Gender Equality: What Women Are Really Asking of MenNovember 8, 2017
Most men are not women’s rights activists. Most men are not academics who study gender equity full-time. Neither are most men hateful sexists. There are millions of men who fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. And somewhere in the middle of this middle is a group I call the “hidden demographic.”
The hidden demographic comprises men who are not oblivious. They are not in denial about the reality of sexism and gender disparities. They are actually smart, thoughtful men from all walks of life. Unfortunately, these men are largely unengaged in the conversation about gender equity and men supporting women’s leadership. This represents a huge missed opportunity.
To effect change and engage men, we need the right message, delivered to the right audience—the hidden demographic.
What Women Are Really Asking of Men
Underneath the unspoken power struggle between men and women is men’s “fear of the takeover”—the zero-sum game. But in reality, women just want the same access and opportunity that men have always had. (Straight, able-bodied, white men, that is.)
Women are not asking men to give up their manhood in order to support women leaders. Rather, they are asking for men to bring their whole selves to work so that they can show up, contribute, listen, and collaborate.
Women don’t want men to feel bad about being men. That’s not the point. It’s not just about teaching men not to be sexist and oblivious. Yes, all men have more to learn on this topic. And, yes, women want men to be respectful. But they are not asking men to be passive and silent.
Women leaders want men to be strong, but in a different way. They want men to be capable, responsible, accountable, flexible, creative, tenacious, persistent, inspiring, and collaborative. They don’t want men to shut down, shut up, and be passive. They want us to be active.
Of course, women, first and foremost, want to feel respected and heard. They want to be paid the same wages for the same work. This should all go without saying. Beyond these baseline criteria, women want men to show up honestly, sincerely, and authentically—warts and all. Men can do this and still be strong.
Just because a woman demands respect does not mean she objects to being challenged intellectually. Just because she wants a voice and a seat at the table doesn’t mean she wants to silence men. And just because a woman wants to lead doesn’t mean she wants men to step aside. All of this is to say that what women really want from men is not for them to give up their power—women want men to use their strength.
The Invitation: What’s Possible?
When talking about these ideas, I always go back to the analogy of Habitat for Humanity. It’s the idea of building something awesome together with like-minded people.
This is the essence of the invitation to men in the hidden demographic: bring your strength so we can build something together.
So what would it look like if literally millions of men took up the invitation to bring their strength to women?
When men feel strong and secure, and when they really know that women aren’t trying to take away their power, then they can let go of the power struggle. Imagine the energy that could be freed up! Men can bring that power to support women leaders, co-leading and co-creating with them.
Women, imagine what it would be like if you went in to work tomorrow and there were not just one or two, but many men who were eager to follow your lead, secure in their sense of self-worth and not threatened by your power. How would that change your experience?
Men, I can guarantee you this: If you take up this invitation to bring your strength, work with amazing women leaders, learn from them, and share your knowledge and power with them, then you will be welcomed, appreciated, and enriched—and ultimately, you will be participating a quantum leap forward that will have impact for generations to come.
It would be a sea change.
And, the thing is, it’s actually possible.
Co-Founder of FierceWomen, and author of Bring Your Strength, J.G. Boccella is an artist, musician, keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and social change catalyst with over 15 years of experience at the nexus of arts, education, and advocacy. J.G. holds a bachelor's degree from Brown University and a master's degree in education from Harvard. He is a recipient of the YWCA Pittsburgh Racial Justice in the Arts Award and has appeared at an diverse array of organizations including The Consortium for Public Education, The CORO Center for Leadership, The Mayor’s Council on Youth, Presidential Classroom, universities, corporations, high schools, churches, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached at BringYourStrength.com.