality as “sameness.” As we have said before in this column, when we fall into that trap — thinking that unless two things are exactly the same they cannot be equal — the world becomes a confusing place.
At a college, can a professor of chemistry be equal with a professor of English literature in pay, in importance and in recognition? Of course. Can the first violinist in an orchestra be equal to a first clarinetist? Yes.
Are they the same? No.
What if the transmission of a car insisted on being the engine, or vice versa? Would we really benefit by having a lot of cars around with two engines and no transmission?
Who’s to say whether the engine or the transmission is more important? Perhaps making the car go is the objective — maximizing its ability to get somewhere. And maybe it is the car that matters, more than its individual parts.
And maybe, in life, having a responsible, contributing household is the goal — maximizing the chance of children growing strong and productive. And maybe it is the family that matters most, and that can make the most progress and register the most joy — more than the isolated individuals within it.
Back in another era when I (Richard) was attending school in Boston, it was the early days of radical feminism, and the Harvard Business School was a hotbed. There were some women in my class who thought equality had to mean sameness. Day after day, they would bemoan the glass ceiling and the poor treatment women were getting in corporate America — essentially saying that their gender was a curse.
Then one day, a fiery French classmate of mine couldn’t take it any more. He bounded to the front of the classroom and delivered a passionate oration on “Vive la difference.” Of course, he said, there should be equality of pay and of opportunity, but, he urged his female classmates, “be women, be real, strong women, and let us be real men. Appreciate the differences; appreciate the beauty and power of gender. Revel in it. Understand that it is what makes the world go round."
We need to celebrate womanhood and celebrate manhood, and glory in the difference at the same time as we insist on equality.
We personally believe that gender matters, that it has always mattered, that it is a necessary part of the eternities and of God’s family-centered plan. This belief has direct bearing on our views on gender and marriage and on gender and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' priesthood. We also believe that any and all apparent injustices in that plan will eventually be understood and resolved.
And until then, "Vive la difference!”
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."