Girl Power.

  • Mon, 26, Apr, 2021 - 5:00:AM

I challenge men in the wake of International Women's Day

Woman holding pen / Ron Lach / Pexels

It seems wrong for International Women’s Day to last for just 24 hours. One day. We’re already nearly two months on, and the struggle for equality wasn’t miraculously solved on March 8.

Thinking back to that day, how many of the feminist, pro-equality messages have stuck? And were they the right messages to start with?

The underlying theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was Choose to Challenge; choosing to call out biases, confront systemic biases and holding yourself and others accountable for sexist behaviour. It’s a message I’ve listened to and repeated many times in the past. But it’s incomplete.

Sometimes, women simply can’t choose to challenge systemic sexism without sacrificing safety or comfort. The very biases that work against us are the ones that prevent us from calling it out. In classroom and workplace discussions, women are mistakenly thought to be more talkative than men, even when we speak less than them. Assertive behaviour — which challenging systemic sexism requires — is construed as rudeness. Pay negotiations are incredibly unsuccessful for women (3x less likely than men to receive a pay rise) who dare challenge income disparity.

Sexism skews how other people perceive strong, outspoken women in professional situations. When academic or career opportunities often ride on those perceptions — is she a hard worker? Is she creative? Is she diligent? — asking women to put themselves on the line in the name of addressing gender bias is unfair.

Part of the reason this year’s IWD theme reads strangely is that there’s not one woman I know who wouldn’t ‘choose to challenge’ sexism if it truly were a viable optional. 

There’s not one woman I know who doesn’t have a long list of grievances about living in a patriarchal society. Here’s one of my recent ones: being an RA in a hall of accommodation makes it very clear that male voices are deferred to most of the time, first time around, while I dedicate too much brainpower to finding the balance between being authoritative and downright ‘bitchy’.

My female friends and I share war stories constantly. Women are angry, articulate, perceptive and brimming with both the desire and vision to bring about positive change. In the case that nothing is said and nothing is done, it’s probably not because all the women chose not to challenge sexism for the day. 

It’s because we’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. 

When we compel the population to fight the patriarchy, it’s usually women who show up. That’s why I compel men in particular. This (belated) International Women’s Day, I challenge men. I challenge men to tune in rather than turn a blind eye. I challenge men to listen to the stories of all women — and, if they feel an urge to question her honesty, stare long and hard at their ingrained suspicion. I challenge men to stop interrupting. I challenge men to apologise rather than justify.

Whether it’s lean-in feminism or gender equity panels completely staffed and attended by women — i.e., not really the people who need to listen up — the onus for fighting sexism falls on us far too often. 

It’s yet another form of woman’s work for us to do, unpaid and at our emotional expense. I said before that often it’s detrimental to a woman’s relationships or future prospects to challenge the biases she sees at every turn. But it doesn’t even have to be detrimental — it can be merely exhausting.

To preserve our salaries, our scholarships, our peace of mind, women won’t be fighting the good fight 24/7. We won’t always be policing microaggressions or demanding investigations into sexist teachers and managers. We won’t always be active on social media, or available for introspective conversations, or calling bullshit out in meetings.

But there’s absolutely no reason men can’t rise to this challenge.


  • International Women's Day /
  • Feminism /
  • #HeForShe /
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