I spoke on the Diversity & Inclusion panel at a women’s conference recently. An audience member asked how we can make men feel more comfortable in this #MeToo and #TimesUp era, to which another panelist (and woke feminist boss) replied, “Who cares if men feel uncomfortable? Women have been uncomfortable for all of history.” The (all female) audience roared with a knowing laughter. It’s bothered me ever since.
It’s easy not to give a damn if men feel uncomfortable. But as a feminist I know I’ll create the most change not only by supporting women, but also by supporting MEN who want to support women, but don’t know how. Unless ALL genders take action, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements will be in vain.
For the first time in history, men are listening to our stories. But too often, the sentiment I hear from men is more about proving that they’re not sexist themselves, and less about how we can make the human experience equal, safe, and healthy for all genders. These guys are missing the point. It’s not (just) about finger-pointing the Weinsteins of the world. It’s about creating a world where the Weinsteins of the world can’t get away with that shit. And in order to do that, ALL humans, of every gender, need to be on the same page.
Men, I see you.
Men, I want you to know, I see you. Our society is in a transition period and it’s not easy to know how to act; there isn’t a how-to manual for gender equality. You’re uncomfortable and scared of making a misstep. Because you’re NOT one of the “bad guys.” At least you don’t want to be.
Women, don’t get me wrong here, I know you’ve tried to include men in the conversation before. Many times. More often than not, it ends in you feeling hopeless, attacked, and beyond frustrated. But it’s not enough to glue yourself to the harassment headlines. It’s not even enough to share the stories we’ve suffered in silence for a lifetime. We have to take action, and we need to get EVERYONE in on the action.
Women can’t reach equality by operating in a silo
As women, we’ve fought our whole lives for freedom and equality, most of the time to no avail. But we started banning together as women, and what started as a single #MeToo tweet has exploded into women’s conferences, women’s support groups, women running for office, and a global feminist movement. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in a room of brilliant, badass, power women and thought to myself, “We’re not the ones that need to hear this stuff… we already know the female experience. Preaching to the choir won’t move the needle.” We can’t just talk about this amongst ourselves, wipe our hands clean of men, and expect change. We need to get all genders in the same room and do this TOGETHER.
And by genders working together, I don’t mean putting one token woman on your board or mandating an annual online diversity training. I don’t mean colleges and MBA programs adding a “Women + Family” course to the curriculum. Additional paternity leave and in-office breastfeeding rooms are appreciated, but I want REAL cultural change in the way all genders approach and talk to each other about gender equality. And to do that, ladies, we have to be patient and understanding of men.
Women need to be patient and understanding of men
Even in the midst of this gender newsquake, some of the best men are going to make mistakes. We all know what it’s like to innocently say or do the wrong thing. It feels shitty, especially when someone attacks you for it. Women should approach men with empathy and help to educate them, rather than reprimand them (for first-time offenses, that is). Many men out there are potential allies to women but need us to extend a hand to help them navigate this gender revolution. Just because they need a little help, doesn’t mean they’re not pro gender equality.
Here’s an example. During my second quarter of business school at Stanford, I read over the syllabus for one of my entrepreneurship classes and discovered (not surprisingly) that exactly zero of our cases had female protagonists. I marched over to my professor after class, guns-a-blazing, and told him this was unacceptable. He got defensive and told me there weren’t any successful female entrepreneurs he could think of. So I emailed him a list of 20, and even offered to make introductions to a few. I never got a response.
Sadly, this class wasn’t the exception. I had plenty more business school classes with male-driven curriculums ahead of me, but I decided to take a more collaborative approach. I got my professors involved early on. I asked them if and how we could include more female leaders in our curriculum, rather than shaming them for not doing so in the first place. Many of them said they simply hadn’t noticed, and some of them enlisted my help. I brought it up in class as a discussion point, and it sparked some really great conversations. Being collaborative, patient, and understanding got me a lot further than reprimanding men ever did.
As women, we’ve been through a lot of inequality. It’s easy tempting to finger point or cut men out of the conversation entirely. But remember that the enemy is the systematic patriarchy, not men as individuals. It’s time to integrate men into the movement!
Dear men: I know you’re not the enemy. But you also need to know that issues of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and the wage gap can’t just be mansplained away. Reaching gender equality is going to take work, and it’s going to take time. And us women would like your help. Here’s how to be a woke ass feMANist:
How men can make a positive impact in the gender revolution
1. Accept the discomfort
Many men have told me that they feel they’ve been made the enemy, or that they have to apologize for being male. I can relate. I too have privileges (we all do), but feeling guilty about them isn’t productive.
Changing societal systems that have been in place for… well, all of time, takes hard work. Discussing sexism, prejudice, and sexual assault is uncomfortable. Exploring the ways you may be or have been part of the problem is painful. But all of this discomfort means you’re accepting, learning, and growing. So don’t change the subject, don’t get defensive, and don’t put your own feelings above addressing systemic injustice. Leaning into the discomfort is the only way to change. Accept it!
