Fortunately, more and more people are beginning to understand the true definition of feminism and are openly identifying with it. The recent news of the sexual harassment allegations surrounding prominent members of parliament and the media demonstrates that women are speaking up, whilst also signifying that the need to discuss women’s issues is more important now than ever before.
While it’s easy to accept that gender inequality is a very real issue, I have often come across people who are unsure how they can promote these values in their daily life. More often than not it is men who are unaware of how to practically support feminism. Ultimately, both men and women who support gender equality in theory can be unsure of how to apply this in practice.
It is not enough to simply disapprove of gender inequality
This is unsurprising given that part of being socialised into a patriarchal society can be failing to recognise how men are placed an advantage and women are inherently at a disadvantage. Central to the idea of privilege is that we don’t recognise we have it because we are far less likely to be the victim of disadvantages. For example, I have never had a problem with locating and purchasing plasters that are my skin tone, therefore never knew that this was a problem for anyone else.
Society teaches us the self-protecting ‘bad apple’ view; that sexism only exists in the minds of a few ‘bad apples’ via individual acts such as sexual assault. As the problem is perceived to be a safe distance away, this lulls us into a false sense of complacency. Whilst it’s good that you haven’t been accused of sexual harassment, this alone does not void you of any responsibility.
Central to the idea of privilege is that we don’t recognise we have it because we are far less likely to be the victim of disadvantages
In fact, sexism is a lot more complex and far-reaching. It is held up by institutions in society and through a bias present in all of us. This article will only focus on the latter. Addressing your inherent bias as an individual is the first step towards making a difference.
The ‘bad apple’ perspective we are taught makes it more difficult to recognise sexism. It is not enough to simply disapprove of gender inequality. We have to consciously and personally think about how, directly and indirectly, our actions contribute to gender inequality and then implement positive steps to combat this in our everyday lives.
How do you do this? Well, you’re in the right place; here are my top 10 suggestions. As a disclaimer, this list is by no means exhaustive, since as I am writing from the position of a 21 year-old white, heterosexual female living in the UK. Experiences and opinions of sexism are different for everyone. Any other suggestions are welcome!
1. Don’t be a bystander to informal instances of sexism
The emphasis here is on ‘informal’ as these are often the instances that go unnoticed because they seem like they don’t matter, yet have a profound ability to normalise sexism. Next time you hear someone make a joke about, for example, sexual violence, don’t be afraid to call him or her up on it, even on social media. It’s not enough to think it’s wrong; let them know that it’s wrong.
For more on why sexist jokes aren’t jokes – see here (#plug)
2. Ensure that some of your role models are women
This is particularly important given that the presence of women as credible leaders in society is still minimal.
Female role models are key to overcoming stereotypes; women can be sporting heroes, successful businesswomen and great engineers.
3. Educate yourself on gender equality issues
Given the amount of hurdles women have to overcome, feminism is, quite rightly, a movement promoting primarily women’s progress. However, this does not mean that the burden of educating society on the importance of gender issues should rest solely on women. Both sexes need to understand the meanings, manifestations and solutions to gender equality.
Since gender inequality affects women on a daily basis, surprise surprise, there are thousands of resources available to help you. Just Google it. Also take the opportunity to utilise perhaps the greatest resource of them all – listen to the voices of 50% of the population. Women can readily describe how misogyny feels.
4. Recognize that feminism benefits everyone, not just women
Feminism is not just a woman’s issue; it’s a human one. As a man, you can consider how gender stereotypes might be affecting you in your everyday life. For example, breaking down traditional stereotypes of masculinity will give men permission to fully express emotions such as fear and sadness. See this insightful article about how the high rate of male suicides should be seen as a gender issue.
Feminism will also have a positive impact on people who identify as non-binary as well as the LGBT Community. Why? Because ultimately we are fighting for feminine traits to be treated as valuable. Gender should be seen as a spectrum, with everyone possessing varying degrees of masculinity and femininity, rather than two opposing ideals.
5. Consume products and services created by women
Whatever your passion; sports, Bollywood cinema or bird watching, ensure that women’s voices are represented in what you are consuming. If they are not, make an effort to seek them out.
Women comprised just 7% of all directors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2016, which results in overwhelmingly male stories. Women are more likely to make films with female protagonists (not just the damsel in distress), include less gender stereotypes, and avoid over-sexualising women. Seeking out female creations helps to encourage their existence. We must all realise the effect that the products of our culture play in shaping our perceptions of gender.
6. Be conscious of the language you use to describe women
If you ever hear anyone telling a girl or boy that they are playing football ‘like a girl’, question why this is perceived as synonymous for playing badly. When complementing women, try not to focus on their appearance before you tell them they are clever, funny, ambitious…
7. Actively support the women in your life
Girls’ sports participation decreases sharply at age 14. Encouraging them to keep it up can have huge benefits for their health and confidence later on. You can support the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign aiming to do just that.
Proactively praise the qualities and accomplishments of women in your life to them and others. Both men and women; help your female friends to network and recommend them for projects and jobs.
8. Educate yourself about sexual consent
Ensure there is clear, unambiguous communication of consent in all your sexual relationships.
9. Befriend women
If you don’t have any female friends, figure out why and then make some. Relating to one another is going to be nothing but useful in trying to achieve a more equal society for all.
10. Finally, when a woman tells you something is sexist, believe her.