— Jamie L. Phillips
Some questions are difficult to answer—not because they are complex—but because they do not seem in desperate need of asking. I don’t ask others why they enter buildings through doorways instead of through windows, why they wear clothes while teaching their classes, or why they are inclined to walk on the sidewalk instead of in the middle of the road. So, when asked why it is important to men that we improve campus climate for women, in and out of the classroom, my first response is to raise my eyebrows and form my face into an incredulous stare. Are we supposed to think, after all, that it is even possible that it is not important to do this?
I suppose if everything in the world were perfectly just and men and women were treated equally in every possible way and on every possible occasion, then we might think that the imperative to improve is without content. How could we improve that which is already perfect? Yet, the world we live in is not perfect (I apologize if this is a shock to you!) and the imperfections that currently mar the world around us include the unjust and unequal treatment of women. If you don’t know this already or don’t believe this, then I only ask that you look more closely. Societal discrimination of women is ancient, wide-spread and enduring. That it is “better than it used to be” may be true in some societies, but it only suggests that achieving just treatment of women — particularly in order to void systemic discrimination — remains an imperative. This imperative of just treatment is one that applies to all persons, I contend, in virtue of simply being persons.
But what about men in particular? Why should men qua men concerns themselves with helping provide women an environment in which they are treated well and which they can flourish? Well, to speak descriptively, not normatively, let me note that I am a man. If men were somehow implicated in the unjust treatment of women (they are) or if men were somehow responsible for creating climates that are hostile or unsupportive of women (they are), then, as a man, I must also be responsible for this mistreatment. I am responsible for the same reason I am responsible for American activities in foreign nations (because I am an American) and for the same reason I am responsible for University treatment of its own students (because I am a member of the University).
Membership in these groups provides me with benefits that I reap daily. I benefit greatly from being an American, from being a faculty member, and from simply being a man. I cannot, without significant loss of personal integrity, reap the benefits of this group membership without incurring certain attendant duties and responsibilities. These will include fixing mistakes that my groups have made, correcting injustices that they engendered, and ensuring that they never make these mistakes or generate these injustices again. To put it simply: If men have made the world worse for women, then I am obligated to make it better. And so I try to do. And so should all men. We will not be done with this endeavor until the perfectly just world that we seek is one that we all live in daily and when use of the word “man” and “woman” is entirely synonymous with use of the word “person.”
Jamie L. Phillips is a professor of philosophy and a long-time member of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.