What About The Boys
I am writing this piece on Women’s Equality Day. Yesterday I was in my Women + Gender book club put on by NationSwell where we dove into some of the issues surrounding this day. Holidays like this are always a double-edged sword to me, I love the names, the celebrations, marches, and conversations that come out of them but I also wish that we didn’t have to have them––that women, people of color, those of different sexual orientations, etc. were just left to be who they are and equal in society. We don’t need to like everyone or their way of living, but we should respect and support each other as human beings.
On the call yesterday a philanthropist spoke up and said that when she would direct big donors to groups that specifically supported women and girls they would always ask her “What about the boys?”. That struck me, what about the boys? I love boys. I have two brothers, I have more guy friends than girlfriends, I was always in love with one boy or another, and now I have a son. I understand that it is complicated, that to correct these issues means that someone has to sacrifice something and it upsets me that the boys of today have to sacrifice for the men that came before them. It isn’t fair, but these boys are growing up, too, in an inequitable world and they have the opportunity to help right it. That is a gift for the boys of today, and I cannot minimize the weight of this statement but I also must remind us that they are not the ones inherently discriminated against from nearly all of the systems that affect most aspects of their lives so in reality, compared to girls they are not being asked to sacrifice as much. Boys who give grow up to be men who give and this is how we will change the world. What about the boys? We are teaching them what it is to be men, to be fathers, friends, lovers. They are not forgotten and I do understand that the burden they are bearing right alongside the girls who have always been asked to bear this burden is big. However, I believe in their strength to bear it and I empower them to create the world they want to see with said burden so that their children aren’t asked to make the same sacrifices.
The issues we are working through today are very difficult. There will be very little grace as we as an imperfect human race grapple with something so much bigger than ourselves. That means we will do it “wrong”, and honestly, I don’t see a “right”, I only see trying.
Something I am still thinking through, which also goes with my “Words Matter” piece is the All Lives Matter versus Black Lives Matter and other controversial communication surrounding these issues––just like “What about the boys?”. I am a self-proclaimed humanist. Despite my lack of patience sometimes, I love people––all of them. I have friends of all types from all countries. I know those who have been hurt in war, have had to hide their faces in LGBTQ+ protests, who have been denied something because of how they look or their nationality and so much more. Until I knew them actually, I used to believe in the bootstrap theory because my parents are self-made and very successful. I watched them build that success and know how hard they worked for it, understanding even more as I struggle to build my own success. I think the world of my parents and was shocked to realize that even coming from “nothing” they still came from WHITE and that was enough to aid them in their success. The bootstrap theory is wrong because it is not an equitable world, we do not have equal access to opportunity. My dad could go door to door as a young white man. A woman spoke yesterday and said that she remembered giving water to the black sanitation worker who picked up her trash and he asked if she was sure he could drink from her glass because of his skin color. She wasn’t from this country so went home confused about the encounter asking her parents why. My eyes filled with tears right there on the call––that guy could never go door to door to build his business like my dad. He is older, I like to think this happens less but watching Amy Cooper I think maybe it just shows up in different ways, and unlike with her oftentimes is too subtle to pick up on unless we are really paying attention. So all of this to say, just like “Women’s Equality Day” I wish that we could say All Lives Matter and not have to specify that “Black Lives Matter”, but as someone also said on the NationSwell call “Would you give food to the guy who just finished his three-course meal or the guy who hasn’t eaten in three days?”. We all need food, but some of us need more right now. Unfortunately, some of us need to be told that we matter and they need us, who are white or privileged or have power, to say to others that their lives––Latino, Black, Female, LGBTQ lives––MATTER, a lot.
Montie & Joie
You and me––We are building a new type of foundation at M&J. Our systems all the way from the “World Order” to the way I just bought my smoothie were built for those who already had “access”. I remember when my mom had to get my dad to sign for her credit card at Amex. It was a “big deal” credit card which is I assume why they felt like the 1974 laws did not apply to them as far as discrimination goes but it goes to show––most of what we are operating on now still comes from the past. You probably have heard me talk about my concerns with AI, how severe bias is being built into the very systems we are using to create change even to the point where some programs have resulted in hospital deaths for people of color. We need a new foundation. At M&J we have not done this perfectly as we understand our limits as an underfunded startup but we have built our foundation with the most marginalized in mind. What if the whole world was built for that impoverished black girl living in a New York City borough? The systems would then support her growth, not her oppression and soon the world would look different. This is a hard shift we are asking for, but can we do it or some version of it? We can do our part and the more who contribute, the further we will get, eventually creating a whole with our many parts.
What we can do
- We were miseducated by design. If you re-read some of the histories we were taught as kids you will find that even the history of the women's movement was built on untruths. It was not just the white women we learned about who gave us our right to vote but black women, Asian women, Latin women, and Native American women who were all behind the movement. We would not be here without them yet I know I did not learn their names like Susan B. Anthony yet there are some that could be classified as more important to the movement as a whole. So step one is to re-educate yourselves. “Good history leads to better citizens,” John Oliver said. I couldn’t agree more, but why then aren’t we learning “good history”? I don’t believe it was a mistake.
