For the past few days, I have been watching the Women’s Leadership Institute 2010 hashtag (#WLI10). In the beginning, I was just lurking and watching from afar. But then I started to comment and Re-Tweet a few of them. At the urging of @EricStoller, I started “shouting it from the roof tops” that I was really enjoying watching and learning.
The idea of “hiding” my interest in the topic got me thinking; how do I support gender equality on a day to day basis? As the title suggests, it is not enough for women to be the only ones fighting for gender equality (along with a play on a historical symbol of feminism). This isn’t just a women’s issue, it is a human issue.
I have to admit, prior to about 6 months ago, this question didn’t really enter into my mind. I thought I was enlightened, I supported equality, of course women are equal to men, its 2010 after all. That all changed when I arrived at my current position. When you are directly responsible for a 300 bed all-male hall, and a 120 bed all-female hall, you are in the trenches of the gender equality battle. Looking back, I am thankful I was placed here, because it opened up my eyes to an issue that I can no longer afford to stay silent on and not work towards on a daily basis.
Thankfully, I have a supervisor that encourages me to address issues like this. So I began to develop a program with the goal of fostering alternative views of masculinity in my all-male hall. Now, while that may seem counter-intuitive to support equality by fostering masculinity, I can assure you it is not. This was an incredibly well thought our program, in which participants would examine the social construction of masculinity and develop their own idea and identity at the end, devoid of external pressure and a view that valued women as equals (can you sense the young professional idealism present here?). After two separate attempts, I had a total of zero people show up to the programs. I still think the lesson is strong, and have the programs already thought out should the opportunity present itself.
My next idea was to work with the Bystander Intervention program we have at my institution, Green Dot. My initial interest came from hazing prevention and the role bystanders play in that, but it grew the more I found out about the potential of these programs. It was as if a light bulb went off over my head.
The way to stop gender inequality is to stop watching it happen and say something about it. If one of my students makes an off-color joke about gender, I talk to them about it afterwards. I make an example of myself, and point out that I enjoy cooking, baking, and an occasional romantic comedy not featuring Seth Rogan. I watch my own language and don’t use terms like “rule of thumb”, “man up”, or other phrases like that (I still do have the bit of Philly in me that says “You Guys” when addressing a group, nobody is perfect).
Just being aware that I have the ability and responsibility to promote gender equality has made me feel more comfortable addressing it. Even my “failed” program on masculinity has created an opportunity for people to come talk to me about gender issues on campus. From that, I was also asked to submit a program proposal for the Southwestern Black Leadership Conference, something that I never thought I would have the opportunity to do.
I am in no ways an expert in this, but the important thing to remember in promoting equality is that you don’t need to be an expert to help. As they say in the Green Dot program, no one needs to do everything, but everyone needs to do something.
So how about it, how are you working to promote gender equality in your day to day interactions?