Confession: I am a reformed sexist.
For a long time I held the view that on average, women are not as capable as men. This view was based on my experience; it was what I saw around me. So many vapid women with as much substance as the reality TV stars they watched each night. But a relatively recent realization brought this view crashing to the ground: possession of two X chromosomes does not render a person less capable, but our culture does an excellent job of it.
Last year I was conversing with a gender issues expert who opened my eyes to the world from a woman’s perspective. She explained what is was like to be constantly objectified, to be treated differently because you are a woman, and what is was like to grow up with different expectations and values thanks to cultural conditioning.
This realization led me down the rabbit hole of gender (in)equality. Suddenly evidence of the ‘oversexification’ and devaluing of women was everywhere. It became no wonder so many of my female peers acted this way. What was ‘normal’ became nauseating.
As a man, I know that I can never fully comprehend this reality, but I wish to share as much as I can grasp to you, here and now.
A False Sense of Gender Equality
I’ll start off by letting Google do the talking about the cultural consensus on men and women:
Shocked? I wasn’t.
The first thing that needs to be understood is the importance of role models in a young person’s life. The most primary role models are, of course, immediate family, but beyond that lie popular culture icons. Books, TV and movies provide bigger-than-life characters whom we consciously and unconsciously mirror.
Men need not look very far to find an abundance of strong role models. Female role models of the same caliber, however, are few and far between. Most prominent female figures are worshiped for their looks, not their character or accomplishments. Even those women revered for their achievements have a strange knack for being very easy on the eyes.
Consider the plot of the vast majority of Hollywood films produced today. The male protagonist is the superhero, the brilliant writer, the CEO, the President, the secret agent. Meanwhile the female protagonist more often that not serves as eye-candy for the audience and the prize needing to be rescued for the male hero.
What This Means
The implications of this divide are ubiquitous.
Women have equally few leadership roles in the real world. As of 2011, women made up only 9 of 190 heads of state, 13% of parliamentary positions and 15% of top-level business positions internationally.
To make matters worse, we subconsciously harbor antagonism towards strong women. A recent Stanford study presented students with the biography of a successful Silicon valley investor. 50% of students were told the investor’s name was Heidi, and 50% were told it was Howard.
The results showed that students were much harsher on Heidi than on Howard across the board. Although they think she’s just as competent and effective as Howard, they don’t like her, they wouldn’t hire her, and they wouldn’t want to work with her. As gender researchers would predict, this seems to be driven by how much they disliked Heidi’s aggressive personality. The more assertive they thought Heidi was, the more harshly they judged her (but the same was not true for those who rated Howard).
Women are even lacking a voice in the media. The following infographic shows how little major news channels value the opinion of women, even concerning women’s issues:
But Things Are Changing…
Women’s rights and empowerment have certainly come a long way in the past century. The evidence is everywhere, even in the plots of Disney movies…
If you want to see this big jump firsthand, watch the trailer for Snow White (For Christ’s sake, the entire plot hinges on the line, ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, whose the fairest one of all?’) followed by the trailer for Brave.
To the Women of the World…
You are doing a fantastic job of living out your potential in spite of this bullshit. Our culture has told you that you are ‘equal’ while slamming you from every direction with reason to believe that you are not.
But the world needs more from you now than ever. Centuries of patriarchal domination has left this world on the brink of destruction. At the very least we need a balance between the masculine and the feminine.
To my (and Layar’s) opinion, modern leadership has a lot of feminine elements. It is not so much about power, control, top-down thinking and ego, but much more about inclusiveness, intuition, the will to move ahead, looking for win-win (for both parties) rather than ‘I win, you lose’.
So my message to you is, KEEP GOING!!! Men don’t like to admit they need directions, let alone a surge in feminine leadership, so don’t look to us for to call for change. Be that change.
If we have the courage to accept that our current crises afford us the opportunity to do things differently, if we recognize the value of women’s leadership power and enlist women as partners in the redesign and reconstruction of broken systems, we can activate a global reset that accrues to the benefit of our shared global community.
I’m not a woman, so I feel somewhat strange handing out advice here. However I do feel these steps would be helpful in overcoming the social conditioning already discussed:
1) Become aware and share
The first step to any change is become aware of the need for it. Beyond reading this article, look out for evidence of this epidemic in TV, movies, and your real life interactions with both men and women. Go a step further and share this realization with those around you.
2) Drop unhealthy role models and adopt new ones
Stop taking in media that gives the spotlight to poor role models. Instead, spend that building up what should have always been yours: a healthy sense of self-worth. Watch TED talks from badass women, research those who are pioneers in their fields. Do anything and everything find new role models to emulate.
3) Stand up in situations where gender inequality is occurring
This one goes without saying. Be a beacon of the change you wish to see in the world. Don’t be afraid to be vocal with friends, family and strangers. Awareness starts with you.
4) Figure out what you can do to help the world
Think about what you can do for others as a strong woman. What issues could benefit from your feminine touch? The world needs you now more than ever.
To The Men of the World…
This issue goes both ways. We are taught from day one what it is to be masculine, and how women should be viewed and treated. Thus we must play an equal role in reversing that conditioning.
1) Take a walk in someone else’s high-heels (metaphorically!)
Read #2 of this experiment in empathy.
2) Be Conscious of Your Interactions with Women
Notice the subtleties of the way you talk and treat women, while also noticing how they interact with you. If you see something you don’t agree with, be vocal about it — whether it’s your action or that of a female friend. Call attention to the bullshit.
3) Become a Loud Advocate for Women
Other men are far more likely to take your words into consideration than a woman’s. Make feminism cool. One thing is for sure: this certainly won’t hurt your chances with the ladies.
Thank you for reading this article. This is not an easy topic to broach for men or women because it calls into question so many basic assumptions. You’re awesome just for considering it, let alone following the steps laid out above. Keep fighting the good fight 🙂 Much love.
“Violence is a choice, and it’s a choice that a man makes – we can choose to stop it.”
I just learned about this amazing movement and organization called Half the Sky. It began as a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The book tackles the issue of oppression of women and girls in developing countries. The message of the book is simple: when we help women, we are helping the world.
The book has also been turned into a 4-hour PBS series,
“the series introduces women and girls who are living under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable — and fighting bravely to change them. Their intimate, dramatic and immediate stories of struggle reflect viable and sustainable options for empowerment and offer an actionable blueprint for transformation.”
This serves as a huge reminder that gender equality worldwide is not just about women getting equal pay or defying gender roles – It’s about women and girls feeling empowered and being given opportunities in education. It’s about standing up to oppressive systems that promote objectification, sexualization and violence against women. it’s about women being treated as human beings.
“We have learned to see feminine things as bad. I myself have participated in this and shamed other women for being very feminine. But this is a mistake on my part because it’s not the feminine stuff that is the problem, the problem is the expectation that anybody who is perceived as a woman – dress a certain way, wear a certain kind of clothes, behave a certain way, whatever.
The problem is that feminine things are only for people with vaginas and boobs. The problem is that feminine things are seen as less valuable than masculine things. The problem is the enforcement and the shaming when you’re not feminine.
Rejecting the feminine can be an important critique of oppressive gender roles, so long as that critique doesn’t turn into actual hatred of femininity.”