How can we achieve gender equality? 9. August 2017 – Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

In many places around the world, women don’t have the same opportunities as men. Women are still seen as the weaker sex and are held back by men.

 

In other countries, more notably Western Europe and North America, women have come a lot further, but if we look at the pay gap and the number of female leaders, it’s clear that we’ve not achieved full gender equality yet.  Women still manage the lion’s share of responsibilities at home and with children – and work too. After taking maternity leave, women’s careers can suffer or stall, affecting their chances of career advancement.

We are closer than we were, but I believe full equality will only be achieved the day all men fully give women the freedom to fulfil their dreams; the day when men regard women as equal; the day men stop being afraid of women; and the day a man sees himself as more than just a man. But this can only happen when both men and women begin to look differently at men. The day we kill the image of the “real man”.

The emancipation of women over the last few decades has taken them on a journey where women can choose to retain traditional female values, and at the same time, are also free to look like and do things that are traditionally assigned to the male role.

Imagine a straight line. One end of the spectrum is 100% male, at the other 100% female. If we go back to the early 20th century, that line would look pretty homogenous and binary, with the majority sitting at polar ends of the spectrum. But today, this spectrum is crowded with many different expressions of masculinity and femininity.

It’s an interesting development. It’s all about gender perception – who we are and what we do. We can no longer define gender so clearly but we do it anyway. Or we try at least. Paradoxically, we tend to define the boundaries of our own gender with greater freedom and generosity than we do those of the opposite sex.

The gender equality debate has always been about women’s rights to do the same things as men. If we go back to our line, women can move further and more freely along the gender line than in fact a man can these days, without facing the same level of discrimination or ridicule. Over the last 40-50 years, we have become more accepting of women taking on more traditional male roles and within a certain range, it’s been “normalized” in society. Women are also free to move along that spectrum daily or according to their mood. It doesn’t challenge their identity as a woman. However, this freedom does not apply to men.

I remember a female colleague telling me how she’d been standing on a street in Paris when a bright red Ducati motorbike pulled up alongside her. Riding it was a beautiful woman wearing a leather jacket, tight jeans and 4” stilettos. My colleague thought she was incredibly cool and sexy. What a combination! But what if it had been a man on a bike wearing the stilettos? When I suggested that to my colleagues, they looked at me confused and began to laugh. “Well, he’d look like a fool!” they said. So much for equality!

Another example. Two close girlfriends of mine are CEOs. Both are hardworking and successful, tough negotiators and competent leaders. When they go to work, they can choose between feminine outfits, leather trousers or formal suits. Would a man be able to do the same and be treated with respect?

So here’s the thing: gender equality goes both ways. Men should be allowed to move along the gender spectrum in the same way as women can. Men should not be discriminated against for choosing not to conform to stereotypes of traditional masculinity. It shouldn’t affect his job prospects or how he is treated on the streets when he goes out. What strikes me as odd is that many women, who have themselves had to fight against sexual discrimination, cannot accept that a man could be interested in exploring their femininity, without inherently losing their male identity. To be honest, it’s hypocrisy.

Both sexes look only in one direction: women can be women, men can be men, women can be more like men, but men cannot be more like women. And the men who try are judged harshly by both sexes. So what does this mean? Does this mean that both men and women consider women to be the weaker sex? I guess that would explain why it’s undesirable and unattractive for men to seek to be more like women…

I think it’s unacceptable, and if this is how society thinks, how can we ever expect to achieve full equality for women? When women themselves are complicit in enforcing these stereotypes. Sometimes I even wonder whether women are deliberately maintaining this status quo? After all, it gives them the best of both worlds. Women have gained more freedom to adopt traditionally male or female roles, while men are constrained to the tired trope of the dominant male who provides physical and financial security. Think about it… women can be just as protective of their maternal roles as primary caregiver to their children as men can be macho about being the main breadwinner, yet we know that men and women are equally capable of fulfilling both roles. It’s our prejudices and insecurities that stop us from letting that happen.

Logically, if we believe there’s as much variance between men as there is between women, then statistically, some men will be caught in this unfair situation, discriminated against and unable to freely make life choices.

A man who identifies himself as a traditional male may feel he needs to keep women suppressed to protect his position or there will be nothing left for him. A woman who wants to break through the glass ceiling may feel she needs to do more than just match a man’s abilities if she is to achieve her goals faster. Simply being equal is not enough. So we enable this vicious cycle to continue.

People! We need to get rid of these traditional male and female roles, the idea of a strong and weak gender, and instead enjoy our genetic differences, celebrate each other for our unique personalities – and give each other all the freedom we need to grow and succeed. When we are given an opportunity, we must pay that opportunity forward – not limit others – otherwise we will never create a better world to live in. Equal opportunities make equal people – and as equals, we all have the same chance to fulfil our dreams. And maybe, even more importantly, we can be at peace with ourselves.