For generations, women have done the heavy lifting in the fight for social change. What will it take to get more men to give a fuck about their children’s future?
At every question and answer session I attend, I get a variation of the same question. If it’s not asked by the chair, it’s asked by the audience: “How do we get men to care about …?”
How do we get men to care about women being raped and murdered. How do we get men to care about ECE funding. How do we get men to care about abortion. How do we get men to stand up for us.
Men do care, of course they do. But care doesn’t always mean the same thing. Do they care enough to organise marches? To protest in the streets? To make their voice heard? To lobby, to use their skills, their power, their privilege?
Mostly, no. Sorry, I know my inbox is already piling up with people calling me a man-hating slutnugget. And I could say I don’t mean all of you until the end of time and it wouldn’t matter, but I’m going to say it anyway because the question keeps being asked.
Where are the men? And how do we get them involved?
The other week I was asked this – directly or indirectly – three times at public events. The first time I went snarky, suggesting male role models were sold out at the male role model shop. The second time I went to indifference, urging people to just focus on their own activism because shit, we would get nothing done if we had to drag men along with us. The third time I just sighed and said what I know is true: I don’t know.
I don’t know why the voluntary industry is made up of women, still. I don’t know why parent co-ops are almost always women, still. I don’t know why political events are organised by women – still – with men talking at them. Still. I don’t know why marches for reproductive rights usually have not a cisgender man to be seen. I don’t know why when another woman is murdered and raped there tends to be radio silence from men in the media unless it’s to outline the ways she didn’t follow the rules.
I know why it used to be like this. Women were at home, raising the kids on their own. It’s different now: women are doing all that and working outside the home.
But I don’t know why when so much has changed, so very little has changed.
The Million Mothers movement for climate action is an incredible one. But my feelings about it are like those of a woman who wrote to me about it. She said, “The Millions of Mothers page reminds me of the Australian group One Million Women which is trying to get one million women to sign their pledge to reduce carbon emissions in their lives. All great stuff, but I think there is an elephant in the room that we haven’t addressed – I don’t think putting the emphasis back on women is the answer.”
She continued, “Having women in the workforce has been a major driver for convenience. I work and I know that to cut down significantly on using plastics I’d have to spend hours in the kitchen. Now I make some stuff from scratch but with three kids the packets mount up like nothing else. My husband bakes the odd cake a couple of times a year, but he’d rather spend his evenings watching movies.
“It seems to me that there needs to be activism getting dads and husbands and men to take this stuff on board. Women are already doing everything and then people want to make just us feel guilty about climate change. I mean it is sort of our fault, but only in a general society-needs-to-sort-this-out kind of way.
“I feel there is a disconnect between men going to work and leaving everything else to their wives and now men are still going to work and nothing else is really on their radar. But the radar we [as women] are supposed to be monitoring is huge. Kilometres of issues I have to monitor. I know I need to sit down with my husband and say – I need you to work less and bake more cakes. But where are the motivational groups for men – One Million Dads baking for climate change? Maybe they exist and I just haven’t seen them?”
Do they exist?
Before you shit the bed again feeling defensive, the gender divide and inequity in volunteering is a fact. According to data from the 2014 US General Social Survey (GSS), men are more likely then women to never give money to charity, volunteer for a charity and/or give food or money to the homeless. This is despite the gender pay gap. Women still give more money, even when they have less money.
A 2013 US Trust survey on women and wealth found that “women are nearly twice as likely as men to say that giving to charity is the most satisfying aspect of heaving wealth”.
Maybe it’s because men work more paid hours than women? They may well do, but according to the Ministry for Women, about 63% of women’s work is unpaid, compared to 35% of men’s work. A recent study confirmed what we already know: that women tend to do more housework than their male partners, irrespective of their age, income or own workloads
“Women of all ages still tend to do more household chores than their male partners, no matter how much they work or earn in a job outside the home,” found a study of Canadian women published in the journal Sex Roles.
Meanwhile a 2018 study in Victoria, Australia found that women are are doing 63% of the state’s unpaid work – about 1.7 times that of men.
The internet is full of theories about how to get men to volunteer. To give. To care. Most of them in my opinion infantalise men and treat them like giant self-absorbed piss babies. They suggest we sit you down and tell you all the ways that volunteering will improve your life and build your skillset.
The read between the lines seems clear: you men only care about yourselves, so we have to make it about you.
Well, I think that’s a great injustice to men. And the many wonderful, giving, generous men I know. I don’t believe we need to pander to men, to stroke their egos or anything else to get them on board with issues that impact their children. I don’t believe men are lazy, mean, incapable of generosity or empathy or compassion. I believe men want to use their skills and resources and privilege and power and empathy to help others. Of course they do.
I would really hate to be wrong on this one. I’ll be the first to like the Millions of Dads for Climate Action page.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.