Thursday, August 11, 2016

WITMonth Day 11 | Parity versus equality

In October 2015, the night after the women in translation panel I took part in at ALTA, I spoke to my sister about something that had somewhat bothered me on the panel. "They kept saying 'parity'", I complained, "and it sounded like 'parody'!"

But the truth is, the word parity carried with it a lot more discomfort for me.

Parity is in the present tense. It looks at the current state of women writers in translation and says let's do the simplest thing. Let's reach 50:50. It's a goal I love, a goal I champion, a goal I've been pushing for quite emphatically since beginning this journey three years ago. Parity is great. But parity is not equality.

This is something that many feminists note frequently, that having equal representation from a certain (usually very delayed) point and onward is not actually equality. Many feminists will further argue that it's not enough, sparking accusations of misandry and man-hating, as it were. These sorts of attacks seem to force "moderate" feminists to settle in many cases, not wanting feminism to be framed as something other than equality. This leads to demands of parity as the fair solution to gender imbalances.

It's a question I struggle with. On the one hand, I firmly believe that our ultimately goal should be gender parity. Feminism means equality in its simplest terms, and that means that in an ideal world, men and women would be translated at equivalent rates, published at equivalent rates, recognized by awards at equivalent rates, and read by men and women alike at equivalent rates. In an ideal world.

The world is not ideal. 31% women writers in translation is thus far the highest I've seen, with historical rates obviously far lower. VIDA counts which place recognition of women writers in the 35% range as well are also in our modern, "post-sexism" world. If we look at history as a whole, women have been severely underrepresented. To take the political example: Electing a woman for president of the United States every other election from now until 2100 will not be equality. Equality would be electing only women presidents from now until ~2280.

This seems like an unreasonable demand, and maybe it is. The goal is, after all, true equality. Perhaps that demands parity. But on the smaller scale, I wonder if it isn't asking very little. Let's say publishers only translate books by women writers for three years... that still won't make a dent in the overall historical imbalance! Or even the imbalance from the past four years. "Settling" for parity now will be wonderful going forward, but the gaps in the backlog will remain forever.

We seem to have decided that parity is the right way to go. Don't rock the boat. Don't upset those who would call you a misandrist (and they will, rest assured). But I also choose to view it through the positive lens: Let's look forwards and not backwards. Let's do what we can. Let's make every effort to reach our optimal goal, even if it can never be "perfect".

In an ideal world, I want equality. But in this imperfect world, parity will have to do.

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