Even "Small" Things Are Important
By Lars Einar Engström
. Gender, and the need for equal opportunity, touches every corner of our lives, and there are things that we as men can be doing to create change in small ways, no matter where we are. Here are some ideas I have used or picked up from other men (and women) during the last years.
It may sound like a hard job to constantly think about ourselves, our behavior, and our image, but how we behave and how we speak is how we communicate our values to others. We can make changes in our lives just like we would make changes in an organization. Changing how we interact with others might seem difficult at first, but I can assure you that after some time, you won’t even have to think about it. It will become a part of your “new style” and a part of you
So, what sort of changes am I talking about?
Make Changes at Home
CIf we want the next generation to be more invested in equality, we need to start paying attention to what we are teaching children in our families, neighborhoods, and schools. They look to us and observe what we do as models of how relationships and interactions are supposed to work.
So, we must ask ourselves, what lessons are they learning from us? What can we do to make sure they are learning lessons of equality? In addition to setting an example of equality for children, we should also be striving to live equitably with the women in our lives.
Make Changes in Your Community
- First, and it is not a small thing, be a present dad. Visit kindergarten, take your kids to the daycare center or the playground, and go to meetings with teachers and other parents at school. In short, show that dads are parents, too.
- Don’t reinforce major gender differences between children. That means letting your son wear pink and your daughter wear blue. It means inviting your daughters to play the same games as you play with your sons. Don’t buy into the fear that doing so will somehow make your son into less of a man or your daughter into less of a woman.
- Change your language. Think critically about the message you send when you say things like “boys will be boys,” “be a lady,” “man up,” “boys don’t cry,” and so on.
- Ask your wife if she thinks the two of you are living in an equal relationship, and try not to be defensive if her response isn’t what you would hope.
- Make a list of the “homework” to see who is doing what and how many hours. This is especially important if you both work. Too many women end up working full-time in the workplace AND at home.
In addition to making changes to our own behaviors and in our own families, we can also be leaders in our communities. There are small ways in which we can begin to lead our communities toward gender equality.
Small Changes That Pay Dividends
- Find ways to challenge jokes about women, people of color, and sexual minorities that reinforce negative stereotypes. It is too easy for people to assume that we agree with them if we are silent or play along.
- Help women if you see that someone is rude or harassing them. Don’t assume that it isn’t your problem or that someone else will intervene.
- Encourage other men to change the way they think about women and gender. To many men, gender inequality is like water to a fish—they may live in it but never think about. We can be leaders by providing the push other men may need to begin transforming their own lives.
- Show your “soft” emotions, not just that you can become angry or aggressive. When you show those emotions it gives others permission to do so, too.
- Read books written by women and recommend them to your male friends. This is an important step in learning to listen to and respect women’s voices.
These actions might seem small, but they create a new atmosphere around you that is not only more supportive of women and girls, but also allows men and boys to be more honest about who they are and how they feel. How we behave is important because kids, family, friends, women, and other men look at us, just as we look at them, to know what the norms and values around us should be. And, most importantly, what we do counts far more than what we say.
Further, as you become that effective role model, other men will follow. There are more men out there that are tired of trying to fit the mold of a “real man” then you might think. Trust me, I have interviewed hundreds of them!
Piece of cake? Not really. Don’t be surprised if you face some resistance from other men in your life, but don’t let that stop you. Far more men are waiting for someone to take the lead and show them that making these changes is possible. Both in Sweden and in the United States!
Lars is a trained psychologist and a senior partner with the Swedish consultant company Edcolby AB (www.edcolbyltd.com). He has written four books, two of which have been translated into English, Confessions of a Sexist (2008), and Your Career in Your Hands (2011).