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In the battle for gender equality, blokes need to stand up. And we must support them.

Last week, for the first time, I entered a public debate on gender equality. I’d been motivated by the amazing speech of actress Emma Watson, when she launched the HeForShe campaign at the United Nations in September.

I just wish Emma had warned me that blokes who stand up for gender equality aren’t immune from the vitriol and hate that is often directed at women who speak out against sexism and misogyny.

On Tuesday, as a Councillor on Sydney’s Ryde Council, I went public with my concerns that Council had been supporting a beauty pageant run by local newspaper The Weekly Times. The paper asks girls and young women between 13 and 19 to submit a photo and list of hobbies to enter the Granny Smith Festival Miss Teen Queen Competition.

why we need men to be feminists

UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson. Her speech on gender equality kick-started the HeForShe campaign in September.

My message was pretty simple; competitions which pit girls and young women against each other based on how they look are archaic and out of touch with our modern values. Our elected bodies should have no part in supporting them.

Emma Watson has the right to speak without being told to die.

Three radio interviews and one heated Council debate later, I’d been called a nitwit, a galoot (I had to consult google on the meaning of this one), a killjoy and a wanker. I was even accused of being a misogynist.

Fortunately, I was spared the bile that is directed towards women when they speak out on gender. No one started an elaborate death hoax about me as they did Emma Watson after her speech (to be fair, I’m not sure a death hoax about me would really grab much attention). I escaped the insults thrown at my female predecessor when she was accused of “tiara-envy” after raising the same concerns.

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With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I actually got off pretty lightly.

why we need men to be feminists

Competitions that pit girls based on how they look are archaic and obsolete.

The fascinating aspect of the beauty pageant furore was the way that opponents of my opinion fought back. The Teen Queen competitions in Ryde have all the glitz and glamour of a beauty pageant; the tiara, the sashes, the bouquets given to all the finalists, and the fact that only girls are invited to enter. They ask girls to enter by submitting a photo and a list of their hobbies.

Yet, in the face of the overwhelming evidence that this was a beauty pageant, we were witnesses to the spectacle of supporters trying to convince us it wasn’t a beauty pageant at all.

“How could you call this a beauty pageant?” they would ask with confected outrage. “There’s no swimsuit competition” they would retort. “We ask contestants all kinds of questions about their charity work and life ambitions” they would remark. It was like watching my niece insist she hadn’t spilt the milk despite being the only one in the room.

why we need men to be feminists

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 Benedict Cumberbatch, male feminist.

It’s testament to the progress we have made on some of these issues that the only plausible defence of beauty pageants is to deny their existence altogether. Despite the bruising experience, and the fact that Ryde Council narrowly voted to continue endorsing these events, the fact that no one in the entire debate could bring themselves to actually defend these archaic events means the world isn’t ending.

Warning: This speech will make you fall in love with Emma Watson.

Often, when challenging male perspectives on gender equality, we ask men to imagine spending a day in a woman’s shoes. Actually, there might be more to learn if we ask men to spend a day as a vocal supporter of women’s equality. For the blokes out there who still hold on to the idea that gender inequality doesn’t exist, on any given day, speak out publicly about wage equality, female representation on boards, or domestic violence. Feel the intensity of abuse hurled at you, magnify it by a hundred and than ask yourself whether gender inequality is no longer a thing.

More importantly, for the blokes that agree that gender equality matters, it’s time to get off the sidelines and take some action. Sign the pledge at heforshe.org and download the resources on how you can play a role. I know that the backlash I copped when I spoke out has fired me up more than ever and there is something we can do about it right now.

George Simon is a Labor Councillor on Ryde City Council in Sydney.
He was motivated  to write this piece about his experiences speaking out against beauty pageants. Ryde Council still currently endorses beauty pageants run by the local paper.

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And here are some awesome male feminists championing the gender equality cause…

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