The Manliest Feminist
The Day That I Learned Gender Inequality Truly Does Exist
BY ALEXANDER CAIN
Until recently, I didn’t consider myself a feminist in any regard.
I had the same impression of feminism as many guys have today: I pictured an angry woman who refused to shave her armpits and replaced every masculine word with a feminine word in order to destroy the male chauvinistic vocabulary that was created during a time when women weren’t allowed to share their input. For example, when I would hear women refer to history as “herstory,” I’d snidely remark, “Way to fight the power!”
We all hear the stats: women make 77 cents to every dollar a man earns, women are less likely to be elected and chosen for leadership positions–and the whole ideology that women in those leadership positions can’t balance work and family as easily as their male counterparts. As a guy I would always hear it, but it usually became white noise–not because I didn’t care but because I just felt like it was the way of the world and out of my control.
Despite my viewpoint, I always considered myself to be a modern-day gentleman. I would try to treat women with as much respect and politeness as possible: I’d open their doors, I’d give up my seat when I saw a woman standing, and I’d even offer my umbrella during rainy days. I always loved the idea of letting a man be a man.
I would even argue with my female peers about the merits of clearly defining gender roles in order to facilitate a relationship. They would often call me arcane or old-school, but I would simple argue that relationships and even marriage are arcane and old- school, but plenty of feminists are married and housewives.
It wasn’t until I unexpectedly noticed inequality in a subtle way at a recent professional event that I realized how the most innate actions of guys can cause life-long repercussions for women.
I’m part of a program for young professionals interested in gaining exposure and access to business careers. We engage in a lot of activities that are tooled to help us through the MBA application process, including networking with admissions counselors. It was during one of the events–the MBA business school fair–where the actions of a few males ruined the experience of a large majority of women.
Similar to the male to female makeup of many business schools, the ratio of guys to girls at this event was about 60-40. With business school fairs, it’s all about the top schools–the Harvards, the Whartons, and the Stanford type schools. These are the schools everyone covets. Usually during these fairs, long lines form at the top schools’ booths, as each professional tries to get their questions answered, and get their moment to shine in front of the admission officers.
While I was waiting in line for my turn, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between two young ladies. “If another one of these guys cuts in front of me or talks over me when I ask a question, I’m going to explode,” said one woman to the other.
Her friend quickly responded, “This is what I hate about events and it gets me a little nervous about going to business school, dealing with guys like these who want their opinion known to everyone so they can feel smart.”
At first, I didn’t really give the comments much thought, but as crowds started to gather around admissions officers, I couldn’t help but notice the disparity when it came to discussion groups.
While most people would wait in line or stand as part of a group patiently hoping for the attention of the admissions officer, several of the guys would position themselves in front of the women in order to have their questions answered first. I saw it happen at the booths of multiple schools. Women would stand as bystanders as guys–never in a rude way–simply never addressed the women in their midst. Guys just wouldn’t recognize the ladies as part of the group.
While it may be dramatic to hear and say, women at this professional event were treated as subservient creatures to the guys who were all pursuing the same goal. It was as if, subconsciously, some of the guys thought the women weren’t as passionate about or as deserving of their goals and ambitions as they were.
At the end of the day, the organizers of the event gathered the 300 professional participants to give them an opportunity to discuss their experiences at the event. The organizers were looking to get some inspirational quotes about their event, or about the MBA process in general, to put into pamphlets to help advertise for future events. Many students gave happy testimonies to please the organizers and it was also a great opportunity for them to hear themselves talk–and be the center of attention. (It’s amazing how long career-driven professionals can talk if given the opportunity.) When it was my turn, I began to speak about some of the behavior I’d seen at the booths. As I did, I could see a lot of looks of disgust and disappointment in the sea of male faces.
And I don’t think those looks were even about my description about the lack of respect I perceived. They were looks of disappointment about me: I had broken the “man code” by addressing gender inequality.
Many of the ladies applauded my testimony, but most of the guys simply scoffed, and waited for the next person to talk. Still, I did notice a bit of contemplation from a few guys—the same look of contemplation that came over me when I’d overheard the ladies’ conversation earlier: “Did I do that? I don’t think I did, but did I?” For me, those few looks of introspection overshadowed the disgusted faces. I wasn’t alone in this manly discovery of feminism.
I’m not going to start a bonfire to burn bras or start a protest about gender inequality. But I will be more cognizant of the women fighting this silent battle of gender inequality. While some might consider this to be a woman’s fight, it’s really just a civic duty. It’s simply about respect.
Alexander Cain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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