Equality For Women Does Not Mean Oppression For Men
You can’t be oppressed when another group is merely gaining rights you exclusively acquired by default decades ago.
I recall a conversation I was having with two senior managers about Corporate Australia’s shift to focus on cultural diversity within its leadership ranks. One of them was a woman of Asian Australian heritage; the other, a colleague of hers, a man of Anglo-Celtic origin.
It was in the context of this discussion, in which the man turns to her and says: “There you go, another leg up for people like you”.
The shocked and hurt look on her face will be permanently etched into my memory. She didn’t say a word but I couldn’t let that go. I responded: “When you extend a hand to someone who for too long has been walking in the gutter, while you’re comfortably strolling the streets, that’s not a leg up or a hand out – it’s simply levelling the playing field”.
And then I did a Wonder Woman pose and walked off. Okay, so the last part didn’t happen.
That man’s remarks, it turns out, whilst fairly brazen, are not uncommon.
According to a new landmark study from the 50/50 Foundation at the University of Canberra, while 88 percent of Australians agree that gender equality is still a problem, 46 percent of the men surveyed believe that the adopted measures do not take men into account or, put another way, they feel like their man-given rights are being eroded.
It’s no surprise of course, because “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” (Quote by unknown).
But you can’t be oppressed when another group is merely gaining rights, you exclusively acquired, by default, decades ago. Perhaps the trepidation some men are feeling is because they fear that they will be treated how women have been treated for centuries?
Needless to say, the report findings fuelled the usual debate across social media.
As one Twitter user put it to me (let’s call him ‘David’ for now) “… how can you expect millennial males to suffer discrimination for the wrongs of history, which they did not commit?”
What you’re really saying is that you want the system to continue to operate in an unjust manner which advantages men over women because it’s not your individual fault that David, Peter and John built a system which advantages other Davids, Peters and Johns. I didn’t select those names randomly – there are fewer women in top jobs than there are actual Davids, Peters and Johns.
What you’re really saying is that you’ve found a large bag of money which doesn’t belong to you, but you’re just going to hang on to it, instead of returning it the authorities.
Balancing the gender equality scales is not a historical issue nor is it about punishing one gender over another. It’s not about attributing fault. It’s not about revenge. It’s about justice - pure and simple.
The injustices and barriers to full equality are still flourishing today and the barriers are amplified for women from minority groups who have to face not only a glass ceiling, but a double glazed one at that. And no, they are not lacking in merit. That argument was blown out of the water long ago.
Countless studies have shown how unconscious institutional bias operates to advantage men, and particularly those of an Anglo-Celtic background. How else do you explain that once “blind” (or a better term, ‘anonymous’) recruitment practices were adopted, the chances of women advancing to key positions were exponentially increased?
Whether it’s musicians in orchestras or executives in boardrooms, remove the bias creating attributes of human beings, like their gender, race, sexuality, etc. and the pendulum seems to swing towards equality.
And is it not ironic that those who claim that their selections are based on merit tend to hire people just like them? Affinity bias is an actual thing, you know.
You can’t argue that you have more merit when all you have are more privileges. If you, whether advertently or inadvertently threw a cover over one side of a newly planted garden bed, which resulted in sunlight and rain water not reaching them, curtailing their growth, you can’t claim that the other side of the garden bed, which produced healthier and taller flowers, are just of a better, more meritorious variety.
Here’s the thing, you can’t address inequality equally. In order to tip the scales of equality back to balance, the side weighing it down must return to a state of equilibrium.
Throughout history, humanity has sought to right historical wrongs. Sometimes you have to give your seat up on the bus and sit further back because it’s the right thing to do.
And at that point, the question is not, ‘why I am not getting the unearned privileges I was previously afforded by virtue of my gender’?
The question is, why does my fellow human being not have access to the same equitable opportunities and privileges that I’ve had access to and continue to benefit from?
Mariam Veiszadeh is a Diversity & Inclusion Consultant and did a TEDx talk on Rethinking Privilege.