By nikhil trivedi
In the September 2017 episode of Museopunks, we began talking about specific actions men can take to dismantle gender oppression and create more supportive institutions for people of all genders. To finish the thoughts I began on the show, below are four actions we as men—as people who benefit from male supremacy—can take to join or continue the fight towards gender justice.
On the podcast, I suggested we follow a framework for dismantling rape culture in our lives and at work. Roxane Gay provides a great definition of rape culture in her book Bad Feminist:
“Rape Culture is a culture where we are inundated, in different ways, by the idea that male aggression and violence towards women is acceptable and often inevitable.”
Because we live in rape cultures, violence can take many forms, and we should constantly examine and critique our own thoughts and behaviors while paying attention to those of our peers. Ashley Fairbanks provides a great visual of the spectrum of violence as a pyramid:
At its root, all this violence is about the erasure of the lives and experiences of women, femme and gender nonconforming people. If we think globally and act locally, dismantling rape culture in our own lives is a tangible way of participating in the global fight to end rape and all gender-based violence. The following are four types of actions we can take towards this end, including several specific strategies: listening, speaking up, demanding equitable pay, and doing emotional labor.
Listen to women, femmes and gender nonconforming people.
Benefitting from male supremacy means that our voices are often viewed as holding more authority, weight and importance than others. Spending our entire lives with this status quo might make it challenging to be good listeners consistently, or to even know how to be one. Take some time periodically to remind yourself of good listening skills, and commit every day to put them into practice with the women, femme and gender nonconforming people in your lives.
Ask for input and listen to it. – @lilmissfergus, Tweet/Storify Archive
Let them finish speaking. – Claire Blechman, Tweet/Storify Archive
Some specific strategies we can employ include a tool that President Barack Obama’s women staffers used in group meetings to “amplify” each other’s voices: repeat key points women make in group meetings and give them credit.
“Acknowledge when you’re saying something that women before you have already said.” Women, Technology and Leadership, Museums and the Web 2014
Also, take a beat before you speak and make sure other voices are being heard. Leave space for others to speak who may not have had a chance to yet.
Pay attention to the meetings women aren’t in. – Anna Cosner, Tweet/Storify Archive
This last suggestion begs for a hashtag #AllMaleMeetings. Pay attention to meetings scheduled to include only men, and either loop in other people, or question whether you should be having the meeting at all.
Speak up for gender justice.
Jennifer Foley has two suggestions: speak up in the moment within the larger group when you hear something that needs to be addressed, not as a private sidebar after the fact. Likewise, back up women in the moment when they speak up. Simple phrases like “I think you’re right” and “I agree with you” might be all that’s needed. Follow their cues to see if you should say more.
One strategy I’ve found effective when other men say things that aren’t outright oppressive but I have questions about is to act confused and ask them what they mean. It asks people to really spell out exactly what they’re saying, and often leads to a discussion where they themselves discover what’s problematic about what they’ve said.
Talk about it/acknowledge it (so we don’t always have start the convo) – Kate Livingston, Tweet/Storify Archive
Demand equitable pay.
It’s important make a distinction between equitable pay and equal pay. It’s well documented that women, femme and gender nonconforming people are not paid the same for doing the same work as men, so certainly achieving equal pay would bring us a long way. But ultimately what we want is for everyone to have the capacity to live full, joyful lives. This might not directly translate to people being paid the same amount of money. Equitable pay means some folks might need more pay to achieve this based on the circumstances of their lives. Looking at this issue through an intersectional lens this becomes much clearer to see. As men we’ve literally been benefitting from inequitable compensation for our work for centuries. Isn’t it about time we challenged our expectations and demand more for others?
So, demand equitable pay. And Kate Livingston adds “plus interest!”
One thing that makes this work challenging is that unless an institution has a policy of wage transparency, we’re often sensitive about sharing our salaries and wages with others. We should experiment with being more transparent and totally awkward with each other about what we’re paid. You don’t have to act big from the start, just start with one colleague that you’re close to.
Do emotional labor work and at home.
If you’re not familiar with what emotional labor is, MetaFilter has a really great thread that’s worth reading. Here’s a summary that acts like an Emotional Labor Handbook: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0UUYL6kaNeBTDBRbkJkeUtabEk/view
“Humans are innately built to want to nurture, we just don’t all know how”
Advocate for your own parental leave and that of your peers. Familiarize yourself with FMLA, and normalize its use. In many organizational cultures FMLA is treated like something no one should ever really use. Relatively speaking, twelve weeks when caring for people who are ill is such a small amount of time, and it can be a useful tool for self-care. Talk about FMLA outside of times when people might consider using it and work on dropping its stigma.
Respond to emails promptly. Even if you don’t know the answer and need time to think about it, respond letting them know that, give them a timeframe, and stick to it. Follow-up is work. Don’t give your peers more work.
Consider your tone and responsiveness in emails when replying to men vs. women or nonbinary colleagues. – Jenn, Tweet/Storify
Clean up after yourself. Don’t leave dirty utensils on your desk at the end of the day. Wipe down the area around sinks when you’re done using them. Don’t leave the coffee pot empty. Put new toilet paper rolls on if you use the last one.
Stay on top of your administrative work. Don’t require your peers to follow-up with you, or to do special workarounds after you’ve missed a window of time. If you’re going to a conference in the fall like MCN, send that expense report within a week of your return to the office.
Thank your colleagues who consistently organize your department outings or arrange for birthday cards for people in the office. Then step up and plan the next outing, or offer to do a portion of the work. Ask before you do anything, and make sure it’s not actually creating more work for others.
Put a regular event on your calendar to simply ask people how they’re doing today and listen.
Now is the time to act.
I hope I provided actions that feel tangible and doable to incorporate into your daily life. Dismantling rape culture and working to end sexism and male domination is work that requires our constant attention and diligence. Please do let me know if you have any questions, and I’d love to hear how putting these actions to work is like for you. You can find me on twitter @nikhiltri or visit my website at nikhiltrivedi.com
nikhil trivedi is an application developer at a museum in Chicago and a social justice activist. His activism work focuses on ending rape culture and patriarchy through his role as a volunteer educator for Rape Victim Advocates. He’s also a regular contributor at The Incluseum, co-creator of visitorsofcolor.tumblr.com, and his writing has been featured in Model View Culture and Fwd: Museums. You will also find him playing his guitar and sitar, composing noise, hiking, making herbal medicines, and drinking warm glasses of chai on cold winter nights.