Gender equality isn’t just a woman’s right, it’s a human right.
One Saturday night I was out at a tacky club with a handful of coworkers, the majority of which were women. Although I hadn’t been drinking, most late-night partiers around me had been hitting the Jack Daniel’s hard. While we were boogying on the dance floor, a bloke of around 60 plus years of age grabbed my female friend’s bum aggressively. She looked embarrassed, he looked pleased with himself, and I was mortified. I put my hand on his shoulder, shook my head at him with a simple “No” and steered her away – completely inebriated he shoved me back and punched me in the face. I didn’t retaliate, not because I was trying to be the bigger man but because club security was on him before I could blink.
We all know a version of this story all too well. Some male’s are so comfortably accustomed to the world’s gender inequalities that self-entitlement of women’s bodies is rampant.
Like many people, actress and UN Ambassador Emma Watson brought me to the attention of the HeForShe campaign in 2014. Watson’s HeForShe speech was an intellectual and elegant invitation to men and boys to walk from the sidelines of the women’s movement and become active members toward supporting gender equality. It was a call to men, to be part of the conversation, and to educate the importance of gender equality.
Prior to Emma Watson’s formal invitation, I believed gender equality was synonymous with Feminism, that Feminism was a movement for women and that my role was to be a passive, supportive bystander. I believed that as a guy, I didn’t have a right to discuss women’s issues. But HeForShe isn’t about women’s issues, HeForShe is about human issues, and gender equality isn’t a woman’s right, it’s a human right. We all have a crucial role to play.
Because I’ve never identified as a member of the ‘sisterhood’ of women, ‘feminist’ is a word I have actively avoided attaching myself to, or having it attached to me. Now, exponentially more comfortable with my sense of self and my masculinity, as well as my femininity – I have embraced feminism. My role as a white, educated, middle-class man; within the battle for gender equality is a responsibility that comes hand in hand with my awarded privilege.
There are some absolutely beautiful things about being a man. There are many privileges presented to men. There are also many responsibilities that are afforded to men. One of those responsibilities is supporting and empowering the women and girls around you, just as you would support and empower the men and boys around you. It’s not rocket science, I’m certain each of us blokes could think of a handful unsophisticated improvements we could make in our personal or work lives to better support the females we share space with.
Misogyny, the hatred of women, is a social construct and a cultural disease. The hatred of feminine qualities within the world of men is a plague in which females and all they represent are depreciated with disgust. To be told, “don’t be a girl!” by another man is perceived the ultimate insult.
Tony Porter, internationally recognized educator and activist for his effort to end violence again women said in his TED Talk, “If we as males seek to emotionally destroy a boy by calling him a ‘girl’, what are we teaching [boys] about girls?”
We, the men who believe themselves socially conscious, thoughtful, strong and devoted to our loved ones – must make a pact within our brotherhood to support and empower the sisterhood of women, so as to move forward a stronger unit in humanity, blind to gender constrictions.
Feminism may be a women’s movement but men can still be actively involved in their support for gender equality; it all starts with something small, like a conversation with your son or interruption of sexist behavior.
Use your maleness to interrupt sexism; insert yourself into spaces where you can challenge males who make sexist jokes and comments no matter the situation. My father told me that if you stand by and watch injustice occur, you are simply contributing to the problem. It might feel awkward and often complicated when you have relationships with guys who are exhibiting inappropriate behavior, but your momentary discomfort is a fair tradeoff for potentially creating a comfortable environment for a woman.
This week following International Women’s Day, and every day hereafter I implore you – the men of the world, to utilize real masculine strength in taking a personal stand for the women in your life and women all over the world. HeForShe is a human movement, and you have been invited.
Photo: Getty Images