“I thought y’all wanted to be equal!”
This was a response from a friend sparked by a conversation where I said one of the reasons women take longer to leave the house is because they have to carry more. (There are perfectly logical reasons why we have to hurl more stuff but we’ll leave that conversation for another day.)
Jolted, my first reaction; surprise, then anger (more infuriated) and finally saddened. Why? Because at that moment, I realized the following misconception about gender equality to some (and maybe the majority of people, especially men):
- Women have to be exactly the same physically and mentally to be treated equally – same physical attributes, same behaviors socially, and same biological and reproductive systems. Did this mean because men can’t be pregnant and give birth they should be treated differently? Are they inferior to women for their inability to carry and bring a child to life? Do we have to produce both estrogen and testosterone to be treated equally?
I was so taken aback by this statement and the realization when most boys and men (both young and old) hear “gender equality” they think that women are asking to be physically, emotionally, biologically, socially, and physiologically the same. Even more troubling was by having this view, they’re more likely to tune out anything they hear or read about gender equality because in their minds women could never be like them.
It reaffirmed my belief we’re never going to win the fight for equality as long as young boys and men lack the understanding of gender equality.
It became clear to me that it is our responsibility as women to help them understand it so they can care about it and become not just empathetic but compassionate. It’s the only path to change for us and future generations of women.
How did we get here? Mostly falsehoods and lack of knowledge. There are many things used to justify and push back on gender equality:
- Men are physically stronger
- Men bring in more money. Women are more in professions that pay less. But what about when they’re not in these professions? Statistics show many women are earning more than their partners and in some instances becoming the breadwinners. Sadly, the inequality extends to the home; even while becoming breadwinners, women still end up doing the bulk of chores and unpaid work in the home. In her book Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates explains that women do 7 years on average of unpaid work. That is time they could be using to get more education and advance their careers.
- More people watch men’s games than women’s games. This argument drives us nuts! Since when did quantity trump quality? Should we discard short books and only read long ones because surely they must be better? Think U.S. soccer team or tennis (though, through the fearless efforts of Venus Williams, the pay for the latter is now equal for all major tournaments.) The women’s soccer team has won the World Cup 4 times. The men’s team, never! And don’t get us started with “they bring in more money” argument!
- Women are just not good enough
- Women don’t ask for what they want
- Men are better investors or with money, which we countered in our personal financial workshop earlier this year!
We have to reframe the narrative to dispel these misconceptions by making sure that EVERYONE, especially men and boys understand what gender equality really means. So what is it?
The Oxford dictionary defines it as:
The state in which access to rights or opportunities is unaffected by gender.
Pretty straight forward right! There is no mention of gender equality having anything to do with men and women being the same. It has everything to do with men and women having the same RIGHTS & OPPORTUNITIES.
How can we teach this pretty simple principle to everyone, especially to boys and young men so they can become champions for it and our allies?
First, we have to use facts. Second, we must help boys and men see and understand the benefits and impact of gender equality in their own lives. Essentially, we have to get them to care.
But how, you might ask? We tackle the second challenge first by answering these basic questions to guide them along:
- What impact will it have on me and my family? Studies have shown that when women do better, their families do better too. There is more peace, economies are healthier, companies do better, relationships thrive, and children are healthier and happier.
- How does it impact my community? Stats show when you educate a girl, you empower her entire community because she will not only invest in herself and her children, but also in her community.
- What are the global implications? Something as simple as showing the impact educating girls can have on climate change could be a catalyst for change because it is relatable to everyone.
“An extra year of secondary school can increase wages by up to 25%…Women invest up to 90% of their income back into their family, compared to the average 30-40% that men invest back into their households.” – UNESCO
Now that we’ve established the questions we need to answer to get boys and men to care about gender equality, how can we apply the facts to drive the message home?
Did you know the average length of time it will take to close the global gender gap is 108 years! Yeah, my jaw dropped too! And for the U.S. a whopping 208 years! It’s safe to say we (including our daughters, our daughters’ daughters, their daughters…and many more generations to come) will NOT witness the change in our lifetime at the current rate! We should mention there are countries making strides. Just for kicks, could you guess who is at the top of the list? (Tell us in comments.)
What will it take to accelerate change? According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018, there are four economic pillars crucial to closing this gap:
- Economic opportunity – the need for more women to be represented in the workforce. Change can only happen if we address the issues impacting women, including the effects of automation, under-representation in STEM, and infrastructure required to help women return to the workforce, such as childcare and eldercare. We also have to recognize the role unpaid work plays in denying women economic opportunity. In her book ” The Moment of Lift” Melinda Gates urges us to find a way to reduce the amount of unpaid labor that women do across the globe.
- Political Empowerment – women need to be able to sustain their leadership roles in politics
- Educational Attainment – far too many girls are still out of school. We must continue to champion for educating ALL girls across the globe!
- Health and Survival – we must provide the health services women need to survive and thrive (go to school, get a job, start a business, etc.) This means ensuring access to contraception and maternal health, immunizations, good nutrition and other critical health services.
214 million women across the world are asking for contraceptives – women want to have the choice of when and how many children to have (if at all.) – The Moment of Lift Book Tour
On average 7 years of unpaid labor (90 days in the U.S, 5 hours in India!) That’s time a woman could be going to college, starting a business, or doing something with . a return on her investment that improves her well being. – The Moment of Lift Book Tour
As the facts clearly indicate gender equality has NOTHING to do with women wanting to be the same as men anatomically, physically, emotionally or otherwise. ALL we are asking is to be afforded the same RIGHTS and OPPORTUNITIES as men so we can make a positive impact to our families, communities, and world.
Please help us spread the word by sharing this blog with your friends, family, and colleagues so we can all collectively understand the meaning of gender equality and work together (girls, boys, women, men alike) to lessen the gender gap.
Want to read up more on gender equality and become part of the change? Check out our latest read below from our gapmuse Bookshelf:
I leave you with this beautiful note I received from Melinda Gates after I attended her “Moment of Lift” book tour. I hope it will inspire you to commit to the lift and to help us accelerate change so women are treated fairly and equally in our lifetime.