Getting Even

I hope by the time you are reading this you will already have seen this powerful and riveting speech by Emma Watson on gender equality. If you haven’t seen it, you should watch it now. 

I wholeheartedly agreed with and support every word and I am going to do something about it.

Gender inequality affects almost every family and every workplace, so almost everyone can do something to improve things. The speech highlights the part men can play.

Men are a big part of the problem of gender inequality, and we need to accept that and deal with it.

We can confront overt sexism and misogyny when we encounter it.

We can address everyday sexism in ourselves and other people.

We can do more to encourage and support the women in our lives.

We can make ourselves aware of unconscious biases that can contribute to discrimination, and take steps to avoid these biases.

To the extent that men and women are different, men can perhaps bring a unique perspective to the issue of gender inequality, and that ought to be valuable. In a marketing campaign to change sexist attitudes, beliefs, unconscious biases and behaviour, men are the target market. We understand (if there is such a thing) the “male psyche” and can therefore help to identify courses of action that are likely to be most efficient in changing male attitudes and behaviour.

So to me, involving men in gender equality is an obvious necessity. You might think this was an uncontroversial position for anyone who is aiming at equality, but it is worth noting that some feminists have, let’s say, a more nuanced position. With respect I think initiatives like #HeForShe are still very much needed, and feminism needs male allies however clumsy, self-centred and patronising we may sometimes be. Just as men need to beware of ‘mansplaining’ and derailing every discussion about gender inequality away from the central issues that affect women, women should not lightly reject the unique role that men can play in helping to effect change. And in this charged arena, a little rejection goes a very long way.

In any struggle for freedom and equality, it is these easiest thing in the world for those who already have the power and privilege to withdraw from debate. Men do not need much encouragement to disengage from gender equality, even if they do not oppose it directly. I think we have to resist this temptation, and just keep plugging away. Anything that contributes to male disengagement will slow progress to gender equality. Initiatives like #HeForShe that encourage male participation will speed it up.

I have to live in a world which is inequitable, where half the population is systematically disadvantaged. This is damaging to my culture and economy, to my family. It’s just plain wrong. Gender inequality affects me, and it is something I have a right to try to change.

It is natural when confronting the possibility of change to think “but how will this affect me?” and to articulate the concerns this question brings to mind. But following this impulse may just to enhance the existing “us and them” divide. “Us and them” is how we arrived at the status quo, and it is what needs to change. There is no “them”. It is just “us” and we need to fix a system that is broken for everyone.


It’s important that this #HeForShe initiative isn’t just a flash in the pan, but leads to concrete actions and changes. So what an I going to do? The main thing I am doing is participating in our Department’s Athena Swan group. I think as a psychologist and computational modeller, I may have something to contribute to the wider understanding of the processes that underlie inequality, so I am starting to talk about these issues in public meetings and thinking about how the mechanisms might be modelled and understood in more detail. In a limited way I’ve been involved in campaigning about career issues in STEM (pdf) which disproportionally affect gender inequality and the family. I am probably not the world’s greatest feminist, but I try to do some of the things I mentioned above. I am not consciously or overtly sexist or misogynist. I recognise that I should do more of the things on this list, and in this post. I am aware of various factors influencing unconscious biases and I try to be alert to and to resist everyday sexism. For example, I don’t refer to “young actress” Emma Watson above – her age, job and sex are irrelevant to the issues she discusses. I described her speech as powerful and riveting – it is, right? I deliberately avoided “emotional, moving” which (although true) are gendered. They don’t relate to the quality of the argument and perhaps spring all too readily to mind. I don’t just do this when I am writing about gender equality and feminism, but also when writing references for students.
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2 thoughts on “Getting Even

  1. Your response to Emma Watson’s speech is exactly what she and many other women would applaud. Mindfulness is the first step in balancing gender inequality and I hope your actions inspire other men to behave in the same way. Nice one Tom.

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