I'm here to recruit men to support gender equality.
Wait, wait. What? What do men have to do with gender equality? Gender equality is about women, right? I mean, the word gender is about women. Actually, I'm even here speaking as a middle class white man.
Now, I wasn't always a middle class white man. It all happened for me about 30 years ago when I was in graduate school, and a bunch of us graduate students got together one day, and we said, you know, there's an explosion of writing and thinking in feminist theory, but there's no courses yet. So we did what graduate students typically do in a situation like that. We said, OK, let's have a study group. We'll read a text, we'll talk about it, we'll have a potluck dinner.
So every week, 11 women and me got together.
We would read some text in feminist theory and have a conversation about it. And during one of our conversations, I witnessed an interaction that changed my life forever. It was a conversation between two women. One of the women was white, and one was black. And the white woman said — this is going to sound very anachronistic now — the white woman said, "All women face the same oppression as women. All women are similarly situated in patriarchy, and therefore all women have a kind of intuitive solidarity or sisterhood." And the black woman said, "I'm not so sure. Let me ask you a question." So the black woman says to the white woman, "When you wake up in the morning and you look in the mirror, what do you see?" And the white woman said, "I see a woman." And the black woman said, "You see, that's the problem for me. Because when I wake up in the morning and I look in the mirror," she said, "I see a black woman. To me, race is visible. But to you, race is invisible. You don't see it." And then she said something really startling. She said, "That's how privilege works. Privilege is invisible to those who have it." It is a luxury, I will say to the white people sitting in this room, not to have to think about race every split second of our lives. Privilege is invisible to those who have it.
Now remember, I was the only man in this group, so when I witnessed this, I went, "Oh no."
And somebody said, "Well what was that reaction?" And I said, "Well, when I wake up in the morning and I look in the mirror, I see a human being. I'm kind of the generic person. You know, I'm a middle class white man. I have no race, no class, no gender. I'm universally generalizable."
So I like to think that was the moment I became a middle class white man, that class and race and gender were not about other people, they were about me. I had to start thinking about them, and it had been privilege that had kept it invisible to me for so long.
Now, I wish I could tell you this story ends 30 years ago in that little discussion group, but I was reminded of it quite recently at my university where I teach. I have a colleague, and she and I both teach the sociology of gender course on alternate semesters. So she gives a guest lecture for me when I teach. I give a guest lecture for her when she teaches. So I walk into her class to give a guest lecture, about 300 students in the room, and as I walk in, one of the students looks up and says, "Oh, finally, an objective opinion."
All that semester, whenever my colleague opened her mouth, what my students saw was a woman. I mean, if you were to say to my students, "There is structural inequality based on gender in the United States," they'd say, "Well of course you'd say that. You're a woman. You're biased." When I say it, they go, "Wow, is that interesting. Is that going to be on the test? How do you spell 'structural'?"
So I hope you all can see, this is what objectivity looks like.
Disembodied Western rationality.
And that, by the way, is why I think men so often wear ties.
Because if you are going to embody disembodied Western rationality, you need a signifier, and what could be a better signifier of disembodied Western rationality than a garment that at one end is a noose and the other end points to the genitals?
That is mind-body dualism right there.
So making gender visible to men is the first step to engaging men to support gender equality.
Now, when men first hear about gender equality, when they first start thinking about it, they often think, many men think, well, that's right, that's fair, that's just, that's the ethical imperative. But not all men. Some men think — the lightning bolt goes off, and they go, "Oh my God, yes, gender equality," and they will immediately begin to mansplain to you your oppression. They see supporting gender equality something akin to the cavalry, like, "Thanks very much for bringing this to our attention, ladies, we'll take it from here." This results in a syndrome that I like to call 'premature self-congratulation.'
There's another group, though, that actively resists gender equality, that sees gender equality as something that is detrimental to men. I was on a TV talk show opposite four white men. This is the beginning of the book I wrote, 'Angry White Men.' These were four angry white men who believed that they, white men in America, were the victims of reverse discrimination in the workplace. And they all told stories about how they were qualified for jobs, qualified for promotions, they didn't get them, they were really angry. And the reason I'm telling you this is I want you to hear the title of this particular show. It was a quote from one of the men, and the quote was, "A Black Woman Stole My Job." And they all told their stories, qualified for jobs, qualified for promotions, didn't get it, really angry. And then it was my turn to speak, and I said, "I have just one question for you guys, and it's about the title of the show, 'A Black Woman Stole My Job.' Actually, it's about one word in the title. I want to know about the word 'my.' Where did you get the idea it was your job? Why isn't the title of the show, 'A Black Woman Got the Job?' or 'A Black Woman Got A Job?'" Because without confronting men's sense of entitlement, I don't think we'll ever understand why so many men resist gender equality.
Look, we think this is a level playing field, so any policy that tilts it even a little bit, we think, "Oh my God, water's rushing uphill. It's reverse discrimination against us."
So let me be very clear: white men in Europe and the United States are the beneficiaries of the single greatest affirmative action program in the history of the world. It is called "the history of the world."
