Gender equality is a responsibility for all men, argues blogger and consultant Robert Franken—yet men still seem to have a problem bearing that responsibility. The following was adapted from Franken’s speech at the 2018 iphiGENIA Gender Design Award ceremony in Cologne, Germany, on November 8, 2018.
I am an activist of privilege. I am a 45-year-old white, heterosexual, cisgender male living in Germany. You can’t be more privileged than I am in this world, even if you tried very, very hard. And this is the number one reason it took me so long to realize that there are quite a few things going terribly wrong in this privileged world of mine.
To all the guys out there like me, here’s a piece of advice for you: You don’t need to be ashamed of your privilege—but you need to be aware of it!
Have you ever thought about your privilege? Have you ever made up your mind about how your privilege constitutes your status? It sounds good: “I am privileged.” But it’s just your personal reality. Your routine. Your norm.
You might have heard of or participated in a diversity awareness exercise. Imagine a group of people forming a line, holding hands. They’re asked questions such as, “Do you think your gender is properly represented in the media?” or “Did you have access to a full school education?” If the answer to one question is “Yes,” then the participants are asked to take a step forward.
You can also add questions where a “no” as an answer would mean a step back. And you can use very tough and challenging questions. For instance: “Have you ever been a victim of sexual harassment?”
The goal of this exercise is, of course, to challenge privilege. It helps prove that the particular group is much more heterogeneous than you might think, and that privilege sometimes leads to discrimination—and vice versa.
When the exercise is over, you ask the people standing in the back how they’re feeling. Usually they don’t feel great, because they’re confronted once again with their personal discriminatory past and/or present.
The most interesting part of this exercise, however, is how the people in the front are feeling. The people who answer “Yes” to almost every single question. They are the privileged ones—but it doesn’t seem to feel particularly good.
In fact, the people who are standing in the front usually feel extremely weird. “Weird” as in uneasy or bad. And that’s because they have just been confronted with their privilege, maybe for the very first time ever in their whole life.
So what have they been missing?
There’s so much discrimination in the world of ours that it would take ages to even come close to a summary. On a night where we are celebrating great achievements in gender design, I feel it’s quite an obligation to confront ourselves with at least some facts that are driving inequalities.
According to the latest German government gender equality report, the average gender care gap in Germany is 52.4 percent. What does that mean? This means that, on average, women are doing 87 minutes more care work per day than men. Every day. The most dramatic care gap occurs at the age of 34: Women of that age are doing more than five hours of care work every day—men only two and a half hours. This represents a care gap of more than 100%!
And why at the age of 34? Well, this is when there are children in the household. It’s as simple as that. With our family structures and our strange out-of-date attribution to motherhood, women are still a kind of a default option when it comes down to childcare.
This has to change if we really want to tackle the gender pay gap and all the other financial imbalances that follow and that have dramatic consequences.
A smart mind once coined the term “homosocial reproduction” which basically means that people hire people who are resembling themselves rather than diving into diversity. It’s a diversity horror movie with a lot of sequels. There’s not much more progress in my nation’s politics, either: More men with the name Hans have become state secretary than women.
The backlashes are everywhere, and they seem to be getting worse. A sexual predator is president of the United States of America and a sexual offender will be in the Supreme Court until his death. The Hungarian prime minister has ended gender studies programs at public universities because the government does not “consider it acceptable for us to talk about socially-constructed genders, rather than biological sexes.” An Austrian female politician has been charged with libel for calling out a male harasser because the judge doubted her evidence. The terrible stories keep on coming, day by day. Are we fighting patriarchy’s final battle? Or is “patriarchy’s dividend” so attractive that a majority of people are working on upholding its systemic paradigms?
Let’s face it: Women will not be able to initiate a turnaround here by themselves. And they shouldn’t have to. The obstacles that come with working in a sexist culture are beyond any individual’s control. Or, as writer and lawyer Ephrat Livni has argued in a recent article for Quartz: “It’s the society we operate in that needs fixing, not how we ask for money, the tone of our voices, or our outfits.”
We need to stop fixing women. In order to find a collective answer to the question, “how do we want to live and work together in the future?”, we, as men, need to live up to our responsibilities.
To me, one thing is crystal clear: men have to get moving. We have to stand up and show sustainable solidarity in the fight to end patriarchy. This fight is for our own good. The sooner we realize this, the better for us all. As Canadian author Justine Musk writes, “The enemy of feminism isn’t men. It’s patriarchy, and patriarchy is not men. It is a system, and women can support the system of patriarchy just as men can support the fight for gender equality.”
If I had something to say, I would make the diversity awareness exercise I described a monthly routine, maybe with a changing set of questions. It is so utterly important to challenge our norms and biases on a regular basis. By doing so, we train ourselves to change our perspectives. To learn to walk in other people’s shoes. To create an understanding of systems and norms and privilege and discrimination. To develop an empathic approach to diversity and inclusion.