Patterns and inequalities of gender make a difference to pandemics. Gender relations and gender inequalities can shape the progression of pandemics, patterns of men’s and women’s responses to them, and pandemics’ impact. In the following, we have collected commentaries on the COVID-19 pandemic and gender. Additions are welcome.
Men’s rights advocates (MRAs) often argue that feminism portrays women as always and ever oppressed, and thus *makes* women into victims. Related to this, MRAs argue that feminist beliefs are harmful for women themselves. However, the actual evidence is that having feminist beliefs and/or a feminist identity is good for women, and that having feminist beliefs or a feminist identity has a range of positive benefits.
Men’s responses to #MeToo, and other forms of feminist advocacy on rape and sexual harassment, range from enthusiastic support to hostile backlash. There are common forms of resistance among men to these campaigns, including defensive denials that men’s violence is routine, a focus on ‘other’ men, and complaints that #MeToo has ‘gone too far’. And for many men, there is simply mute discomfort. Masculinity is implicated directly in men’s perpetration of rape and sexual harassment, but also in men’s widespread inaction or complicity in the face of men’s violence against women.
Pornography has become the default sex educator for large numbers of young people. Viewing pornography is routine, especially among boys and young men, as two Australian studies document. Children and young people are encountering pornography in greater numbers, at younger ages, and with a wider variety of content.
Men have a crucial role to play in fostering gender equality. Dr Michael Flood explores how men can contribute to a feminist future, the dilemmas of involving men, and the principles and strategies that should guide men’s participation. He shares his own experiences of pro-feminist activism, the mistakes he’s made, and the lessons he’s learned.
Sexist jokes often are dismissed or excused as harmless fun. Yet they have real, negative effects in the world. They are linked to sexist and violent behaviour, they worsen gender inequalities, and they increase tolerance for violence against women.
Efforts to promote gender equality and violence prevention in workplaces and organisations often meet resistance. Resistance takes a variety of forms, from denial of the problem, to inaction, to victim-blaming, to outright attack. How should we respond to resistance and backlash? And, how can we make resistance less likely in the first place?
Everyday sexism is a serious problem. Sexist jokes and comments, intrusive and harassing treatment, and other behaviours are a near-daily experience for many women. They cause direct harm, and they contribute to wider gender inequalities. Everyday sexism is routine, invisible, and often excused or ignored.
So, how can we challenge everyday sexism? What can you say when your uncle makes a sexist joke at the Christmas dinner? What can you do when your workmate comments on a passing woman’s appearance? How can you respond when your mum says that women need to be more careful to avoid rape? What can you do when some guy on the train is making a young women uncomfortable?
The notion of the ‘Man Box’ names influential and restrictive norms of manhood. The ‘Act Like a Man’ box or ‘Man Box’ has been a common teaching tool in efforts over the past three decades to engage men and boys in critical reflections on men and gender (Kivel, 2007). The ‘box’ names the qualities men are expected to show, the rewards they earn for doing so, and the punishments they are dealt if they step ‘outside’ the box. It emphasises that these dominant standards are restrictive and limiting for men, as well as harmful for women. Individual qualities in the Man Box are not necessarily bad, and indeed some may be useful or desirable in some contexts. On the other hand, some of the qualities are negative in themselves, the range of qualities available to men is narrow, and men are expected not to deviate from them. The Man Box norms also sustain forms of privilege or unfair advantage for men, and men’s attitudes and behaviours that underpin inequality between men and women. The reference to ‘acting like a man’ makes the point that masculinity is a ‘performance’, a set of qualities and behaviours practised in particular contexts.
I have been working on issues of men, masculinities, and gender for 32 years, and it looks to me like men’s roles in building gender equality are now part of the public agenda to an unprecedented extent. Almost every day, there are new stories and initiatives on how men can support women’s participation in medicine and science, end domestic and sexual violence, share the load of fathering and housework, and more. This focus has a compelling rationale. Above all, we will not make much progress towards gender equality without change among men—and men themselves will benefit from this progress.