Illustration: Getty Images
Illustration: Getty Images
Illustration: Getty Images

OPINION

Why do we need men to tell us what women have always known?

A stay-at-home dad wrote about being undervalued. Haven’t women been saying this all along, asks Eve Livingston

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By Eve Livingston on

When was the last time your idea was passed over in a meeting, only for a male colleague to paraphrase it to a rapturous reception? Or you got into a twitter debate with a man who traded solely in condescension until one of his fellow gender backed you up and earned his respect?

While behaviours such as manspreading and mansplaining can be instantly captured in their snappy phrases, there isn’t yet a catchy term for the frustrated resignation that comes with this phenomenon: that men repeating things women have been saying forever will almost always be valued more than the women saying them to begin with. And yet still, women everywhere who find themselves largely ignored, questioned or distrusted on issues of their own experience only to see a man lauded with praise for rehashing the very same point.

I’ve had my own fair share of these experiences – we all have, I’m sure –  but I was particularly reminded of the phenomenon by a headline in The Guardian over the weekend which read “As an at-home dad, I’ve felt like paid work is valued more than raising happy kids”. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

While I’m no stay-at-home dad, I’ve also long felt like this; largely because of the ongoing hard work of feminist campaigners who have fought since the 1950s and earlier for the domestic work disproportionately carried out by women to be valued more highly – and against a pay gap which exists in large part because it is not.

Behind the framing, the article itself is an endearing account of fatherhood with a perfectly legitimate and welcome point to make about the social value placed on parenting – but I can’t help but think it would be difficult for a mother to be commissioned to write on the same topic, or for the public to find her account so awe-inspiring and progressive if she were. There is, after all, a certain irony in the voice of a man being given authority on this specific matter when caring is afforded a lower status than other work precisely because it is predominantly done by women.

Sexism won’t have been defeated when misogynists are won round only by male authority

When I tweeted about this particular headline, many of the replies I received were all too familiar: progress is progress, and any attempt to get the point out there should be welcomed. What these arguments fail to recognise, though, is that the point becomes worth very little if traditional power structures need to be replicated in order to make it: feminism that is granted legitimacy only when a man articulates it sounds a lot like the sexism it was conceived to get rid of.

While examples like this may seem fairly banal, the issue becomes a lot more stark when you examine where else it plays out. Take the case of Amber Heard, for instance, who was met with disbelief and disparagement when she accused Johnny Depp of domestic abuse, only for her claims to finally be taken seriously when Depp’s male former managers appeared to corroborate them months later. Across the world, this belief in the authority of men’s voices over women’s experiences is even built into law in a number of ways: the United Arab Emirates is amongst a number of countries in which a woman's rapist can only be convicted on the basis of testimony from multiple male witnesses. And in the USA, Arkansas this year passed a law requiring that women get written permission from their male partners in order to undergo an abortion.

As frustrating and tiresome as all this may be, none of it is especially surprising to those of us who are all too aware of society’s pervasive gender stereotypes: that men are objective and rational while women make decisions based on emotion and speak from subjective experience only. That we are the subservient counterparts to men’s ultimate authority. But it’s precisely because these are the inequalities that feminism exists to tackle that it’s so important to call it out when they’re replicated in the advancement of feminist arguments themselves.

Sexism won’t have been defeated when misogynists are won round only by male authority. The best thing these supportive men can do in the meantime is use their voices to argue that women’s voices should matter just as much.

@eve_rebecca

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