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(Wo)Manclusion: Engaging the Other Half

I am a self-professed, proud, “card-carrying” feminist who is in alignment with Merriam, of the Merriam-Webster tribe. Merriam defines feminism as the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes. The idea is that feminism is not the zero-sum game (see the reference in the Catalyst article) – as in one group wins and another loses – but a theory that is intended to positively impact, and is in the best interest of all.

I know, however, that what I am about to write will rattle the core of some of my feminist girlfriends, especially a compassionate women’s study major from the 90’s who reminds me of historical evidence that show women have suffered, both physically and mentally, at the hands of men. Equally, it will surprise my girlfriends who don’t want to identify at all with the word feminist, as over time, some, from other modern day tribes, have described it as “pro-female and to heck with the others;” or they connect feminism with the devaluation of feminine qualities.

I celebrate being a woman, and embrace the feminine qualities that make me who I am. As a working mother of two young women and two young men, I see the value of uniting together with men to advance the cause of gender equality, emboldening an inclusive environment where our differences are valued and seen as strengths. Check out this campaign that Gillette released earlier this week- WE Believe - The Best Men Can Be. While the campaign has had mixed reactions, it has created a dialog that includes men in the conversation.

There is no better time to raise the conversation of inclusion than when we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King (MLK), a pioneer leader in the social justice and racial equality movements. While gender and racial equality are still elusive and NOT the same, the traits are innate, meaning we don’t choose them. MLK’s legendary “ I have a dream” speech called on all people, not exclusively people of color, to create a new way – a nation where his four children “will NOT be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. “ In a bit, I will talk more about my admiration for MLK – a smart, strategic civil rights genius -- and share an inspired insight from his work.

There is another hero highlighted this month, at least on the big screen. Participant Media, on January 11, released the movie On the Basis of Sex, a story about the life and battles for gender equality of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG). The movie and the late 2018 CNN documentary, RBG, depict a woman who faced a number of challenges as a female law student and working mom. First in her law class, potential employers told her that they could not hire “a woman” for various reasons. In her fight for justice, she brilliantly chose court cases that represented the rights of women and men to show that equitable treatment of men and women is in the interest of all.

There is a scene in the movie, when RBG represented Charlie who could not access caretaker benefits as a male; the “caretaker tax policy” had been written at a different time when Congress could not have imagined a man, who had never been married, taking care of his mother. In the clincher scene, the movie script coined the term “radical change,” as RBG explained that when she started at Harvard, there where no women’s bathrooms; going on to say that the women were just thrilled to be there and did not immediately recognize the injustice; times changed and called for a new way.

Let’s turn back to MLK, a pioneer of inclusion, a courageous voice for injustice, and a leader of radical change within the Civil Rights Movement. MLK earned five honorary degrees and was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. He created a values-driven movement, inspired action that aligned the masses to charge for a new way, and enabled sustainable change by engaging those who would march and those who could impact policy for prolonged change, including presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson. After “Bloody Sunday”, in reference to the events at the Selma Bridge in Alabama, President Johnson sent a voting rights bill to Congress.

There is the indelible scene that sticks out in my mind from the movie Selma. In a march for voter rights for people of color, protestors had to walk a bridge in Selma, where on the other side, law enforcement in opposition of the rights stood at the ready with club sticks wrapped in barbed wire and other damaging and deadly tools. I think about that scene often when I question how strong my will is to stand up for what is right even in the face of opposition that is potentially deadly – that is courage.

Thank you, Dr. King and those who joined the march, for the bravery and demonstration of living out values, doing what is right when you know it could come at a personal cost; at the same time he knew the stakes were high for the impact on future generations. On the front line, your sacrifice is seen; what is less “seen” are the ongoing relationships Dr. King made with those who could help him influence at an even higher policy level that would make change permanent – working with the men who influenced major decisions that impacted law. That is strategic, playing at all levels, thinking two steps ahead. It is leadership.

What a really profound insight; stand up for what is right, and at the same time, open the eyes of and bring into the fold those who can open a path, influence others, make decisions that will impact a lifetime. Research shows that more women are entering the workforce, yet men are still being promoted at a more rapid rate. We need to invite men into the dialog of gender equality.

There is value to coming together and helping raise our voices. There also are opportunities to erase unconscious bias and long-term power hierarchies that have been built over time. This is what it will take to make sustainable change. Let the era of “manclusion,” begin, UNITE for a better tomorrow where men and women bring the best of themselves to every situation possible, and our sons and daughters benefit for a long time to come.

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