Men need to step up for equality – also in the media

The fight for gender equality is in many ways seen as women’s fight for equality. It isn’t

When we talk about gender equality in the media, many will assume the focus is on women and girls – how they are represented and portrayed as well as how they are enabled or prevented from taking on certain cultural and professional roles.

The fight for gender equality is in many ways perceived exclusively as women’s struggle for equality. It isn’t. We forget that men have a lot of work to do as well. Men must work to combat toxic masculinity and to be better allies in the struggle for equality for all.

March 8 is – as many will know – International Women’s Day, an important, annual focal point for feminism. Much less known is that November 19 is International Men’s Day. It is a day that means different things to different people, but at IMS, my colleagues and I use it as an occasion to reflect on how patriarchy also negatively affects men and to highlight the contributions of men to gender equality.

Stereotypical gender roles have harmful consequences for all genders

Many men overlook the fact that they are adversely affected by gender inequality. Many boys grow up in societies that show little forgiveness or tolerance for boys who do not adhere to strict gender roles, ranging from what clothes to wear and what games to play to outdated sayings such as “boys will be boys”, “boys don’t cry.”, and “man up!”. Boys and men endure cultural and social expectations to always be self-sufficient, strong and in control.

Men have to realise that we are a big part of the problem when it comes to inequality

Around the world, we see the devastating impact of harmful gender roles on men: worse overall health and significantly lower life expectancy, higher risk of depression, alcoholism, substance abuse and suicide. Both at a global level and in our local communities, we need to realise that there is not one way to be a man; that masculinity comes in as many shapes and sizes as there are men. But men also have to step up.

Men need to take responsibility for the well-being and the equality of others, while at the same time promote space and opportunity for women and men who struggle for equality and gender justice. Men have to realise that we are a big part of the problem when it comes to inequality and upholding harmful patriarchal practices.

Media has a crucial role to play

The media provides much of the foundation for the positive and negative reinforcements of culture and ideas around gender roles. The media can break with simplistic stereotypes that box in both men and women and instead cover the true diversity of gender roles. Media can amplify the voices of men and women – and people of all gender identities and expressions – who help pave the way for equality for all.

We’re not there yet. According to the 2015 Global Media Monitoring Project, only 7% of all news stories in the world clearly challenged gender stereotypes (we can only hope #MeToo has affected this positively since then).

In times of crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the media’s role is even more critical. As previously written by IMS, even though 75 per cent of the global health workforce is composed of women, for every three men quoted in media coverage on the Covid-19 pandemic, only one woman is.

Leading by example

IMS partners around the world produce inclusive and gender sensitive journalism. Al Jumhuriya in Syria has an impressive dossier on gender, power and sexuality which includes the searing piece I, The Abnormal, on growing up gay in Syria. In Jordan, Sowt’s podcast on masculinities My Form, tell the story of young men growing up with a constant sense of pressure from a society that compels then to change according to the prevailing standards of masculinity. In Myanmar, Frontier provides a rare glimpse at the overlooked male voices in the country’s fight for gender equality.

As these exceptional pieces demonstrate, it is clearly long overdue that media step up for gender equality – and that we, the men working with and within media, take on our share of the work towards social change and the struggle for equality

Recommendations for what you as journalist, editor or media worker can do

  • Revise your editorial and ethical guidelines to make sure that they are sensitive to different perspectives depending on gender;
  • Remind your staff and colleagues that gender equality is a priority – if you’re a man and have the privilege to do so, take a stand against harassment, toxic work culture and demeaning language;
  • Make sure you actively seek out stories covering and including all genders, be cautious of stereotypes and use gender neutral, inclusive language;
  • Monitor your content by gender – make sure you know who is represented and how. If you count your sources, you can also build a stronger case to your management and colleagues if you find out that there is an imbalance;
  • Broaden your perspective – consult expert organisations and walk the extra mile to read up on stereotypes, gender equality and media’s responsibilities;
  • Conduct a gender audit of your internal work to make sure that your organisation has gender sensitive policies and procedures – including zero tolerance approaches to harassment – and an audit to identify diversity gaps in your workforce and leadership . The world is diverse and your workforce and coverage should be too.