Gender Activism: 4 Tips

[box] I spoke about activism – specifically, activism for gender equality – at the UN Women USA GCC lunch in October. For those who’ve asked for a reminder of my four activism tips, I offer the speech – tips and video. Good luck. Keep me posted.[/box]

I want you to be an activist. Gender equality is important for everyone – it isn’t just something we do to be nice to women. Research shows that more gender-equal environments – communities, companies, countries – do better. More gender-equal communities have healthier children. More gender-equal companies have better returns for their shareholders.  More gender-equal countries have less inequality and higher standards of education. This is a FOUNDATIONAL issue. Everyone needs a more gender-equitable world. BUT WE NEED ACTIVISTS TO MAKE IT HAPPEN.

So I want you, in your own small way, to make a difference. And you can. You may be an employee or a manager or a business owner, a volunteer, board member, shareholder, a theater-goer or a museum patron. Hopefully, you’re a voter. Undoubtedly you’re a consumer and a family member.

Every single one of these roles gives you the opportunity to make a difference:

  1. Combat everyday sexism and stereotypes
  2. Be an advocate for women in public
  3. Be a conscious consumer – with your dollars and your votes
  4. Support organizations that promote and invest in Gender Equality – it’s a multiplier


Here’s the skinny:

One: combat everyday sexism and stereotypes.

We’ve all been there: we hear a sexist joke at a cocktail party. We’re in a work meeting and a woman is talked over by her male colleagues. Recently, TV commentators mocked young Prince George for taking ballet. Your sister-in-law jokes about the shoes she buys but doesn’t tell her husband about. You’ve got a male friend who says he ‘helps out’ with the kids.

Jokes. Ha ha. But they make a difference. It isn’t just background banter. All those ‘soft jokes’, all that benevolent sexism – all the sexism embedded in those attitudes and ideas make a difference. They shape our workplaces, our children, our self-images, our relationships. They are not benign and they are not jokes.

Another example: money. Think about the loaded way we talk about money. Women and money? Typically, women are portrayed as savers of money, guardians of frugality and the family budget. Men? They’re responsible for investing and long-term goals, portrayed in power suits and Rolex watches.

Or think about the gendered way we deal with appearance. If we continue to comment first on women’s appearances, in a way we never would for men, we continue to say that appearance is what matters most to women. We cannot expect female political candidates to be scrutinized for their ideas if we continue to comment most on appearances – if we don’t reflect a changed attitude.

Don’t accept the silo-ing of women’s events.  As in, why do we have a TED Women?! Are women’s speeches some pet project of the “real” TED talks? Can you imagine a TED MEN? The idea seems laughable. This approach simply reinforces the idea that the “real” narrative is a male narrative – and women’s activities are a sideshow.

So think about your own words – and be an active bystander. When you see or hear sexism or harmful stereotypes, step in and say something! Words and jokes and images DO shape our culture and our schools, our businesses and lives and politics.

Combat everyday sexism and stereotypes.

Two: be an advocate for women in public.

What the hell does that mean?

This: I like museums. What’s in those museums? Well, I’ll tell you what’s there: the art of white men!

Take  the permanent collections of the top 100 museums in America. That would include the Metropolitan Museum in NY, the National Gallery of Art in DC, the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and so on. Guess what?

87% of the works are by are by MEN and a full 85% are by white men! Women make up a mere 12%.

Oh but that’s history, you might say. It’s ‘understandable.’ Things have changed now.

Think again: take recent acquisitions from 2008-2018 at the top US art museums. What percent of art was made by women?

11%! Women are barely in the double digits here. In the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, acquisitions of women’s work in that recent 10 year period was just 4%! And it’s not just women – acquisitions of African American artists was not even 3%. Three or four % – that’s practically a rounding error!

Well, what about the movies? There’s lots of talk of changes in the movies, about women who headline. But the day-to-day reality? Not so much.

In mainstream movies in 2018:

Women were four times more likely to be naked,

Men spoke on screen twice as much

And only 3.6% of directors of the 100 top-grossing movies were women.

What about the theater? That must be better, right?

 For the 2016-2017 New York City theatrical season, 11% of Broadway productions were by female playwrights. And trust me, the percentage of female directors and producers wasn’t much better.

You get the idea. But you can help! Be an advocate for women in public. Women go to the theater! Tell the theaters! Vote with your voice and your feet and your wallet. You’re a member of a museum. Tell them: “I really love coming but I’d need to see more women represented.” Use your voice. You have clout.

Love your local independent bookstore? Scan the tables. Are the books dominated by male authors? Tell them: “I love your store but I’d really love to see more women represented.”

Are you a man speaking on a panel? If there aren’t women, don’t participate! Unless the topic is personal experiences with prostate cancer, trust me, women speakers on the topic can be found.

Be an advocate for women in public.

Three: Be a conscious consumer.

 This is about 3 things: products and companies and politics. Take products first: pink stuff. If you don’t understand this issue yet, here’s a primer:

Let companies know we don’t want substandard products that cost twice as much just dressed up in pink. We are not shopping the “girls” aisle of a Toys R’ Us.

BUT in addition to products, we are ‘consuming’ – supporting – companies through our support, our dining out, AND our investments. These are not idle choices. Women control 70% of disposable income, and a heck of a lot of non-disposable income as well.

Research some companies – or non-profits you support. What should you look for? Start with key threshold issues: Are there women on the board? Is the board 50% women? If not, why not? Does the company have pay transparency? Are there family leave policies? There are many public indicators now online.

I bet many of you have some financial investments – have you looked at the pay equity policies of where your money is invested? Vote with your dollars.

Finally, be a conscious consumer in politics. Look at your candidate’s record on gender equality when you go vote. If gender equality matters to you, look it up.

So be a conscious gender-aware consumer. 

Four: support organizations that invest in gender equality.

 Gender equality is foundational: it’s for the good of everyone in societies; it’s a multiplier issue which brings about improved health and education and prosperity for all.

So, in addition to the 3 things I just mentioned, we must support organizations working on this issue. Gender equality has been chronically underfunded and it’s just not happening by some miracle of trickle-down.

1.6% of Americans’ charitable giving goes toward nonprofits helping women and girls! We need to change this landscape.

 So YOU – be the activist!

  1. Combat everyday sexism and stereotypes
  2. Be an advocate for women in public
  3. Be a conscious consumer – with your dollars and your votes
  4. Support organizations that promote and invest in Gender Equality – it’s a multiplier

Easy peasy. Let me know how it goes.

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Nancy Fahringer
Nancy Fahringer
4 years ago

Hey, Scottie, your post is thought provoking and thanks a lot. Nancy

Elizabeth Scott Osborne
Elizabeth Scott Osborne
4 years ago

You’re welcome. Thought-provoking is always good.