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Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex, wrote the following in introducing the reader to her thoughts on females and femininity:
"I recall also a young Trotskyite standing on a platform at a boisterous meeting and getting ready to use her fists, in spite of her evident fragility. She was denying her feminine weakness; but it was for love of a militant male whose equal she wished to be."
The struggle among women for equitable treatment has been long and frustrating, as the audience's response to actress Patricia Arquette's comments regarding gender equality at the recent Academy Awards ceremony illustrated. The quotation included in the student's question -- "It seems for women to be defined as equal, we have to become symbolic males... warriors with breasts" -- has been identified with the fictional "Lara Croft" character, a physically strong female warrior skillfully playing in a man's world. The sociologist who made that comment is suggesting that the genders, under the unwritten rules of society, cannot be considered truly equal unless women can perform the physically-tasking activities traditionally associated with men. In the 1997 film G.I. Jane, the female naval officer portrayed by actress Demi Moore asks the master chief training prospective SEALs how he came to be awarded the Navy Cross. The master chief replies that he pulled a 240-pound man out of a burning tank, and then reminds the female naval officer that she had previously been unable to pull her own weight out of the water. The point the master chief is making is that war is a man's business, and the physical limitations of the average female make her unsuited to it, with the implication being that females are inferior. That sentiment, reflected in the quote accompanying the student's question, encapsulates the sentiments of many individuals. The point of the quote, however, is that women should be treated equally as men on the basis of their common humanity, and because, while they can't lift as much weight or, in most cases, fight with the same authority, they can certainly contribute in many other areas at least as well as men.
Women have fought for equality of opportunity for hundreds of years, and still find some doors closed to them because of their gender. They have repeatedly demonstrated the intelligence necessary to perform work traditionally associated with males, and they have, when provided the opportunity, performed as well as men in such physically and mentally demanding jobs as military fighter pilots and ship commanders. What they shouldn't have to do, though, is demonstrate their ability to perform "manly" work in order to be treated equally. Even given the numerical or statistical disparity between relative abilities of the genders to perform dangerous work, women should be treated equally on the basis of their contributions to a myriad of fields, including medicine and medical research, teaching, piloting of aircraft, and practicing law. Discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion or any other factor arbitrarily deprives the broader unit of pools of talent for no reason other than ignorance. The genders each bring different talents and abilities to the equation, and there is considerable overlap between the two. Women shouldn't need to be capable of defeating armed adversaries in hand-to-hand combat to be recognized as equal to men. That is what the quote means.
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