The Battle for Equality: How Do We Get Men More Involved?
This is a series of posts designed to help people approach diversity and inclusion. These are questions and scenarios we’ve actually heard or seen in the wild. This is part of our corporate programming for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. For more information, click here.
Question: How do we get more men to care about social equality, and in particular, equality for women? I’ve done a lot of work to better myself through reading and even with difficult conversations with my significant other. But on sites like these, I feel it’s preaching to the choir. How do we reach those who haven’t heard this message or don’t take it seriously?
A: There’s an ancient question in Jewish teachings of what is more valuable: acts of loving kindness, or study. Some argue there’s no replacement for good deeds. Some say that study will lead to more good deeds and therefore is more important. It’s an interesting debate, but I find the answer less compelling than the question.
Because we can’t influence or impact others without fortifying ourselves first. We have to be confident in ourselves, and in our beliefs, and in our fortitude itself, if we are going to have difficult conversations with others.
And that’s the way the word gets out there. From us. From and by those of us who care. Because, as you so rightly realize, it’s not enough for us to better ourselves. We must also work to better the people around us and our communities.
To the Privileged Goes the Responsibility
Much of the battle for social equality is being led by those clamoring to experience life the way they see exhibited by those with power, money, influence and privilege.
When they look for an apartment or a house, they want the same opportunity to qualify for that home as anyone else. When they send their kids to school, they want the same educational opportunities. When they drive around town, they want the same sense of security that others enjoy. When they work at their jobs, they want the same amount of pay as their co-workers.
Part of the study and self-improvement I mention above is recognizing who we are and how our identities shape our experiences in our society.
And yes, here I am talking about privilege. Here I am talking about what I gain by being white, by being a white male.
When You Do—and Don’t—Match the Description
A few weeks ago I was on a date. (Hooray for vaccines!). I walked her to her car, where we stood for a moment, not yet wanting to part. We were interrupted by two police cars that positioned themselves just feet away, their headlights spotlighting us and leaving us unable to really see what was happening. An officer approached and told me to get my hands out of my pocket. “You two match the description of suspects of a crime nearby,” he said. We looked back at him, frozen, unsure of what to say or do, flooded with fear and anxiety and confusion.
Before I could even process what was happening, he held his hand to his ear, paused, then said, “I apologize for the confusion. You are free to go about your business.” And with that he got back into his car, and the two vehicles drove off.
Now, who knows what he meant by us matching a description of suspects? Was that a ruse or not, perhaps maybe a standard line of approach? I’ll never know.
When we talked about it later, we recognized that we couldn’t help but wonder if and how that situation goes down differently if we weren’t white.
What’s my lesson in this? I think it’s two things. First, that my gut tells me I experienced a not insignificant amount of privilege at that moment, simply by my skin color. Second, the unfairness of that is unacceptable, and it’s up to me, as a person who gains by my skin color, to advocate for those who our society disadvantages by theirs.
So what now? It makes for a compelling story, but is that enough? To me, that story about the cops is incomplete if I don’t act on it.
It’s not so much that I want to now take on fixing policing, it’s recognizing how fortunate I am to make my way through the world as freely as I do. So it’s therefore up to me to help others feel that way too. With freedom comes responsibility.
The drive to act on it and the answer to your question intersect: it’s a drive to do something, to get in the game and help out, and I think that’s how you reach others. Simply by taking on the responsibility to help repair the world.
How? Anything helps. Donate to organizations whose mission resonates with yours. Find out if those same organizations have volunteer opportunities. (I support The SAFE Alliance.)
Because so many meetings and events have moved online, I’ve found it easier to learn more about the organizations pushing the work on these issues forward. Join a committee. Attend a webinar. Sign up for a newsletter (and read it).
Find out what’s happening in your community and learn about the ways local organizations are trying to foster a more equitable, climate-conscious community. Sooner or later, you’ll find ways to make an impact.
But you don’t have to attend a meeting in order to influence others. Sometimes that opportunity meets you in the face…and you need to be ready for it.
A Missed Opportunity
At a coffee shop once, the guy I was with used the crudest of language to describe a woman who had just walked in. It made me uncomfortable. I could physically feel my unease.
And I could feel the words to him on the tip of my tongue. Just a simple, “that kind of talk makes me uncomfortable.” Would I have altered his behavior in the future had I gathered up the nerve to say something? Maybe, maybe not.
But if nothing else, I would have been truer to myself. I would have created the possibility of changing the way one man talked about and viewed women. I would have known I could speak up when it counted.
You ask, how do you reach those not reading sites like these, men who are clueless about how damaging objectifying women can be?
The answer is by having the strength I did not have in that particular moment.
If You Interact With Others, You Have A Platform
You don’t have to be a columnist for a national news outlet or be a pundit on TV or have a massive social media following to have a platform.
If you know other people, you have a platform.
If you work with other people, you have a platform. If you interact with others, you have a platform.
Unfortunately for you, however, those are all the most difficult of platforms from which to engage in social change.
I find it pretty easy, even enjoyable, to sit here at my dining table and type out these words.
But to confront someone directly, in the exact moment when you spot or hear something that you think is wrong or makes you uncomfortable? I find that extraordinarily difficult and challenging. As I admit, when I had a chance to do it, I failed.
Don’t underestimate the power of one. I’ve often felt, in my own writing, that if just one person reads me, if just one person writes in with a comment or thought, it’s worth it. That impact is exponentially stronger if you can do it in person.
It Starts With One—You
If you’re asking the question of how to do more, of how to get the word out, you are, intentionally or not, preparing yourself, maybe even expecting, the kind of situation I described above.
There will inevitably come a time when you have the opportunity to speak up and be heard. If you want to jump-start that opportunity, by working with your HR department at your job about DEI issues or starting a small men’s group, do it. If you want to write like I do, or post on social media your thoughts and ideas, do it.
It’s true we must be proactive and we must speak up. It’s not enough to sit back and wait for a confrontation. That’s why getting involved, in any way you can, in taking on some of the work, is so important—and ultimately what is needed to fix things right.
But don’t think if you don’t do those things, you can’t get the message out there.
Live by your values, become a role model and become equipped to identify opportunities where your voice can be heard. When that time comes you want to be ready—and you can prepare for that moment right now.
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