TEDWomen 2015

Michael Kimmel: Why gender equality is good for everyone — men included

Filmed:

Yes, we all know it’s the right thing to do. But Michael Kimmel makes the surprising, funny, practical case for treating men and women equally in the workplace and at home. It’s not a zero-sum game, but a win-win that will result in more opportunity and more happiness for everybody.

- Sociologist
The author of "Angry White Men," Michael Kimmel is a pre-eminent scholar of men and masculinity. Full bio

I'm here to recruit men
to support gender equality.
00:12
(Cheers)
00:16
Wait, wait. What?
00:19
What do men have to do
with gender equality?
00:22
Gender equality is about women, right?
00:25
I mean, the word gender is about women.
00:27
Actually, I'm even here speaking
as a middle class white man.
00:32
Now, I wasn't always
a middle class white man.
00:36
It all happened for me about 30 years ago
when I was in graduate school,
00:39
and a bunch of us graduate students
got together one day,
00:44
and we said, you know,
there's an explosion
00:47
of writing and thinking
in feminist theory,
00:50
but there's no courses yet.
00:54
So we did what graduate students
typically do in a situation like that.
00:56
We said, OK, let's have a study group.
00:59
We'll read a text, we'll talk about it,
01:02
we'll have a potluck dinner.
01:04
(Laughter)
01:06
So every week,
11 women and me got together.
01:08
(Laughter)
01:11
We would read some text in feminist theory
and have a conversation about it.
01:14
And during one of our conversations,
01:18
I witnessed an interaction
that changed my life forever.
01:20
It was a conversation between two women.
01:25
One of the women was white,
and one was black.
01:28
And the white woman said --
01:32
this is going to sound
very anachronistic now --
01:34
the white woman said, "All women
face the same oppression as women.
01:36
All women are similarly
situated in patriarchy,
01:42
and therefore all women have a kind
of intuitive solidarity or sisterhood."
01:45
And the black woman said,
"I'm not so sure.
01:50
Let me ask you a question."
01:54
So the black woman
says to the white woman,
01:56
"When you wake up in the morning
and you look in the mirror,
01:58
what do you see?"
02:01
And the white woman said, "I see a woman."
02:03
And the black woman said,
"You see, that's the problem for me.
02:05
Because when I wake up in the morning
and I look in the mirror," she said,
02:08
"I see a black woman.
02:12
To me, race is visible. But to you,
race is invisible. You don't see it."
02:13
And then she said
something really startling.
02:19
She said, "That's how privilege works.
02:22
Privilege is invisible
to those who have it."
02:24
It is a luxury, I will say
to the white people sitting in this room,
02:28
not to have to think about race
every split second of our lives.
02:31
Privilege is invisible
to those who have it.
02:35
Now remember, I was
the only man in this group,
02:39
so when I witnessed this, I went, "Oh no."
02:41
(Laughter)
02:44
And somebody said,
"Well what was that reaction?"
02:46
And I said, "Well, when I wake up
in the morning and I look in the mirror,
02:48
I see a human being.
02:52
I'm kind of the generic person.
02:54
You know, I'm a middle class white man.
I have no race, no class, no gender.
02:56
I'm universally generalizable."
03:00
(Laughter)
03:02
So I like to think that was the moment
I became a middle class white man,
03:04
that class and race and gender
were not about other people,
03:08
they were about me.
03:12
I had to start thinking about them,
03:14
and it had been privilege that had
kept it invisible to me for so long.
03:16
Now, I wish I could tell you
this story ends 30 years ago
03:21
in that little discussion group,
03:23
but I was reminded of it quite recently
at my university where I teach.
03:25
I have a colleague, and she and I
both teach the sociology of gender course
03:29
on alternate semesters.
03:33
So she gives a guest lecture
for me when I teach.
03:34
I give a guest lecture
for her when she teaches.
03:37
So I walk into her class
to give a guest lecture,
03:39
about 300 students in the room,
03:43
