What’s keeping men from engaging in gender equality?

The Pedestal Effect may be the unspoken enemy of men’s engagement in gender equality.
Photo by: Exile on Ontario St / Source: Flickr

Every day, we fight a war against gender inequality. We fight systems that oppress people for being who they are. This means, being killed because of your sexual orientation, as in Chechnya or being unable to use the bathroom of your choice as it is the case in North Carolina.

For women and girls, the struggle is to have a life free of sexual violence, for equal access to opportunities, and control over their own bodies. In recent years, while some men have jumped in the equality waggon, pushing for a meaningful conversation about masculinities and what it means to be a man, the majority remains attached to harmful notions of masculinity.

Today, there is plethora of resources on how to be a feminist, an ally, how to raise feminist boys or boys that respect genuinely others. Videos, books, Ted Talks, podcasts and innovative art exhibits that are helping us understand better the layers and complexities of the relationship between gender issues and masculinities. There is more openness to talk about the issues that men and boys face. This is a fundamental step in achieving gender equality, an equality that includes men and boys too.

A silent enemy

Despite these advancements, there is a growing silent enemy of men’s engagement in gender equality. It manifests in subtle and sometimes, misleading ways. It is called the Pedestal Effect. This concept comes from the engagement of men as allies against Gender-based Violence (GBV) but its definition can be perfectly applied widely.

It “refers to men’s unearned praise and the greater likelihood of being listened to”. In sum, this means, putting men in a pedestal by praising them for actions, words or gestures that seem in line with gender equality, but might not.

Do we give men credit for “promoting gender equality” when in reality they are leveraging their power and privilege for their own benefits? What happens when we praise people or companies for gender equality actions that are motivated by profit? What about when we praise men for performing the same tasks that women are expected to perform?

To praise or not to praise?

There is a real threat in praising men and boys for acting in ways that seem in tune with gender equality but lack authenticity or real understanding of gender issues.

This happens when men are praised for “doing the dishes or helping at home” as if a divine presence is favouring mortals. Running a household, caring for family members, and providing meals take time and effort. This is called the “mental load” and it is carried primarily by women.

Men doing chores are not doing “a favour” or helping their wife or partner. We are assuming our fair share of the responsibility as adults living in joint space. So please, bite your tongue when you are tempted to praise men/boys when is unearned and make sure you call others when that happens. Even more, support men that use their soapbox to fight for equal rights in meaningful ways, for instance, for parental leave.

Champions of gender equality…not?

In June 2017, boys in a secondary school in Exeter, UK were confronted with two issues: hot temperatures and a rule against wearing shorts to school. Girls were not affected as they are allowed to wear skirts. When the school administrators refuse to change the rules, the boys devised an idea: wear skirts to school. The news went viral and the images of the boys wearing skirts took over the internet. Finally, the school gave up to the pressure and changed the rules to allow boys to wear shorts. They fought for their rights to equal treatment and they won.

Does this make them champions for gender equality? No, it does not. Is wearing a skirt a political statement? It could be. In this case, these boys are not challenging patriarchy by presenting themselves in a way that seems to emasculate by society, they are leveraging their own privilege to their benefit. If you ride the metro to rob the passengers does not mean you support public transportation. If you want to praise boys and their families who are challenging gender inequality, listen to Joe’s story who fought to change the rules to allow Trans boys to be admitted to the Boys’ Scouts.

The Axe Effect

Since 2015, Axe, a Unilever brand, has taken a U-turn in its narrative on men and masculinity. The recent launch of the “The Man Box” report -developed by Promundo and Unilever- is a good contribution to the discussion around the factors that shape young men’s experiences in becoming men. But Axe and its “Axe Effect” have been built on millions of dollars and decades of the most misogynist, sexist advertising. Unilever and Axe have made millions in profit by selling young men deodorant that would make women -literally- fall at their feet, as you can see in dozens of videos in multiple languages that show clearly this line of thinking.

Today, thanks to this report and two new ads (2016 and 2017), Axe enjoys the Pedestal Effect, getting praised for a sudden change in spite of its record and history. For how long would this change last? Is this a genuine change or only a strategy to increase profits? If the profits go down, would they stick to this new version of men or would they return to the safe-profit bet, even if it is harmful and sexist?

The Pedestal effect is harmful and it gives a halo of authenticity to actions and behaviours that might reinforce inequality. Our common responsibility is to make them visible and call the bluff when it happens. Not all men are guilty of patriarchy and gender inequality, but they are all responsible for confronting it without expecting to get praised for doing it.

Do you have any stories about the #PedestalEffect in your life? Share them with @DefyGenderRoles or @wordsbucket using #PedestalEffect.


Sebastián Molano

Sebastián Molano is a Colombian gender specialist and development worker living in Boston. Currently, he consults for different NGO's on how to promote gender justice and engage men and boys in development projects. You can check here his TEDx Talk in gender isses: [a href="http://bit.ly/TEDxTalk-DefyinGendeRoles"]http://bit.ly/TEDxTalk-DefyinGendeRoles[/a] With the support of his awesome life partner/wife, Sebastián writes about the need to engage men and women in a needed, healthy discussion about new and liberating re-configuration of gender roles. He leads Defying Gender Roles a multi-lingual group that seeks to engage men and women in how to challenge harmful prevailing gender norms and roles. Check it out: http://defyingenderoles.org/
6 Comments on this post.
  • Avatar
    Sebastián Molano
    11 July 2017 at 12:38 am
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    Thanks WiB for giving me the change of putting these ideas out there. I love you !

  • WiB Team
    WiB Team
    13 July 2017 at 10:40 am
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    We love YOU!!!

  • Avatar
    21 July 2017 at 5:05 pm
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    This was really interesting to read- there is a lot of superficial wave of what is gender equality and standing up for it. I want recoil and go back into a shell whenever i hear a male friend saying ‘i practice gender equality at home – I help my partner with dishes and sometimes also do her laundry!’

  • Avatar
    Whats keeping Men from engaging in Gender Equality ? #Vaw | Kractivism
    22 July 2017 at 7:05 am
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    […] What’s keeping men from engaging in gender equality? […]

  • Sebastián Molano
    22 July 2017 at 4:46 pm
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    Totally agree Ojaswi, it is a clear display of the #Pedestal Effect. The bar has been set so low for men and accountability remains a huge issue. Thanks for reading !

  • Avatar
    24 July 2017 at 9:03 pm
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    On the flip side. I am a sahd and my wife works full time. Negativity to me being the caregiver has mainly come from women,many of who constantly talk about equality and feminism, two of whom have bragged to me about working in a female oriented retail workspace, brag about how they deliberately target men for scapegoating and have admitted to making up false allegations of misogny against men to knock them out of the running for promotion because ‘they can’and ‘women need to stick together to redress the balance’.

    All of which has made me realise that when positions of power are reversed women are just as capable of behaving like the misogynists. We can be just as guilty of putting women on a pedestal and believing they are always fighting the good fight rather, which allows some of them to behave appalingly bad too using the guise of leveraging gender equality to their own advantage.

    It’s really opened my eyes because I used to believe that women wouldn’t stoop so low as to behave in the same fashion as the misogynists they are rallying against.

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