Men, Dependable Variables

To proceed from legal to actual equality between the sexes, we need to reinvent the relationship between them. This can only be achieved by including men in the gender debate.

The paradigm of gender equality during the 1980s and 1990s – let’s call it gender politics 1.0 – was to achieve equal chances for women in society, particularly in the labor market. During this period, women were the main actors for change – whilst men were relegated to the sidelines. Men had to get “out of the way,” to stop being the “obstacles for equal opportunity.” This uniliteral viewpoint was as much justified as it was successful – but it also quickly reached the narrow constraints of reality.

As soon as men started being targeted with new measures – such as being supported in their choice of jobs usually taken by women – the general wisdom turned into a bilateral paradigm: The current reality is one of state-run equal rights institutions at which women develop new projects aimed at both men and women, yet often wonder why men as an overall “target group” fail to participate. Gender politics 2.0, as I shall call it, has a limited effect that is quite visible in the societal experiments of today’s equal opportunity efforts. In order to convince men to develop a passion for equality, it is insufficient to simply asking them to surrender actual or alleged privileges. This is also where gender mainstreaming falls short: Although engineered for both sexes, it fails to motivate men to make more than a lukewarm effort.

Bringing about holistic change in equal opportunity politics therefore requires a new paradigm that views men not just as a dependent variable, but also as a value in their own right. A fact each couples’ counselor could attest to also holds in gender politics: Intrinsically motivated participation of both partners is as much required for change as a recognition of their mutual dependence. New gender politics should therefore be based on a relational paradigm: Based on the realities and opportunities of both men and women it can establish a dialogue between the sexes. This is the basis for a civil negotiation of a new contract between the sexes.

Relational gender politics are based on three pillars: Male politics, female politics, and the dialogue between the sexes, each with a subset of measures. Male politics needs to be thought of as a both individual and connecting element. Picture the politics of equality as a shared office space with a room for women, one for men, and a conference room shared by both.

Through provocation and stimulation, the goal of male politics lies in achieving this development. It shows the way out of a fruitless debate about discrimination by encouraging policies based on equal opportunities as a shared ground on which to build (gender-)specific strategies.


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