We owe it to the women of the world to level the playing field. We owe it to our girlfriends, our wives, our mothers, and our daughters. And we owe a fair, just, and equal world to our sons as well.
It starts with empathy. It takes a lot more than that, but that’s where it starts.
It’s legitimately difficult to empathize with someone whose experience is totally different than your own. I get it. It might be easy as a half-hearted mental exercise, but it’s a monumental task for a man to honestly feel what it is like to be a woman.
In order to even get in her neighborhood, you have to strip back layer upon layer of schema—your internal construct of the world—that unconsciously drives your existence. You have to examine the very lens through which you view the world.
To empathize with anyone, you have to first accept that you are indeed looking through a lens. That lens tints and warps your perception.
For men, our lens looks like this: through 99% of human history, one’s gender was the first, last, and only qualification for the majority of rights. Because of the basic evolutionary truth that “might makes right,” being physically bigger and stronger gave your kind the only seats at the rules-writing meeting.
And we certainly didn’t hold back on slanting the rulebook to our own benefit.
For thousands of years, only men could own land. Only men could work outside the home. Only men could earn an education. Only men’s opinions counted on most matters of record: politics, religion, business, art, education, and so much more. Only men could initiate divorce. Only men could own businesses. Only men could run for office. Only men could vote.
Those truths were, for most of our species’ existence, culturally and legally inviolable.
In 2018, the Western world is significantly more egalitarian between the sexes than it was in 1918 or 1518. But being born male today still means being born a member of the historically ultra-dominant gender.
It means statistically making more money. It means being able to come and go—safely—at all hours of the day and night. It means a better chance at class mobility. It means sexual liberation without judgment. It means having chromosomal commonality with the rulers of previous generations, many of whom are still in positions of power, most of whom are blind to any of these disparities.
That is, you did absolutely nothing to warrant starting with those advantages. They are simply the vestigial remnants of “might makes right.”
Those remnants inform your worldview, whether you want them to or not. They’re the lens through which you’ve experienced the outside world—and the lens through which the world has experienced you—since the day you were born. Those remnants still dictate most of society’s norms.
If you get all of that, you’re inching closer to feeling what it would be like to be on the other side of all of those realities. Just as you did nothing to show up with a leg up on half the population, she did nothing to deserve her disadvantage.
Every right she experiences today was fought for and ultimately pulled away from men who had no desire to give it up. Plenty of our brethren still think she didn’t deserve these rights. Some of them actively fight to take her rights away. More of them are simply indifferent to her cries for help.
Worse still, the source of the skew—the threat and reality of violence—looms at the edge of the room. It casts a chilling shadow over every woman’s exercise of her rights. For some women, the shadow has been so dark and so cold for so long, they’ve started taking the side of the shadow.
If you really want to make the field level for women, it starts with admitting the field is not, and never has been, level. As a man, you benefit from that slanted field at the expense of every woman you love and care about.
And as a member of the side that slanted it in the first place, you have an amazing, unique opportunity to use your position to fix it.
Here are a few ways to consider:
Hire women, and pay them equally with men.
Humanity is roughly 1:1, female to male.
Is your company? Your department? If not, call it out. Ask, why not? Dig in, find the root causes of the disparity, and work hard to fix it.
Are you in a position to determine people’s pay? Offer women the same money you offer men, irrespective of their salary histories. Remember, the field is lopsided, and salary histories reflect that. A 10% bump over a 22% below-market salary might get a “yes,” but it’s still below-market. You’re still benefiting from the vestigial remnants at her expense.
Accommodate women’s needs.
Society saddles women with a disproportionate amount of responsibility for young children. Understand and accommodate that.
Offer flexible schedules that don’t punish women for being mothers. Hold jobs open for women on maternity leave. Provide a private space and breaks for breastfeeding mothers. Work around school schedules, afterschool activities, sick kids, and anything else you possibly can.
And don’t hold any of this against her when interviewing for promotions.
Seek out women’s voices.
Men have been the loudest voices in every room since rooms were invented. Recognize that, and defer your time to women whenever possible. If there aren’t equal women and men on a committee or board, raise that red flag and ask to fix it.
Ask for women’s opinions whenever possible—not just at work, but in every aspect of life. And when you get those opinions, don’t say, “well, not all men,” or “well, actually” in response. That’s understood and unnecessary.
Listen to their opinions because you honestly need them and want to hear them. Listen because you know that your lens hampers your objectivity.
Encourage women to talk, and believe them.
When a woman has the courage to speak up about sexual harassment, gender discrimination, sexual assault, or other sensitive matters, believe her. Believe her the first time she speaks up, from minute one. Express your belief to her.
Contrary to how “he said, she said,” sounds, these matters are almost never 50/50 splits between the accuser and the accused with regard to veracity.
When she speaks up, almost without fail, the woman faces an onslaught of victim-blaming. She will not be believed by a broad swath of men (and sadly, other women). She’ll have her life ripped apart. She’ll be blamed, scolded, lectured, mocked, doxxed, threatened, and gaslighted.
She has absolutely nothing to gain and so much to lose.
Knowing those facts and coming forward anyway takes tremendous courage, and almost never happens without absolute certainty of the truthfulness of her claim.
Make sure the women and men in your life know that you understand and believe that. Make sure she knows you’ve got her back all the way to hell and back.
Call your buddies out.
This is tough, I get it.
Buddies spew a lot of bulls**t. When you hear bulls**t, say so.
Challenge assumption and tropes. Remind your male friends that you’ve all got mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, and daughters. Ask them why they tell those kinds of jokes. Have a real conversation with your real friends about their points of view, and share yours, too. Make it clear to them that you’ve thought about this stuff, and that it matters to you.
If your friends’ values don’t match yours, your time might be better spent elsewhere. That sucks, but so does tacitly supporting their sh**ty points of view.
Raise your sons right.
Your boys are being shaped by everything you say and do, whether you think they’re watching or not. Understand the power of giving the next generation a massive head start toward equality.
Imagine what it would be like if the majority of men innately understood every one of these realities.
The next generation could bring that into existence, with a little help from their fathers.
It’s tough to recognize the benefits you gain at others’ expense. It sucks to realize the role you play in keeping the status quo in place. It’s da*n hard work to sort through filter after filter, trying see the world through another’s point of view.
The obligation of being born with privilege is to use it for the betterment of the lives of those without privilege. If you made it through this piece without seething and crafting your angry “yeah, but not all men” rebuttal, you get it.
Men, we have to do better.
And if you get that, you’ve got to do something about it.
Previously published here and republished by permission from the author.
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