Australia is a gender-unequal society. If we look honestly at our patterns of political power, economic decision-making, cultural representation, and men's and women's everyday lives and relations, we can see a widespread pattern of gender inequality.
Gender inequalities are sustained in part by men - by men's identities, attitudes, behaviours, and relations. Gender inequalities are sustained and reproduced day after day, in part by men. By how many men think, by how many men behave, by how men relate to women and how they relate to other men.
People often talk about gender inequality in terms of women's disadvantage, discrimination against women, or women's exclusion from economic decision-making and political power. But the flipside of this is men's privilege, a longstanding program of affirmative action for men, and men's monopoly of economic decision-making and political power.
Now, this all may seem a bit abstract. But in fact, male privilege is personal. Male privilege is everyday. Many men, probably most men, perpetuate sexism in our everyday lives, in a myriad of ways. Myself included. I think of times when I've left the burdens of domestic work to women, whined when a girlfriend didn't feel like sex, looked at pornography which shows women in callous or hostile ways, or underestimated women's achievements and skills.
Not all men are privileged, and not all women are disadvantaged. Men's lives, like women's, are shaped by intersecting forms of privilege and disadvantage, to do with gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, and so on. Some groups of men in Australian society are deeply disadvantaged - not because they are men, but because they are members of other, disadvantaged social categories.
Even when we men are not actively being sexist, we benefit from male privilege (the unearned advantages of an unequal system) - whether we want to or not.
Members of privileged groups think that our achievements are the result of our efforts and skills, not the unearned advantages of an unequal system.
As a man, when I open my mouth, my views often are given more weight than those of a woman. When I send in my CV or have a job interview, I am likely to be seen as more competent, because I am male, than a woman with the same skills and experience. I'm a father, and if I work long hours at work, it's unlikely that anyone will think I'm being selfish and neglecting my children.
If I'm a senior leader, there is no tension between my gender and my role. As a man, I'm assertive, but she's bossy. I'm enthusiastic, but she's emotional. When I take tough decisions, I'm confident or firm, but her, she's a bitch.
Gender inequalities are personal and interpersonal. But they are also organisational and structural. They are built into the structures, processes, and cultures of workplaces: their divisions of labour, their decision-making, their informal norms and expectations.
The privileges given to men by these structures and processes are naturalised and normalised. They are invisible, so members of privileged groups think that our achievements are the result of our efforts and skills, not the unearned advantages of an unequal system.
The fact is, men will benefit from progress towards gender equality. It will benefit our personal wellbeing by freeing us from the costs of conformity, poor health, shallow relationships and early death. It will benefit our relationships and friendships with both men and women. And it will benefit our workplaces and communities with flexibility in divisions of labour, reductions in violence against women, and other signs of growing gender equality. Workplaces benefit in terms of greater productivity, creativity, and diversity.
Men - men who care for women, men who care for justice and equality, and men who care for the wellbeing of our communities and society - must act to end gender inequality. And if we do, men will benefit. If we can make progress towards gender equality, then women will have better lives, and so will men.
- Dr Michael Flood is an associate professor at QUT. He will speak at the Emancipation of Men: Masculinity at the Crossroads event at the University of Canberra on Thursday, February 13, at 5.30pm. This article was first published at broadagenda.com.au.