While watching yesterday’s news coverage of Emma Watson, star of all the Harry Potter movies, speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, I was struck by two things—one, where did all those years go, and second, why in the year 2014, do we still need to debate the equality of the sexes?
For those of you who may not be up to speed on all of this, I'll provide you a little backstory. Ms. Watson was in New York to launch the HeForShe campaign, a program designed to enlist over one billion men and boys globally to become advocates working towards ending the inequality that women and girls confront worldwide. The actress referred to herself as a reluctant feminist in that historically the term itself has denoted hatred or aggression towards men. Watson raised the point that gender equality will continue to face an uphill battle as long as only half of the population “is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation.” As a man, I’ve always felt at worst, shut out of this debate, and at best, unsure about how far I could wade into this discussion. So, I was optimistic to hear such an impassioned and articulate spokesperson declare: “Men - I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation… Gender equality is your issue too.”
As a male survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape, I’m no stranger to stigma and butting heads with societal reluctance and institutional intransigence. There are still those who feel that advocating for more resources to address male survivors of abuse must come at the cost of taking limited resources from women, who have traditionally been portrayed as more vulnerable. This spurious debate is disheartening because continuing to address trauma from a binary approach doesn’t serve either men or women. It’s with this in mind, that I’m eager to answer Ms. Watson’s call to action. I’m reminded of the words of the human rights advocate Imani Perry who points out that a simple change in language can change the discourse entirely. She says when advocating for our rights, we ought to say “freedom to” instead of “freedom from”. Such a simple turn of phrase denotes so much because instead of waiting for our rights to be bestowed upon us, we acknowledge our “freedom to” envision and create a world we choose to live in.
I believe that men no longer have the “luxury” to sit back and expect that gender equality will magically arrive. I challenge all the men in my life to join me in actively creating an environment of real equality. You may be asking yourself, what can I do to enact this change?
1. Mentor your sons.
The power of example is the power of change. As fathers, we can instill values of equality and inclusiveness in our sons. Ask yourself if you are entrenched in views about gender participation in sports, gender roles in dating, or even gender roles in social interactions at home.
2. Reevaluate your language.
Words are insidious weapons, so be aware that language such as “nag” or “bitch” painfully reverberate.
3. Remember: What you condone, you promote.
I invite you to challenge other men who perpetuate gender stereotypes by engaging in sexist comments or jokes. It’s never comfortable to confront someone on this behavior, but remind yourself that your silence is a tacit promotion of this toxic environment.
4. Porn is not innocent.
There is no such thing as “innocent pornography”. This multi-billion dollar industry exploits both women and men, and by consuming it, we legitimize further exploitation and entrench an unhealthy power dynamic, of which many adolescent boys are particularly vulnerable.
5. Speak with your wallet.
There is no doubt that the advertising industry will quickly get the message if we no longer patronize companies or buy products promoted by means of overtly sexist and misogynistic advertising.
Help me to continue this dialogue by sharing this post with the men in your life, and by remembering that many whispers can become one voice and ultimately a resounding echo.