We need more men to speak up against sexism. Here’s how.
Posting strong opinions on a networking platform like Linkedin is typically frowned upon. Truth be told, it’s why I find the professional networking platform a tad uninspiring.
Lately, I’ve seen a spark of emotion in my usually anodyne Linkedin feed. An uptick in posts deploring sexism as the country grapples with Brittany Higgins’ allegations, the treatment of Christine Holgate and the courage of Australian of the Year, Grace Tame.
It is typically female voices that call for change, when it comes to sexual assault, violence against women and the broader gender debate.
But these posts are not coming from women alone.
As I scroll through my feed, I see more male faces and names calling for change. In some cases, calling out other commentators who express denial or deflection through ‘whataboutism’.
Am I allowed to quietly feel hopeful that more men are starting to ‘get it’? As I did when I watched the many men who marched in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of women at the March4Justice rallies?
According to Barrister David Talintyre, who is a member of the Linkedin group ‘MankindAus’, perhaps I can.
“I realised that I needed to speak up after the Dyson Heydon scandal last year. I had known and witnessed other senior figures of the Bench and Bar acting inappropriately towards women throughout my whole career and felt ashamed that my silence made me complicit,” David said.
Complicity and a desire to do better are recurring themes in the group created by diversity expert Coleen MacKinnon and ‘healthy masculinity’ advocate Rob Sturrock. Here they invite men to reflect on the current national conversation around sexual harassment and to personally commit to action.
“I have committed to use my skillset in advocacy to expose the problem wherever I see it and invite people to address it, either in person or via other means of communication.
“But I’m not naïve enough to assume such an entrenched cultural problem will not take considerable time and effort to reduce. Men don’t speak up because they’re scared to. Simple as that. We are tribal, hierarchical creatures, watching one another for cues on how to behave,” said David.
Last week, a report from global non-profit organisation Catalyst, said men with high levels of ‘masculine anxiety’ – the fear of not living up to societal ‘rules’ about masculinity – are less likely to speak up against sexism.
Workplaces with highly ‘combative’ cultures are particularly an issue, where masculine anxiety was found to be higher. In these cultures, 61% of men said they would do nothing if their colleague made a sexist comment.
“Once men are given the chance to understand the source of sexist beliefs and behaviors in our culture, and the harmful impact they have on both themselves and on others, they are more likely to defy them,” says Coleen who says there is a strong correlation between men who are comfortable defying traditional masculine norms and those who speak up against sexism.
“Countless research tells us that boys who subscribe to these stereotypes are more likely to suffer low mood, to self-harm and to be accepting of violence. So, the sooner we can move to a more expansive model of masculinity, the better it will be for all of us,” she said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by David.
“I think more men are questioning traditional masculine paradigms and realising they don’t need to conform to them. That is a powerful societal shift, which gives me some hope for real change,” he said.
According to Amanda Webb, CEO of Xplore for Success, women’s anger at the lack of meaningful action to address sexual assault, violence against women and inequality between the sexes – while justified – also causes men to remain silent.
“Some men tell us they are fearful of saying the wrong thing; that clumsy attempts to articulate a personal epiphany at just how bad things are for women could be met with the wrath of justifiably impatient women who have argued the same point for decades.
“For others, the fear comes from a darker place; the uncomfortable revelation that their own behaviour during ‘different times’ could be questionable, or worse, publicly called out.
“And while our anger is absolutely justified, I really do believe that if we don’t reduce the rage to a simmer, it will stop more men from joining the conversation. Pushing them away in anger won’t help,” Amanda said.
I recently attended a women’s networking event as a guest of Amanda’s, who also filled two tables with men from her network. I swept tears off my face as I listened to Grace Tame talk about the “enormous catalytic potential of positive energy”, while warning us not to be “goaded into anger”.
And as I looked around at male faces listening to her words with such intent, I wondered too about the enormous catalytic potential of men standing with women against sexism.
This article first appeared in Women’s Agenda.
Look out for FINSIA's latest Gender Divide Survey later this month.