If you were to attend a gender equity symposium, seminar, or any other event, you will most likely find yourself amongst a sea of women and only a few men sprinkled throughout the crowd.
You could be mistaken for thinking ‘gender’ is really just a secret code for ‘women’. And in a lot of circles, you might actually be right.
However, women aren’t the only people with a gender. Men have a gender too, but most of the time their gender is not shoved in their faces every time they walk out of their door at night, or into a meeting room at work.
In society, we have a box we need women to fit into, that is the shaped by hundreds of years of stereotypes relating to how we look, sound, and behave. (This box is most likely pale pink, clean lines, and fits compactly in any room without taking up too much space, and only makes noise when spoken to*).
We do, however, also have a similar box for men, also shaped by innumerable and harmful stereotypes. (This box is most likely black, with a rugged exterior and of a size which will command the attention of any room it’s in).
Not everyone fits into this gender binary, or these stereotypes and ‘boxes’. The binds that restrict women’s access and advancement in many areas of our society have their counterparts that also restrict men from being anything other than the macho baseline (and we see this manifest in destructive behaviour inflicted on all genders – we will discuss toxic masculinity later). But how do we get all genders to understand that gender inequity is not just a problem for women?
Many times, I have used the inequitable parental leave system in Australia to demonstrate that gender does indeed affect men. By only affording them two weeks ‘paternity leave’, I ask these men: “what does that say about our society’s value and expectations of your role as a parent?”.
The penny drops, their minds are blown, and they’ve just had their first AHA! moment. Once they realise that they can only be treated fairly when women are, and vice versa, these men can get on board with this whole gender equity thing. Other gender-related challenges men face include access to flexible work, mental health, violence, substance abuse, emotional vulnerability, and division of childcare responsibilities – and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
We can lead by example: next time your team or organisation is doing a gender ‘thing’, make sure there is more than one gender in the audience. Better yet, before there is a gender event, start talking to people around you about what stereotypes affect their behaviours and life in general. Just start the conversation.
With these conversations, we need to listen, learn, and work together with all genders to solve this collective problem.
*I hope you can easily detect this sarcasm.
This is an introductory article to such a complex and plentiful topic. I will release future related articles, which will be linked below once published.