Equality of outcome vs equality of ability to participate (Laura Eckstein – Jan. 23, 2019)

Our country was founded upon the bold declaration we are all created equal. In our more recent history, this proposition was etched into the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees “equal protection of the laws” to all of our citizens.

This high and essential ideal is vital to the functioning of our free society on every level. When we speak of legal equality, it boils down to citizens being given a “level playing field.” The problems arise when segments of society demand that government somehow promises, or even manipulates, outcomes rather than opportunities.

For purposes of this article, let’s focus on equality between men and women. It is axiomatic that one cannot say they want men and women to be treated equally, yet at the same time demand one of the two be treated with some advantage that would be denied to the other (either way). The latter argument is inherently unequal and discriminatory. As a woman, I expect to be allowed the same opportunities that are afforded to any person, regardless of whether they, or I, am male or female; anything different is not only contrary to the very concept of equality, but is also offensive and prejudicial.

While history clearly bears out previous widespread discrimination against women, those wrongs were righted from a legal standpoint with the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A society can never fully eradicate bias in an individual’s heart and mind, but institutional and formal acts of discrimination have long been outlawed in this country, and certainly preceding my lifetime.

Let me share my experience. I am a female born after the passage of the aforementioned anti-discrimination laws. Having been born into poverty, I lacked advantages others had, but I consistently experienced that my choices, drive and perseverance could more than compensate for what did not come by default. I was allowed the same opportunities as a female that my male contemporaries were allowed, and I capitalized on those to accomplish every dream and goal I set for myself, including attending law school. (Note that more than half of incoming law students are now female.) As a well-educated, business-owning woman, I am the living outcome of the legal equality that has long been established in this country.

A quick note about inadvertent sexism. Even granting that good intentions may underlie efforts to manipulate equality of outcome, inherent in this argument is an implied statement that I, as a woman, need some extra help or advantage to manage the same outcome a man may have — I fundamentally and vehemently reject this dangerous concept and believe it to be overtly sexist. I do not want an asterisk next to any accomplishment that I obtain by my own hard work. And I believe I speak for most when I say that I want to be acknowledged for my accomplishments as a (fill in the blank: lawyer, athlete, marksman, business person, etc.), not because I am a female version of any of those titles. I yearn for a society that acknowledges merit over identity.

The late Dick Faegler summed it up best when he said “equality of opportunity is freedom, but equality of outcome is repression.” This ideal is not relegated to conservative circles; indeed, many of our most respected American leaders of change have trumpeted the same sentiment. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of a “dream of equality of opportunity,” and Franklin D. Roosevelt said that “equality of individual ability has never existed and never will, but we do insist that equality of opportunity still must be sought.” However, equality is twisted by some into an ill-conceived (if not dangerous) belief that government or society should attempt to force equality of outcome.

Let us hold fast to the commitment that our citizens are equal under the law, and encourage personal efforts to obtain our individual best, regardless of our group identity.