2. Educate yourself
I HIGHLY encourage men to ask women questions about their experience (more on this below), but it’s also not women’s responsibility to explain the same basic truths to men over and over again. If you can Google it, do so. Read Lean In and That’s What She Said. Follow feminist activists like Gloria Steinem, Feministabulous, and myself. Subscribe to HuffPostWomen, WeNews, BitchMedia, and others. Read articles written by WOMEN. Take my #FlexYourFemale email challenge by entering your email below:
While you’re reading, suspend judgment. Don’t stop just because it’s “too angry” or exhausting. Remember, privilege is freedom from consideration, and you’ve had the privilege of ignoring this stuff for long enough. DON’T pretend sexism doesn’t exist or try to mansplain it away.
3. Examine your own behavior
Take a look at your own behavior. Is there room for improvement? (the answer is always YES) So now the question is, are you going to do something about it?
Quit the sexist jokes (even when you’re with “just the bros”). Only have sex if there’s ENTHUSIASTIC consent. No slut-shaming. No catcalls. Stop calling women bitches and cunts, and stop using pussy as a term for weakness (linguistics affect our behavior). Focus on women’s personality and intellect rather than just their looks. Question yourself. If a woman is being bold, is she “bitchy,” or is she a strong leader?
You don’t have to shame yourself if you’ve done these things in the past. Just examine yourself and decide what you’re going to do differently. Decide what behavior you will not tolerate in others, and take action when you see it.
4. Speak up
It’s 2018. It’s not enough just to “believe in” equality and not assault women. You need to actually DO something about it.
If you see sexist, aggressive, and prejudice behavior and don’t say anything – you’re complicit. It’s not enough not to participate in gender discrimination, you have to stand up to people who aren’t. If you don’t, you’re part of the problem.
Yes, women can (and do) speak up too. In fact, I’d venture to say that in these types of scenarios, women are the ones speaking up 9 times out of 10. The problem is that more often than not, the perpetrator doesn’t respect women. The response will be at best neutral, and at worse, demeaning and aggressive. Men have a huge opportunity to take the lead and make a difference by speaking up for women. So get comfortable saying something as simple as “What did you mean by that?” or “That’s not cool.” Most people will take a hint and do better next time.
5. Examine your workplace
Does your workplace respect and value women? And by that I mean, does your workplace actively lift women up?
Women are less likely to broadcast their accomplishments or seek promotion. They’re also more likely to get dismissed, interrupted, and have their work attributed to others. So shout out women that are doing great things and amplify their voices. If you hear a man getting credit for a woman’s idea, speak up. You don’t need to humiliate anyone, just say “yes, Melissa made a great point there” or “I’d like to go back to what Monique was saying.”
But it’s not enough to just SPEAK up, you need to ACT. Give deserving women the top opportunities, projects, mentorship, and promotions. Invite them for socializing, networking, and bonding (not dating!) Intentionally build a diverse workforce (which means you have to RECRUIT and HIRE women… NOT just for entry-level roles, but for leadership positions!) Sponsor women, advocate for them, and take them under your wing. This will help build a solid pipeline of future female leaders. (And in turn, greater diversity of thought and improved problem solving for your company!)
And… hopefully, this goes without saying… but NO sexual harassment of ANY kind. If a woman reports something, believe her.
6. Ask questions
You’re not alone in this! We (women) want to help! If you need clarification on something, ask us. If you’re not sure if we want your help, ask. Can’t tell if we’re uncomfortable? Worried you said something offensive? Wondering what we’re thinking? ASK!!!
There’s just one caveat here: you have to actually LISTEN to the answer :).
That means no doubting, judging, arguing, challenging, criticizing, or discrediting. Just understanding. Women need to feel that it’s safe to share, and trust me, your willingness to be vulnerable and ask questions will be welcome. ALL humans need to check their ego at the door if we’re going to have a productive dialogue.
Far to often, the oppressed group is put in a position of having to defend her experience. She has to delve into painful topics, only to be met with rapid dismissal, and even bullying. Remember, it’s NOT oversensitivity, it’s NOT a misunderstanding, it’s her experience. If you discredit her or change the subject, you likely won’t get the chance again.
7. Reject traditional gender roles
Gender equality benefits men too! Men face long-term negative effects from societal pressures to remain tough and unemotional. Plus, more and more, men are acting as the primary child caretaker – and our society needs to adjust for this.
That said, in households where both parents work, the female typically does the majority of the housework and childcare (almost 2hrs/day more, on average). This is detrimental to both men and women, not to mention children.
Speaking of children – raise your little boys and girls the same way! From infancy, boys are told to “toughen up” and “rub some dirt on it,” while girls are treated like porcelain dolls. Girls like football and boys cry. Get used to this now.
8. Keep iterating
We ALL have to continually challenge the assumptions we make about ALL genders. What we believe now might be different than what we believed five years ago or what we’ll believe five years from now, and that’s ok. We have to be willing to build and grow as we go.
Gender isn’t about two conflicting sides; gender is a spectrum – and we all need to support one another. This means no mansplaining, and it ALSO means no man-hating. This is about EQUALITY, NOT two opposing genders and agendas.
When in doubt, I recommend you ask yourself, “what kind of person do I want to be?” Herstory is watching.
If you found this article helpful, I ask that you share it with your friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, enemies… everyone. Based on my Google Analytics, I venture to guess that more women will find this article than men 🙂
What did I miss? Do you have any questions or need guidance? Leave a note in the comments below!