As I moved into my 30s I got married, had a child, did three months of full-time Daddy daycare and started working part-time. And, what finally struck me, throughout this time, is just how inequitable our society is for women. For all the women reading this – hardly a profound thought I know!
The sad part is that I think it is still a profound thought for many, if not most, men in this country in 2017.
As I went through school and then university and then entered the workforce, I simply did not see the range of barriers – hard and soft – that women face daily. It wasn’t due to my education, I was blessed to have a terrific one. I considered myself progressive and open-minded but in reality I had major blind spots.
I had lots of smart, strong females in my life both family and friends, so why did I not see these barriers? Because I was in the matrix we’ve built for men in this country.
As men we have the chords plugged into the back of our heads, telling us that Australia is an equal and fair society for both men and women … yes, the thinking goes, there was discrimination but we sorted that out during the last century. Just look around, women occupy the same public and professional spaces as men, so the problem has been solved!
It sounds ridiculously simplistic, but it is the accepted thinking of many men in this day and age. It is also misguided because our society is clearly not fair, no matter what we have been conditioned to think, and it’s not enough just to discuss equality of opportunity. There are hard-wired institutional, structural and cultural problems that disadvantage women.
I am grateful that my wife introduced me to feminist authors and feminist thinking, who showed me why feminism is relevant to me. Not me as a husband and not me as a father to a little girl. To me, as a citizen living in a community where half my fellow citizens are not equal.
Clementine Ford and Annabel Crabb are two persuasive and powerful commentators who have educated and enlightened me. Their work highlights glaring inadequacies like the social conditioning young girls experience, the toxic bro culture corroding this country’s egalitarian values, the national epidemic of domestic violence and the career sacrificing women do by putting their families first.
These are just some of the consequences of a male matrix – or the patriarchy – that disadvantage women whilst men believe the playing field is level. That is something we need to change.
No matter how empowered, united, supportive and collaborative the women of this country are in collectively fighting for an equitable society, how do we disrupt the male matrix?
I’m all for Clementine Ford’s call to arms for women to actively displace and replace men in positions of leadership across society. But the male matrix is a hegemonic structure. Men have an unrivalled position that allows them to thwart or slow change and to prevent the ceding of power.
I am convinced there is only one way to truly disrupt the male matrix: by reprogramming it from the inside. We need to get men out of the matrix, to see the barriers for what they are and get them fighting for change.
We don’t need more loud-mouthed men proclaiming to be feminists: there are enough of those in our communities and workplaces. We need quiet achievers, in our workplaces, communities and families who lead by example, and change things by directly doing the reprogramming themselves.
Here’s just a few examples, mostly aimed at dads.
We need more men calling bullshit on their friends as they tell sexist and offensive jokes at the pub on Friday night, or at the footy, or at the board table.
We need more men taking paid and unpaid parental leave even if their boss queries them, instead of backing down and going with the corporate male culture. And, we need those same men to talk to their colleagues about all the positive impacts of doing more caring for kids.
We need more men willing to restructure their careers by working part-time so they can take care of their children indefinitely, instead of constantly seeking advancement and traditional full-time roles.
We need those same men to explain to their baby boomer parents and bosses why that is a really great thing and why the workplace will benefit just as much as their family. Dads are best when they’re not absent.
We need more men doing the domestics around the house because it’s their lived environment and they need to take care of it too. This doesn’t just mean spending hours in the garden on their own listening to music and having a beer while they mow the lawn. It means doing the laundry, the big weekend grocery shop, the ironing, the cleaning, all of it. Domestic tasks should be genderless.
We need more men taking an active interest in their kids’ daily activities at the local daycare centres, or at their schools. This does not mean watching them play sport or watching a recital. It means volunteering to help out in whatever way is required, from canteen duty to making the costumes for the concerts. It also means looking after the kids when they’re sick, instead of leaving it to mums every single time.
We need dads to raise their sons and daughters equally rather than setting different expectations for behaviour or aspirations. We need to make sure our young sons never get trapped in the matrix at all, let’s teach them about what true equity and equality means.
We need men who lead by doing. If men want to proclaim to be feminists and see the inequity in our society addressed, let them back it up with actions that help their family, their local community and their workplace.
In this way, bit by bit, we can remake the matrix.