I was pretty happy with the way I managed to construct my thoughts in last month’s blog. However after receiving some feedback and reflecting on it, I’ve decided the piece isn’t finished. So this month’s blog will serve as the thrilling conclusion to last month’s appetizer.
Important note: I am speaking to men here, particularly straight white men. Men need the lecture, men need the evidence, men need to change.
One of the challenges with writing a piece on gender equality as a male is that it is easy to appear pitying or condescending as there is no substitute for the lived experience of women. Another challenge is the assumption that a piece on gender equality is for women to read. This is a problem. Women don’t need to read another piece on gender equality, they know it already through their aforementioned lived experience. Men very much do need to read this and many more pieces on gender equality as we continue to BE the problem. This blog is aimed at men, but I hope any women readers feel comfortable to leave feedback so I can improve my writing, my thinking and my actions.
Another challenge, that has been made clear to me from conversations with several women well versed in the area is that writing one article is great but there’s so much more to it than that. Way more than the scope of that blog or this blog has the real estate to cover. What do I mean by that?
What I mean is that Mosh isn’t the problem (if you haven’t read last month’s entry, check it out here). Mosh is A problem, but not THE problem. It’s a symptom of the problem. And THE problem is that there are MANY problems. There’s a word for this: Intersectionality. It’s a word that is taking up more and more space in the public discourse, especially when it comes to feminism. If you’re like me and kind of, but don’t really understand what it means, the Merriam-Webster dictionary says: “Intersectionality—the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect“. In more simple terms it means that discrimination doesn’t exist in a bubble, that discrimination can be amplified in different ways when put together.
Using the Mosh ad as an example, we can see how it works. The ad posits that there is only one thing more important than footy: Men’s health. To begin to understand the different elements that go into Mosh deciding that was the line they wanted is where the intersectionality comes into it. Mosh didn’t come up with that line out of nowhere. They recognised that we live in a society that overly glorifies sport. Already we aren’t talking about gender equality on its own, we have a pervasive concept that sport, and therefore athletes, are superior to non-athletes. After all, footy is the most important thing, except men’s health.
I feel like we covered previously why saying “men’s health” is the most important thing is a big problem on the gender equality front, but remember that Mosh aren’t even talking about men’s health, they are talking about hair loss and framing it as men’s health. In point of fact they are telling us impressionable consumers that not having a luscious full head of hair as a man is not just lazy and ugly, it means you’re unhealthy. Except in very rare circumstances hair loss is in no way unhealthy and is a part of life for many men. Yet Mosh has chosen shame as a way of selling their product.
Within this one line, peddled by husband of the year Wayne Carey, we have discrimination based on gender, lifestyle and appearance because Mosh figured out how the person they want to buy their product thinks and what their triggers are. As I briefly said in the last blog, the ad isn’t the problem. That there exists an environment where money was spent to craft an ad like this knowing it would be successful is the problem. It’s all related. There is a series of connected cultural bedrocks in Australia which put this version of the straight white male at the top of the pecking order (directly at the expense of others) and Mosh is simply steering into it.
I have said all this to more accurately and expansively state what the core issue is in Australia (with one result of this being the now infamous Mosh ad of blogs past): We live in a culture that has since forever consolidated the power and privilege into a single demographic and ruthlessly undercuts the agency, credibility and dignity of anyone else. Straight white males (with money…which is much easier to get if you are a straight white male – jobs for the boys) continue to make the world to benefit themselves exclusively. Don’t believe me? Here’s some facts:
- Research reveals that 95% of corporate executives have Anglo-Celtic or European heritage. Despite comprising almost half the workforce, only 5% of CEOs are women. A third of those companies have no women at all in executive roles.
- A study sending out job applications with fake names found that applicants with Chinese names were least likely to be invited for an interview – just a one-in-five chance – while the chances of applicants with Anglo-Saxon names exceeded one-in-three.
- For most jurisdictions, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous imprisonment rates has increased between 2000 and 2009. In this period, Western Australia had the largest gap. In 2009 alone, Indigenous offenders in this jurisdiction were 20 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous offenders.
- As at 30 June 2007, Western Australia’s Indigenous youth detention rate was approximately 703 per 100,000, 43 times greater than for non-Indigenous young people.
- It is possible to estimate that approximately one in five women (19 per cent) have experienced sexual violence at some stage in their lives since the age of 15 and one in three women (33 per cent) have experienced physical violence at some stage in their lives since the age of 15.
- In terms of intersectionality: After adjusting for age differences between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, comparisons from the ABS General Social Survey indicate that Indigenous people aged 18 years or over experienced double the victimisation rate of non-Indigenous people.
- And: Some research has found that women with intellectual disabilities are more likely to be abused than other women.
- Of the perpetrators of sexual violence, 57% are white.
