On how to read someone’s intentions on “equality” before engaging…

Yesterday I got involved with a Twitter “discussion” over a commentary published in The Lancet titled Gender bias in publishing.

The commentary is problematic for a lot of reasons, but mainly because the underlying intentions of the authors are clear in the first author’s tweet about the paper…

There are whole threads of people discussing the problems with the idea that “activism and the pursuit of truth are often mutually exclusive”, which ignores the actual definition of the phrase “mutual exclusive” and essentially calls diversity proponents liars, and the problems with the commentary itself.  But, to me, the authors’ motivations are clear in the final paragraph when they write…

In conclusion, we welcome measures that ensure equality of opportunity for both genders.

These sorts of statements tell you exactly the motivation of the people you’re dealing with. Using words like “equality” instead of “diversity” or “opportunity” is coded dog whistle language from people who are really afraid of losing all of the excellent resources they have secured on the basis of their privilege.

You see, I have learned in considering diversity issues that people see the world in two ways that can be summed up in analogy about pie.

There are people who see the world’s pie (ie, resources, accolades, whatever) as finite and divided into slices among people. People who see pie as finite and allocated are worried about “equality” because in order to achieve the goal of giving everyone an equal slice, it means that they have to give away some of their pie. It’s sad to have to share your pie with others.

But then there are other people who are more concerned with diversity, opportunity access and consideration, and fairness in consideration who know that, if you bring together people of different backgrounds and work really hard to see the value in their differences (instead of trying to cram them into a standard rubric), that diverse group of people won’t look at the pie and figure out how to divide it equally. They’ll look at the pie, figure out how to make more pie, and ensure that everyone has enough pie to sate their hunger and still share some pie with people that are new to the pie party. Even the group that was initially worried about losing their pie gets more access to pie. That’s what we should be trying to create.


The word “fair” is an atomic bomb that really means “I don’t want you to take my stuff away.” So, be wary of these “fair and balanced” discussions about “equality” and pie, because they are more often than not a dog whistle intended to distract from the most important, and often ignored, postulate of the entire debate – the pie need not be finite.

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