The Beauty of Resistance: 5 Ways to Respond to Gender Inequality

By Dr. Ruta Aidis, PhD, Senior Fellow at the Schar School for Policy and Government, George Mason University

Following are five frequent comments heard by gender consultants — with tips, data and links to resources for addressing them:

  1. Women don’t want to work in male jobs.
  2. There are enough women in politics.
  3. In our country, women are equal…. It is their choice if they are in leadership positions or not.
  4. There are no female experts on this issue.
  5. Patriarchy is good for men (and gender equality only benefits women).

1. Women don’t want to work in male jobs: In reality, women are often not aware of the benefits, not visible as workers, not adequately protected  or simply not allowed to work in in male dominated sectors. For example, in the US, a construction company[i] introduced gender neutral signs to mark construction sites for the first time in 2018.

In Kenya, a female auto mechanic[ii] notes a common challenge:  Men don’t believe that a woman can repair a vehicle. A man will think ten times before giving me a vehicle to repair.

The World Bank’s 2018 Women, Business and the Law report[iii] findings indicate that in 104 economies,  women are barred from working at night or in certain jobs in many areas, including manufacturing, construction, energy, agriculture, water and transportation. This negatively affects the choices of more than 2.7 billion women.

Even when legally allowed,  human resource practices in male dominated sectors such as utilities, construction, mining, waste management and recycling are often ill equipped to attract, recruit and retain women or protect them from workplace sexual harassment.

USAID’s 2018 Engendering Utilities Best Practices Framework[iv] provides a detailed guide to improving human resource practices in the man dominated utilities sector in order to not only attract but retain women as employees and in senior leadership positions.

2. There are enough women in politics: Globally, Only 24.5 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of October 2019, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995. As of June 2019, only 11 women are serving as Head of State and 12 are serving as Head of Government.

3. In our country, women are equal…. It is their choice if they are in leadership positions or not: Perhaps, but successful women are often not advised to develop the most important traits needed for leadership (such as vision). Watch the TEDX talk by Susan Colantuono ‘The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get’[vii]  on how gendered differences in career advice given to women vs. men affects their leadership development.

4. There are no female experts on this issue: 

  • Excuse 1: We know we have no women. We are always looking for ideas. Could you please send some names?
  • Excuse 2: I tried, but a lot of women were just too busy/unavailable.
  • Excuse 3: I can’t believe I didn’t notice. How embarrassing.
  • Excuse 4: You know how good we usually are and how hard we try. Look at last year…
  • Excuse 5: This is just the beginning. Stay tuned.
  • Excuse 6: 23% is good, because women make up less than 30% of the workforce orStudies show that 30% makes a big difference.
  • Excuse 7: They weren’t on the publicity list but there were a lot of women present.
  • Excuse 8: Our President is a woman and she opened and closed the event.
  • Excuse 9: Look how many of our moderators are women.
  • Excuse 10: The excuse given comes from a woman who was asked by a male organizer to respond.
  • Excuse 11: There just weren’t any women who met our criteria.
  • Excuse 12: Overall we have lots of special programming for women.

5. Patriarchy is good for men (and gender equality only benefits women): Patriarchy  is a social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line. There is a lot of data on the negative effects of patriarchal systems on women’s rights, health, education, livelihoods and well-being. But what are the effects on men?

In his book Homecoming[x], educator and author John Bradshaw describes the cost of patriarchy: Patriarchy is characterized by male dominance. But it doesn’t just mean men do it. Women who were raised by patriarchs can become patriarchs. It’s based on blind obedience without content: You do it because I say so. It’s based on the repression of all emotions except fear. It’s based on the crushing of the will at an early age: You obey me, you bind yourself to the will of authority.

A groundbreaking study by Promundo based on a random sample of young men aged 18 to 30 in the US, UK, and Mexico, reveals that most men still feel pushed to live in the ‘Man Box’ – a rigid construct of cultural ideas about male identity. This includes being self-sufficient, acting tough, looking physically attractive, sticking to rigid gender roles, being heterosexual, having sexual prowess, and using aggression to resolve conflicts

The study found that the majority of men who adhere to the rules of the Man Box are more likely to put their health and well-being at risk, to cut themselves off from intimate friendships, resist seeking help when they need it,  experience depression, and think frequently about ending their own life.

Young men inside the Man Box are more likely to have used violence against other young men – verbally, physically, and online – and to have sexually harassed women. They are more likely to have experienced violence themselves. They are more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as binge drinking, they are two to three times more likely to have been in traffic accidents, and they are less likely to have close relationships and friendships.

However, if conforming to the rigid norms of the Man Box were obviously disadvantageous to men, few men would do so. The picture is more complicated and navigating the rewards and punishments of manhood is a real dilemma in many settings.

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About Dr. Ruta Aidis

With more than 25 years of professional experience as an academic, consultant, writer and speaker, Dr. Ruta Aidis is a leading international expert on entrepreneurship, economic development, innovation, gender, women’s economic empowerment and public policy.  She is an award winning author with over 50 published articles, books and reports.

A successful proposal writer for both the public and private sector, Dr. Aidis has led research teams to develop ground breaking new measurement tools, data development and analysis. She is uniquely skilled at translating complex sophisticated analysis and concepts into practical action oriented recommendations and results accessible to journalists, advocates and policymakers.

Dr. Aidis has extensive international work experience and is a skilled manager of people, projects and ideas. In addition to teaching and research, Ruta Aidis is a consultant (both short and long term) for research agencies, international development organizations, universities and think tanks.

Current positions: Dr. Aidis is CEO and Founder of ACG Inc., Research Director for Gender Metrics, Research Director of the Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard and Senior Fellow at the Schar School for Policy and Government, George Mason University.

Areas of Expertise:

  • small and medium-size enterprise development (SMEs)
  • Entrepreneurship and public policy
  • Women’s growth oriented entrepreneurship development
  • Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Diversity and inclusive economic growth
  • International development
  • Gender issues
  • Economic and institutional development
  • Entrepreneurship education and training
  • Quantitative and qualitative methodologies