I don’t shout out this fact often, but I used to work at an international women’s rights organisation. I can answer most questions you have about women’s human rights, or at least point you in the right direction.
Personal activism is important to me, and I try to implement the lessons I learned during working in NGOs in this blog, in a way that is non-discriminatory to all. I hope that showed through.
If you haven’t noticed, the subject I am most passionate about is financial literacy. In this post I want to invite you to do some personal activism to help the gender that tends to be both overworked and underpaid. Women, in general, earn less than men, retire/stop working earlier than men, and has a longer retirement period to worry about (longer life expectancy). This post is written for the male reader in mind, but I invite everyone to do their part.
Here are 4 things guys can do for women in their lives.
#1 Talk to her about investing
Women like shopping, amirite? Women also only like fashion, beauty, you know, fluffy stuff. I’ve legit gotten backhanded comments like, ‘wow, you’re good with money, most girls aren’t’. Which is an interesting comment to get, seeing how women are generally better with money.
Would it surprise you to know that women are better investors than men? There are more male investors, sure, and finances are male-dominated anyway, but studies have shown, again and again that women’s tendency to take the less risky approach is the better investment approach.
How it helps you:
The next time you hear about an investment opportunity, talk it out to some women. They might have insights that you wouldn’t have gotten from your male friends. It may help you avoid losing money.
On the women’s side, it’s nice to be able to talk about investing. We don’t grow up feeling like we belong in the financial world. Many top management posts are held by men, and we lack good female mentors and role models. So yes, including us in conversations is a nice thing to do.
She will probably say things like, “Oh I’m not good with money!” – women downplay their abilities a lot. We are taught to be modest, to take a back seat while the men take care of stuff. It took me a while to recognise and unlearn this. Ask her anyway. Ask her these questions:
- What are her investments right now? Are they good investments? Are there better options out there? Why is it better?
- What is she interested to invest in, if money slash capital is not an issue?
- What investments she thinks are NOT good? Why?
- What type of investment news does she follow? From which portals?
#2 – Take charge of some chores, and do it well
Let me introduce you to the concept of ‘unpaid care work’.
We all have the same 24 hours in a day, yes?
In the typical household, women spend much more time to do the housework, take care of children, and caring for the elderly. In Malaysia, Malay women spend the most time doing domestic work (12.15 hours), then Chinese women (8.99 hours), then Malay men (6.29 hours), then Chinese men (3.77 hours). Source: Unpaid Domestic Work in Malaysia: Exploring Women’s Engagement in Housework ; other racial demographics not included.
The more women do this, the less time she has to work (and earn extra income) or spend time for self-improvement or go to networking events. Thus the less likely she is to be promoted and the more likely she is to be stuck in her economic position.
Men do chores, of course they do. However, men tend to need ‘reminding’ (note: this is where the ‘my wife/mother/sister nags’ jokes come in). It is simply faster for us to do it ourselves. It’s worth doing it to worry about one less thing that day, to avoid ‘why’d you bother me this time’ stares by the guys. For me, it’s the same feeling I got when I had to remind someone they owe me money. It’s just an unpleasant thing to do.
How it helps you:
It doesn’t, at least not in a tangible way, but doing this will make you a better, more caring person to your loved ones. This means you will be giving up hours in a week to do those chores instead of her. You need to notice things that need doing and do them.
Chores you can take over:
- Food preparation and cleanup
- Stocking up essential groceries
- Pickup/dropoff duties
- Caring for parents/grandparents
- House cleaning
- Fix things/arrange for things to be fixed
A good rule of thumb is about 3-4 hours more housework each week.
#3 – Do some positive discrimination
Positive discrimination is a term that simply means ‘temporarily favouring one group over another while we take action to improve the situation for the better’.
Easiest example – the women-only coaches. Some ask the need at all. But consider this: sexual harassment in public places can be enough deterrent for women to go work. It also causes unnecessary stress. If the woman decides to stop working, her income will be gone. If the woman decides to try another method of transportation, it might be more expensive or takes more time. So while we have our sexual harassment campaigns, we also have women-only coaches until the education and awareness seep into society.
How it helps you:
Benefits range from karma points to higher profits in a company to a safer society. Some examples of positive discrimination you can do:
- During a meeting, properly credit female colleagues who did outstanding work. It may help her get promoted.
- During conversations that are mostly dominated by men talking, invite your female colleagues to share her views.
- When greeting a couple or male-female pair for the first time, once in a while greet her first.
- If you’re in a hiring position, ensure women make up 50% of the management posts. A study says that companies with gender-diverse boards earn more.
- If the list of names considered for promotion is all/mostly male, add in competent female colleagues as options too.
- If your area is unsafe or dark, and you notice women take the longer route because of it, lobby for DBKL to add lights and increase security.
And more. Do some positive discrimination that favour women when you can.
EDIT: An argument against meritocracy – This is for people who’re like, “I make sure to reward people based on their merits not their gender! It’s the only fair thing!”
Meritocracy assumes everyone starts from the same playing field. Reminder: oppressed groups (women, racial minorities, the disabled etc) have more barriers to overcome. People try to implement merit-based systems, sure, but did you know:
- In an orchestra audition, where musicians are supposed to be judged and hired by their abilities alone, the female applicants’ heel clicks against the hardwood floor was enough to trigger unconscious bias against them. Read more here.
- Negotiations – salaries, promotions, whatever – should be fought by the individual, yes? In response to ‘why aren’t more women earning more/in top positions’, it’s so easy to say ‘oh she should have just asked for it’. See, the thing is, women are punished more harshly than men for negotiating. We are penalised for demanding more. Read more here.
These are just two examples, but enough to point out how flawed merit-based systems are. Internal biases still shape our opinions and decisions – and everyone is biased.
Also I don’t like meritocracy because it’s a system that favours the rich to get richer.
#4 – Take the punches as they come
Men who actively do things to support the women in their lives have some nasty nicknames, don’t they? Whipped by wife/girlfriend, ‘domesticated’, they say.
It takes a brave soul to dare to do all the things above. Comments, snides, snickers, maybe even a blatant ‘you’re not a man if you do X, that’s her job’. Gender stereotypes don’t go away overnight, but the good thing is every act of personal activism counts.
How it helps you:
People who react negatively to your positive acts for women do so because they feel defensive. To them, things should work a certain way, so their beliefs and values are being challenged. The comments may come from men or women too.
It’s not your job to change them. It’s your job to just lead by example. At least now you’ll know people’s characters better.
I was inspired to write this post as a tribute to International Women’s Day. I was blessed to be born in Malaysia, where working women is a norm (or a need, looking at this economic situation – dual income households helps a lot with money). I have a mother who holds top management post in the education sector. I have a father who prioritised my education. I had a car, loaned from the family, that allowed me to safely go to work since 18. I enjoy the benefits of being Bumi, by virtue of simply being born to Malay parents. But not everyone has the same background – I am who I am thanks to these privileges.
Will you help me to help women, especially the worst-off, in addition to other disadvantaged minority groups?
Would love to get some pledges. Thank you in advance. Love from Suraya, your friendly neighbourhood feminist.