international women's day

International Women’s Day needs to be about men too (Ep #41)

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I am conflicted about International Women’s Day.

I both love and despise it.

I love that it celebrates the achievements of women. I love that it brings them together, to connect and form a solidarity. I love that it creates conversations about equality and helping women rise. I love that it highlights the fact that inequality is still rife and change is needed.

But I despise the impotence of it.

I despair at a sense of futility of much of it – that women gather and talk about how great we are and that change is needed, but that they are then led to believe that by doing this they are getting somewhere.

I am filled with frustration that the day is used as a publicity stunt by politicians that say they’re all for us and equality, while their language, actions and policies the rest of the year would indicate otherwise.

I am annoyed that the day is a case of preaching to the converted. The people who most need to hear and understand and acknowledge the issue of reaching equality stand outside of the circle and pay lip service with meaningless platitudes and no follow through.

I despise that the inequality women face every day – an issue that disadvantages them in the most profound and basic ways – is reduced to breakfast events, morning teas, motivational quotes, and media grabs for a day and then nothing changes.

I despise that the day isn’t simply for celebrating women’s achievement but is in fact needed as a call to arms.

I despise that some men ask when their day is (IMD is November 19 btw) – and that they don’t see that the reason IWD is a big deal and IMD isn’t is because men don’t need a global day to fight for their rights.

IWD exists because for the most part, women are powerless to create the changes needed. Our power is reduced to the events, the quote cards and columns like this. Reduced to hashtags and campaigns to try to expose widespread injustice.

Which is why IWD needs to be about men too. Whilst I love the premise behind IWD, I feel that in order for it to have the impact it’s intended to, it needs to be about men too – about their role in the inequality and what they themselves can do about it.

It’s a movement that needs men’s involvement, men’s support and men’s understanding.

Until gender equality is a man’s issue as well, it will never be.

We cannot correct an imbalance when only one side is trying to right it, especially when it’s the side that is disadvantaged and holds less power in the first place.

Shall we count the many ways women are still disadvantaged?

Women are paid less right from the get go, despite equal or superior levels of qualifications. See this post for some details on the gender pay gap.

The burden of raising children remains hers. Men ‘help’. This is a narrative that persists and is pervasive.

Should they chose to have children, women suffer The Motherhood Penalty – she has the time off work, putting her career, ambitions and even earning capacity on hold, sometimes indefinitely.

The onus and cost of childcare is always deemed her issue. When the necessity of childcare is discussed in public forums, it’s always a ‘problem’ created by working mothers and linked to her ability to work or otherwise, never his.

She faces reduced career prospects, reduced earning capacity, reduced promotion pathways and sometimes simply reduced hours, with three times more women than men working part-time in Australia.

Women retire with significantly less superannuation than men because of that interruption to working life and the reduced earning capacity and lack of full-time employment that follows because of it.

Many women now face homelessness and poverty in old age because of these financial gaps.

And then there’s the violence committed against women.

The sexual assaults.

The sexual harassment.

Most men don’t go through life worrying about having time out of their careers or losing their jobs or having reduced working hours because they have children.

Most men never worry about violence or being attacked or raped.

Most men don’t have to ever think about being sexually harassed at work.

And because most men have never had to think about these things, they have no understanding of what a lifetime of it feels like – what that imbalance that makes life that much harder, that much more complicated, that much more of a challenge, is like.

We need them to be on side and to be a part of the change because while men continue to be the majority of the policy-makers and the minority of the caregivers, the imbalance won’t be righted.

There needs to be some fundamental changes to the way our society looks upon gender equality – namely that it isn’t just a women’s issue. We need to understand that men have an equal responsibility to make gender equality a reality.

I don’t need more women to tell me how great women are. I know already.

Just as I know how capable women are.

I know how much they have to contribute.

And I”m painfully and personally aware of the sacrifices they have to make – either sacrificing their health and home life to continue to work in an environment designed for men who have women looking after home; or they sacrifice their careers to be that woman looking after home.

I know how hard they have to work to achieve something.

Just as I’m sure you too know all this.

What we need is for more men to know this and to want it to change.

Men have to care as much about gender equality as we do. They need to see it, understand it and become champions for it.

They need to make room for women, to help change society’s gendered constructs and narratives that keep women pinned in stereotyped boxes.

The way IWD works at the moment, it continues to put the onus on women alone to be the force of change and that in itself is unequal.

Take some action

By all means, enjoy your IWD events. Connect and celebrate how far we have come and how far we will go.

But for the rest of the year, we can work on changing the constructs and narratives that make IWD necessary.

♥ Make parenting an equal issue, not a woman’s issue. Don’t accept the narrative that only mother’s know best. Even the equation and make sure dad isn’t just ‘helping’ but actually has an equal responsibility to do the work of raising kids and running a household.

♥ Stop focusing on girls bodies and appearance. At schools and in childhood, our society sexualises young girls and then shames them as teenagers if they show any skin. The same isn’t done to our boys. These body-focused comments – including girls being told to cover up at school and protect their dignity – teaches girls to either hide themselves or that their self-worth is based on their body and looks. It focuses both her attention and boys’ attention, on her body. It teaches boys to see females as bodies and not people. Don’t allow such gendered and sexist talk to go unchallenged.

♥ Teach boys gender equality. Teach them it’s not cool to harass girls in any way, including teasing them verbally. It’s not cute. Teach them that trying to prove themselves to be smarter or stronger than the girls just makes them look like insecure jerks. Teach them that strong men don’t feel threatened by strong and smart women. Teach them that girls are not just for sex, that women aren’t just body parts to be admired, or an accessory to make him look good. Then one day when these boys are men and they find themselves in the position of being a leader or decision-maker, perhaps they won’t see gender, just talent.

♥ Teach boys to do ‘women’s work’ but don’t call it that. Raise them to expect to be an equal parent themselves should they ever become one.

♥ At work, advocate for the adoption of flexible working arrangements for everyone, men and women, those with children or without. The sooner this practice is commonplace, the sooner gender equality ceases to be such a big issue as it won’t just be women seeking flexibility and there will be more opportunities for them to rise into decision-making positions.

♥ Shut down sexism. Zero tolerance. Call it out. Challenge it. Make it obvious. When it’s allowed to continue, it normalises such behaviour and is accepted.

♥ Call out sexist and gendered language and remind people who use it that it’s not a compliment. This is a subtle but incredibly powerful way women are diminished. Like when our Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a joke at Pamela Anderson’s expense, reducing her to a sexual object rather than a woman with a concern and an opinion. It’s not funny and shouldn’t be laughed off – it allows every woman to be reduced in such a way if we don’t call it out. This same Prime Minister reduced Julie Bishop to nothing more than a woman who likes shoes when he gave his tribute speech to her on her last day in Parliament. He could have talked about her achievements over her 21-year career.

♥ Finally, have conversations about these issues with the men around you. Help them ‘get it’. I believe most men want to help, they’re just not aware of exactly what is going on and how it impacts not just women’s lives, but also theirs.


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