08/15/2011 04:05 pm ET Updated Oct 15, 2011

Equality and Parity

There are two things on my mind at this writing. One is the question of equality in human relationships, and the other is the question of parity. I am questioning the idea of equality when it applies to equality of opportunity for women, and to the idea of equality in human relationships in general. Parity is not the same. Parity implies quotas, as many scholars have pointed out in their criticisms of the equal opportunity laws in the United States.

Jane Kramer, in a recent profile of Elizabeth Badinter in The New Yorker, July 25, 2011, quoted Ms. Badinter, "...beneath the anger (of feminists) there's a real problem, because the equality of the sexes is still ...a 'secondary' issue."

Kramer continues, "For most feminists, parity meant striking a reasonable balance between social strategies and social ideals. For Badinter, it was the first crack in France's universalist commitment -- an attempt to insinuate exceptionalism, or as Badinter calls it, 'differentialism into French life.'" In the United States, we have already accepted differentialism into American life.

We have already accepted same-sex marriage in the United States, when it happens in different states. It is still not the same as equality with heterosexual marriage, because the federal government still does not grant equal status to same-sex marriage couples. Same-sex partners cannot share social security benefits when one partner dies, nor can members of a same-sex couple visit a loved one in a hospital or a nursing home. In the United States, we are a long way from granting either "parity" or "equality" to same-sex couples.

Trying to achieve "equality" in human relationships is difficult. Historically, we have seen that there never was equality between those who own land and those who don't. This is an inherent and basic premise of social human infrastructures.

The basis of the peasant revolutions in Russia lay in the attitude of the peasants toward the land. The peasants believed that they owned the land on which they planted seed and grew crops, and when they were deprived of what they had produced by their own labor, they revolted. There was similar dissatisfaction among the sharecroppers in the southern United States, where similar rebellions were put down with a heavy hand by the plantation owners.

Within the human family, the child is never equal to the adult, nor is the adult equal to the child. In the educational structure the student is NEVER equal to the teacher, nor is the teacher equal to the student, no matter how much various ideologues might try to argue (or pretend) otherwise.

In the working world, the boss is NEVER equal to the workers, nor do the workers consider themselves equal to the boss. I learned that when I was the owner, designer and manager of my own leather clothing manufacturing business. When I began my manufacturing business, I hired a stitcher, a cutter and a finisher, and I notified the Leather Workers Union that, since I was an employer, I ought to offer my workers a union. The union rep nearly fell off his chair when he realized I was talking about three employees! My father was a socialist, and a deep believer in equality. I was following the pattern laid down by my father. The union rep did come out, and we had a union shop.

It was at that time that I realized my workers never did feel that they were equal to me, even though I felt that some of them were not only equal but superior to me in their ability to stitch the garments I designed. They made me understand that I was the Boss. And slowly I realized that while workers may demand certain rights, it is always within the purview of the boss as to how many and which rights will be granted, through negotiation. Control of the situation is the key.

The most important aspect of "equality" reflects acceptance. It incorporates the idea that the person in control must be willing to accept the idea that she is equal to the person not in control, and that this equality is so complete that she would be willing to trade places. This is indeed an idealist view of society.

I don't know anyone who is willing to accept that concept. The few people who have tried to put that concept into action have suffered disastrous consequences. I am referring to teachers who have tried to turn classrooms over to students who may not have learned the "normal" rules of social behavior, discipline, and ways to share responsibility. I don't know of any situations where implementation of this idea has worked.

For the time being, I think we have to work with the fact of "parity" and keep the ideal of "equality" ever present in our minds.

Rhoda P. Curtis is the author of 'Rhoda: Her First Ninety Years,' a candid memoir of a first-generation American woman who was willing to change the direction of her life every twelve years, and 'After Ninety: What.' Read her blog on Red Room.