- And: Out of every 1000 suspected rape perpetrators, 520 will be released before their trial and of those, 70 will go on to commit another crime before their trial.
- Only 0.3% of all estimated adult sexual assaults will be convicted.
So, it’s kind of a big problem. You can see in the previous blog I was only dipping my toe in the water of the wider issues. I wanted to address that. The other thing I wanted to address, as I always try to, is solutions. I don’t think it does much good to tell everyone what the problems are without offering a way forward to begin resolving them. That’s what I do as a trainer and it’s what I will do here as well. So on that note, it’s time for a story:
The other night I met someone for a catch up. I walked there because I care about the environment and also I don’t want to drive somewhere and have to look for a park. It was probably somewhere around the 10pm mark when we said our goodbyes and I marched home. I had my earphones in and some tunes cranking probably way too loud and so I was going at quite a clip.
As I was striding up the quiet, dark street I noticed in front of me a woman also walking on the same footpath. Because the music was jamming I was catching up to her quite quickly. Now, anyone who has seen my gentleman’s effort at this month’s gym challenge will know I am not a cardio beast so I can neither confirm nor deny that I may have had some heavy breathing going on.
When I got a little closer to her, I took the opportunity to cross the road. As I crossed the road, the woman turned her head in surprise that someone was struggling so much from simply walking and then went back to whatever she was doing on her phone and I continued on my way home puffing like a bellows. This was an important moment for me. Let me explain why.
Firstly, I don’t know if what I did was the most correct action, but the reasons behind it and the awareness I had is where the growth has happened. Past Dan would have continued walking, huffing and puffing and simply walked by the woman and not given it a second thought. That’s my privilege. I don’t feel threatened walking the streets and I don’t really often notice too closely who’s walking near me which is why I will stare for ages at someone I know well as I’m walking and wonder why they look familiar until they stop me and say hello. It’s never been a concern for me. It’s not like I’m a big brute either, plenty of people are more intimidating than me but I’m almost never the focus of their attention. The same cannot be said for women, generally. The reality is that women can be targets and will be preyed upon if a perpetrator thinks they can overpower them. Women have very good reason to be cautious when walking the streets alone at night. The statistics above point out that it is not that uncommon for women to be physically or sexually assaulted, even if it is uncommon for it to be prosecuted.
To be very clear, the reason many women don’t feel safe is not because they are targets. It’s because men target them. Men target them because they can and they get away with it. To back that up with the 0.3% conviction rate of estimated assaults from men against women is the fact that instances of false reporting are majorly overplayed. Several studies have concluded the actual false reporting occurrence of sexual assault is about 5%. Interestingly, false does not always mean malicious, it could mean that there was insufficient evidence or that the charges were dropped, not that the assault didn’t happen. Still, false reporting is over represented in the media and makes an already difficult challenge for a woman to come forward even harder as she may be met with disbelief, even though the evidence is clear that overwhelmingly reports of this nature are true. Another example of how our society is set up to benefit the straight white males. They are the majority offender and the least likely to be prosecuted. No wonder men feel so emboldened to act in the way they do when there are often far more consequences for the victim than the perpetrator.
To get back to my story, the reason this was an important moment is I now think of things like this in situations where I wouldn’t have previously. I know I’m not a threat to a woman walking alone, then or now, but in both cases, she doesn’t know that. All this woman knows is there is a male powerfully striding up towards her and breathing heavily and there is no one else in sight on this dark street. That’s not a comfortable situation for her to be in and I can imagine it would be even more uncomfortable the closer I got and even me passing by without causing trouble may still have caused her to feel a lot of not very nice emotions.
Now that I am more switched on to the experiences that women go through, that I don’t have to go through, I thought that even if I didn’t need to, it would be a reassuring gesture to this woman if I crossed the road, that way she will know that I am just a dude walking along minding my own business and we can both get back to what we are doing.
It’s also possible I have made something out of nothing and she couldn’t have given a rats whether I was there or what side of the street I walked on but the point is now I am thinking about these things and taking a simple action might have been a big relief for this woman.
Admitting I am a straight white male is not admitting I am sexist or racist, it admits that I benefit from privilege that others do not. It doesn’t mean I am better off or don’t get bullied or have no cares but it does mean that if I cut myself, the skin tone bandaid I put on will closely match my own, or that if I ask to speak to my boss, I’m likely to be speaking to someone of my own gender. These are things most of us never even think about because we don’t have the jarring reality of the world not being set up to look like it’s made for us.