So, now I've established some of the obstacles to engaging men, but why should we support gender equality? Of course, it's fair, it's right and it's just. But more than that, gender equality is also in our interest as men. If you listen to what men say about what they want in their lives, gender equality is actually a way for us to get the lives we want to live.
Gender equality is good for countries. It turns out, according to most studies, that those countries that are the most gender equal are also the countries that score highest on the happiness scale. And that's not just because they're all in Europe.
Even within Europe, those countries that are more gender equal also have the highest levels of happiness.
It is also good for companies. Research by Catalyst and others has shown conclusively that the more gender-equal companies are, the better it is for workers, the happier their labor force is. They have lower job turnover. They have lower levels of attrition. They have an easier time recruiting. They have higher rates of retention, higher job satisfaction, higher rates of productivity. So the question I'm often asked in companies is, "Boy, this gender equality thing, that's really going to be expensive, huh?" And I say, "Oh no, in fact, what you have to start calculating is how much gender inequality is already costing you. It is extremely expensive." So it is good for business.
And the other thing is, it's good for men. It is good for the kind of lives we want to live, because young men especially have changed enormously, and they want to have lives that are animated by terrific relationships with their children. They expect their partners, their spouses, their wives, to work outside the home and be just as committed to their careers as they are.
I was talking, to give you an illustration of this change — Some of you may remember this. When I was a lot younger, there was a riddle that was posed to us. Some of you may wince to remember this riddle. This riddle went something like this.
A man and his son are driving on the freeway, and they're in a terrible accident, and the father is killed, and the son is brought to the hospital emergency room, and as they're bringing the son into the hospital emergency room, the emergency room attending physician sees the boy and says, "Oh, I can't treat him, that's my son." How is this possible?
We were flummoxed by this. We could not figure this out.
Well, I decided to do a little experiment with my 16-year old son. He had a bunch of his friends hanging out at the house watching a game on TV recently. So I decided I would pose this riddle to them, just to see, to gauge the level of change. Well, 16-year-old boys, they immediately turned to me and said, "It's his mom." Right? No problem. Just like that. Except for my son, who said, "Well, he could have two dads."
That's an index, an indicator of how things have changed. Younger men today expect to be able to balance work and family. They want to be dual-career, dual-carer couples. They want to be able to balance work and family with their partners. They want to be involved fathers.
Now, it turns out that the more egalitarian our relationships, the happier both partners are. Data from psychologists and sociologists are quite persuasive here. I think we have the persuasive numbers, the data, to prove to men that gender equality is not a zero-sum game, but a win-win. Here's what the data show. Now, when men begin the process of engaging with balancing work and family, we often have two phrases that we use to describe what we do. We pitch in and we help out.
And I'm going to propose something a little bit more radical, one word: "share."
Because here's what the data show: when men share housework and childcare, their children do better in school. Their children have lower rates of absenteeism, higher rates of achievement. They are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. They are less likely to see a child psychiatrist. They are less likely to be put on medication.
So when men share housework and childcare, their children are happier and healthier, and men want this.
When men share housework and childcare, their wives are happier. Duh. Not only that, their wives are healthier. Their wives are less likely to see a therapist, less likely to be diagnosed with depression, less likely to be put on medication, more likely to go to the gym, report higher levels of marital satisfaction. So when men share housework and childcare, their wives are happier and healthier, and men certainly want this as well. When men share housework and childcare, the men are healthier. They smoke less, drink less, take recreational drugs less often. They are less likely to go to the ER but more like to go to a doctor for routine screenings. They are less likely to see a therapist, less likely to be diagnosed with depression, less likely to be taking prescription medication. So when men share housework and childcare, the men are happier and healthier. And who wouldn't want that?
And finally, when men share housework and childcare, they have more sex.
Now, of these four fascinating findings, which one do you think Men's Health magazine put on its cover?
"Housework Makes Her Horny. (Not When She Does It.)"
Now, I will say, just to remind the men in the audience, these data were collected over a really long period of time, so I don't want listeners to say, "Hmm, OK, I think I'll do the dishes tonight." These data were collected over a really long period of time. But I think it shows something important, that when Men's Health magazine put it on their cover, they also called, you'll love this, "Choreplay."
So, what we found is something really important, that gender equality is in the interest of countries, of companies, and of men, and their children and their partners, that gender equality is not a zero-sum game. It's not a win-lose. It is a win-win for everyone. And what we also know is we cannot fully empower women and girls unless we engage boys and men. We know this. And my position is that men need the very things that women have identified that they need to live the lives they say they want to live in order to live the lives that we say we want to live.
In 1915, on the eve of one of the great suffrage demonstrations down Fifth Avenue in New York City, a writer in New York wrote an article in a magazine, and the title of the article was, "Feminism for Men." And this was the first line of that article: "Feminism will make it possible for the first time for men to be free."
Yes, we all know it's the right thing to do. But Michael Kimmel makes the surprising, funny, practical case for treating men and women equally in the workplace and at home. It's not a zero-sum game, but a win-win that will result in more opportunity and more happiness for everybody.
The author of "Angry White Men," Michael Kimmel is a pre-eminent scholar of men and masculinity.
The author of "Angry White Men," Michael Kimmel is a pre-eminent scholar of men and masculinity.