So if we want to see a different world, how can we make it happen? Sometimes small changes to the way we live can have a big impact; at other times it needs more of a concerted effort and an organised campaign with lots of people on board. Sometimes we can only change ourselves, but that can ripple out to have more of an influence than we thought. When it comes to enabling the equality of women and men to flourish, we can take action as individuals – like Ruth Wells did when she was confronted by a sexist poster, as groups – like Caroline Criado-Perez and friends did to get a woman on UK banknotes, and as organisations or institutions – like the BBC’s recent decision to ban all-male comedy panel shows. This won’t necessarily be easy – Criado-Perez came in for appalling misogynist abuse on social media which resulted in prosecutions of offenders, and the BBC’s decision has come in for a fair amount of criticism. But that shouldn’t deter us.
The proof of our beliefs is not in what we say, but in what we do. Agreeing that equality is important might be the first step, but nothing will change if it’s the only step we take. We need to make intentional, tangible, embedded choices to do things differently.
Sometimes that means doing the opposite of what’s expected of your sex – so a man might choose to make cakes for a church event when only the women have been asked.
Sometimes it means doing something for yourself instead of expecting someone else to do it for you – so a woman might learn to change the inner tube on her bike instead of taking it home to her dad.
Sometimes it means deliberately modelling an attitude that makes people think – so a man might refuse to contribute to an event which has an all-male speaking team.
And sometimes it means not doing what might be expected of your sex – so a woman might choose not make coffee for colleagues at a work meeting to challenge the assumption that she should play that role.
Often it means choosing a more difficult route in the first instance, but one that becomes easier and more natural as it goes on. These might seem like small actions when arguably we need new ways of organising communities, institutions and the wider society which are free of their patriarchal roots, but these actions are better than doing nothing and can raise awareness, start conversations and have a snowball effect.
In the second half of Equals I explore in detail how we can put equality into practice in the home, marriage, parenting, at work and in the church. In one sense these chapters are a ‘how to . . .’ guide to equality in that they will give practical examples of what other people have done, things to think about and tips for addressing inequality in different areas of life. However, it’s really important to understand that there is no blueprint for equality, no one-size-fits-all list of things to do to achieve it. That’s particularly true the smaller the group of people involved, because that’s where diversity will be more noticeable. How one household shares the domestic work equally between them will be different to how another household does it. How one couple divides up the hands-on aspects of parenting will not be the same as the way another couple approaches it. We need to take account of our various different personalities, skills and preferences while also being aware of the default patterns we’ll fall into if we’re not paying attention.
Over the next few days, I’m going to being posting some examples of what people have done to put equality into practice in different areas of life. If you’d like to share what you’ve done, send me an email at jenbaker [at] btopenworld.com – I’d love to hear from you.