How do you think we can make men care about the damage sexism does?

I was asked the question, “How do you think we can make men care about the damage sexism does?” on

Here’s my answer…

I’ve been thinking about this for a few days now, and I think that my answer is that I don’t really know. I guess I have a few ideas, but they all seem a bit vague, unoriginal and largely ineffectual. But anyway…

I feel that the first step would unfortunately have to be consciousness-raising – and I don’t mean of the damage that sexism does, but of the fact that sexism actually exists. So many men seem extremely resistant to accepting this. I think this would have to include both quantitative and qualitative evidence of how sexism manifests itself – but then I start thinking, “This consciousness-raising has been going on for centuries, and yet still the debate rages on.”

So…scrap that – men know that sexism exists, and either pretend that they don’t know, or proudly flaunt their apathy towards this. And, following on from that, men either ignore the damage that this causes, or are fully aware of it and, basically, okay with it. The reasons why men take this stance are no secret.

Honestly, I’m a bit stumped. I remember something I read when I was in my late-teens (I think it was Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’) that said something along of the lines of successfully persuading people to undertake a particular course of action is about explaining to them how that course of action benefits them directly. But that seems unsatisfactory in this instance – it makes it all about men. However, perhaps that approach would at least be a step in the right direction, despite its dubious foundation.

..but I felt that I was far from being the best person to answer this question, so I posted the same question to people that I follow on Here are the responses, unedited and in the order that I received them:

Personally, I think that most men are unconsciously sexist. Because it’s such an entrenched part of our language & behaviour, it doesn’t seem that important to men who think they are being funny. More men need to listen to women’s experiences. @evb_now ‎@everydaysexism are good starting points for men who can’t see the problem.

For those who deliberately discriminate against women, those who believe women to be inferior, hysterical, emotional, unreliable employees, only good for sex & having kids? Kill them.

Men will only care about the damage sexism does if they see it affecting them personally. That’s why some try to frame it as “Your wife or daughter”, to make it personal. Men need to understand how the socialization of masculinity – the indoctrination of male violence – harms them personally, impoverishes them emotionally, and damages their relationships with others, especially with women.

I’m in a fairly desolate emotional place right now, so maybe I’ll re-answer at a later date when I’m feeling less pessimistic. I actually don’t know what it would take for men to care. They’re conditioned not to.

There are well-meaning men who are pretty close to me, who are exposed to all of my beliefs (and the reasons behind them) and know about personal damage that I’ve incurred in my life because of being a girl/woman. It only seems to get them as far as being almost completely inert around feminist matters (don’t get me wrong, I think that’s actually better than being some of the shitheads on ‎@FeministMen). I don’t know what they really think or if they really care.

The only men (and we’re talking one, maybe two) I know of who have actively demonstrated their feminist awareness are this way because of intensive exposure to a radical woman (in their family or intimate life) over a period of years. That seemed to do the trick for Stoltenberg. At this point that’s not something we can mass produce, sadly.

The idea that “if men could only see how BAD it is for women, they’d get it” is flawed because it presupposes that men love women. Men, in fact, hate women. The exceptions I mentioned above are so because they are exceedingly rare men who have happened to genuinely love a radical woman.

It’s defeatist, but at the moment I feel our energies may be better spent reaching a critical mass of women to instantiate concrete changes and infrastructure that will engineer a better culture in the future. One day it might output some men we can work with.

I think that video of dustin Hoffman helps show it. & getting men to look at is important & I think just listening to women’s experiences is a good way. I mean it’ll help them have an insight into the damage caused but I don’t know how to make men, especially those who disagree with feminism & what it stands for, to truly understand what experiencing sexism is like.

I’ll answer this with my own thoughts in detail when I get back from my holiday.

For now, I leave you (and all my followers) with this quote: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” I challenge you to think about this for a while, just as I will.

I’m not sure if my answer is a little naive as I know how deep misogyny runs and that men have been told for so long that there’s nothing wrong with what they’re saying/doing but:

I think if women tell men exactly how sexism has hurt them and affected their lives can help. Telling men how the sexist comments they make which they think are jokes or flippant are actually harmful and perpetuate sexism rather than being humorous.

I think men respond better to being told things like this individually; in a group they are more likely to feel like they need to “act out”, e.g. a group of builders are more likely to use cat calls than one on his own; or a man cracking sexist “jokes” on Twitter is more likely to do it if he thinks he will get an audience.

