In recent years my passion for gender equality has reignited. It was probably my experience returning to work after having children that provided the initial spark.
But my enthusiasm soared when I joined Twitter and stumbled across an acoustic chamber of inspiring feminist voices and publications.
Since then my Twitter stream has encouraged me every day with its updates and links to articles that articulate so eloquently the case for gender equality. But at times it has also left me a little dismayed.
You see, most of these updates and articles come from women. Yes, I have seen the occasional male avatar or byline. But overwhelming the voice behind the online feminist movement is that of the female.
Okay, so maybe I’m just not following the right people on Twitter. But if I was to step away from the laptop and into the ‘real world’ of dinner parties, offices and barbecues and asked: “Which one of you blokes is a feminist?” I’m betting I’d be greeted by an uncomfortable silence, if not a nervous guffaw.
A poll in Britain in 2010 found that 16 per cent of men describe themselves as feminist with 54 per cent stating they were not and 8 per cent specifically claiming to be antifeminist.
Why is this the case when, by its own definition, the concept of feminism requires male participation? While definitions may vary slightly across different sources, overwhelmingly feminism is:
- The belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.
- The movement organized around this belief.
Nothing in that definition suggests to me that feminism is ‘women’s business only’. In fact, far from it – the words ‘equality of the sexes’ suggest to me that we all have a role to play.
So what is holding back the male ‘feminist’? While contemplating this post, I asked my husband whether he would consider himself a feminist. He screwed up his nose at me like I’d asked him if he ever wore pantyhose. But when, in my next breath, I asked him if he supported gender equality, he answered adamantly: “Of course I do.”
Could it be that we did ourselves a disservice back in the 1960s and 70s when we enthusiastically adopted our own version of the French word féminisme, first used by the French in the 1800s to describe their own movement to improve the status of women?
Is the ‘femininity’ of the word ‘feminism’ putting men off from joining the debate? Should we have opted for a more inclusive label like plain old ‘gender equality’?
Or could the lack of male feminist voices be attributed to a belief that we already have gender equality?
Hmmm… Let’s remind ourselves of a few stats:
- Women on ASX 200 boards = 15.4%
- Women newly appointed to ASX 200 boards in 2012 = 24%
- Women working full time earn 17.5% less than men working full time
- Female graduates earn $2000 per annum less than male graduates
- 19% of women perceived experiencing discrimination at work while pregnant
Yeah, I’m not buying the ‘feminism is no longer needed’ argument either.
Or maybe some men could be comfortable with the way things are? I mean, if women are still willing to do double the amount of housework than men, as it was revealed in the 2011 census, I might be tempted to keep schtum too if I were a bloke.
It would be totally remiss of me if I didn’t acknowledge the line of men who are on the record as self-proclaimed embracers of the f-word: Barack Obama, John Lennon, the Dalai Lama… all wonderful role models who I hoot and applaud wildly. And locally writers Damon Young and Ben Pobjie sent my heart a flutter with these two pieces here and here.
But they’re not exactly every day blokes are they?
What I’m craving to hear are male voices emanating from the office, the kitchen, the boardroom, the playground, the school, or the pub discussing what gender equality could mean for their girlfriends, wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, colleagues and friends.
But not only what it means for us girls; gender equality is a two-way street. It’s important our conversations include any perceived blockages to male participation in some areas of society traditionally reserved for women, such as child rearing.
So I’m not saying that we all have to agree; I’m not asking all men to simply fall in line with the sisterhood. I’m just asking men to join the conversation because at the end of day feminism is just another word for fairness, and surely that’s something we all want?
Do you think more male voices would improve the gender equality conversation?
Are there any male feminists in your life?
* Lisa Lintern is a freelance writer and communications consultant. She blogs at lisalinternblog.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter: @lisa_lintern.