and as I walk in, one of the students
looks up and says,
03:45
"Oh, finally, an objective opinion."
03:48
All that semester, whenever
my colleague opened her mouth,
03:52
what my students saw was a woman.
03:55
I mean, if you were to say to my students,
03:58
"There is structural inequality
based on gender in the United States,"
04:00
they'd say, "Well of course
you'd say that.
04:03
You're a woman. You're biased."
04:05
When I say it, they go,
"Wow, is that interesting.
04:07
Is that going to be on the test?
How do you spell 'structural'?"
04:10
(Laughter)
04:13
So I hope you all can see,
04:15
this is what objectivity looks like.
04:17
(Laughter) (Applause)
04:20
Disembodied Western rationality.
04:24
(Laughter)
04:27
And that, by the way, is why I think
men so often wear ties.
04:30
(Laughter)
04:34
Because if you are going to embody
disembodied Western rationality,
04:35
you need a signifier,
04:40
and what could be a better signifier
of disembodied Western rationality
04:42
than a garment that at one end is a noose
and the other end points to the genitals?
04:46
(Laughter) (Applause)
04:50
That is mind-body dualism right there.
04:57
So making gender visible to men
05:03
is the first step to engaging men
to support gender equality.
05:08
Now, when men first hear
about gender equality,
05:12
when they first start thinking about it,
05:15
they often think, many men think,
05:17
well, that's right,
that's fair, that's just,
05:19
that's the ethical imperative.
05:23
But not all men.
05:26
Some men think --
the lightning bolt goes off,
05:28
and they go, "Oh my God,
yes, gender equality,"
05:31
and they will immediately begin
to mansplain to you your oppression.
05:34
They see supporting gender equality
something akin to the cavalry,
05:39
like, "Thanks very much for bringing this
to our attention, ladies,
05:44
we'll take it from here."
05:47
This results in a syndrome that I like
to call 'premature self-congratulation.'
05:49
(Laughter) (Applause)
05:53
There's another group, though,
that actively resists gender equality,
05:57
that sees gender equality
as something that is detrimental to men.
06:02
I was on a TV talk show
opposite four white men.
06:07
This is the beginning of the book
I wrote, 'Angry White Men.'
06:11
These were four angry white men
06:14
who believed that they,
white men in America,
06:16
were the victims of reverse discrimination
in the workplace.
06:20
And they all told stories
about how they were qualified for jobs,
06:25
qualified for promotions,
06:28
they didn't get them,
they were really angry.
06:29
And the reason I'm telling you this
is I want you to hear the title
06:32
of this particular show.
06:35
It was a quote from one of the men,
06:37
and the quote was,
06:39
"A Black Woman Stole My Job."
06:40
And they all told their stories,
06:44
qualified for jobs,
qualified for promotions,
06:45
didn't get it, really angry.
06:47
And then it was my turn to speak,
06:49
and I said, "I have
just one question for you guys,
06:51
and it's about the title of the show,
06:53
'A Black Woman Stole My Job.'
06:56
Actually, it's about
one word in the title.
06:58
I want to know about the word 'my.'
07:01
Where did you get the idea
it was your job?
07:03
Why isn't the title of the show,
'A Black Woman Got the Job?'
07:07
or 'A Black Woman Got A Job?'"
07:10
Because without confronting
men's sense of entitlement,
07:12
I don't think we'll ever understand
why so many men resist gender equality.
07:16
(Applause)
07:20
Look, we think this
is a level playing field,
07:26
so any policy that tilts it
even a little bit,
07:30
we think, "Oh my God,
water's rushing uphill.
07:32
It's reverse discrimination against us."
07:34
(Laughter)
07:36
So let me be very clear:
07:37
white men in Europe and the United States
07:39
are the beneficiaries of the single
greatest affirmative action program
07:42
in the history of the world.
07:46
It is called "the history of the world."
07:48
(Laughter) (Applause)
07:50
So, now I've established
some of the obstacles to engaging men,
07:56
but why should we support gender equality?
08:00
Of course, it's fair,
it's right and it's just.
