By Jim Morris, WMFDP Chief Consulting Officer

“Anyone interested in joining me for the Women’s March this weekend?”  

A female colleague sent the above invitation over our company’s Slack channel. It was three days before the October 2021 Women’s March for Reproductive Rights. My assumption was that she was sending the message to other women. The women in our company are an amazing group, and I remember thinking how great it was that they were going to do this march together. 

Later that day I realized the message was sent to ALL of us, not just the women. 

Fortunately, I had this conversation in the privacy of my own mind. No one but me knew about my inaccurate assumptions. I felt embarrassed. After all, I facilitate workshops on gender equality in the workplace.

Hoping I had an excuse for my assumptions, I went to their website to see if it said “For Women” anywhere. It said: Women’s March is a women-led movement providing intersectional education on a diverse range of issues and creating entry points for new grassroots activists and organizers to engage in their local communities through trainings, outreach programs and events.  

“Jim, you dummy, you should know better,” I was saying to myself. “It says it’s women-led, not that it’s only for women.”

How could I have missed this?

If I had these assumptions, other men surely do, too. That made me realize I ought to write about it. Here’s what I invite myself and other men to answer for themselves:

  1. How come I assume the women’s march is for women, not for men?
  2. I have been assuming the issue of gender equality and women’s rights are different. Are they?
  3. How does the issue of reproductive rights impact me or other men?
  4. Why shouldn’t I just stay out of the discussion and allow all women to work it out for themselves?
  5. How do I talk about my feelings on this issue without alienating people, especially other men who may see it differently?

In some circles in the US, there is no more incendiary topic to discuss than abortion and women’s rights. The numbers show a vast majority of women in the US favor a woman’s right to choose. However, after more than fifty years of leagalized abortion, Roe v. Wade is more likely to be modified or overturned today than ever.  

At WMFDP | FDP Global, we work pretty hard to stay out of political or ideological discourse. Our clients come from all over the political spectrum, and scapegoating or vilifying any one group can be harmful and counter to the inclusive ideals of our work. It puts people on the defensive instead of inviting open dialogue across differences. 

Nevertheless, here is what I do know. Most, if not all, of our clients support gender equality and/or gender equity. Fundamentally, the issue of reproductive freedom isn’t solely about abortion. It’s about if we do or don’t truly support gender equality. 

So, how do I answer these questions? 

How come I assume the Women’s March is for women and not for men? 

I am aware that I don’t want to detract from the voices of the women in my life who want to speak out. 

But, I think I have an “all-or-nothing” view of situations like this in ways that are not helpful. Without even knowing it, I tell myself that either I can lead on this or women can, as if I can’t stand behind or with women and let their voices be the ones that are heard.  

Whatever it is, I know my assumption is incorrect. One measure of a march’s effectiveness is how many people show up for it, so my very presence there helps bring validity to the topic. 

I have been assuming the issue of gender equality and women’s rights is different from the issue of reproductive freedom. Is it?

My answer is yes and no. In my mind, reproductive freedom and the debate over who gets to decide what is best for women are connected to the larger issue of gender inequality.

Men, imagine a law that said you are not allowed to decide whether or not to end your own pregnancy. Hard to imagine isn’t it?

That’s because a law like that for men would never exist. We wouldn’t allow it. 

How does the issue of reproductive rights impact me or other men? 

If you live in Texas and if Texas S.B.8 stands, it’s very possible that you will know a woman impacted by this decision. Even in cases of rape, if a woman becomes pregnant and decides to terminate the pregnancy, anyone who knows about it can report her and the people who assist her. Lawsuits and arrests are possible for all parties involved.

Nationwide, there are no legal consequences of any sort for a man who impregnates a woman. None. Women bear ALL of the responsibility for pregnancy, no matter the circumstances.

This puts all women in our lives in a precarious situation. It also sends the wrong message to our sons. While they can face arrest and conviction for raping someone, they still bear no responsibility for the care of the child or the mother. In Texas, it is illegal to get an abortion if the pregnancy has advanced beyond 6 weeks, a timeframe when many pregnancies are undetectable. 

Why shouldn’t I just stay out of the discussion and allow all women to work it out for themselves? 

There is a difference between empowerment and abandonment. 

This question also assumes both men and women’s voices are heard equally in our society; they are not. There is a long, dark history in the U.S. of labeling women who advocate for reproductive freedom as whores, without morals, self-interested, promiscuous and worse. 

In many parts of our society, the “assertive” label for women can be synonymous with a variety of character assassinations like being emasculating (ironic) or rude. Rather than distancing ourselves from the discussion, we can be allies in it. We should be listening when a woman is making an important point and then validating her perspective. 

And if her accusers attempt to challenge her character or motivations, we can stand by her side, attest to her character and ask them to question their own negative assumptions.

How do I talk about my feelings on this issue without alienating people, especially other men who may see it differently? 

Good question. 

Imagine what it must be like to be a woman in this society right now, listening to the debate on these issues. Parts of our society say, “We believe in treating women equally,” but then they don’t do it. 

The law ensuring that women have bodily autonomy is under threat of being overturned a half century after it was passed. How frightening and frustrating this must be for women.

Anti-abortion laws have always made women hyper-responsible for their pregnancies yet require no responsibility from the men who impregnate them. In this way, we are passively extending the same pattern that has existed for millennia—creating rules advantageous to men at the expense of women. Rules like S.B.8 disadvantage women, not men.

Along the way, we have confused righteousness with rightfulness, moral judgement with justice. We have the wisdom to know the difference. Do we have the will to say so?

Are we really ready to live in a society where our mothers, wives, daughters and women colleagues are disallowed from having any agency over their own bodies? Not a man I know would accept that for themselves, so why should we expect women to do it? How can I say I believe in equality and equity for all and then allow rulings that chip away at women’s rights to go unchallenged?  

Yes, gender equality is good for our daughters, but it is also good for our sons. 

Do we men have reason to march? You bet we do. 

About WMFDP | FDP Global

WMFDP | FDP Global empowers leaders to be curious, be brave and be inclusive. We know that business is personal, so we take a personal approach, helping leaders build diverse and inclusive companies from the inside out. We are committed to your company’s success, because inclusive skills make inclusive and diverse workplaces, which make a more inclusive world for us all to thrive.