Four Actions that Men Can Take to Promote Gender Equality
by Samantha Wickramasinghe, CCASA Blogger
The reason why I want men to promote gender equality is very simple. I am going to argue that when men take active roles in promoting gender equality, the world that we live in becomes a much better place. I feel that many men are interested in this topic, so the question is how do you do it? I am going to suggest four actions that I think will help to create a better world for members of all genders.
#1 Help to Raise Boys Devoid of Harmful Gender Stereotypes
If you have been ridiculed in your childhood or in your adolescent years for “acting like a girl,” you probably know what I am going talking about. When I was growing up, I heard these sorts of misogynist and dehumanizing statements that were supposed to put me into my “proper” gender role. If being a girl is shameful or unworthy, we are suggesting that girls are inferior and incapable of holding similar status in the society. This notion will eventually lead to oppression of other genders. There may be progressive differences in gender roles among men, women and people who may not want to identify in these traditional forms of gender. Having said that, discriminating or thinking that one gender is above all is simply wrong.
#2 Question and Investigate the Conceptions of Beauty in the Popular Culture
Different people have different conceptions of beauty. But I am asking men to question and investigate their notion of beauty. I am not questioning the different modes of knowing beauty, but I am simply asking you to question the standards of beauty constructed by the popular culture. I was quite surprised on the day I realized how much I was concerned about a person’s physical attractiveness in their skin color. In the society that I grew up, girls who had fairer complexions were declared to be more attractive. I often found people using beauty products (fairness cream) to make their complexions fairer. When I took swimming lessons in my high school open- air swimming pool, I got so much criticism from my relatives for having a darker skin, burned by the sun. In the popular culture that I grew up with, a successful and a beautiful woman stereotypically will be a heterosexual, able-bodied, slim and a fair-skinned one. People who worked in the sun such as farmers and vendor- women were seen as unattractive or ugly.
#3 Challenge and Deconstruct the Reproduction of Patriarchy
Understand that denouncing girls or female personalities is caused by patriarchy, which is in my view, a combined social, political and dogmatic system that is fundamentally based on the unfair use of power, physical force and violence. Usually in a patriarchal family structure, the father becomes the head of the family. In patriarchal families men are supposed to be the bread winners (which is seen as more important) and women are supposed to take care of children (which is seen as less-important). Men hold important roles in all the important institutions that vary from political and economic to religious. Patriarchal societies create this invariable distinction between gender roles. Patriarchal societies keep women from holding leadership positions and discourage them from engaging in active politics. As men, we need deconstruct the propagation of patriarchy. We can do it on a personal level. For example, if I become a father, I intend to spend a lot of time doing child caring. I will encourage my son to be a care-giving person if he wants to. I will encourage my daughter to engage in politics at a young age if she wants to. If I have child who is transgender, I will support them to find the place that they want to be.
#4 Encourage Young Men and Boys to Follow Non-Violent Leadership
Growing up in the Indian sub continent I could not avoid learning about Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian freedom movement from the British imperialism. What I found fascinating about Gandhi was his non-violent leadership model. After learning how he inspired Martin Luther King Jr. in America, I was convinced that non-violent civil disobedience is one of the most efficient ways of fighting injustice. The kind of hyper-masculine gender role that I was used to act upon, did not appreciate non-violent resistance as an effective leadership model. I think, when we raise our children we should make sure that we make different forms of leadership available to them, including the non-violent and feminist ones. There may be disagreements or questions, but I feel non-violent and feminist leadership models help to promote gender equality by challenging traditional gender roles.