- Don’t get me wrong, I understand why some of these white women like Anthony did not mention their black counterparts in the 1800s as things would have been drastically held up by that. It is very very hard, but also consider where we are today. Women still don’t have the same equality as men and our movement would have been less divisive if all people who were not built into the systems we live by had banded together. Maybe we would be three steps ahead or maybe two steps back, but regardless we would have been together and that is a number that no one can ignore. The fact that neither women of any type nor men of color can run safely at night shows that we have something in common across race, gender and more and I believe we have more in common rather than less. There is no better time than the present to stand by that. It should be one united movement towards equality for all, and if one issue gets put front and center, like people of color being killed without reason, they should not forget the issues of their brothers and sisters, and we––their brothers and sisters––should cheer them on in the limelight knowing we are not going to be forgotten. It is not us or them, it is one fight for equality for all and it doesn’t matter if that was the case before it can be now. And yes, I know with this too comes sacrifice, mistakes and a complete lack of grace. But the more we try the better we get and the more in number, the louder we can shout. This does not mean that I don’t stand by Black Lives Matter as a rallying cry. I just hope they use the stage to include all of us once they get there.
- Yet another woman from yesterday’s call said that she has seen inclusion end where convenience begins and that resonates even in my own life. This is terrifying. It is not convenient for those of us to have more expected of us as we make room for boys or girls of different backgrounds. But let’s also think of it this way: with the way the systems were built for a first-generation Latina to be competing with my very educated and privileged white brother for the same position, she had to overcome more. Maybe she does deserve the job because she actually had to overcome more to get into the same interview room. This is a controversial line of thinking because it is inherently unfair. And again it requires asking those who might not agree with me to sacrifice something that could be life-altering for them. We did not get a grant at M&J at a time we really needed it because 5 black women got it instead. I was angry and it felt “unjust” but I also know that I will have more opportunities for cash and this might have been it for them, in fact it probably was. I then changed to being so excited and for them and proud of them, happy to give up my spot to people who had to work harder to be there. I wish there was another way but I don’t see one. Do you? How else do we ensure change? This is not a closed dialogue as I hope to hear and to learn more. Right now while we are still operating in the old, discriminatory systems I don’t know what else to do for those who don’t care other than to request diversity by numbers which often means sacrifice from those who don’t want to give it.
- Make it a priority to look for diversity. For me, that means hiring for diversity. There are only good stats to back this up––diversity has a very positive impact on our bottom line and company culture. Diversity means a difference in socio-economic factors, sexuality, nationality, and more. I was listening to another panel today on racism in the workplace as I am trying to learn how to not build racism into our company by lack of understanding. Someone explained the difference of Culture Fit versus Culture Add. That summed it up for me––maybe “next hire” isn’t a culture fit because he is a black-Latino man in his late 60s, but if he shares our values and is qualified for the job he definitely would be a culture add. Are we going to text on the weekends about our favorite fashion podcast? No probably not but we did not build this business to get beers together. We built this organization to make real change and if he can contribute to that he is a perfect “fit”.
- Call out your “isms”. We all have them. I think a lot of us are consciously unskilled at our biases and that is why it takes work to overcome them but we will be better off for it, that I know. For me it was harder at first to hire people from different cultures not because I don’t think they are qualified but because 1. They are not in my current network most of the time, or 2. It feels like communication or understanding will be more challenging. If I am truly committed to diversity though I will surpass those thoughts––I do know that our team members who are from other cultures are an incredible culture add and have never proven to be more challenging so this is a faulty thought pattern I needed to shake.
- Finally, be open and ask questions. I have a huge fear around addressing these topics publicly because I don’t really know how to do it nor do I really know what I am talking about as I am inherently white and privileged––I am still in the development phase of my ideas. However, a great place to start is to ask a question and just listen. In my only job outside of college, a very racist guy made some pretty horrible comments to me about the middle eastern businessmen and women in videos the company had produced and I hung up because I didn’t know what to do. Not saying he was the best guinea pig but since I hung up it wouldn’t have been much worse to ask why he thought that. He clearly was not a fit for the company and as long as I was respectful and did not argue it wasn’t putting the company on the line, it was just a question. I haven’t gotten comments that strong since so it was a perfect opportunity to learn from him. I would also like to hear what you think about how we could discuss these topics. Are you afraid, too, or have you found a way to talk about them?
There’s always more we can do. The most important thing is to learn and to be patient with ourselves. Not patient enough to not do anything, but forgiving when we don’t do it right. It is also okay to change your opinion, it might be much harder for me to ask my son in the future to make sacrifices than it is for me to ask someone else’s boys today but I know I will still see the importance in it.
The last thing I will leave you with is the thought of equality versus equity.
Equity: the quality of being fair and impartial.
Equality: the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.
Equality defined at M&J - We are all the same only our opportunity to express ourselves is different
The world will never be an equitable one but there can be equality. It will not be easy but we all have a choice and the power to create change today.
Resources, some I have explored and some I have not:
- Suffrage Isn’t ‘Boring History.’ It’s a Story of Political Geniuses
- AOC’s speech about Ted Yoho’s ‘apology’ was a comeback for the ages
- Finish the Fight’: A Special Digital Theater Performance Celebrates 100 Years of Women’s Right to Vote
- Suffrage Movement History
- HBO documentary: Gloria in Her Own Words
- The New York Foundation for Women
- The Men’s Story Project
- Girls Leadership + their recent research about the leadership of Black and Latinx girls