“We for She”: Mobilising men and women to act in solidarity for gender equality
Men have more support for gender equality when they are positioned as agents of change for a common cause.
Gender equality has typically been thought of as a women’s issue. As women are generally most negatively affected by gender inequality, they are usually expected to be the driving forces of change at individual, organizational, and governmental levels. However, recent trends have focused on men’s roles as allies and agents of change for gender inequality. Rather than being bystanders or complicit to instances of gender inequality, men are joining women in solidarity and taking action on gender issues. The ways in which we frame gender equality and women’s rights issues may affect men’s willingness to be allies for the cause. For example, when gender equality is framed as an issue for everyone rather than just for women, would men be more likely to stand up for change?
In this study, the authors use three experiments to investigate the circumstances that motivate men to engage in collective action and stand in solidarity for gender inequality. In the first experiment, gender inequality was presented as an issue that either men or government policy was largely responsible for, in order to see how each presentation affects willingness to engage in collective action. In the second and third experiments, gender inequality was framed as a common cause that affects both men and women. The third experiment focused on whether the gender of the messenger (male or female) affects the mobilization of men for gender equality.
Three experiments investigated the ways in which framing can mobilize men and women to act in solidarity for gender equality. The first experiment framed gender inequality as an issue that either men or government policy was responsible for. All figures reported are means based on 9-point Likert scales (1 = not at all agree, 9 = very much agree).
When the government was framed as being responsible for gender inequality:
- Men (4.09) were less likely than women (4.85) to have intentions to collectively act to promote gender inequality.
- Women (6.42) were more likely than men (5.42) to identify gender inequality as a common cause (i.e a cause that needs that multiple groups share an interest in or hold a stake in the outcome)
When men were framed as being responsible for gender inequality:
- Men were more likely to express intentions to collectively act against gender inequality (4.63) than when the government alone was framed as the cause of gender inequality (4.09)
- Men were also more likely to have a sense of gender equality as a common cause (6.17) compared to when the government was framed as the cause of gender inequality (5.46)
In the second experiment, flexible working conditions was highlighted as an issue of gender inequality that affected either mothers, fathers, or both (parents).
- Collective action intentions to address gender inequality were highest for all participants when “parents” were affected (5.09) compared to when only “mothers” (4.82) or “fathers” (4.67) were affected
- Solidarity with feminism was highest for all participants when “parents” (4.59) were affected compared to when “mothers” (3.86) or “fathers” (4.29) were affected
- Men had higher solidarity with feminist issues when it was portrayed that “parents” and “fathers” were affected compared to when only “mothers” were affected
In the third experiment, gender equality was framed as either an issue affecting women only or an issue affecting both men and women (i.e a common cause). Furthermore, this message was presented by either a man or a woman.
- Overall, men expressed higher collective action intentions, higher feminist solidarity, and decreased perception of inequality as legitimate in response to a male leader advocating a common cause, compared to when the same common cause message was delivered by a female leader
- Women’s intentions to take part in collective action and feminist solidarity remained the same whether the common cause message was delivered by a male or female leader
- When the leader presenting the issue was female, men perceived gender inequality as significantly more legitimate
- When the gender inequality was framed as an issue primarily concerning women, men expressed higher collective action intentions when the issue was presented by a woman than when it was presented by a man
- When the gender inequality was framed as an issue primarily concerning women, women expressed higher collective action intentions when the issue was presented by a man than when it was presented by a woman
- Overall, women expressed higher feminist solidarity in response to male (compared to female) leaders
The results of these three experiments show that when men are positioned as agents of change for gender inequality and are called to action by other men, they have enhanced support for gender equality in the form of collective action intentions, feminist solidarity, and perception of legitimacy.
In the first experiment, participants read a one-page article about gender inequality in Australia. Gender inequality was framed as an issue that either government policy or men were responsible for maintaining and addressing. Participants then answered a survey designed to determine their collective action intentions and their solidarity with those affected by gender inequality. In the second experiment, participants read a one-page statement on the need for flexible working conditions for parents. It was framed as an issue that affected mothers, fathers, or both. Participants then answered a survey designed to determine their collective action intentions on this issue and their solidarity with feminism. In the third experiment, participants read a one-page study on reducing workplace gender inequality. The issue was framed as either something men and women or only women needed to address. Additionally, the information was presented by either a man or a woman. Participants then answered a survey designed to determine their collective action intentions to address workplace gender inequality, their solidarity with feminism, and their perception of the legitimacy of gender inequality.