Ep 9: A man in a woman’s world
Gender inequality is an issue that manifests across the globe and throughout human history. In fact, the oldest records of this inequality were found in China more than 2,500 years ago. The most common definition of “gender inequality” is “[a] social process by which people are treated differently and disadvantageously, under similar circumstances, on the basis of gender.”
Gender inequality is an issue that is multidimensional and experienced in many different areas of society, such as gender discrimination in the workplace. On average, men will make more money for the same job that a woman has. In Kenya, “women earn Sh55 for every Sh100 a man earns,” according to the World Economic Forum in a Daily Nation article. This practice happens quite frequently in corporate hiring and employee salaries. Anne Mutie, a corporate law counsel, stated, “What ends up happening in practice is favoritism and chauvinism, particularly in the aspect of equal pay for work of equal value done.” However, wage discrimination–in Kenya and among other countries– can happen discreetly and more indirectly as well. The International Labour Organization (ILO) reported, “It may manifest itself in different structures and customary practices, including, for instance, in the way wages are structured, and the relative weight in overall remuneration of seniority or of bonuses that reward long hours of continued presence in the workplace.” One prime example of indirect gender-based wage discrimination is marital status consideration or factor. Some employers will use marital status as a critical determinant for a woman’s job title or pay, while estimating the likelihood of pregnancy and maternal leave.
There are also stereotypes and double standards when it comes to gender. The gender-norm for a man is to be aggressive and confident, while women are supposed to be nurturers and soft-spoken. We also associate careers with different genders. For example, we associate doctors to be men and nurses to be female. These perceptions are harmful as they perpetuate discrimination and inhibit opportunities for women. It keeps women at a disadvantage.
These are just some of the manifestations of gender inequality. They range from workplace to lifestyle to gender-based violence, which we spoke about in an early post. However, these discriminations could be exacerbated by new policies that address the COVID-19 impact, according to James Atema, a public policy expert. He states, “These policies must include issues that affect women. The policy is everything as it directs resources, and women should, from this moment, engage in this discourse.” While the effects of COVID-19 are tragic, a new beginning may be the silver-lining for gender equality. If women are included and represented in decision-making as the country rebuilds itself, equality can be ingrained in the system for years.
Which leads us to: What is a man’s role in a woman’s world? How can men lift and empower their peers to have the same opportunities and respect that he has?
Men play a very significant role in gender-equality. In fact, it cannot happen without them. Given that gender inequality is rooted in power dynamics that favor men, they have a certain responsibility to redistribute this inherited power and privilege between all genders, even exceeding ciswomen.
Being outspoken about issues can be daunting, especially when considering one’s culture and their location. However, activism does not have to be black or white. Effort goes a long way. It would be nice to say that everyone could go to protests, run social media accounts or be social organizers, etc. Yet not everyone has that luxury. And to be quite honest, no one person has the power to fix the entire world, let alone something that has existed for thousands of years. A movement takes participation and group effort.
Introspect and self-educate:
Introspection is an essential component of activism. It requires you to reflect on your beliefs and values and confront your own biases. Doing so provides you an excellent opportunity to self-educate on topics that you may not understand completely. Like the fact that a social issue is learned, it has to be unlearned as well. I see this a lot in people’s reactions to the word feminism. It seems to be frequently translated into the idea: we must bring men down to bring women up. Whereas in reality, feminism is the social movement to provide equality between all genders. It is believed that women deserve equal rights and privilege as men, not to take away their power.
This contention is a perfect example of when introspection should be used. If the term feminism invokes fear, anger, or discomfort, ask yourself:
- Why do I feel this way?
- What brought me to these beliefs? What influence does my background have?
- Do I believe that men should have more rights and privileges than women? Why? And who makes these decisions?
- Is sexism fair?
- Do you think that life and society is well-off with gender inequality? And what is the worst thing that could happen if women had the same rights as me? Analyze those worse case scenarios.
The most important question to ask, if you are a cisman, is:
- What do I gain from male privilege?
