When we go backpacking together, my husband or my sons carry the heaviest gear. They carry the tents, the jet boil, the first aid supplies, and the maps and water filters. They even carry the musical instruments and playing cards for our evenings around the fire. The men in my family carry packs that weigh about 50 pounds and mine weighs half that. I am very happy we have not divided the load equally.

I cannot figure out why, after thirty years of “no” the question of equal rights for women still appears before every Congress and women still clamor for its passage. I understand why women want equal pay for equal work, but to make the leap that men and women should be treated equal, meaning the same, across the board is terrifying.

When the Titanic sunk, there were not enough lifeboats for every person on board. The women and children were offered the seats in the rafts while the men accepted whatever fate awaited them. How would they have handled the crisis if they believed men and women were equal, meaning the same?   Would they invite everybody with a birthday on an odd day to stay on board, and those with birthdays on even days to board the rafts? That would be logical if everybody on board was supposed to be treated as equals.

Women and children have been traditionally given preferential treatment in a life or death situation. During the World Wars the children were sent to live in the country, where they would be less likely to suffer the fate of the bombings in the cities. They didn’t send the families whose names ended in the letters A-M, demanding that the families whose names ended in N to Z remain in the cities, although that would have been equal.

Identical vs. Equally Valuable

In the world of mathematics equal does not necessarily mean same:

2 =2   and   1+1=2

While two is the exact same as two, 1 plus 1 has the same value as two. Even though one plus one has the same value as two, there may be times when I want to carry a two dollar bill around, instead of two one dollar bills. They may have an equal monetary value, but have a different value to me depending on the circumstances.

When discussing equality between men and women, we must differentiate identical, or the same, from “just as valuable.” While a woman is just as important, just as valuable as a man, we are not equally valuable in the same circumstances. Value is contingent on circumstance.

For example, I really value ice cream. It is my most favorite family home evening treat, the FHE treat I value the highest. However, as much as I value ice cream after FHE, I would far prefer a granola bar if I’m in the middle of a marathon. If I were to eat ice cream while running I’d throw up. When I’m running a race, granola bars are of greater value to me.

The same occurs with men and women. Each has their own value in certain circumstances. When we’re hiking, I really value my husband’s strength. When we’re driving in snarled traffic, he values my patience. When my kids need math help, I value his left-brained thinking, when they need to write a term paper, he values my right-brained thinking.

Value depends on Circumstance

The problem with women who “demand” equal rights is they don’t value their own sphere as much as they value a man’s. They don’t value the driving as much as they value hiking, for example. They don’t value FHE as much as they value running. It is not the person they fail to value, they fail to value the circumstance in which women have value. Women who demand equal rights may think shooting the guns in a war is a more valuable circumstance than bandaging the wounds caused by those guns, or they think that work on Wall Street is more valuable than work in the kitchen.

If we are going to be valued equally as women we need to value the circumstances in which our talents prove valuable.   We need to value teachers as much as we value tycoons. We need to value patience as much as persistence, kindness as much as firmness. We need to value Primary Presidents as much as we value Scout Masters.

Value in a Marriage

To have successful marriages we must value our spouse, and the circumstances in which his or her traits prove valuable. Couples who need counseling frequently come into my office because, rather than using their different traits to complement the marriage, they use them to compete, trying to elevate themselves above the spouse.

When one partner in a marriage is trying to elevate himself above the spouse, he may exploit his own talents and denigrate those of the spouse. For example, a husband may intimidate his wife with his temper or the wife may shame her husband through verbal abuse. It is difficult to teach a couple to “fight fair” if they value themselves, their role, their talents, their viewpoints, or their sphere above that of a spouse.

Couples who see themselves, not as equals, but as equally valuable will acknowledge one another’s different strengths, and allow the other to exercise his or her strengths in the sphere where they are the most valuable.

Equal Rights

When discussing equal rights, too often people confuse equal with same and rights with roles.   When the constitution claims that “all men are created equal” it does not mean men and women are the same. It means they are equally valuable.

My husband is an engineer and he works for a company that makes military weapons. I am a marriage counselor and I work with couples that serve in the military. My husband makes far more money that I make. We often joke that the government pays a lot more money to win wars, than it does healing those who fight those wars. The debate, it seems, should not be about whether we value men or women the most, but about what circumstances we value most.