Australia’s favorite gay author on how to call out sexism without being confrontational

Australia’s favorite gay author on how to call out sexism without being confrontational
Image: Benjamin Law
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Benjamin Law is not just a TV personality and author. He’s one of the most popular writers in Australia and, as he puts it, a “full-time homosexual.”

Law, born in Australia to immigrant parents from Hong Kong, is the author of several books including Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East and The Family Law; the latter was turned into an award-winning TV series for SBS. He co-hosts ABC RN’s weekly national pop culture show Stop Everything, as well as That Startup Show, a TV series about tech culture.

Among Law’s chief concerns is calling out the injustices women, people of color, and LGBTQ people face in Australia and beyond. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald last year, he reflected on what men can do as allies in the post-#MeToo world:

“Does it matter if treatment of women was worse in the past, given the present sets such a low bar? The real question is how we – men – intend to change,” he wrote. “Some suggestions: let’s set up monthly donations to a local women’s shelter. Let’s pull each other up on sexism, knowing we have less to lose than women doing the same. Let’s recognise we don’t need to be perpetrators to be the bad guy, since not doing anything about it is just as bad. And let’s do this without expecting to be praised, given women do the heavy lifting every other bloody day.”

In this interview, Law explains how he deals with sexist men as a non-confrontational person, how he defines the opposite of feminist, and why the biggest threat to men today “ain’t women.”

1. Did you actively think about workplace gender inequality prior to the Me Too movement? What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from Me Too?

I’m gay, and I suspect a lot of guys in the queer community similarly assume that because we face homophobia, we must be attuned to sexism. It just isn’t true. Often we’re the culprits.

As much as you want to say #NotAllMen, you need to step back, take a breath and realize you don’t have to be an actual rapist to be part of a system that actively suppresses women’s rights. Structural sexism—like structural racism, homophobia or any type of bigotry—is a something we all need to be challenging and breaking down.

One big thing #MeToo made me acknowledge was that if all women I know have been sexually harassed, abused, or assaulted, then I definitely know perpetrators; and I have probably excused, dismissed—or even protected—bad behavior.

2. Do you identify as a feminist? Why or why not? How do you define your feminism?

Oh sure. Dictionary definition of “feminist”: someone who supports advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. Who doesn’t support that? It doesn’t matter if you feel kinship with the word or not—if you believe in the equal treatment of women and men, you’re a feminist. To me, it just seems the opposite of “feminist” is “fuckwit.”

3. What do you do on a daily basis to advance gender equality?

Listen to, collaborate with, and make space for women. And acknowledge men get credit and thanks for doing all this, while women get death and rape threats for doing the same.

4. What’s the biggest threat to men in America today? Why?

I’m Australian, but I suspect America’s similar to our country.

What’s the biggest threat to men? It ain’t women.

Who are the biggest perpetrators of violent crimes—not just against women, but to each other? We’re honestly our worst enemies sometimes. We need to be offering boys and young men different models of masculinity, where communication, tenderness, and vulnerability are considered assets, not liabilities.

5. Do you talk about sexism with your male peers? If so, what strategies prove most effective, and if not, what inhibits you from doing so?

I hate face-to-face confrontation, so often my strategies are more quiet: not laughing at sexist jokes; asking guys, “Do you really believe that?” Or if someone’s said something particularly gross, “Sorry, but that makes me think less of you.”

6. What is your biggest anxiety about being a man?

As a gay, male POC [person of color], my biggest anxieties are less about my gender and more about my race and sexuality. In Australia—similarly to America—we’re experiencing a pretty toxic culture war where migrants and queer people are discussed as public targets in the press and parliament. Those are my anxieties right there.

7. What do you wish your female coworkers, and women at large, knew about you?

To be honest, I imagine women in my life reckon I overshare, if anything!

8. Some men feel like they can’t win: They’ll be criticized by men for speaking up, and by feminists for not speaking loud enough. What would you tell these men?

I’d tell them to get a grip. Ignore the haters, and take guidance from women you trust as to when to speak up and when to make space. And if in doubt, always share and amplify the voices of women you admire.

9. If you could take back one thing you’ve said or done that contributed to bias at work or at home, what would it be? Why?

I remember one female colleague asked me what I was being paid for a job. Because 1) I knew I was getting paid more, and 2) my male boss has expressly told me not to disclose my pay, I declined to share that information with her. But she was doing exactly the same work and really did deserve the same pay as me.

Not telling her was an act of cowardice I really regret. Ideally, we would’ve been fighting her fight side by side.

10. What’s the best advice you’ve received from another man, and what’s your best advice for young men today?

To be honest, the best advice I get is from women: my single mother of five kids, my three sisters, my professional mentors, my friends, and colleagues. And my advice to other men is this isn’t a competition. There’s more than enough room at the table. The men who are most secure in themselves—and their gender—are the ones willing to offer a seat.