Throughout my twenties (when I was 100ft tall, bulletproof and knew everything there was to know) I definitely did not identify as a feminist. I was a HUMANIST! I thought it was unfair as a white middle class male still at uni (I know, boo hoo) that I wasn’t included in any movement that existed.
Of course, like everyone I had my struggles. I wasn’t born into money, nor was I born into poverty. I was born to a Mother, Brother, Grandmother and Grandfather who loved me unconditionally. My Father was absent (which I see as an extremely positive thing!) so Mum and Gran did the heavy lifting with the parenting of my Brother and I. So I believe I’ve always had a healthy respect for women. It wasn’t until later in life though that a fairly standard off the cuff conversation, it was actually merely a question posed to me in that conversation that changed the way I look at the world.
One day we were on a holiday with some friends, two other families. We were all in the early stages of starting our families, we all had one or two kids and were intending on having more. At some point I must have mentioned something about how I thought that quotas were dumb and that all organisations should be a meritocracy. “How on earth is it good practice just to promote or hire someone to reach a quota?”
One of the other Dads there simply asked. “Do you think it may be necessary to promote more women simply to ensure that they have a voice? Maybe it’s because the system has been made by men for men that it makes it difficult for women to even have a say in how the system works, and who’s to say the system that we currently have is working as well as it can be?”… Thankfully I had grown up a little since my twenties and didn’t need to dig my heels in on the position I had already staked a claim in… I simply said “GREAT point!” and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Not just for women, but for any group that is in the minority or struggles to be heard in these middle-aged white systems that have been developed over centuries.
This simple question was an earth shattering one for me. A bit like taking the red pill in the matrix. Where upon hearing it I was confronted with an unpleasant life-changing truth. I’m a little surprised that not everyone has this reaction. In fact, barely anyone does. When I pose this question to others when speaking about the same topic I’m often met with counter-arguments or worse… dismissiveness. This has led me to think more deeply about the subject. I always want to at the very least consider other people’s view points and do my own research. Sometimes I find it in unexpected places.
Have you ever heard of the psychologist Stanley Milgram and his infamous experiment about conformity? It’s pretty confronting. Here’s the explanation of the experiment from Khan Academy:
In short the experiment can be summed up by a quote from Stanley Milgram himself:
“I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.”
I’m currently listening to one of my favourite economists’ latest books “How To Make The World Add Up” by Tim Harford (It’s called “The Data Detective” in the USA – A MUCH better title!) In it there’s a chapter called “Rule Six: Ask Who Is Missing”. He discusses the above work from Milgram. One thing he points out is that all 40 experimental subjects in Milgram’s experiment were… you guessed it – men. Not a single woman was among them. If women were considered maybe this research would have found some even more interesting things. Maybe it would have found that women make better decisions when being directed by a man in a white lab coat. Maybe they would have had more empathy… We’ll never know because they weren’t considered and it’s difficult to recreate such experiments comparing different eras. It’s important to remember this with most research that we assume is fact. A lot of the ‘ground breaking’ research and experiments were done on the most readily available resource at the time, often this was college students and depending on the era other research most of these college students were young white males.
Tim Harford goes on to discuss the more troubling work done by Caroline Criado Perez in her book “Invisible Women” (which I’ll be reading next). In it she describes such scenarios as makers of protective vests for police officers who forgot that women have breasts, to Apple designing a health app that forgot about the menstrual cycle. When groups are routinely left out of design and research the world becomes more difficult for those groups. If the world is not designed for you, then how are you supposed to get ahead as easily as the ones that it is designed for?
This is one of the many reasons why I’ve loosened my grip on the old ideas of what works. New ideas such as quotas, hiring (or incriminating) based on information rather than in person interviews or testimony which is also covered brilliantly in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Talking To Strangers”. It also means that I’m much more comfortable identifying as a feminist.
So what does being a feminist look like to me?
I don’t protest, I don’t burn bras, I don’t judge, yell at or accuse others. These tactics may work for some people at certain times but it’s just not who I am.
Instead I check myself. I check my opinions, I check the decisions I make and I have conversations with people and take a position which isn’t always popular. It doesn’t mean I argue with them, in fact I’m more interested in listening, understanding how my position doesn’t gel so I can be better informed and understand what is truly driving the divide.
There are also some stereotypical gender roles that my wife and I quite enjoy. I usually take out the bins and I’ve told her she will never have to mow the lawn. Bec took my last name when we got married and Bec does most of the kids school organising. What I think is important though is that we stopped to consider if this is what we WANTED. It’s ok to want traditional roles as long as you know that you have the option to do something different. To be intentional with your life. This is where the power lies as it’s when you think about WHY you’re doing something that the real answers appear. The real justice or injustice becomes apparent.
I am so lucky to be constantly surrounded by strong, capable, smart, sensitive, empathetic women who are strong communicators and thinkers. They’re beautiful inside and out and make me a better man every day.
My wife Bec, my daughters Polly and Dulcie, My Mum, My late Grandmother and all the women I work with and interact with at school and other organisations.
Warren Buffet once said something along the lines of that his work was made that much easier because he only had to compete with 50% of the population, as women were shut out of Wall street. (I’m pretty sure he said this to encourage the women’s movement, not to be chauvinistic). I would happily become a humanist again one day, IF true equality was reached and negated the need for feminists. I am excited about a future where women’s voices are heard as clearly as mens and that together we can solve the world’s problems in new, creative and empathetic ways. We’re still a long way off and the world still needs more feminists.
Am I perfect? Absolutely not!
Am I doing enough? Not even close!
Monocultures are destructive and shortsighted. Inclusion is where true innovation and growth comes from and that is the kind of world I want to live in.