- What HAVE I gained?
- How do I acknowledge that?
You might find yourself embarrassed to have these thoughts – but the point is not just about your beliefs; it is about what you do to change and grow as a person. Instead of dismissing these thoughts, CHALLENGE THESE BELIEFS AND SELF-EDUCATE. In fact, self-education can be one of the most helpful and empowering tools to use. And you can use these questions beyond feminism to apply these questions to situations, events, and more.
Confront stereotypes and concepts of masculinity:
The confrontation of societal beliefs can be internal and external. You can call out your own biases but also call out others. But, before we dive into the how, let’s dive into the why. We briefly covered the consequences of stereotypes; however, there are less obvious impacts of sexism. We often see that manhood is defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. And going by the same logic, women are inferred as inferior, weak, submissive, and emotional. But these tropes do not service anyone. Yes… it is in your interest too.
Consider how masculinity exists in your life, regardless of whether you gain from it or not. Have you ever felt threatened by those that embody these stereotypes or felt inferior because you don’t fit the criteria? Have you ever overcompensated in your behavior because of them?
Negative masculinity is harmful to men as it pressures them to fit these unrealistic characteristics. Furthermore, because emotions are associated with femininity, men are frequently taught to suppress their feelings. This suppression can even result in violence as an expression of their emotions or a consequence of bottled-up emotions or pressure to uphold gender-norms.
Ways to confront stereotypes and negative masculinity:
Dismiss the idea and claim that “boys will be boys.” This phrase is often used as a justification for problematic, normative behavior seen in boys and perpetuates the issue. Children are incredibly impressionable, so condemning this idea among kids is one of the most effective ways to promote gender equality. The same goes for the phrase: Be a man.
Pay attention to media, news and entertainment, and how are women portrayed compared to men. You will start to notice a pattern among these characters that is tiring and overdone. Practice your awareness of it. Criticize it.
Condemn and shame cat-calling and the over-sexualization of women. Women are people, not objects to objectify. Stand up to blatant sexism and sexist peers.
Consider how gender-norms influence your own perception of people. When women take on characteristics that are considered masculine, such as assertion, they are criticized as bossy, whereas men would be praised as leaders. Notice these norms in politics and the workspace.
Challenge gender-roles. A major example is housework. According to FSG, a mission-driven consulting firm, “One critical manifestation of gender inequity across geographies is the disproportionate amount of household responsibilities that fall to women.” Even in relationships where both parties are employed, women have been found to take on more chores than men. As a result, this burden reinforces gender gaps and unequal power dynamics. Try diving housework as fairly as possible.
Intersectionality is the interconnectedness of different social categorizations within a social justice movement. Rarely in a movement, you will see one type of person. Instead, you have an overlap in people of different ages, color, class, sexuality, gender-identities and more. Some might even face different or harsher discrimination given their social groups. Intersectionality is the nature that social progression can only happen when every social group is included and empowered.
The most supportive thing you can do is listen to someone’s experiences and emotions without your own opinions or input. Be someone that your family and friends can trust and confide in. Don’t just listen to learn, listen to care. Show your solidarity.
Be an advocate… there are so many ways.
Join, support and/or donate to advocacy groups. Support campaigners and vote for politicians that support gender-equality too. Promote these platforms. Support women in their leadership roles.
Start conversations among your peers about sexism and gender equality. Educate your children and your social circles. Create safe spaces where people feel comfortable to ask questions and discuss without feeling defensive. Be a role model for those around you.
Take advantage of your social privileges as a man and use them for good. You can also use this power in the workplace by supporting women’s advancement in frontline positions or promotions. Use your voice among decision-makers. And if you are a decision-maker, empower your women employees. Be inclusive.
The most important takeaway from all of this discussion is to support and grow. It takes a lot of work to deconstruct and discuss an ideology that has been ingrained in our global society and history. And it seems the more we progress, the more we learn. There will never be an ultimate knowing or knowledge, so we have to be open to what comes next.