The Waiting Game

Our obsession with equality is exhausting.

Be it about gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, scarcely a week goes by without some fresh outrage over unequal treatment. Last week it was reinvigorated debate over Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence against blacks. This week it’s the Serena Williams’ U.S. Open “would the same punishment have been given a man?” controversy. Then sides are taken, lines are drawn, and the matter is duked out in the courts of public and private opinion. Each fades away, only to be replaced by a new point of contention.

The truth is, we live in one of the most egalitarian societies in human history. Ours is one of the most just forms of government to have ever existed.

But of course there’s inequality and injustice. Our very nation was founded upon it. All can agree that a great many strides have been made since then.

A great many remain to be made.

Though we may disagree about whether Serena Williams deserved to be penalized as she was in the U.S. Open, most of us would probably agree that female athletes should be held to the same behavioral standards as males. If you take the position that punishment was Williams’ due for confronting the umpire for what she viewed as an unfair call, you must also take the position that the same should be administered to the Andre Agassis of the world who call an umpire “son of a bitch” and spit on him during a match. All things being fair, Agassi should have received worse.

But this is not what happens. Even if the rules are neutral, the enforcement is not.

As Melissa Ross pointed out in a much-read Twitter thread over the weekend, a man who behaves badly will be immediately forgiven; a woman will be castigated. “This is the experience of every woman in the workplace,” Ross wrote. “We are always expected to conform to a very narrow range of behaviors, while men get to be whole human beings at work w/out penalty.”

Reactions to her thread were predictable. Lots of man-splaining on why Williams deserved the penalty. Lots of completely missing the point. Happily, lots more feminists praising Ross for speaking our truth. This, my friends, is progress.

We can acknowledge progress and ask for better in the same breath, yet society demands that we remain silent and patient or tells us when, where and how it’s acceptable to point out injustice. That’s what the debate about Kaepernick’s kneeling centers on. It’s what the controversy about Williams’ outburst is about. It’s not a question of whether unequal treatment exists—it’s whether it’s proper to point it out when and how they have.

OK, fine. Tell me then, how long must we wait for equality before we say enough is enough and demand it? A lot of us are getting tired of holding our tongues and waiting our turn. I know I am. And when I get tired of waiting, I get angry and disgusted and demand that which is being denied me.

So I understand why Kaepernick kneels when common convention commands him to stand, and why Williams yells and curses when most would rather have her be pleasant and accepting. They’re tired of waiting, too.

Baby Boomers are now facing the very real possibility that theirs will not be the first generation of females to occupy the Oval Office. It is already evident that theirs will not be the first generation for whom justice and opportunity are color-blind. Should they accept this silently or rage against it?

I’m a Millennial and I’m starting to wonder if my generation will go to its grave with a gender pay gap, if I’ll ever see a representative number of females and minorities in Congress, if blacks will remain incarcerated and impoverished at horrendously high rates throughout my lifetime, and so many other injustices. Shall I accept all of this until my death to avoid making anyone uncomfortable or seeming contrarian?

To be sure, there have been great strides on these fronts. Just considering gender, today women have more freedom and opportunity than at any point in history; by the same token, sexism and misogyny are rampant in our society. We can run for president, yet in the near-century since women’s suffrage, there have been three women on the presidential ticket and only one at the top. We can seek redress when a man harms us, yet we’re just now starting to (kind of sort of) believe female victims of sexual harassment and assault. There is no shortage of similar examples for racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities.

I understand how tiresome it can be to continue having these debates; I’m tired of them, too. But the waiting is worse.