Hopefully, in this way, if each individual learns to respect women, the group “banter” is less likely to occur or escalate, as even if there is one deeply misogynistic man amongst them who starts things off, if one remembers what his mum/sister/grandma/auntie/daughter/wife/girlfriend told him he may not join in and this could have a ripple effect so that it is no longer seen as being “uncool” to not join in with such comments and in fact calling out sexism becomes more of a norm.

I think ensuring sexism is removed from our media will help as children can pick up on this from an early age. Remove page 3, talk about women’s sports equally, ensure a balance of presenters and reporters. Seeing women achieving things as the norm not an exception.

Sorry for going on there!

From experience, men tend to care when it becomes personal: their mother/sister/daughter. But this is more to do with it being an offence against “them” as opposed to the women in their lives.

The only man I know that gives a shit about sexism against all women is you. I imagine, in part, this was influenced by having me in your life. But your desire to challenge and eradicate sexism seems to go beyond my own experiences and is steeped in the ‘unfairness’ of the systems and structures that oppress.

Back to the original question, we can’t make men do fuck all. Men are more likely to listen to other men so allies can and should play a role but again, this is likely to be a fruitless task. As women, we will continue to highlight and raise awareness of what sexism is and the impact of sexism on ALL people. How it harms everyone and hope that the handful of men who actually give a shit will grow in number. If they don’t, then they will continue to remain on the periphery of my life. Because I simply don’t need their particular brand of bullshit toxifying an already challenging existence.

This is really difficult and massive question.

I guess first off guys talking to guys about it might be more effective. Many non feminist men simply wont give a shit if a woman starts talking about sexism, where as a feminist man might stand a better chance of getting through to them. Using all that male privilege the greater good. Doesn’t need to be in depth debate but even calling out sexist behaviors steadily can get guys to start self analysis. Can be a slow slow process but its either that or alienate by pushing to hard.

The likes of everyday sexism and everyday victim blaming are pretty brilliant for this. Bite sized chunks that show men what life can be like. offline local postering/sticker campaigns (pub loos are great) work well for this, even just graffiti. Some brilliant non victim blaming ads about rape/drinking have been around and while very basic again open the door. Just something about the pay gap either – many men simply not aware. Just straight forward facts of life that produce a gut reaction. Many men without knowing the damage they do participate in activities that harm and when they see the reactions and feelings of women it can do more work that handing them a feminist text. Starts them thinking if they see themselves as decent people. I don’t really know where to start with guys who aren’t interested or don’t care, or even laugh about campaigns. Many i think could be made to care if prodded enough but you need to know when to lose a lost cause.

After that The sharing of feminist lit written by men or male critique on feminist sites (Or anywhere that they might be read) can help wedge open an area to start talking about the dismissal of women words on womens issues to but easing newbies in to it with a safe male voice. NB not Schwyer and not to take precedence over womens voices – stepping stone.

May sound pandering (nature of the question leads to it though) but discussions of how the patriarchy also damages men are hugely important for this and can be an amazing lead in to systemic sexism. I’m not sure if there are many spaces in which this can be done outside of blogs and forums. Public meeting by feminist orgs willing to welcome men in even if only on a ad-hoc basis would do much good if the establishment of safe space rules is done before hand (been at many where this hasnt worked, others been amazing, and some where a vetting system was in place – this only brought in men already identifying as allies or feminists with feminist contacts)

I suppose ultimately men have to figure out what has worked for them in regards to educating themselves and try to expand upon that as educators of non feminist men. Male voices are especially needed for this.

Hope this was of some use and not too garbled. 🙂

Recent research into changing attitudes and behaviour suggests that creating proximity, that is making people see that it is something that affects them and theirs (i.e. via a friend or family member etc.) and/or creating a narrative that people can empathise with, preferably with the individual as ‘blameless’ is the biggest driver.

Some people reject this kind of approach because they believe it set up a dichotomy i.e. that caring about the impact of sexism should not rely on personal connections, or have concerns that feminism may dilute its commitment to ideals in favour of focusing on a ‘PR exercise’ that works for men. I have some sympathy for the latter but at the end of the day …………. eyes on the prize.

Of course, we usually go right to the “what if it was your mother/sister/daughter/wife” thing because it’s easy and it can be effective, but it’s also kind of lazy and reduces women’s importance as relating only to their relationships with and to men. However, if it works, should we not find a way to use it–perhaps with a caveat? “Understanding that women are people irrespective of their relationships to you, might you consider how sexism affects women you care about?” On the other hand, I think it might be more effective if we can ask men to walk in women’s shoes. Can we find an analogy to sexism? Something men face all the time but never thought to compare to what women face? Just thinking out loud…and I’ll think more on this. (Great question, and sorry it’s taken me a while to respond–I’ve been offline.)

