Why, in the midst of this heated gender debate, do we not hear more from men?
I’m not talking about the few men who are causing the problem (the misogynists, the bullies, the rapists)… I’m talking about the vast majority of good, normal men who respect and value women.
Over the last fortnight, I’ve had a number of conversations with these good men about sexism, the pay gap, ‘casual’ harassment and the issue of violence towards women.
Men who, when you ask them about it, condemn misogynistic and violent behaviour as “appalling” but that’s about as far as you get with them.
It surprised me at first that many of these good men don’t appear to have thought about these issues too deeply or have really formulated a view at all. But perhaps that’s what we all struggle with when the minority group in question is not one to which you belong.
Not long ago, we lived in an apartment. The tenants below us were two twenty-something men who had a lot of parties.
One Saturday afternoon – it was about 4pm – I was in my living room with my two young children and I could hear these men talking downstairs on their balcony with a few male mates.
One of the tenants (let’s call him Mike) was cooking a barbecue. “One of your legendary parties mate,” one bloke said to Mike. “Yeah, another feed ‘em and f*** ‘em party!” Mike said, laughing.
My ears pricked up.
Mike and his mate were both roaring loudly with laughter. They were now recounting intimate details about their girlfriends and their last party. Loudly. Obnoxiously. Graphically.
(I might have heard the nervous muttering of any good men present but, to be honest, I wouldn’t have heard it over the raucous laughter that dominated).
I went onto my own balcony, leaned over and shouted down at them. “How dare you talk about women like that Mike – with such utter disrespect.”
Mike was silent (for once) and sheepishly looked up, popping his palm up as if to apologise. I ignored him. “And you lot,” I said gesturing to the group of men sucking on their beer bottles, “You need to do better and hold him accountable. That kind of conversation is just not ok.”
A couple of them muttered apologies. Then twenty minutes later, the poor unsuspecting group of girlfriends arrived for their barbecue and the apparent bear trap.
A lot of moderate men object that they’re being lumped together with the minority. They’re often immediately defensive and sometimes patronising,
“You’ve got to remember, Rebecca, most men aren’t like that. I’m not like that”.
(I think we women have got that. I think we realise that most men are not bullies, blaggards or rapists).
One good man I spoke to even warned me to be careful about the “extreme and potentially divisive language” I was using (I think I might have used the word “misogynist” a couple of times). “With extreme language like that Rebecca, you run the risk of alienating us good guys in the middle.”
I saw that response as weak. A get-out.
I also saw it as yet another way to blame the women for the situation we find ourselves in; because of my ‘feminist ranting’ I was apparently putting the good guys off. The double bind rears its ugly head once again.
I understand that it is very difficult to genuinely put yourself in someone else’s shoes, see the world through their lens and try to feel their experience. But ‘easy’ and ‘convenient’ never get us anywhere.
We need the good men to feel a little inconvenienced right now. To stick their necks out and try a bit harder to listen up and really empathise with our situation.
Right now, all I see from the good men is quiet mutterings (at best), hesitancy and inaction.
If you’re a good man and you’re reading this, I wonder if you wish to see your wife retire on 40% less superannuation than you?
I wonder if you feel joyful to see your wife or partner, sister or mother belittled, undermined and burned out by an archaic system?
I wonder if you – and your male friends – would love to be entitled to a more lengthy paternity leave or for men having greater work-life balance to be viewed with deep respect rather than with disdain?
For anything to change, the voices and opinions of good, sensible men like youmust be very much part of this conversation.
These voices need to be heard on TV and in mainstream media. They need to be heard in parliament. They need to be heard in C-suite offices. They need to be heard in general conversation at barbecues and in bars.
Because ‘good man’: you might not be part of the problem but, by staying silent you are definitely – and I mean definitively – not part of any solution.
Your silence is regarded by women as apathy and rejection (“You’re on your own here ladies”) but worse, misogynists see your silence as a green light for them to continue to belittle, to degrade, to harass, to harm.
We women are exhausted by the consistent potential and real threat to our dignity and our safety, of having to work doubly hard to ‘prove our worth’ at work, of having to fend off unwanted comments and harassment.
And the best you can do is become more cognisant of the problem and speak up, call out poor behaviour and do your utmost to champion all the good women around you.