Unbecoming Sexist: How Men can Unlearn Sexism

I often come in contact with men who are frustrated with themselves and others, because they cannot figure out how to identify and unlearn sexist behaviors. To be fair, I meet more men who are oblivious or even proud in their sexism than men who are interested in unlearning harmful mindsets. This post is a response to that request, a beginner’s guide for men who are tired of being part of the problem and would now like to be part of the solution. This is also for the men who need to wake up and realize that women also live on our planet and deserve just as a much as men already get.

A basic step to unlearning sexism is recognizing that women are people in their own right. Typically, we identify women in relation to other people, which inherently isn’t a bad thing. However, it becomes problematic when we decide on what treatment to give women based on who they are attached to. For example, anti-rape slogans that remind that that the woman is someone’s wife, daughter, mother, sister or partner. The attachment of women to others, especially to men, insinuates that a woman is not a full person deserving of rights. If we shift from this mentality and begin to see women as full human beings who truly exist outside of the various roles they serve, then maybe some of those sexist ideologies we hold will begin to disappear.

After you have learned to accept the full human-ness of women, you can begin to accept that you are not entitled to a woman. You are not entitled to her body, time, manners, intellect or even smiles. You know exactly what I’m talking about when I say to get rid of that sense of entitlement you display toward women. Let me provide you examples, just in case you have no idea what I am referring to. When you ask a woman on a date, you are not entitled to a “yes” or an explanation for her rejection. When you ask a woman for her phone number, you are not entitled to it. She can choose to ignore you, provide you with a fake number, or say no to you. When you tell a woman that she is beautiful, you are not entitled to a smile. Now do you get a sense of what I am referring to. Accepting that you are not entitled to anything from a woman, simply because you are a male or are interested in said woman, will free up mental space to unlearn some more sexist behaviors and ways of being. It will also likely save you from legal trouble, especially now that #MeToo has provided an outlet to discuss experience of sexual harassment and assault.

A third way to unlearn sexist socialization is to recognize that putting women forward does not take away your own power. Various societies in the world preach that men are born natural leaders; only men can lead, and women ought to follow. This rhetoric has created the current inequality in leadership opportunities, lack of willingness to elect or recommend women into high leadership roles, and the lack of willingness to give equal pay for the same work. As a man unlearning sexism, you can move away from this by creating spaces in your life for women to lead. For example, if you are in a group project, allow a capable woman to head the team. If they do not offer to lead at first, gently ask if they would like to lead the project. When they take up the leadership role, do not try to undermine them by telling them how to lead, disregarding their requests and suggestions, or bullying them out of the role. If you have children, encourage your daughters to lead, while also teaching them that there are many different effective leadership styles. Allow your daughter to voice her opinions and even challenge you (in healthy and respectful ways). When we shift away from the faulty notion that only men can lead, we open ourselves to more leadership styles, diverse types of leaders and essentially more progressive communities.

Now, if you read through this entire article without getting defensive, well done!! If after the first paragraph, you begun to huff and puff, that is okay too. I hope you continued to read the piece even as you huffed and puffed. This article is meant to be an eye-opening, not an exhaustive list. Talk to women around you to see how best they would like you to support them and go from them. If you are too afraid, talk to other men who are doing much better in this department, along with following the suggestions in this piece. You are almost there!! Keep pushing, and let’s have one less sexist man on the planet!

Feminist, budding writer, food enthusiast, mental health professional and fellow human.