I’ve loved seeing the acceleration of action on gender equality over the past few years. The sheer number of International Womens’ Day events, awards, and publications this year has again been quite incredible.

I can’t help but think, though, that fighting for equality for women is only half the battle, and I see it driving a wedge between the sexes.

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge the specific significance of the economic disadvantage of women and am wholeheartedly behind the urgent cause for women to become financially secure.

But otherwise, being a woman isn’t ALL bad, and both sides of the fence have their challenges.

So, here’s why I think recognising the challenges men face is also important.

The expectations on men have increased exponentially in a generation

Think of your parents’ generation. Most likely your dad was the breadwinner and your mum was the home-maker and primary carer. Your dad would’ve come home from work and, let’s face it, not been expected to do much at all except perhaps mow the lawn at the weekend and take the bins out once a week.

I’m not having a shot at your dad. That was normal. A couple had one paid and one unpaid job between them when the kids were young. Two jobs, two people.

But now dads are expected to take an active role in parenting. This is a wonderful thing and, in my experience, most are keen to do it. However, the pressure and expectation are significant. I remember my husband being abruptly ordered by a midwife to wash our firstborn in the hospital after little sleep, a full day at work, and a trip out to the airport and back to pick up his mother-in-law. He was exhausted and this was a big ask.

When kids come along, dads often become solely responsible for supporting the family financially after years of sharing this load with their partner. Perhaps for a short period of maternity leave, sometimes for longer. Either way, the financial pressure generally shifts to dad.

Dads are now also being told that they must support their wives’ careers by sharing the housework load too. I believe in a fair split of the load, but my point is that there are a fixed number of hours in the day and humans have finite capacity. When mum and dad both work full-time (and some add study or voluntary roles such as School Board Director into the mix… ahem… guilty!) we are now trying to cram three or more full-time jobs into the capacity of two people.

Everyone has their limit, male or female. We can’t keep piling on the pressure without expecting someone to break.

Men suffer from stereotypes and bias too
Just ask a man who’s a stay-at-home dad how ‘included’ he feels in the local mothers’ group or ‘mums and bubs’ activities? How frustrating must it be when child-care insists on calling his wife and not him when there is an issue with the child despite being told that HE is the primary carer? What kind of comments do you think he deals with when he tells his male colleagues he’s leaving his job to be a stay-at-home dad?

Just ask a man who chose to work in the childcare industry who’s told that parents don’t want him to change their baby’s nappy. Or the man who chose to become a primary school teacher who’s told to raise his hands in the air if a student approaches him to prove he’s not touching them inappropriately.

Just ask a man who, when he sees a woman walking alone at night, crosses the road to keep his distance so she doesn’t feel threatened.

These are just a few examples that illustrate the flip-side of stereotypes and how they manifest in bias against men.

Mutual empathy is the key
From a male perspective, all the talk of how unfair the world is for women, how we are oppressed, discriminated against, and generally, hard-done-by must wear thin.

If I was a guy, I’d naturally see the advantages of being a woman (the grass is always greener!). I have my brother to thank for pointing out one example years ago when he said “You have a choice”. “You can choose to work or not work when you have kids. I can’t. I have no choice but to work full-time”. He was right. I know this isn’t always the case, many women have to work and some men have the choice not to. But it’s definitely more common for women to have leeway on this and employers are far more accommodating of their requests for flexibility.

As a man, I would feel that women didn’t understand my challenges. In this new world of gender targets, especially in Mining/Resources, life has got tougher. Let’s be honest, discrimination in favour of women is rife. It’s justified in the name of redressing the balance and maybe it’s a necessary step. But for the poor blokes who are there now, trying to get a job or hoping to be promoted and being told “don’t bother applying, I have to give the role to a woman”, it’s tough. Let’s acknowledge that.

The risk of ignoring the challenges for men
I’m a feminist and being a feminist means believing in equality which means equality for men too.

We know that in Australia, men are three times more likely than women to commit suicide. This has been linked to the expectations and culture of masculinity in our society. It concerns me that if we focus too heavily on the challenges of women, and allow the perception that men are to blame and ‘have it easy’ to persist, we could see the situation with men’s mental health worsen.

Mutual understanding and empathy is the key. If you ever have the opportunity to switch roles with your partner, I encourage you to do it. I did and I learned a lot. I’ll save the full story for another day, but suffice to say that life can be tough for both women and men in different ways so let’s open our eyes and show compassion for both sides.