Note to male feminists: We don’t need you to be a “Champion for Women” during Women’s History Month. We need you to be a champion for humans every day. We need you to fight for equal rights for all women, men, and gender-nonconforming individuals. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do.
Since the beginning of the 2016 Presidential Primary, I started to see more than a few articles quoting certain men who call themselves Champions of Women or Champions of Working Families, from our President “Grab ‘Em by the Pussy” Donald Trump to alleged sexual harasser and Southern California labor leader Mickey Kasparian. Yesterday, President Trump spoke at the White House’s Women’s Empowerment Panel. “Only by enlisting the full potential of women in our society will we be truly able to ― you have not heard this expression before ― make America great again.” Who knew that the President was such a well-versed male feminist? Where is this champion on the objectification, exploitation, and harassment of female marines on the Marines United scandal? [Crickets.] Well, we can always look to his 2013 tweet about women in the military and military sexual assault for some guidance: “What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together??” Oh, that’s right.
Do you know what a champion for women or a champion for feminism does? A champion sets the company’s board or the administration’s cabinet to be 50/50 women. Half of the appointments to Los Angeles City Commissions made by Mayor Eric Garcetti are women. Mayor Garcetti understands that a government that reflects its people, of which more than 50 percent are women, is more able to understand and respond to the needs of its people. Real efforts demonstrate intent.
But, by declaring yourself a champion for women you risk re-creating the “knight in shining armor” allure of being that one guy who stands up in the crowd to make way for the lady in the room. Now don’t confuse my words. I am a strong supporter of UN Women’s HeForShe initiative and helped create the 2015 #TeamHeForShe social media phenomenon with UN Women USNC Board Member Kristie Holmes and actress and social justice advocate Rowan Blanchard.
Together, we reached tens of millions of mostly tweens and teens and helped launch a conversation about gender equality with the newest change agents in our world. But gender equality isn’t about saving the girl; it’s about being an ally for your friend because your friend is a human.
Women don’t need men to come in on white horses to save the world for us. We need allies with power and influence, regardless of gender, to recognize and fight for the common goals of equality for all. Equal pay for women increases the income of a family, the income of a community, and yes, even the GDP of an entire nation. This morning, a New York Times Op-Ed evaluates how American millennial men (ages 18-34) think about the role of women in their lives.
Even though public opinion in this demographic is strongly in support of paid maternity and paternity leave, do millennial men prefer stay-at-home wives? If you are one of those millennial men, I’d be honest with yourself now before you go and falsely advocate for the alternative. It’s one thing to encourage your girlfriend to fight for a raise; it’s another to make sure policies are in place after you have a child, from paid family leave to flexible schedules so she can succeed at her job and you can be a part of those first few years of life.
I serve on a local Democratic club’s board. I noticed that a panel about the results and impact of the November 2016 election included no women. I spoke up and we added qualified women to the panel. It’s actually easy to do. Just say: “Did you notice there are no women on the proposed panel?” I wonder if anyone raised that question before last year’s mid-December animation panel about the new princess. Were any women in that decision-making room? As Geena Davis has emphasized, anyone can move towards gender equality in an instant.
Say something and not something clouded in subtle misogyny. Have you noticed how you talk about women with your friends and family? Media plays a big role, as highlighted in the decades-long efforts by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Miss Representation, and others with efforts like #AskHerMore. This issue played itself out during the full 2016 Presidential election cycle with stark contrasts in the language used by media to describe the male and female candidates.
On a micro-level, social media has thousands of examples of men who are rejected on dating sites and immediately call the women “whore,” “skank,” “basic,” etc. There’s even an Instagram account, Bye Felipe, dedicated to these insults. Need additional information to study: watch Saturday Night Live’s skit about a woman meeting some “male feminists” in a bar. Newsflash: If you are a guy and have reacted like that about a woman, you are #NotAFeminist.
So feminist dudes: I encourage you to make one of your post-Women’s History Month resolutions “Equality for All.” It’s up to each of us to be a champion and to speak up for those who are underrepresented or impacted by an injustice. I hope men and women are raising their sons and daughters to speak up for all human beings, not just the son for the girl because she’s a lady and needs his help. We should all speak up when we see injustice because it’s the right thing to do. This fight is necessary for the survival of our nation, from the living room to the board room. And you don’t have to call yourself a feminist to do that.
Barbi Appelquist is an alumna of Barnard College, the all-women’s college of Columbia University, and serves on the boards of a variety of organizations that support gender equality. Follow her on Twitter: @appelgardner