Equality isn’t just for women. Men, we need to wake up to what it means for us.

By David Willans, Director

It was only last week that I was talking about ‘How can we finally achieve global gender equality?’, a Tortoise Media event.

The event talked about the need for strong action. Talk of strikes to highlight the amount of unpaid labour women do. The need for fundamental policy change, for all policies to be assessed for their impact on equality. The need to reconsider how we measure success, to move from GDP to more rounded measures. Some serious action, that was discussed with passion at the time. Wrongs that have gone on too long must be righted, and about bloody time too.

Listening to this I started to feel uncomfortable.

I am in a position of privilege, but my feelings weren’t due to that. My feelings were because the discussion only took in one side of the ridiculous system we find ourselves in. The same system that is oppressing women, is also oppressing men. Not to the same degree as women. Women have it worse than men. They get paid less for the same job, they have a harder time getting those jobs, and they do more unpaid labour than men.

The system also expects men to be the breadwinner. Pay inequality reinforces this, to the point that many men do not take extended parental leave because they can’t afford to. Men sacrifice spending time with the person they love more than anyone, sacrifice building the strongest foundations for their relationship, because of this provider role and the fact that the system is rigged that way. As one dad I interviewed said, ‘Honestly, there’s lots of times I feel like a spare part in our family, because I spend so much time at work. Not because I want to, but because I have to. My kids are growing up fast and I’m afraid I missed their childhood.’

I don’t say this to get your sympathy. I say it because equality isn’t just for women, it’s for men too. But when equality conversations are only held on International Women’s Day, when all the stats and stories are about women’s disadvantage, it’s not that surprising that men haven’t realised it’s for us too.

We’ve got to remember equality is about challenging the system. Challenging traditions and social norms, about changing policy and practices with built in bias.

It’s a trite to say that we won’t change the game for women until we bring men on board. Trite but true. So far, it feels like we’re tried to do that by appealing to a sense of duty and responsibility that comes from being in a position of privilege, because our female colleagues, mates, wives, sisters, daughters and granddaughters deserve it. Look around. Has it worked? No.

If we want to get men onboard, we need to show them how the system is screwing them over too. Us, our male colleagues, mates, brothers, sons and grandsons. We need to hear from more men who want to live more balanced lives, from men who are making it happen, from men who are fighting for equality.

That was two weeks ago. We’ve come a long way since then. 

Now, it feels like unpaid labour will be seen and done by many more men as they WFH. That discussions of drastic action are becoming more commonplace. As we weigh up economic impact with lives to be lost, the automatic assumption that economic growth trumps more human measures, is being questioned.  Let’s hope we, men and women, can use all this uncertainty and drastic change to get to a more equal place than we’re in now, so we can live the kind of lives we want, regardless of our gender.