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Yashar Ali

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The Key To Success: Be A Man

Posted: 11/22/11 12:00 PM ET

Three months ago, I launched a website, The Current Conscience, which primarily features my point-of-view and my writings about women, gender inequality, popular culture, and politics. It's also been eight months since I began actively writing about women.

In my writing, I discuss issues that brilliant women writers and commentators have already written and talked about for many years. These women are much more talented than I am, and they are the ones who actually face the issues that I address.

So, even though I am not always discussing anything new, my site has received hundreds of thousands of hits in the last month and a half, with little promotional effort on my part.

And while I know I worked hard to get here, hours and hours of endless writing and research, more all-nighters than I can count, there's an overriding element that plays into my success: I am a man.

I am a man living in a culture that has more respect for a man's voice. Somehow, when I, or other men, write about the issue of gender imbalance, the work gets more widespread attention and is more accepted by readers.

Even before I created and launched this website, I have been the beneficiary of the privilege and benefits that come with my gender, male privilege -- since birth.

I didn't go to college, but I managed to build a successful career in politics, a business with rampant and shocking sexism, even on the most progressive campaigns.

No doubt, I worked extremely hard - -often logging 19-20 hour days and sleeping 2 or 3 hours a night -- for a very long time. But that's all I had to do: work hard. I didn't have to come up against bias or judgments about my opinions; I didn't have to deal with people ignoring me or taking me for granted. I just had to work hard. It's a fairly simple formula, one that women don't usually benefit from.

In the past few years, there's been a boatload of books, shows, and commencement speeches encouraging women to "work hard and ask for what they want" at work. These comments are based on what is considered a confidence gap with respect to women in the workplace.

It's a bunch of bullshit.

Yeah that's right, ladies. That's what's been missing this whole time! You haven't been working hard enough -- you just have to ask for what you want and your bosses will hand it to you! It's that easy!

Are they kidding? Sure, being more assertive can help women in certain circumstances, but the concept of "ask and ye shall receive" does not, to this day, exist for women in the same way as it does for men.

If all it takes is working hard and asking for what you want, there wouldn't be the depressing statistics about women and success in corporate and political America. According to the 2010 Catalyst Census of Women Executive Officers, which counts the number of women in upper management in Fortune 500 companies, women hold only 19.1 percent of the executive offices in the finance and insurance industries. Out of all the Fortune 500 companies, only 13 of them have women CEOs. Out of 50 U.S. governors, only 6 are women. And the United States Congress counts less than twenty percent of its members as women.

This gender imbalance issue isn't just related to women who are trying to climb to the top of the corporate ladder; women across all the job sectors are prevented from even having an opportunity simply because they are born women. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), pregnancy discrimination complaints increased by 53 percent, from 1997 to 2010. If employers are discriminating against women who are pregnant and discriminating against women because of the possibility of pregnancy, how can women secure the right job so they can put themselves on the path to success?

The statistics are even starker on the international level, with women holding only 11.7 percent of the seats in the world's parliaments. And to offer a statistic every woman, in every country, who reads this column can relate to: women comprise of 70 percent of the world's poor.

These numbers clearly fail to match up to the wide and proficient skill sets wielded by women. And they also fail to match up to the hard work and commitment women put into their careers and work.

I don't believe that women lack the mettle to succeed. What I am suggesting is that women are forced to meet a higher bar: They not only have to work harder than men, but they also have to push against our deeply ingrained patriarchy ... while often carrying a much bigger burden at home than men.

While this issue is not new to anyone who reads feminist writing and anyone involved in academia, the concept of male privilege is still on the fringes in our gender discourse. In the mainstream, we wouldn't dream of openly discussing and acknowledging male privilege.

Why?

We all live in a patriarchy. Any concept diminishing a man's success is obviously going to be maligned and not discussed or acknowledged. But, I also think the problem lies in the reality that a lot of good men out there can't imagine how they have greatly benefited from male privilege. They haven't mistreated women in the work place, they've supported women in their professional and private lives, so why should they admit to something so terrible as their success being boosted dramatically by their gender?

Gender bias is not compartmentalized in our culture; the benefits of discriminating against women don't just exist for the men who actively discriminate them. So, if we men don't acknowledge that we all get an extra boost because of our sex -- we are essentially saying that gender bias doesn't exist.

And for those of us who are willing to acknowledge that gender discrimination even exists, we tend to see it as something suffered by women -- that it is just an aggressive act against them. We think that we only have to combat the aggressor in order to solve the problem.

We must recognize that we are the beneficiaries of that discrimination. We need to see gender discrimination as a regressive act against women, and as a result, a progressive act for us.

So, no matter how good we are, no matter how much we respect women, the same biases the women in our lives struggle with and fight against, are the biases fueling our success.

How can we fix this gender imbalance if we don't first look around our own lives and see and acknowledge the reality: yes, I move faster in my career because I'm a man, I didn't have to sacrifice nearly as much because I'm a man, it's easier for me than for my woman counterparts (if you have any) and colleagues. Who did I pass on the way here? How can I stop this from happening in my own life? Have I done everything I can to speak out against gender bias in my workplace and life, especially with men?

But that's hard -- the male ego is so fragile, isn't it? Women are much better at admitting to the conditions of their successes.

Before publishing my work, I usually ask a few friends to be sounding boards for my columns -- they serve as a focus group of sorts. Most of my "focus group" opposed this idea of my writing about the nature of success for men and women.

"Have some confidence," a friend of mine admonished me.

"Saying your success is based on the fact that you're a man totally diminishes all you have put into your work," said another.

I'm not saying we should be in the business of looking at every man and telling him, "You only have your success because you are a man."

Nor am I suggesting that we men should feel guilty about the success we've attained, not at all. What I want to advocate is that we have a responsibility to look around and think about what got us to where we are.

What would it say about my confidence if my sense of self were based on ignoring the fact that I have been the beneficiary of male privilege?

I think it shows a shocking lack of confidence on my part if I weren't able to say, "Yes, I had some help getting here, a lot of help, and I am here partially because women have not benefited from the same boost my gender allows for me. I am here because of what women have sacrificed for too long."

I'm proud of my success, I worked for it, but not all of it. Many people, especially women, have helped me become successful in life. And I am not an isolated case. Women have been the bulwark and support system for men to become successful.

It's only with the power of acknowledgement about the realities women face in our world that we can start to balance this inequity. But as long as we men pretend our successes are solely based on our hard work and talent and nothing else, we are contributing to the gender bias in which women get the short end of the stick.

So, I have no fear in acknowledging the three words my mother and father heard on Thanksgiving Day, in 1979, played a really big part in my success and instantly put me in a position to succeed: "It's a boy."

And that's why I keep writing what I write. Because it just doesn't make sense that it should be this way.


I hope you will join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

This piece originally appeared on The Current Conscience.

No matter how good we are, no matter how much we respect women, the biases the women in our lives struggle against are the same biases fueling our success.

 

Follow Yashar Ali on Twitter: www.twitter.com/yashar