How Do Men Fit into the Equation?
By Chelsea Kania
. We fumed, we tweeted, we marched.
Lately, I’ve heard that question more times than I can count—from women feeling empowered and wanting to do more, and from men who are still processing how they fit into the equation. Whichever way you lean on your answer, I want to offer you three simple pieces of advice I’ll be taking myself.
Be "Out" as Feminist
Harvey Milk said it best, “Come out to your relatives… come out to your friends… if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors… to your fellow workers… to the people who work where you eat and shop… come out only to the people you know, and who know you.”
The tricky thing about the women’s movement is that it’s not obvious who is part of it. Not all women are feminists. A lot of men are. It’s not always clear who believes what. Men and women who advocate for women’s rights should be “out” to families, friends, and neighbors. The credibility you carry in the lives of your loved ones is the most important catalyst for this movement—better than a well-written article, better than a speech by Meryl Streep or Aziz Ansari.
What does being “out” entail? It means sharing your personal experiences. It’s pretty simple. People in your life want to empathize with you. If they understand the reasons behind your beliefs, maybe they‘ll be more open to your position. Maybe even feel inclined to support it.
I want to come out to you about what the women’s movement means to me, in the hopes that you’ll do the same with people you know. Like a lot of little girls who grew up in the nineties, I was raised to simply expect equality in the workplace. Over the years, I’ve had great male bosses and colleagues—even a few who went the extra mile to champion me as I grew in my career. I’ve been lucky.
But I also live with regular reminders of the inequalities that still exist. When I close my eyes, I see these moments vividly—a Hasidic business partner unwilling to shake my hand in front of my male colleagues, a superior telling me during a review that I could stand to “be more of a cheerleader,” that mortifying time at the company raffle when the CFO won a beach kit and held the ladies’ swimsuit up to my body to see if it was my size. Discomfort, confusion, embarrassment. These are my motivators. To me, the women’s movement means we all have an opportunity to become aware of the work left to be done to support women in our right to feel respected and to be equal in our rights. Because everyone deserves that much, including me.
This advice is perhaps the hardest to take, because it’s often wound up in raw emotion—but the ability for both men and women to articulate their viewpoints is so important for fostering the collaboration that needs to happen over the coming years. Too often when I’m caught up in a heated conversation, I end up getting my feelings out—but not my message. That’s unproductive. Better to suffer through a frustrating conversation than to part ways in anger, unwilling to listen to someone else’s point. Facebook threads are the worst offenders of this—they are graveyards of mic-drop statements where conversations go to die. Have conversations one-on-one. Listen, be thoughtful, and think before you speak. You might teach something. You might learn something.
Don’t be like me last week. Last week I had an argument with a colleague about hiring practices. He didn’t immediately see what I saw as being problematic, so I got frustrated and gave up. I didn’t have the words ready so I ruined a valuable opportunity to have a conversation with somebody who was initially willing.
Here’s my second shot at explaining that issue. I’ve witnessed a problematic hiring practice when executives hire members of their male networks into a company without an open, formal application process. While probably not maliciously done—after all, who wouldn’t like to employ their brightest and most trusted friends—this smarts of nepotism. What this does is remove opportunity for the best candidate—male or female—to interview for the job. It concerns me that just 22% of senior leadership positions in the U.S. are held by women, much less executives. How many talented women aren’t getting hired simply because there aren’t enough inner circles to go around? This is what keeps me up at night and, I hate to admit, has kept me at some jobs longer than I would have liked for fear of not being able to move freely in the hiring pool.
I wish I had the patience to give this explanation to my coworker last week. Even if the conversation continued to be frustrating, even if we left disagreeing, I’m certain it would have been more productive for both of us than leaving the room was.
Women: Don't Forget Men. Men: Don't Count Yourselves Out
Men, if I wasn’t clear in points one and two—women need you. You speak to other men. And when you do, you speak much more freely than you do with women—especially when the topic is women. You have a unique opportunity to empower women by being both “out” about your support of women, and by articulating your positions on the issues to other men. You can champion women’s rights in a way that women can’t.
I repeat, we need you.
Some of the best feminists I know are men. Many of them don’t even know it. I have eleven uncles, for example, who were some of the first human beings to make me believe that I was awesome. Each one of them is physically strong and smart with a wicked sense of humor, things that impressed and inspired me from athletics to academics. The pride and respect they showed me over the years validated my self-confidence and helped me set a high bar for myself.
Thank you, my uncles. Per my own advice, I ask you and the other wonderful men in my life to champion the other women in yours. Support your daughters and wives. Listen to them. Maybe they’ve run across some of the frustrations that I have. If they have, I know it will piss you off and make you want to do something about it. Find out where they stand on the topics of women’s rights, of workplace equalities. Bear the frustration of having these conversations, be articulate. Make it clear that these discussions are acceptable by welcoming them and by outwardly showing support for equality.
Then, talk to other men. Even if you aren’t quite sure where you stand, the conversation probably isn’t happening if you’re not having it. You ultimately are and will continue to be some of the best advocates women have, because the words you have to say are some of the most important words other men can hear. Because the words of men like you will decide the future of women like me.This piece was originally published on Medium.
Wisconsin-raised but Cali-based, Chelsea Kania is a marketing professional in San Francisco’s tech jungle. When she has time, she sometimes writes about the times.