Quick note — throughout this, I only refer to two genders — male and female, and don’t reference racial identity either. This is not to deny the existence of and issues faced by other gender identities and races, but is only used to focus the discussion here. I struggle with brevity as it is.
Picture this scenario — a man and a woman are on a beautiful, but treacherous mountain walk. At one point some falling rocks block their path back down the mountain — the only remaining way is forwards. They come to a deep crevasse, impossible to climb down, or across. The only way forwards is across a seemingly ancient rope bridge. Old, rotten planks sway gently in the wind, some snapped in half, others missing completely. It certainly doesn’t look like it could hold the weight of a person, let alone two, but it’s the only way to potentially get off this mountain. Who checks the bridge to see if it’s safe to cross?
My first instinct probably mirrors yours. The man, obviously. But why?
There’s nothing inherent in the man (who we know nothing about) that makes him any better at checking the structural stability of a rope bridge. He might in fact be heavier and therefore more likely to break it whilst checking it. There are no ‘traditionally masculine’ qualities that indicate this man should be the one to risk his life. So why was my instinct to say it should, of course, be the man that checks it, rather than say flipping a coin to see who goes first?
This is an example of heavily internalized views on gender that don’t stand up to scrutiny. These views are not harmless either. Many men, and in particular young men, are suffering. We need a new vocabulary to talk about these issues, and learn many lessons from what feminism has achieved over the course of the last 50 years. Most of all, it needs to be grounded in empathy and not compete with other rights movements.
Systems vs individuals
When examining the lack of women at the top of the corporate world or lack of women in politics, the laziest (and sometimes triggering) explanations sound like this:
- ‘well I guess women just don’t want to do those things’
- ‘maybe their biology or natural tendencies lead them away from high pressure…