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Men matter too: Gender is not a euphemism for women

/ Nov 19, 2013 7:54AM / Print / ()

I knew that if anything was going to fortify my convictions around progressing gender equality, it was going to be having a baby boy.

The sensational creature that is our son arrived four months ago. So I've had this time, and the previous months of him in utero to contemplate mothering a son. At times I have cried, as I don't see the needs of our boys as prioritised as our girls.

Holding him and thinking about his future has affirmed my belief that we absolutely must have the needs of male health and well-being firmly on the national agenda. As a woman, and now a mother, with these views it is time for me to publicly -- and somewhat bravely -- make this statement in the hope it might inspire others.

The groundwork to these convictions has been loving and marrying a man who has dedicated his life to men's healing. It's been eye-opening to say the least. I started off somewhat cynical and had to unlearn everything I thought I knew about men.

And guess what – men have had a gutful as well. They too have been victims of patriarchy, and dare I say feminism. They too object to the ridiculousness of a mega profit-driven capitalist work environment, but wouldn't sacrifice their families' livelihood by publicly saying so. Most men do not relate to the privileged and powerful stereotype often projected on them.

It pains me to know that five men in Australia suicide every single day. That men are the victims of significant personal violence, yet there is almost no funding to address this. That tens of thousands are men are injured at work every year (accounting for 90% of deaths). Human trafficking also grieves me -- 27% of victims are men and boys.

But it's not so much the statistics that pain me: it's the ridiculing of research pertaining to men. And it's the fact that men's wellbeing and safety is not part of this nation's gender conversation. The only times I see the word 'men' crop up around gender discussions is articles about men corporate leaders being encouraged to support gender equity in the workplace, or programs directed to men and boys to try reduce the level of violence towards women.

The lack of men's issues on the public agenda is not the fault of women. Rarely a day goes by in our household without a rigorous gender conversation (my son's first words will no doubt include the G word), and I've often heated up and squawked that men should agitate for the change they want and need, just like women had to.

Yet more and more, I have come to realise that men can agitate all they like, but what ears will it fall on? We as women need to be open to such a conversation. Put our judgments and remnants of the 'all men are bastards' culture to the side, and listen to what a man's lived experience really looks like.

Just as men were there as funders and agitators for both male and female suffrage, the tables have now turned. Supporting change for men does not mean we need to take our eye off the game for women. I equally support women's rights and wellbeing, and I am grateful to my mother and grandmother, and the women before me that fought for the privileges I enjoy today.

I know -- firsthand -- the work still to be done in emancipating women around the world. I was the CEO of a women's organisation that advocated for increased philanthropic investment in women and girls, and I still personally donate to women's causes.

What I won't stand for is the advancement of one gender at the sacrifice of another. I was once publicly humiliated for what were my emerging beliefs, and firmly instructed by a first generation feminist that 'gender is simply a euphemism for women'.

I simply won't tolerate that. And I don't want to have to look my son in the eyes and say I turned a blind eye to the issue. There's room for men to be at the table. There's room for us both to respectfully address both women's and men's health and wellbeing at the same time. And there is definitely room for a true gender lens that reflects the fact that gender means men and women.

Today in Parliament House Canberra, my husband is a delegate at the 10th annual Men's and Father's Roundtable at which they are launching new whitepaper The Modern (Aussie) Man by M&CSaatchi. If you have a moment, take some time to read this report. It's incredibly enlightening.

And don't forget to wish the men in your life a very happy International Men's Day!

Want to start learning more about the men in your lives? Start here:

- Author Dr Warren Farrell The Myth of Male Power and other books

- Psychologist and author Dr Elizabeth Celi Breaking the silence: A practical guide for male victims of domestic violence

- Dr Arne Rubenstein The Making of Men

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