A gay friend once described Mardi Gras to me as “Christmas for gay people”. He meant that it felt special and celebratory for him and his community.
I was surprised to discover International Women’s Day felt similar to that this year. It was like Christmas – for women. Except better than Christmas because Christmas for women is actually shit because we invariably have to do the bulk of the planning, cooking, present-buying, wrapping and bringing-of-festive-cheer.
Listen: Mia and the Out Loud team discuss International Women’s Day. Post continues…
IWD felt special and like a big deal for the first time I can remember. Never before have we seen this day take hold in the way it did last week. People were wishing each other a Happy International Women’s Day. There were lunches and purple ribbons and strikes and celebrations and acknowledgements of how far we’ve come, who inspires us and how far we have to go to reach…..well, equality. It was political and joyous and empowering and great.
My heart was full. In amongst all the posts and videos we created here at Mamamia and that I shared on Facebook and Insta, there was one particular photo I wanted to post, along with some comments about the men who are fighting beside us for gender equality but didn’t because I thought there would probably be backlash and anyway, it was a day for women and celebrating women.
Some women were already angry and upset about a video posted by a group of year 12 students from Sydney Boys High School that went viral to wide acclaim.
Critics (including the girls at their sister school Sydney Girls High) argued it was unfair that the boys were receiving such praise for talking about something that, had girls done it, would have gone unnoticed. A debate ensued about the role of men in feminism.
Feminist author of ‘Fight Like A Girl’, Clementine Ford wrote, “(the female students) are 100 per cent correct when they highlight that men who speak about feminism are praised and platformed in mainstream places, while women who discuss the same things from a place of experience, are derided and, in many cases, subjected to vicious abuse.”
She’s not wrong. Neither are the Sydney Girls High students. But that doesn’t mean men should stop speaking about feminism – or being praised or platformed for doing so. In fact, that’s why they should. Because they have nothing to lose or to risk, whereas we do.
It’s like the fight for marriage equality. When a gay person writes about how important same-sex marriage legislation is, they are likely to receive abuse, much of it personal, much of it vile. But when a straight person writes about it? When I write about it? I risk nothing. Nobody is going to denigrate my family or my relationship or my sexuality. Nobody is going to denegrate or threaten me personally.
That’s why it is so crucial for those of us who have NO SKIN IN THE GAME to stand up for our brothers and sisters who do – on every issue where there is injustice or inequality.
And so to men and their role in feminism.
That photo I wanted to publish on IWD? Here it is:
Three feminists: me, my husband and our eldest son, Luca.
On IWD I wanted to shout out to all the men who support women because there are a lot of them and they should be celebrated. Praising men for being feminists does not detract from women. It takes nothing away from us, no power, no money, no hard-won rights. I believe it lifts us up.
I want ALL the men to be feminists. I want ALL the men to come stand beside us when we fight for reproductive rights and equal pay and against domestic violence and rape and sexism.
Because the men who support and fight for women are the difference between us moving closer towards equality and remaining stuck in our own echo chamber. Because as we can all agree, it's men who are in the large part, the gatekeepers of the systems and institutions that women are fighting to be a bigger - more equal - part of.
Men who are feminists are the difference between liberal MP Fiona Scott being told by her colleague Scott Buchholz that she was being excluded from an internal economic committee because "That's a job for the big boys" versus Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau answering a question about why half his cabinet were women with the pithy, "Because it's 2015."
Yes, the good men should be celebrated and welcomed into feminism with open arms. They are the ones who will advise on board appointments. They are often the ones who will decide whether their employees can work flexibly or part-time and if they're paid the same wage as their male co-workers. They're the ones choosing who will sit on the front bench in parliament on both sides of the aisle. They're overwhelmingly the ones who are deciding who gets pre-selected to even run for parliament.
Bringing it back to my photo, let me tell you two quick stories about the two men who are pictured with me. In a company full of women, it took a man, our executive chairman, my husband Jason, to notice that all the women were carrying little make-up bags to and from the bathroom and wondering out loud to our all-female leadership team why Mamamia didn't supply free tampons to all our staff?
So now we do. Pads as well.
It had never occurred to any of the women to ask for free sanitary products at work.
For his first big piece published on Mamamia, my son Luca pitched a story about how men need to stop hitting on women who are working as bartenders or waitresses while they're at work because the power balance is too unequal; the women always have to be nice to the customers or risk losing their jobs, even when they want to say "please leave me alone and just let me do my work". This was based on an observation he'd made while working in bars and nightclubs. This story and this issue made no difference to his life and yet it educated and informed men about something that really does impact on women. That's a good man right there (I'm totally unbiased).
I'm incredibly proud of the feminists my husband and son are and yes, I think men should be celebrated for making the lives of women and girls better in any way. I think everyone should be celebrated for being kind, considerate and aware of injustice or inequality and trying to do something about it whenever they see it.
So thank you, to all the fabulous men out there. You're welcome at my feminist party any time.