Small Change, Big Wins

Sexism is supported by invisible systems that perpetuate and maintain dominance for men—as a group.

Shira Tarrant, PhD, is an American expert on contemporary gender politics, pop culture, and masculinity whose books include Men and FeminismWhen Sex Became Gender, and Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex and Power, among other important works. In her guest post, Shira calls on men to stop being bystanders to inequality and shares three tips on how to unravel invisible systems that perpetuate male privilege.
We know about the gendered wage gaps in the workplace. It’s old news that women are wildly underrepresented in top leadership positions at companies across the nation. And it’s clear that men need to be on board in order to for women to achieve equity in the workplace. Men have a central role in improving the workplace as we move into the future. But to be effective in accomplishing productive solutions, we need to scratch beneath the surface and look beyond salary and the corner office.
Most men believe that all people should have the same opportunities based on qualifications, not gender. What about that guy at the conference table—you know, the one who means well but still puts a sexist foot in his mouth.
Allow me to suggest a few tips to share with co-workers about why gender equity matters and what men can do in taking a lead.
As I explain in my book, Men and Feminism, masculine privilege is the idea that society awards certain unearned perks and advantages on men simply because they are male. Sometimes this privilege is really obvious, like the fact that Congress remains overwhelmingly male. But masculine privilege also flies under the radar. Institutional practices and ideological beliefs about masculine superiority seem so normal or natural that we’ve learned not to notice when a man’s opinion is taken more seriously than a woman’s.
And, let’s face it. The workplace is nothing if not an institution.
As Michael Welp explains, it’s to men’s individual advantage to inquire more about others and step back a bit from chronic self-advocacy and self-promotion. Listening more and speaking less can “collectively shift the culture in organizations toward more inclusion.”
If it’s a hard sell to convince folks with power and privilege to step aside and share a bit of that pie, then it helps to remember that gender equity improves a company’s bottom line. Michael Kimmel points out that equality “increases a company’s profitability, enhances its reputation in the outside world, and boosts employee morale.”
Exposing invisible patterns and practices allows us to think critically about the links between gender privilege and sexism. One way masculine privilege operates is in how men (and women) are taught to see sexism as “individual acts of meanness,” says scholar Peggy McIntosh. What’s really going on, though, is that sexism is supported by invisible systems that perpetuate and maintain dominance for men as a group.
What Men Can Do (and Encourage Other Men to Do):
  1. Engage—don’t interrupt. Be quiet. Don’t talk-over others. Communication is a two-way street, and some people have been socialized to cross that street more slowly than others. Research shows that women speak less when they're outnumbered while men are groomed for assertiveness. Simply put: talk less; listen more. 
  2. Wait for a response before continuing. Ask more questions and don’t assume you know more than the person you’re speaking to. 
  3. Remember: authority, expertise and strength come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and wardrobes. A hot manicure does not preclude a hot IQ as 16-year-old Mensa-member Lauren Marbe can attest.

In my recent book Men Speak Out, a collection of first-person perspectives on gender, sex, and power, Ian Breckenridge-Jackson sums up the issues of privilege in the workplace really well. Ian was part of a mixed-gender volunteer crew working to rebuild homes in the Lower Ninth Ward in post-Katrina New Orleans. “Men would often challenge women’s competence on the worksite, particularly women in leadership positions. For instance, men often assumed women were ignorant about using tools, leading men to inappropriately offer unsolicited advice to women about how they should do their work,” Breckenridge-Jackson explains. And even though he was tempted to step in, take over, do the job himself, and explain to the women how things get done, he had to check himself. “All men owe this both to the women in their lives and to themselves.”
There might not be a perfect solution, but we can certainly start the process, and we can easily commit earnestly to change. Men have a crucial role in promoting this workplace change by refusing to be bystanders to the problem.
Posted by Mike Otterman on Mar 21, 2013 2:13 PM America/New_York

Blog Post Comments

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Excellent, practical advice. Don't mansplain and just wait a minute so I can speak - I've wanted to say that so many times in conference rooms.
  • Posted Thu 21 Mar 2013 08:47 PM EDT
Yes Shira, you are right! Your books, are they on amazon?
  • Posted Sun 24 Mar 2013 03:20 AM EDT
Lars, Thank you so much. Yes -- my books are available on amazon. A few of the titles are linked from my post.
  • Posted Mon 25 Mar 2013 01:05 PM EDT
Liz, I hope as many as possible have the opportunity to read this because even if we want to say this in the conference room, we know it's not that simple. That's why it's time to shift awareness and responsibility. Women need to lean in, and men need to lean back in this regard. Thank you so much for your comment.
  • Posted Mon 25 Mar 2013 01:06 PM EDT
Shira - great points! This is an issue that needs to be addressed by everyone and for all of the right reasons. It is often said that speaking less, allows one to learn more.