So the first solution that needs to become embedded in men now and in the boys we raise is that we need to understand that we are not bad, but we still have advantages others do not. We need to start changing our actions to show everyone else we understand. When enough men get it, then we start to see a culture change because once you get it, you will act differently if you’re a good human. This blog is jam packed with information you can use to help develop a further understanding of what people who aren’t you have to deal with that we don’t even notice. See the sources at the bottom for further reading but if you want a couple of perspective checks, then wrap your eyeballs around these articles:
The second solution is to get to know more about your local and Federal MP’s and what their voting history is on various policies so you can make informed decisions about who gets your vote. Also you should always number ALL the boxes as preference voting is a thing in this country and you should know how it works. If you don’t, you can read about it here. If you want to find out how your candidate is voting and which candidates are voting for which policies, go here.
I know politics is a bunch of white noise (pun very much intended) to a lot of people and you really couldn’t care less but the fact is, you should. You should care what goes on around you. Your local members all the way up to the PM are voted on by you and the decisions made by those folks are going to affect the way your world looks. The bunch in there at the moment get tickled with joy every time another person says they don’t care and votes how their parents did or donkey votes because it means they get to keep rorting the system unchecked as we look away distastefully. They spend time and money to make you not care. You have to care enough to at least vote responsibly if we are going to get anywhere.
The third solution is to redistribute the wealth, both figuratively and literally. Our country is made up of at least half women and a diverse range of cultures and yet positions of wealth and power are hoarded primarily by old white men. To be replaced by other slightly less old white men when they move on. That’s no longer allowable. There needs to be equal representation in these influential positions.
There is a big lie going around that Australia is a meritocracy and that if people are good enough they will rise to these positions on the merit of their accomplishments. There are several studies that show that there is an implicit bias in hiring managers (indeed this was referenced earlier in the article) such as this one here. What this does do is make it harder for people to break in, such as women and Indigenous Australians. We don’t really have a meritocracy at all. As stated earlier, our system can more accurately be described as jobs for the boys. The white boys. In fact, even when there is mandated affirmative action, people go out of their way to avoid following the guidelines so they can keep things the way they are; see here. This presents a case of affirmative action not really being a feasible model, however it is the implementation that is mostly the cause of this. Those with all the power do not acknowledge or notice their own bias and staunchly rail against initiatives that seek to counter this.
The way you and I can work to counter this is to use our voice as voters and consumers. We still have a long, long way to go on climate change in this country but it is increasingly becoming unavoidable for even the biggest companies to ignore their role in the fight. This is largely driven by consumers, you can see here that there are a bunch of new companies that are being very successful and their mission is to solve problems and do it in an environmentally friendly way. This is possible because more and more people are choosing to spend their money in these areas. It’s forcing companies to bring themselves into line to stay relevant, see here. We can’t expect bad people to do good things because we want them to, but we can force their hand by giving them no other choice. If you want to jump on that train and support companies that have women in the big chair, here is a list of the 15 ASX300 companies that do in Australia. This list is criminally short but a great way to help grow it is by using our power as consumers to show big business we have moved on from the old white man in charge.
As you can tell, there is a lot to say about this topic, because it is so many topics and they are all related and connected in creating the untenable environment we have in Australia. I’ve spent the best part of two blogs outlining the heart of the problem and the last part of this one presenting a multi-layered path that an individual can take to start shifting the culture and forcing change to happen, even if we have to drag a bunch of people kicking and screaming into a brighter future for everyone. It’s a three step plan that I think we can all adapt into our lives with relative ease. I’ll lay it out for you in a simple and easy to read format below and give an example of what that implementation looks like.
Understand where you sit in the world and start to change your thinking about what it’s like for others. I’ve linked some articles below which help show different perspectives we can try to imagine for ourselves.
The example is the story I told. Regardless of if I knew that I was no threat or the woman even cared that I was there; I changed my path which could’ve been perceived as threatening. It cost me nothing and was probably not necessary, but it does highlight an awareness and understanding that I did not have in the past.
Understand the way voting works and make sure you are aware of where the candidates you are voting for are voting on policies that matter to you. Use the links below to make sure you’re up to speed on this.
Learn how preferential voting works
Learn what MPs are voting for
Not voting the way your Dad does for no reason. In fact becoming informed and letting your Dad know exactly what a vote for each candidate means in terms of policy outcomes.
Change your consumer habits to support companies that are upholding the qualities you believe in and are giving opportunity to a diverse range of people, not the same white guy in a different tie over and over again. Use the link below for a start on choosing which companies to support.
Companies with female CEOs
Consider banking with Bendigo or Macquarie who are both headed by female CEOs. As a disappointing note, A2 milk is now back in the hands of an old white dude – there is still much work to be done.
We all need to do this. Each change on the surface is small and seemingly of little impact but remember: From little things, big things grow. I paid attention in sex ed class. It is important to remember that if many of us make these incremental changes, over time it will add up to a big shift and a nicer world for everyone, especially those who are not straight white males but I would say even they will have a nicer world if we make it that way. So as always, my long winded and expansive stream of consciousness can be neatly distilled into a hashtag so I will leave you with this: