The first internationally recognized version of Women’s Day was way back in 1909. The United Nations has been creating themes for International Women’s Day for decades now. This year’s theme was Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality. There are two underlying prevalent trends in the UN’s themes. One is celebration, where the positive impact of women in the world is acknowledged and celebrated. The second one is the more dominant theme: correcting injustices. Whether it’s eliminating violence against women, advocating for access to education, or seeking a correction to the gender inequalities that exist there’s still a lot of work to be done.
I applaud the UN and its leadership in trying to shape a better world for women. However, real change won’t happen unless we all do our part. Men and women can both play integral roles in change. We should both strive to advocate for gender equality locally and globally. Whether it’s in our workplace or in our social settings we all have opportunities to encourage gender equality. There’s no denying the positive impact men and women can both have.
However, there’s also no escaping the reality of the influence men can have on other men. I’m not going to pretend that the responsibility for gender equality necessarily lies in the hands of men more than it does in the hands of women. Sure, one might make the argument that since men seem to be the ones who hold most of the power they hold a greater responsibility. That’s not the argument I want to make. I’m more interested in drawing attention to the influence men have on other men.
What I say and do shapes other men around me.
As a father of three grown men I imagine that most of my influence on my sons has taken place. I’m proud that they understand the equality of women. My sons respect women as equals and want to see gender equality become a reality in all aspects of life. What I say and how I live can still influence them. My respect or disrespect of women might still impact how they treat women or advocate for equality. This is not only true of my influence on my sons, but it’s especially true of my influence on other men.
How I talk about women, advocate for gender equality, or treat women has an influence on how other men I’m in contact with might respond to women. If a man grows up in an environment where women are not respected or treated as equals, and they hear me disrespecting women in any form, I will be affirming their mistaken worldview of women.
No man should ever underestimate the influence he has on another man.
This is true of each person, men can influence women and women can influence men. But let’s not downplay the importance of same gender influences in our culture.
If I, as a man, want to help create a culture that will move us towards gender equality I can do so with my behaviour when I’m with other men. The one on one conversations I have or the conversations I’m part of in a locker room or bar are all part of my sphere of influence. If I make disrespectful comments towards women, or simply sit by while I hear them, I am contributing to the culture of inequality.
I urge men to be aware of their language, of the things they say and do, and of the influence they have on others, especially other younger males.
We need to be honest and admit that we live in a world where gender inequality exists because of the way men abused their influence. Let’s own that. But, more importantly, let’s own the future we shape. Let’s be part of creating a world where every man sees every woman as an equal in all ways.