Gender equality will hurt some men, but that’s the only way to get there

  • A new report by the Pew Research Center shows 25% of men believe increased equality for women will come at their expense.
  • They’re exactly right, and that’s the point.
  • In order to equalize centuries of oppression of women, men will have to stop benefiting in life just for being men.
  • Ashley Jordan is a feminist writer, speaker, activist, and organizer.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A new report by the Pew Research Center shows that one in four American men believe increased equality for women has come at their expense. My initial reaction to these survey results is frustration and a compulsive urge to convince these men that gender equality is not a zero-sum game. But I can’t. Because the truth is that gender equality does hurt white, cisgender-men in some ways. The real question is: so what? 

From the economy to public health, we all stand to gain when women win. And while wins for women means that mostly white, cis-men will lose more often, this isn’t an injustice — it’s what justice actually looks like. It might be difficult to discern at first because for white, cis-men in America, the loss of privilege will hurt. But don’t mistake a loss of privilege for unfairness. Men aren’t being punished for women’s equality — they’re just no longer benefiting as much from the lack thereof. 

More women in Congress, in C-suites at Fortune 500 companies, as university presidents, and as partners in top law firms means fewer opportunities for men — that’s just math. After all, there are only 535 seats in the US Congress and 500 of those CEO spots to go around.

Gender equality requires that more women occupy positions of power and authority in our culture and society — positions currently held predominantly by white, cis-men. If women are going to continue making progress, some men will inevitably have to move or be moved out of the way.

The US is struggling with equality

Male privilege means men benefit just by being men. They enjoy certain rights and advantages by virtue of the fact that they are the preferred sex in our patriarchal culture.

As women claw their way ever closer to full equality in the United States (a feat projected to take roughly another 208 years) and slowly chip away at the social capital men procure through privilege, will it be harder out there for a white, cis-man? Yes, of course, it will. Gender equality will make life less privileged and opportunity-rich for white, cis-men in America. But even at its hardest, it still won’t be as hard as life for American women right now. 

In 2018, the United States was the only Western nation ranked among the most dangerous countries for women in a Reuters survey of top women’s rights experts. Although the presence of the US alongside countries considered the worst in the world for human rights atrocities against women and girls may be shocking at first, the facts tell the story.

About one in four women are victims of domestic violence, one in five experienced completed or attempted rape, and rape is the first experience with sexual intercourse for one out of every 16 women. American women are about 20% more likely to be killed by men than they were six years ago and 21 times more likely to die from gun violence than women in other wealthy countries. 

In fact, misogyny is a common trait among perpetrators of mass shootings. Many of these men have histories of violence against and hatred toward women. Misogyny may have been a motive in a recent shooting attack against a Latina federal judge and her family. On Sunday, July 19, Roy Den Hollander shot and killed Judge Esther Salas’s 20-year-old son and wounded her husband. Hollander was a lawyer, anti-feminist activist, and member of misogynist groups. His contempt for Judge Salas and other women was well-documented. 

In her column about the attack for GEN Medium Jessica Valenti wrote: “If we treated this kind of obsessive misogyny seriously — if Den Hollander had been arrested, or gotten treatment, or was denied access to a gun — we could literally save lives. But in America, we don’t see sexism as a red flag — we see it as normal.”

Sexism has become the norm for women in America, and not just your everyday run of the mill catcall or inappropriate joke around the office water cooler sexism—but violent and fatal sexism. So even though white, cis-men will pay a price for women’s equality, our lives depend on them paying in full.

Gender equality is ultimately good for us all

Whatever the personal or professional drawbacks for men, they will be negligible compared to the collective benefits of equality. Gender equality yields significant economic advantages. 

According to a 2015 report by McKinsey & Company, businesses with high levels of gender diversity are 15% more likely to earn profits that exceed industry averages. Likewise, research presented by Standard and Poor (S&P) at the 2019 World Economic Forum suggests that even a slight increase in women’s participation in the US workforce could add $511 billion dollars to the GDP over the next decade, and if women’s workforce participation equaled men’s, the US economy could be nearly 9% larger. Perhaps writer Renee Morand put it best in her 2019 article “How Gender Equality Is a Growth Engine for the Global Economy”: “An investment in women is an investment in us all.” 

Still, when it comes to investing in women, America isn’t quite ready to go all in. Its hesitance to “ante up” on gender equality is most evident in its continued failure to elect a woman president. This is a national disgrace and disservice not just to women but to the nation.

Research has shown women to be as effective, if not more effective leaders than men, and a 2014 study published by the Columbia University Journal of International Affairs found that racially and ethnically diverse countries led by women were more likely to have faster-growing economies than those led by men. Yet despite proven executive and political acumen, women leaders remain conspicuously absent at the highest levels of business and government.   

We don’t have to rely on research alone to see the potential national benefits of women’s leadership. Other countries are already reaping the rewards of women in power. Iceland, one of the most gender-equal countries in the world, recovered remarkably well from the 2008 worldwide economic downturn under a women-led government. More recently, New Zealand managed to wipe out coronavirus (a sharp contrast to the US where the virus continues to spread) with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern fostering a unified national approach to the global pandemic. 

These examples highlight that women have successfully led their countries through some of the most devastating global crises in modern times. Given the serious social, political, economic, and public health challenges confronting the US today under a men-led government, I can’t help but wonder: What more will it take to convince America to take a chance on women? 

It’s hopeful to have so many women running for political office in 2020. But we don’t just need more women to run this year, we need more women to win. This kind of increased equality and competition may be painful for some white, cis-men to swallow, but we all suffer as long as women remain the second sex in America.

Privilege props up a fortunate few, but equality favors everyone — and no one — all at once. And it looks like that might take men some getting used to. But, so what?

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