Why Men Still See the World As Their Realm and Are Reluctant to Allow Women In?
To the privileged, equality feels like oppression
Have you ever heard a man complain that there aren’t enough movies with male leads anymore? Or games? Or that everything lately seems to be too ‘female-centric’ or ‘feminised?’
Or, perhaps, my personal favourite — women have already achieved equality in every possible sphere of life, so there’s really no need for us to worry our pretty little heads with feminism and other nonsense.
Chances are, you probably have.
And so have I.
Although literally no country on this planet has achieved gender equality yet, it’s not uncommon for men to grossly overestimate female presence, whether in movies, games, politics, business, or any other area and assume just that.
Why does this seemingly unconscious cognitive bias exist in the first place? What consequences does it have for gender equality in today’s world?
And what could be done to overcome it?
For a long time, exclusion was the standard — and it still largely is
I’m an early 90s kid. And I was lucky enough to grow up with quite a few contemporary female role models. Arguably, they weren’t all that great — like UK’s first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher — or real — like Cher Horowitz from the iconic movie Clueless. But at least they were there.
Yet I still struggle to think of more movies with a female lead I watched as a kid other than Clueless, which, by some, wouldn’t even be considered a ‘real’ movie — just a ‘chick flick’ instead.
Because in comparison to those with male protagonists, there weren’t that many. And not a great deal has changed since then.
According to one recent global study, 85% of movies released in 2021 featured more male than female characters, and just 31% of them featured sole female protagonists. Not surprisingly, women also made up just 34% of all speaking characters.
And sadly, this isn’t just the entertainment industry issue. If you look at statistics on women’s representation and participation in other areas of society, the picture is equally bleak.
When it comes to politics, only 26% of parliamentarians globally are women. When it comes to the world of business, only 1 in 3 small, medium and large enterprises are female-owned. And only 41 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women. When it comes to media, only 24% of the persons heard, read about or seen in newspaper, television and radio news are women.
The good news is that all these numbers have been worse even a decade ago. We’re making steady progress, and that’s great.
But at the same time, from offices, board rooms, government committees to movie sets, it’s still largely a man’s world, as it has been for centuries on end. And women are still underrepresented and excluded, despite accounting for half of this world’s population and almost half of the world’s workforce.
So if you grow up seeing this inequality practically everywhere you go, and everywhere you look, this is what becomes ‘normal’ to you.
Because that’s just how the world is. That’s how we organised ourselves. With men in charge and a few women appearing around them from time to time.
And anything other than that is out of the ordinary.
When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression
When a group of society has long been underrepresented, an increase in representation — no matter how small — can be perceived inaccurately as an onslaught by the remaining group or groups.
Because they have to make room for someone else. Because this isn’t what that they’re used to. And because they grew so accustomed to their own dominance and privilege, equality feels almost like oppression.
And this is precisely why some men might have a cognitive bias which makes them perceive women to be taking up more space than they actually do.
According to one study, if there are only 17% of women in a given room, men think it’s more of a 50–50 split between women and men. And if there are 33% women, men think there are actually more women than men.
And many other studies reveal similar findings.
One research, which looked at gender parity in the workforce, concluded that men also consistently perceive more gender parity in workplaces than their female colleagues do. Another study asked business executives to estimate the percentage of women among CEOs of large companies. The average response given by men was 25, and according to the study authors, the correct answer is 8.
Interestingly, men also perceive that women take up more space in group discussions. But in reality, men tend to speak twice as often as women do. And even when women take up 50% of the speaking time, they’re often seen as dominating the discussion.
So let’s put two and two together.
Men tend to perceive equality when women are vastly outnumbered and underrepresented. And as we approach actual parity, men might erroneously believe that we are entering an era of female supremacy.
That explains awfully a lot, doesn’t it?
This is why a handful of superhero movies with female leads is apparently enough for some men to start talking about the forced ‘feminisation’ of the entire Hollywood. This is why less than 30% of women in congress in the US already makes it a male-intolerant political environment.
And this is why the world slowly becoming an equal place might feel like ‘the end of men’ to some, so they try to fight against it with all the strength they possess.
Because when it comes to women, power, representation and privilege, apparently some is enough, and enough is too much.
Breaking the illusion of equality is a team effort
It’s discouraging, although not surprising, that some men are still reluctant to admit that there are many gender inequalities in today’s world, and we need to do more to fight against them.
After all, in their minds, equality already exists.
Or rather, their conveniently skewed version of it does.
Because they see a board room with 17 women out of 100 people and are baffled why do we even need feminism anymore. Let’s just call it a day and stop empowering women so much; otherwise, we’ll live in a matriarchal hell, right?
Unfortunately for everyone, this misguided way of thinking ultimately holds us all back.
Because gender equality is good for everyone. Yup, that’s right.
It’s good for women, men and everyone who identifies out of the gender binary. It’s good for children. It’s good for marginalised groups. It’s good for the economy.
But until both women and men recognise that we haven’t achieved it yet, we’re unlikely to make further progress. To challenge our current cultural expectations, legislative systems, and social programming that still places men on the top. To move beyond sexism, misogyny and traditional gender roles. And to create a freer, fairer world as a result.
And no, it’s not enough to simply tell women to ‘just try their best’ or wish them good luck. Sure, this might be a convenient solution since it demands nothing of men, and it frees them from listening and reflecting and changing their behaviour.
But it takes two to tango, I’m afraid.
Yes, it’s important to empower women and raise girls who aren’t afraid to speak up and embrace their passions. But it’s equally as important to encourage men to unlearn their biases, stop shutting women out of various formal and informal processes and raise boys who aren’t entitled to dominate everything and everyone around them.
Boys who don’t consider this world a realm of men, for men.
Because it isn’t.
Women are half of this world’s population.
We are also half of its potential.
Gender equality isn’t only a fundamental human right. It’s also critical to building a better, fairer and more sustainable tomorrow.
And it’s about time we realised that.
Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists