Not a day goes by these days without yet another story of a male executive making sexist remarks about women, their role in society and their abilities. And when I say male executive, I really mean old white males who are in a position of power.
Today we came across two such examples. First, the CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi was forced to resign early (he would have left the company anyway in May 2017). And then GAP launched a campaign where boys are encouraged to dream about their future while girls are apparently only supposed to look pretty.
So, let me give you a bit of advice for avoiding to get into these situations. First, don’t be stupid. But, secondly, try flipping the gender to see if it still makes sense.
How do you determine if what you are doing (as a brand, author, publisher) is sexists? Well, one simple trick is to flip the gender of all the characters and see if it still makes sense.
For instance, take advertising. Would it still make sense to have a girl pose like that if it was a man?
What if were to do a TV show? How would you think about the cast? Well, here is the cast of Star Trek Enterprise when you do a Google Image Search.
Or what about that news article? You know how it is. If the article is about a man, you talk about the results and what he is doing. If it is about a woman, many journalists suddenly feel the urge to comment on their clothes. Would that still make sense if the roles are reversed?
No? Then why the heck are you doing it?
Or if you are writing a book, try flipping all the male characters to females and all the females to male. Does the book still make sense, or does it suddenly sound like you are making a mockery of one type.
One book series I absolutely love is the Lost Fleet series. Not only is that a great story, but you can flip all the male characters with females, and all the females with men, and the story would still be just as awesome.
The reason is that the women are just as capable as the men, and both genders go through periods of vulnerabilities, insecurities, success and bravado. There is no gender bias in the organization either. The female characters are just as likely to have commanding roles as the men. The captain of the flagship is a woman, for instance.
I love that type of stories where authors are not constantly trying to make women look helpless, and where men are not always the bravado heroes rushing in the save the day.
They are just individuals, each with their strengths and weaknesses.
So, try flipping the gender, and see if what you do still makes sense. If not… well… that’s sexist.
We need more than a test
Of course, fixing the problem with sexism is more than just this check. If we really want to do something about this, we need to fix the culture …and the culture starts at the very beginning of life.
Back in 2013, I wrote this:
Women in executive positions often complain that they are being judged far more on their looks, while men are being judged by their work. One example is from a great article: “Reducing the World’s Most Powerful Woman to a Dress” .
But when it comes to a cultural bias, we can’t fix this from the top. We have to start when the culture is being formed.
Let me ask you a simple question. Do you have kids? Is it a boy or a girl? Do you buy different types of toys for them?
My guess is that if you have a girl, you are buying girls’ toys. All toys that are made around the theme of women being someone who stays at home, get along, and spend quite a lot of time beautifying themselves. The doll house, for instance, is the ultimate expression of a woman who stays at home. And most girl games are about just spending time together with very little competition involved.
In comparison, toys for boys are all about work. You play that you are a soldier, construction worker (cranes and stuff), fighter pilot, race car driver, fireman … and all kinds of other ‘work’ related plays. And each one of these activities encourage ambition through results. Playing with a toy race car is all about winning. To win, you need to learn how to drive faster than your friends.
So it’s not really surprising that we end up with this rather lopsided culture between women and men. And this culture, which was formed during our childhood, is then transformed into our adult life.
One example was from when I worked at a big fashion company (which was dominated by women, btw). At one time, management decided that each employee should be given a choice. We could either become a part of a fixed pay-index, which meant that we would get a fixed increase in pay per year (a very low percent). Or, we could choose to fight for extra pay each year, which might result in better pay … or it might not. It would be based on our ability to prove that we were worth it.
Most women chose the safe option of the fixed pay-index. Most men chose the far more risky and competitive option to fight for their extra pay each year. I was one of those who choose to fight, and five years later my increase in pay outperformed every women in our department.
And it never even occurred to me that I was taking a risk. As a kid, when you are playing with other boys, you very quickly learn that the only way to win is to take risks. If you take the safe option, you lose every time.
We all agree that we need to do something about the inequality between men and women. That journalistic coverage shouldn’t be mostly about men. That executive positions shouldn’t be influenced by gender, and that the performance of women shouldn’t be looked down upon if they are not also spending a lot of time choosing what dress to wear each day.
Those are real issues that we should be concerned about. But we can’t solve this by saying “there should be more women doing… [insert job here]”. That is not where the problem is.
The problem is what culture we create to begin with. We are never going to achieve equality if women are brainwashed to become subdued, fashion obsessed housewives when they were a kid, while men is taught to be highly competitive risk takers when they were kids.
If we want to solve the gender problem, we need to solve it before that culture is formed.
Luckily, this is all starting to happen. This year, we started to see a real movement in the toy industry to break free from the gender based play culture.
One example is the video below:
So from a trend perspective, things are definitely getting better.
Here is the thing, though. It’s up to you, as a parent, to take the first step. If you are thinking that your little girl shouldn’t play with boys toys (or vice versa), you are partly responsible for the inequality that we see today.
I’m not saying that you should teach your girl how to play soldier. Nor that you should give your little boy a Barbie doll for Christmas. That’s not it.
What I am saying is that, as a parent, you need to stop thinking of specific toys as being toys for girls or boys. Instead, think about how you can give your kids toys that encourage them to dream.
A girl’s dream is not “I want to be a princess, and ride around on my pink pony, and live in this castle … until a prince comes to fight the dragon and rescues me.”
That’s not a dream. That’s the problem.
As a parent, you have a responsibility to not give your kids a gender-divided childhood :)
Or as Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal puts it: