Men, Myths, and the 3% Conference

January 2, 2019

Jesse Dienstag

Jesse Dienstag is the Head of Planning at GOLIN, having spent the better part 2 decades in research, advertising, and PR.

Remember when you worked on a new business pitch that felt like an awkward fit at first? Maybe you were a vegetarian pitching hot dogs, or you were allergic to fur and pitching cat food. You didn’t get it or didn’t know what you brought to the table. But you stuck with it. You worked harder to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And over time the discomfort melted away and you realized different perspectives made the work a lot better.

This awkwardness occurred to me when I was invited to my first 3% Conference. I was excited, but it did give me pause. It’s a women’s conference, right? Turns out, it's a business conference for everyone.

Men have a place in ending the patriarchy. So what are men to do?

Most importantly: Show up. Of the attendees at the 3% Conference, less than 20% were men. That’s not enough. So why aren’t men attending? Likely because 3% was started by women fighting female underrepresentation in creative leadership. And lack of visible men on the front lines may have led to barriers and ManMyths:

ManMyth #1: It’s not my movement, I’m part of the problem, I have no active role to play. Just shut up, be self-effacing, and repost feminist memes.
Truth: Men are part of the solution. Men and white people have been involved in feminist & civil rights movements for decades. We can play active roles.

ManMyth #2: The 3% Conference is about feminism. It’s weird for men to be there. 
Truth: Intersectional feminism is about inclusion, diversity, and equality. It brings balance back to the planet.

ManMyth #3: My gender institutionalized sexism, so they’re all mad at me. I’ll just read about what I should do.
Truth: 3% can provide education, but there’s not an instruction MANual (sorry) for everything. You’ll have to figure some things out on your own.

ManMyth #4: There will be lots of cringy, “they’re all Mansplaining Brocialists” moments. They say I’m welcome, but don’t mean it. 
Truth: They mean it. You’re not infiltrating a secret club. 45 minutes into Day One, during a powerful and hilarious talk, we got our first gentle ribbing: 

“By the way, I love middle-aged white guys. I’ve been married to a couple of them. I think they’re amazing.” -- Sallie Krawcheck, Co-Founder & CEO, Ellevest – 3% Conference, Nov 20, 2018

If we can laugh together, we can be part of the solution together. 

ManMyth #5: I’ll take the place of a woman at the conference. 
Truth: You won’t! 3% wants all kinds of attendees.

ManMyth #6: It’s just going to be uncomfortable.
Truth: Perhaps some healthy discomfort. I’ll admit that I was initially thrown by the All-Gender bathroom experience. 

My experience: I’m standing in line to enter the newly all-gender bathroom, and I’m a little nervous. Like a man entering a women’s room. I was trying not to overthink. Just observe and anticipate. But my mind was moving quickly:

No urinals (thank god), only 4 stalls. Are there rules? Don’t blow it. Don’t do something insensitive. Just wait your turn for a stall. Don’t look at anyone in a weird way. Don’t act awkward or self-conscious. This is totally normal. Like college, or Italy. I’m next. I’m next for the stall. Don’t make noises. Or splashes. Oh God please no splashes. Maybe bend your knees more…

Just then I lock eyes with 3% COO Lisen Stromberg. She’s leaving the sink and walking towards me. Again, I can’t think fast enough:

Do I say hi? Do we talk? We’re hugging. In the bathroom. We’re good. She’s the best. I’ve never hugged in a bathroom. Is this ok? Oh no. I think she went to hug me first? Wait, did I miss my turn? Do I have to cut back in line?

Awkward, but I survived, and kept returning to the All-Gender bathroom until it felt normal. And over the course of the conference, my role in the movement became clear. In addition to shutting up, listening, and hearing, I must participate in things I don’t quite understand even if they're uncomfortable at first. 

My journey from ass to Manbassador isn’t unique. Most of us think we’re decent guys, but as a man whose eyes have been opened the last few years, I’m ashamed at my lack of action. I aim to be better, and convert that shame into action. Is that what all men who want to make a difference should do? Show up? Participate? Lead by being active not passive? I’m not sure, but those are the instructions I’m writing for myself. But even if I stick to them, it pales in comparison to the bravery others have shown in the face of injustice.

Want to contribute to Voices? Check out our submissions guidelines