Gender inequality: can men be part of the solution?

Earlier this week, I thought I had a neat little idea for a column.

When Triple J breakfast host and comedian, Matt Okine, won an ARIA for best comedy, he took the opportunity to rant from the stage about gender inequality in the category. Not one woman had been nominated.

"I'd feel bad if I didn't make a point about something, something I feel a bit weird about," he said. Then he made his point and set discussion boards alight.

He also called out his fellow men. "A lot of guys my age think you're doing enough, by not doing anything bad."

He's absolutely right. Men can't feel smug simply because they don't abuse women.

Finding a voice

My question was going to be to feminists, who have clearly and repeatedly expressed the position that men are not allowed to comment, even positively, on gender inequality, simply because we are part of the problem and have hogged the microphone for far too long.

"But what about Matt Okine?" I was going to demand. Yes, he's a man in a privileged position. But isn't it better he say something positive, something that will create change for the better, than simply step up for his award and thank his mum and his manager?

But then another story broke that, frankly, pissed me off so much that, despite of any debate about whether I should or not, I feel the need to raise my voice.

Just desserts

Clementine Ford, the erudite and sometimes abrasive columnist on feminism issues, named and shamed hotel worker Michael Nolan after he called her a "slut" on Facebook. His employer, Meriton, in excellent crisis-management mode, sacked him.


(I'd be abrasive, too, if I got called a slut all the time and told a good root would fix up my crazy ideas).

Predictably, the blame for Nolan's stupidity has been sheeted in Ford's direction. She endures online abuse every day for her strong views on equality, but was swamped by a torrent of filthy posts following the story of her harasser losing his job.

(I'm not going to dignify those posts by repeating them here, giving freak trolls the attention they crave. The worst of it is here. Be warned - it's horrendous.)

It's abuse - pure and simple

This is not freedom of speech. It's not even bullying. It's abuse, pure and simple. Every man who calls Ford, and any other woman, a derogatory term such as "slut" or "bitch" - or worse - not only proves her point, but increases gender inequality, increases the level of misogyny, increases the sexualisation and objectification of women.

I am the father of a teenage daughter. I do not want her to grow up in an environment where a brave individual fighting for equality is called a slut and regularly threatened with rape (yes, that's a fairly common theme on Ford's social media feeds).

So what do men do?

Clearly, we do not engage in pathetic, cowardly attacks on women. But that's not enough. That's just not being an abuser.

Call it out

We have to actively call it out, wherever we see it. Like Matt Okine. Men are part of the problem, but we can still say to other men, "That's disgraceful. Stop it. Here's why …"

If you are a man who respects and value women as equals, we should be loud and proud. Domestic violence, rape, abuse, and harassment are the direct result of gender inequality, of the thinking that men somehow still have magic rights to women and their bodies.

So when you see abuse, in whatever form, be a man. Stand up and say something. If we all do it, maybe we'll eventually become part of the solution.

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is owner of a creative events and activations agency and is a regular commentator on the life and style of Australian men.