Jenny Willott MP is Minister for Women and Equalities and Michael Kimmel is Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University in New York. They spoke last week at a roundtable that looks at men’s role in bringing about gender equality
If there is one thing that characterises the many events that we both attend about gender equality, it is that there are nearly always more women in the room. Often, there are only women in the room. This concerns us because gender equality cannot be achieved by women alone or by focusing exclusively on women.
Real equality will only come about with the active involvement of both men and women. The time has come for men to enter this debate, not as outsiders but as true agents for change.
Men’s role in achieving gender equality in the home, the local community and the workplace is increasingly recognised both in research and practice. We should be at the forefront of promoting this.
There are huge benefits to men and to their children from greater gender equality: more quality time with family, children performing better at school and reduced pressure on men and boys who don’t conform to traditional masculine ideals.
We know that engaging men on gender equality is not easy, there are many barriers, but we cannot give up. There is huge pressure on boys and men to conform to the norms that constrain them as much as they do women. All children deserve the chance to live life to the full, follow their own path and choose how best to use their talents and pursue their interests.
So what can men do? We know that men want to take parental leave and be more involved with their children – they must feel that they can. Men need to feel comfortable playing a more equal role at home and tackling misogyny among their peers. Male managers who give women the opportunity to reach their full potential at work will ensure companies have a bigger talent pool from which to draw.
In recent years we have made real progress in achieving gender equality. The pay gap is closing, more men are caring for children and the Government has introduced reforms that have transformed choice and support for both men and women.
By extending the right to request flexible working patterns, improving the quality, flexibility and affordability of childcare, and introducing shared parental leave, we have helped to modernise the workplace and challenge traditional gender assumptions that hold us all back.
It’s time for men to break free of the stereotypes and take advantage of the new opportunities and choices that they have.