It was International Women’s Day this week. I wish we’d spent more of it talking about men.
If you want more light in a room, you don’t discuss the light, you consider extending your windows. The same applies to gender equality. To create a better world for women we need to talk about men. The more years we spend celebrating exceptional women, in rooms full of exceptional women, the more things stay the same. Such women are remarkable because they buck the trend. I’m not knocking them. But we can only change the world for the everywoman everywhere by changing men: by changing what men do, how men earn, how men spend their days.
So, in honour of women, I suggest we honour the men that share in the most important work on the planet, the work of caring. Instead of reading about the women who have broken the glass ceiling, I’d like to see a list of men who are not tripping over their egos to make it to the door marked prestige and power. The men who opt to spend their lives teaching, or caring for the young and elderly, the disabled, the physically and mentally ill. The men who organise family presents. The men who share the domestic care load equally with their partners.
Yes, to change women’s lives, we need to talk about men.
Take teaching. The vast majority of teachers are women. It’s exciting to see some progressive shifts in the primary curriculum but the hidden curriculum is arguably as powerful. When only women teach our youngest citizens we communicate the message that teaching is a female act, and we damage the profession as a result. It is no coincidence that despite the lack of male teachers, there are twice as many male principals as women. Men are socially trained to seek status.
We’ve trained boys into thinking that care work is low-status. It’s a truth in all rich countries like ours that the numbers of male teachers drop as the economy develops. Throughout much of the African continent, and most starkly in West Africa, females are conversely underrepresented in teaching, accounting for approximately 20% in the primary schools of countries like Liberia, Togo, and the Central African Republic. Teaching is a high-status job in these countries and so it is the work of men, exasperated by the fact that many girls won’t finish primary education.
With more men in caring roles, we’d have a country truly devoted to care. Women would have to fight less for supports for their disabled children and elderly parents – of that I am certain.
Having more men in teaching roles would be healthier for everyone. It would certainly have been healthier for me. I went through eight primary school years without a male teacher. My secondary school had only two and I’d little contact with them. It was in this context that I experienced the arrival of a substitute male music teacher in my second year of secondary school.
Mr Lehane, wherever you are, I hope you know I loved you. School life before that November day was in black and white, populated by a near all female cast.
There he stood, in all his high definition, multicolour maleness, our new music teacher, singing to us, playing the piano at the back of the room, guiding us towards our first City Hall performance as if onto a starlit Hollywood stage. How I longed to have even a shred of musical talent, to hold his gaze as did some of my honey-toned friends.
Alas, Mr Lehane was a substitute, soon replaced by a returning female.
I wonder how many men work in my old school today. Has the ratio improved? I hope so. Schools need male teachers as much as they need female teachers, to replicate the world outside and to remind society that teachers are important, that teachers deserve far more respect, as do all people involved in care.
As much as I might reminisce about my first teacher crush there’s something unnerving about the backdrop to my entirely imagined romance. I clearly needed more male role models in my life. I needed men to be a part of my ordinary everyday existence.
So, yes, instead of discussing the light, I’m looking to change the windows. Extraordinary women are great. Fair play to them. But we’ll change nothing if we don’t start working on our ordinary men.
March 8, 2023