I look forward to reading your books soon.
  • Posted Wed 27 Mar 2013 04:38 PM EDT
I like this part - "Simply put: talk less; listen more. " I think that's what we need to to basically as men. Sometimes we felt man's ego so we talk more
  • Posted Thu 28 Mar 2013 05:45 PM EDT
Wow, glad to be the man-pinata for you, Shira. Sexism affects men too. But, here again, the false assumption that men have an accross-the-board advantage goes unchecked. It is cherry-picking, Shira, and no more than that. You are ignoring the many areas where women get a better deal than men in this society: 90% of prison population is male. 90% of deaths on the job are male workers. The family courty system is heavily-biased in favor of women. Now, most of the college degrees are being obtained by women; most of the highschool dropouts are male teens. But women are not upset over this, because they're not on the wrong end of the stick here. Instead, Shira, you and many women ( and men too) cherry-pick the areas women are mistreated, but ignore the areas where they get preferential treatment over men. Do tell, Shira, why doesn't a man have reproductive rights in this country? If a women gets pregnant as a result of consensual sex, the man gets _no say whatsoever_ on whether the pregnancy comes to term. But, guess what: the man is expected to foot half the bill of raising a child. Nice deal for women, right, Shira? You get all the rights, all the say on whether the pregnancy comes to term, but you do not want to assume full responsibility. I'm all for equal treatment, but what women like Shira want is a whole set of special privileges. The far-out feminist movement of women like Shira is all based on cherry-picked evidence.
Notice how, in VAWA there is no provision for false accusations leveled by women against men, which have happened many times, and have ruined men's lifes. It is a SCAM.
  • Posted Fri 17 May 2013 07:37 PM EDT
And, by the way: I have not yet seen a study that concludes that men get paid more for _the same amount- and- type of work_ as women. This is absurd; if this was the case, why would anyone hire a man, if they can hire a women to do the same work for ( guffaw; this is the claim I heard) 70% of the pay? Still, Shira, if you can refer me to studies --not made by women groups, but by some impartial third party -- that purport to prove that man get paid more for the same work, I will gladly look at it.
Notice how all the recomendations for change are for _men_ to change. Innocent women are doing everything right, and the poor victims are just unfairly-treated _for no reason_ . Like I said before: I do support equality, but the feminist movement has been highjacked by the radical wing, which preaches the victimhood of women by the bad-wold men, and cherry-picks the evidence. How about debating , say, Warren Farrell there, Shira, or Mel Feit, two (very)reasonable leaders of the Men's movement.
  • Posted Fri 17 May 2013 07:46 PM EDT
And, please _do provide evidence_ that congress --or any other occupation-- being predominantly-male is the result of discrimination. Do tell, Shira: how many women have applied for the job? Can you convince me that 1) The number of women that have applied is the same as the number of men that have applied? 2) That women who apply for the job are not treated as fairly as men are. Do you expect _every_ occupation to be split 50-50; should every single workplace have a 50-50 distribution? No, Shira, don't "explain" to me what inequality consists of; give me _evidence_ for all the far-out claims that you make. Ii thought I had signed up for a real discussion, not to play the pinata for your unsupported claims of discrimination and inequality.
  • Posted Fri 17 May 2013 07:51 PM EDT
I personally think all three points were outstanding.
  • Posted Fri 17 May 2013 09:17 PM EDT
Now,if you tell me about racial discrimination,or the mistreatment of aborigenes, I will grant you that this is a disgraceful part of our past as a country. But the case for the systematic abuse and mistreatment of women is ridiculous; it would be laughable if the potential consequences of accepting it were not so serious.
  • Posted Sat 18 May 2013 12:42 AM EDT
O.K, McCloskey, I have no problem with you trying to prove me wrong; I think I have made claims that are specific -enough that they can be countered. Feel free to counter my point; this is an open debate after all.
  • Posted Sat 18 May 2013 12:44 AM EDT
O.K, Shira, here are two websites that _you_ can go to ( unless you do not believe that there are things that you can learn from a man)

I thoroughly reject your framing of the issues , in that you're coming from up there in Mt. Olympus to tell us what we men should do, should learn, and yet you assume that there is nothing for you to learn. Again, I constantly try to improve myself. But not by people who frame themselves as my superiors, telling me "what I should do".

And,if it is so clear to you that there is an accross-the-board mistreatment of women by men, please do refute --with specifics--the points made in the mentioned websites.
  • Posted Mon 20 May 2013 12:37 AM EDT


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