Gender Equality Is Just Plain Good For Everyone

The empowerment of women is sliding in the wrong direction these days. I tend to blame just about everything on a certain individual to the south of us and though he qualifies as a confirmed threat to the democracy and has earned the lion’s share of blame for disrespecting the entire female gender, nothing is ever gained by finger-pointing.

As I researched and read the thousands of pages about life during the fur trade, I was struck by the significant difference in culture between Indigenous people and Europeans, between then and now, beyond the obvious that is. Indigenous women played valued and essential roles in the structure of what we now call community. Tasks were gender-divided, not because of a patriarchy, but because of a differing set of skills. Our history has unequivocally relied on the writings of European men for the details, men who gave few nods of understanding to the world they were observing and even less to the role of women. Survival of Indigenous women depended upon their ability to trap small animals, to make clothing and tools, to forage, and to support one another in childbirth, which I might add they did not undertake while lying on their backs. Survival of European women, simply put, was to marry well. Survival of Indigenous men was to work in collaboration with Indigenous women. Survival of European men employed in the fur trade was to secure the assistance and wisdom of Indigenous women.

Most if not all the mass shootings and violence in this country have been directed at women. The New York Times wrote in 2019, “A Common Trait Among Mass Killers: Hatred Toward Women.” The Globe and Mail reported in 2019, “The Montreal massacre of 1989 was just one in a long line of mass killings motivated by hatred of women. How many lives could be saved if we treated them as a pattern of hate crimes?” Closer to my home, the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia was clearly fuelled by misogyny, with law enforcement ignoring the warning signs and ignoring women’s cries for help. Women have been calling for years to open the dialogue on how we can stop the violence toward women.

I recently listened to a TED Talk given by Michael Kimmel, speaking on the empowerment of women and the transformation that occurs within families, within communities, and beyond. Elevate women and everyone reaps the benefit, including men. The TED Talk was recorded in 2015 under the title of “Gender Equality Is Good For Everyone — Men Included.” I am always interested in what men have to say on the subject.

Michael Kimmel is a retired sociologist specializing in gender studies and the author of several books, including Angry White Men and The Guy’s Guide to Feminism. His talk was light-hearted and easy to listen to while he shared an important message. Kimmel spoke of the story circulated many years ago, a riddle if you will — a father and son were in a car accident, the father was killed, and the son was rushed to the hospital where his parent operated on him. How is that possible? The riddle had everyone stumped for the simple reason, Kimmel said, that “privilege is invisible to those who have it.” The surgeon was the boy’s mother. Kimmel tested a group of young men at his house one day not so many years ago, using the same riddle. They all quickly had the correct answer, and one of them added, “the boy could have had two dads.” Things have improved for sure, but we still have a long way to go.

Kimmel said some men see gender equality as a threat and those are men with a heavy dose of entitlement. But the data is in — those countries that score the highest in gender equality also score the highest on the happiness scale. The more gender-equal a company is, the fewer days of absenteeism, and staff turn-over is reduced while productivity is increased. Gender inequality in business and all other aspects of society is expensive.

Some men tend to refer to what they do within the family home as “pitching in” or “helping out.” Data collected over a long period of time clearly indicates those families where the men truly “share” in childcare and household chores are healthier and happier. Children benefit the most, doing better in school, with higher achievement, less absenteeism, less ADHD, and likewise men and women are happier, with less depression, less stress leave, less reliance on medication. Kimmel asserts that research proves without a doubt that gender equality is in the interest of countries, of men, of women, and children. But we cannot fully empower women unless we engage men and boys.

Kimmel closed his talk with a poignant quote. In 1915, on the eve of one of the great suffrage demonstrations down Fifth Avenue in New York City, a writer in New York wrote an article in a magazine entitled Feminism for Men and the first line read, “Feminism will make it possible for the first time for men to be free.”