I’ve also had a brief conversation on Twitter about this, and that conversation has been Storified here:

[With thanks to (in alphabetical order): @acrosstheaether, @cratesnribbons, @feministroar, @jamjar21, @lauren_amy93, @mkhajdin, @mmasammich, @planetcath, @plerpo, @portiasmart and @umlolidunno.]

What are your thoughts? Please add your comments below.


18 thoughts on “How do you think we can make men care about the damage sexism does?

  1. My typology of men ans sexism is: a) Those who are oblivious to it and think that sexist is normal and when women moan about it we are whinging women’s libbers, bra burners etc. They can range from builders to John Humphreys and Jeremy Paxman., b) Those who are aware of it and revel in it anyway., c) Those who are aware of it and think it’s wrong – the definite minority. I don’t know what to do about it. I’m a total defeatist.

    • Thank you, Professor. 🙂

      So…there are men in group C, which I guess shows that it is possible. I mean, I doubt that all the men currently in group C have always been there. So I wonder how they got there? Those men that are in group B sound like they might be a lost cause. But those in group A? Maybe they can be worked on?

      And please don’t be defeatist…I don’t like it when you are defeatist. 😛

  2. I think it will be hard to change anything until we change how people raise boys. There’s a lack of empathy in this world, especially from men, which would change if people raised their children to be empathetic adults. I think it’s very hard to change the views of an adult if they were never raised to listen to those around them. A lot of these suggestions are great, but I honestly feel it’s too late for a lot of men. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying, but a lot of them simply lack the skills and the inclination to comprehend the damage of sexism. The mother/daughter/sister/wife example, to make it more real to them, still only works on an individual, anecdotal basis, and has a hard time driving home sexism as an “industry” (for lack of a better term).
    It’s important to keep discussing it, though, and not let it fade to the background. The worst thing to do is simply to give up and to let sexism be the standard way of life. Great post!

  3. I knew a man who believed that sexism existed but he said that overall it was now better to be a woman because of affirmative-action-like hiring. he said that he lost a job to a woman “probably” because of her sex. Any examples of sexism against women I gave him, he almost always said you can’t prove it was because of their sex rather than some other characteristic about the victim. But of course that woman got that job because of her sex. Anyway, examples of sexism will not convince him.

    • Hi. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      I think it’s so hard to know where to go when confronted with the mentality of ‘the pendulum has swung too far’. I guess it’s comforting and convenient for men to be able to blame any problems, perceived failures or negative outcomes on women and on feminism. I wonder if he would have given it a second thought if he had been offered the job. I struggle to see this blindness to sexism as anything other than wilful, given that any attempts to educate and explain are so frequently just stonewalled without any real engagement at all.

  4. Reblogged this on A Life Un-Lived and commented:
    A very sad set of posts. I’m working on a response to a similar question, and that response is already approaching chapter-length. This is a placeholder and teaser for later.

    • Thanks for commenting and reblogging! 🙂

      I agree – there seemed to be a fair bit of despondency in people’s answers, my own included. But I think there was some optimism as well. At some point I’m going to pick those positives out and try to write a blog about that.

      • Adam, I suspect we don’t share many assumptions or conclusions regarding interactions between men and women, but I’ll keep an eye on your blog for your thoughts. Perhaps a worthwhile dialog may result.

  5. I think you may be intellectualizing it and expanding upon a lesson that can be taught to young children by valuing women, empowering them and doing the same for males in society. Unfortunately, women are devalued by religious doctrine. Bottom line is to value women today – right now so children learn that but also value men and their strengths because they men and women can compliment each othervery well.

    • Thanks for your comment! 🙂

      I agree that it is important to start those lessons early, and I guess that formal education can have a part to play in that. The difficulty, I think, is in creating a society in which those values are embedded and reinforced, so that everything that might influence the values that children learn and absorb is sexism-less. And one of those things is men, which brings us back round to the initial question.

      As for religious doctrine – I know that my broad feeling is that religious doctrine devalues women, but I don’t know enough about individual religions to be able to assert that confidently about every religion.

      • I can’t speak on every religion or even close to that but I don’t think it’s necessarily the perspective needed. I think we have to value “humans” not women, not men. Humans and also that we all have to be held to accountability but as individuals who have self-determination. We each have to act respectfully toward eachother to teach kids that everyone is valuable – even if we don’t agree with them. The agreeing aspect is where lots of people seem to get snagged. Great topic though.

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