08:03
But more than that,
08:06
gender equality is also
in our interest as men.
08:08
If you listen to what men say
about what they want in their lives,
08:13
gender equality is actually a way
for us to get the lives we want to live.
08:18
Gender equality is good for countries.
08:23
It turns out, according to most studies,
08:27
that those countries
that are the most gender equal
08:31
are also the countries that score highest
on the happiness scale.
08:34
And that's not just because
they're all in Europe.
08:38
(Laughter)
08:41
Even within Europe, those countries
that are more gender equal
08:42
also have the highest levels of happiness.
08:46
It is also good for companies.
08:50
Research by Catalyst and others
has shown conclusively
08:52
that the more gender-equal companies are,
08:56
the better it is for workers,
08:59
the happier their labor force is.
09:04
They have lower job turnover.
They have lower levels of attrition.
09:06
They have an easier time recruiting.
09:09
They have higher rates of retention,
higher job satisfaction,
09:12
higher rates of productivity.
09:15
So the question I'm often asked
in companies is,
09:17
"Boy, this gender equality thing,
that's really going to be expensive, huh?"
09:20
And I say, "Oh no, in fact,
what you have to start calculating
09:23
is how much gender inequality
is already costing you.
09:28
It is extremely expensive."
09:32
So it is good for business.
09:34
And the other thing is, it's good for men.
09:37
It is good for the kind of lives
we want to live,
09:40
because young men especially
have changed enormously,
09:43
and they want to have lives
that are animated
09:47
by terrific relationships
with their children.
09:51
They expect their partners,
their spouses, their wives,
09:53
to work outside the home
09:57
and be just as committed
to their careers as they are.
09:58
I was talking, to give you
an illustration of this change --
10:02
Some of you may remember this.
10:06
When I was a lot younger,
there was a riddle that was posed to us.
10:07
Some of you may wince
to remember this riddle.
10:13
This riddle went something like this.
10:15
A man and his son
are driving on the freeway,
10:18
and they're in a terrible accident,
10:21
and the father is killed,
10:23
and the son is brought
to the hospital emergency room,
10:25
and as they're bringing the son
into the hospital emergency room,
10:28
the emergency room attending physician
sees the boy and says,
10:31
"Oh, I can't treat him, that's my son."
10:35
How is this possible?
10:37
We were flummoxed by this.
10:39
We could not figure this out.
10:42
(Laughter)
10:44
Well, I decided to do a little experiment
with my 16-year old son.
10:46
He had a bunch of his friends
hanging out at the house
10:49
watching a game on TV recently.
10:53
So I decided I would pose
this riddle to them,
10:55
just to see, to gauge the level of change.
10:57
Well, 16-year-old boys,
11:00
they immediately turned to me
and said, "It's his mom." Right?
11:02
No problem. Just like that.
11:06
Except for my son, who said,
"Well, he could have two dads."
11:08
(Laughter) (Applause)
11:11
That's an index, an indicator
of how things have changed.
11:16
Younger men today expect
to be able to balance work and family.
11:20
They want to be dual-career,
dual-carer couples.
11:26
They want to be able to balance
work and family with their partners.
11:31
They want to be involved fathers.
11:35
Now, it turns out
11:37
that the more egalitarian
our relationships,
11:39
the happier both partners are.
11:43
Data from psychologists and sociologists
are quite persuasive here.
11:46
I think we have the persuasive numbers,
the data, to prove to men
11:50
that gender equality
is not a zero-sum game, but a win-win.
11:56
Here's what the data show.
12:00
Now, when men begin
the process of engaging
12:02
with balancing work and family,
12:07
we often have two phrases
that we use to describe what we do.
12:09
We pitch in and we help out.
12:12
(Laughter)
12:15
And I'm going to propose
something a little bit more radical,
12:16
one word: "share."
12:19
(Laughter)
12:20
Because here's what the data show:
12:22
