Let's Make The World More Equal
Ok, so your friend’s just been to the doctors, and you say something like, “What did he say?”, only to be told, “Actually I saw a female doctor.” This is a classic example of ‘unconscious gender bias’.
We all do it. It might seem like a small thing, but the words we use have a big impact on how we see ourselves and others. The more mindful we can be, the more we can challenge gender stereotypes and fulfil our potential.
SO, WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Our brains make decisions quickly
Programmed to work as quickly as possible, our brains use all the information they’ve acquired over the years to make assumptions. Everything from road signs to common phrases can inform our decisions without us even realising. Take the ‘green man’ as an example, this could influence how you (and your subconscious) see gender.
We can only go on the information we have...
No one can deny the fact that Daenerys Targaryen takes no prisoners, but sadly we still don’t see enough women in movies and TV. If women in roles of power aren’t widely represented in the media, then we’re less likely to recall them. Fact.
In 2015, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media completed the first global study of gender depictions in film, analysing 120 blockbusters. The results are unbelievable. For speaking or named characters, males made up 69% of the cast, while only 10% of the films studied had a gender-balanced cast. Add to this the fact that only 18% of biographical articles on Wikipedia are about women and it’s clear that the media needs to catch up.
Men aren’t represented fairly either
Yes, we see more of men, but they’re often judged against cliched traits. In Kristen Pressner’s Ted Talk she explains how ‘strong’, ‘driven’ and ‘assertive’ are consistently considered masculine, while being ‘supportive’, ‘helpful’ and ‘emotional’ are thought of as feminine. None of these words should have negative connotations, and limiting them to one gender or the other can lead to damaging stereotypes.
Women can of course be described as strong, while men should feel proud to be described as supportive and sensitive. Gender equality goes both ways and these characteristics need to be interchangeable.
Just as we need to see the likes of Daenerys, we also need Queer Eye’s Fab Five! They challenge what it means to be a man in today’s world, showcasing how men can be strong, emotionally intelligent and stylish.
HOW CAN YOU MAKE POSITIVE CHANGE?
Expressions like ‘grow a pair’, ‘such a girl’ and ‘drama queen’ may be used as banter but let’s face it, they don’t benefit anyone. Do your best to avoid these derogatory gendered expressions. Catch yourself (and others) and think about other more empowering phrases you could introduce instead.
The first step is noticing – Twitter account @manwhohasitall calls people out when they’ve said something that has gender bias, by flipping the roles. For example, “To all men and boys! It's actually OKAY to throw like a boy. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Some boys can throw quite far!”. Think you’ve overheard something that doesn’t sound right? Flip it to test it and help others realise this too.
Comedian Robert Webb, musician James McVey and actor Billy Porter are all doing their bit to challenge society too. Webb’s book ‘How Not To Be a Boy’ dedicates chapters to the numerous ‘boy rules’ that informed his upbringing. He challenges mantras like, ‘boys love sport’, ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘men don’t need therapy’.
While James McVey from The Vamps has been speaking up about ‘toxic masculinity’ on social media. And if you haven’t already admired Billy Porter’s statement Oscars outfit, then what are you waiting for?
Equal representation isn’t there yet, but we’re making progress. From big stuff like Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech at the UN, to (seemingly trivial) things like a family hitting the news with their ‘snow women’ creation, it all goes a long way in shifting people's perceptions.
As you move into the world of work, it’ll be reassuring to know you’re on a more level playing field. ‘Gender bias awareness’ programmes are being introduced at a number of influential companies like Google, Facebook and Coca Cola.
Together, we can create a future where everyone can feel at home, with equal rights, equal opportunities and equal value. So, all that’s left to ask is, how will you commit to positive change?
Want to act now? You could start off by joining HeForShe’s campaign. Get a conversation going with your friends and family by bringing up @manwhohasitall or the snow women news feature. And if you’re all about the stats and facts, watch Kristen Pressner’s Ted Talk and Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech.