I almost called this piece, “How to Subtly Be a Feminist: A Guide for Men,” but the many controversial and contrasting connotations of the word, feminist, enabled me not to use it. There are some interpretations of the word, feminism, which imply an “anti-man” attitude, and that is not what this post is about, nor is it the readership I want to attract. I’m more into equality, freedom and respect.
Many men understandably aren’t sure how to approach the issue of equal rights for women. I sympathize with them because some of the gender rights movements elicit some intimidating outrage. Gender equality like the Civil Rights Movement has a variety of ideological factions. In addition, every female most likely has her own very particular points of view regarding equal rights for women, none of which can be pinned down to uniformed philosophies.
What’s a man to do? How should he approach the subject? How can he support equal rights without being targeted by highly critical women and/or embittered men?
I was eager to write this post after reading Madeline Ashby’s recent article, “If you’re a man, being a feminist means unlearning what you have learned.” She eloquently explains, There’s always room in any good fight for men of honour. But it’s important to realize that the fight for equality isn’t a brute-force endeavor. It’s not like killing bad guys in an action movie: you can’t dismantle the patriarchy by destroying the Naktatomi Building. Rather it’s like becoming a Jedi: it’s the realization that all things, from dress codes to diaphragms, are connected, and that their shared connection is a dominant culture that has subjugated women for millennia. It’s a fundamental re-examination of history and reality, peeling back the layers of what you thought you knew and making room for new knowledge and new stories.
I appreciate her focus on critical thought and “newness” (and her “Jedi” simile). This idea of “unlearning” inspired me to think in way that aligns with some of her ideas. Men, instead of bearing the burden of berating their own kind, can subtly eliminate those intricately laced, not very obvious weeds of sexism and replace them with healthy egalitarian seeds.
9 Easy Ways to Discourage Sexism
1. Pick out a female role model for yourself. Think of a woman you admire for her professional achievements. Not only is it an easy way to free a woman’s identity from the constant and brutal waves of being sexualized, but also having an admirable woman on file that you can causally bring up in conversation demonstrates fresh and objective thinking.
2. Don’t typecast. Avoid discussing women in the context of “types.” Labeling humans as types leads to dehumanized perspectives about women. While it’s not overtly degrading, it subtly removes the woman from her identity, making her comparable to a type of car or a donut flavor.
3. Start to notice females in films and pop culture. It’s always exciting to see talented and majestic actors’ names pop up on the screen, names like Tom Hanks or Denzel Washington. However, in many previews, the actress’ names–if listed–are billed under the male’s names (sometimes in smaller font!). I’ll watch a preview for a movie I can’t wait to see, and I’ll have no idea what actresses will be playing the female roles until I finally get to watch the movie.
As viewers, we tend to glorify the male actors and perceive the female counterparts as less important to the creation and artistry of the film. The next time you watch a preview for a movie you really want to see, try to find out who is playing the female role. It’s harder than you realize. Taking a moment to mention the talent or impressive role a female plays during conversation about film can positively affect how we perceive the role of women. Whether the character is the hero’s wife or the hero herself, her talent and ability is just as key in the success of the film. Regardless of a character’s gender, bad acting ruins any movie.
4. Mention women more in general, not as women but as leaders, role models and professionals.
5. Don’t use the word, “girl” for all females. Females over the age of 18 should be referred to as women. And, I say, if you’re over 25, you should be referred to as a woman instead of a “young woman” by colleagues especially. I’ve heard many men ingeniously use these words, “girl” and “young woman” to subtly degrade the quality of a woman’s influence, idea or achievement.
6. Watch your mouth. There are many colloquialisms that breed sexist thinking such as “You run like a girl,” “Stop being such a pus$y,” or calling a group of men, “ladies” to get the ball rolling. While they are just little phrases not meant to offend females, they perpetuate archaic understandings of the female gender.
7. Respect a woman’s space and position in the same way you would a man’s. Though unintentional, I find that thin professional boundaries are crossed more when it involves men and women. I’ve encountered and witnessed males, even if accidentally, approach my desk with less reserve than they would a male’s.
Also, by space, I mean mental space too. I’ve noticed that men are more likely to share, not necessarily inappropriate, but more personal information with me than male peers, especially when trying to formulate excuses. Sometimes, I just want to blurt out, “Sorry, but I’m not your mommy.”
8. Avoid using gender specific language. Most of the words I’m thinking of aren’t officially linguistically assigned as “female,” but culturally they are. Words like “feisty,” “sexy” or “moody” can ostracize women socially, specifically if there are more women than men in a workplace or social setting. I particularly can’t stand “feisty” because it can strip a woman’s critical eye down to nothing.
9. Think of gender as race. Before you share a generalization about women, ask yourself if the comment would be inappropriate or offensive if it involved race. I could be wrong, but based on my personal experiences, men have an easier time noticing and discouraging racism than they do sexism. So, if it helps, you can think of gender as race.
Good luck out there!
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