when men share housework and childcare,
12:24
their children do better in school.
12:26
Their children have lower rates
of absenteeism,
12:29
higher rates of achievement.
12:32
They are less likely
to be diagnosed with ADHD.
12:33
They are less likely
to see a child psychiatrist.
12:36
They are less likely
to be put on medication.
12:39
So when men share housework and childcare,
12:41
their children are happier and healthier,
12:45
and men want this.
12:48
When men share housework and childcare,
12:51
their wives are happier. Duh.
12:53
Not only that, their wives are healthier.
12:57
Their wives are less likely
to see a therapist,
13:00
less likely to be diagnosed
with depression,
13:02
less likely to be put on medication,
more likely to go to the gym,
13:04
report higher levels
of marital satisfaction.
13:08
So when men share housework and childcare,
13:11
their wives are happier and healthier,
13:13
and men certainly want this as well.
13:15
When men share housework and childcare,
13:18
the men are healthier.
13:20
They smoke less, drink less,
take recreational drugs less often.
13:22
They are less likely to go to the ER
13:26
but more like to go to a doctor
for routine screenings.
13:29
They are less likely to see a therapist,
13:32
less likely to be diagnosed
with depression,
13:34
less likely to be taking
prescription medication.
13:36
So when men share housework and childcare,
13:38
the men are happier and healthier.
13:40
And who wouldn't want that?
13:44
And finally,
13:46
when men share housework and childcare,
13:47
they have more sex.
13:49
(Laughter)
13:50
Now, of these four fascinating findings,
13:52
which one do you think
Men's Health magazine put on its cover?
13:54
(Laughter)
13:57
"Housework Makes Her Horny.
14:00
(Not When She Does It.)"
14:03
(Laughter)
14:04
Now, I will say,
14:06
just to remind the men in the audience,
14:08
these data were collected
over a really long period of time,
14:11
so I don't want listeners to say,
14:15
"Hmm, OK, I think
I'll do the dishes tonight."
14:18
These data were collected
over a really long period of time.
14:21
But I think it shows something important,
14:25
that when Men's Health magazine
put it on their cover,
14:29
they also called,
you'll love this, "Choreplay."
14:31
So, what we found
is something really important,
14:35
that gender equality
14:40
is in the interest of countries,
14:42
of companies, and of men,
14:45
and their children and their partners,
14:48
that gender equality
is not a zero-sum game.
14:50
It's not a win-lose.
14:53
It is a win-win for everyone.
14:54
And what we also know
14:57
is we cannot fully empower women and girls
15:00
unless we engage boys and men.
15:03
We know this.
15:06
And my position is
15:09
that men need the very things
that women have identified
15:10
that they need to live the lives
they say they want to live
15:14
in order to live the lives
that we say we want to live.
15:17
In 1915, on the eve of one
of the great suffrage demonstrations
15:22
down Fifth Avenue in New York City,
15:27
a writer in New York
wrote an article in a magazine,
15:29
and the title of the article was,
15:33
"Feminism for Men."
15:36
And this was the first line
of that article:
15:39
"Feminism will make it possible
for the first time for men to be free."
15:41
Thank you.
15:46
(Applause)
15:48

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About the Speaker:

Michael Kimmel - Sociologist
The author of "Angry White Men," Michael Kimmel is a pre-eminent scholar of men and masculinity.

Why you should listen

Sociologist Michael Kimmel is among the leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity in the world. He's the executive director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University, where he is also Distinguished University Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies.

He is the author of many books, including Manhood in AmericaAngry White Men, and the best seller Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. An activist for gender equality for more than 30 years, he was recently called "the world's preeminent male feminist" by the Guardian.