For the last seven years, Andrew Sidwell has been waking up (read: getting woke) to the importance of gender diversity. We spoke to him today about his new online project ‘Dear Men of Tomorrow‘ and his consistent efforts now to help other men realise and eradicate their unhealthy attitudes and unconscious biases towards women. Andrew Sidwell is one of our Many Good Men.
- Tell us about you, Andrew.
It was the 80s and having come of age in Melbourne’s outer west, I left school at fifteen with mum’s blessing on the promise that I “find a job with a career attached.” So, I started as a Melbourne radio station office assistant and have been fulfilling that promise to her ever since. Now I’m living in Sydney in my late 40s; the dad to two daughters – aged 13 and 10. I’ve been married fourteen years and am currently working in content marketing. Along the way, I disappeared briefly into the indulgence (and cliché) of clubs, drugs & booze. Thankfully, I pulled myself out of it and have been a non-drinking, clean-living human for fifteen years now.
“I came to this conclusion that for a lot of guys there was this disconnect between the men who bash and murder woman; and “normal” everyday men like themselves.”
You can probably guess my origin story – my adulthood was filled with lot of unconscious biases and unhealthy attitudes absorbed environmentally. The last seven years have been about waking myself up from the patriarchal world of the men’s matrix by identifying and dissolving all my detrimental traits then talking about them publicly. Just when I become aware and dissolve one unconscious bias, I find another. Currently, I’m eradicating my use of the word ‘girl’ to describe adult women. I know how disempowering it is. Ladies, please accept my blanket apology for its accidental use while I unlearn it from my unconsciously incompetent vocabulary.
- What was your ‘woke’ moment?
When Malcolm Turnbull took over as Prime Minister, he directed $100+ million towards domestic violence. He said, “All domestic violence starts with disrespect of women, but not all disrespect ends in domestic violence.” It was serendipitous as I was reading and watching a bit of Jackson Katz at the time and had been thinking about how I could do more.
I came to this conclusion that for a lot of guys there was this disconnect between the men who bash and murder woman; and “normal” everyday men like themselves. I saw a tweet from a personality I worked with that said, “Men who bash women are scum.” Equally I knew how this man had treated a female staff member when she had interacted with him. I came to the realisation that everyday sexism, unconsciously accepted by the majority of men, afforded the actual men who would go onto murder and harm, a sort of camouflage that allowed them to grow unchecked. I knew then that I had to start getting men to connect the dots between everyday sexism, themselves and the men who murder and bash. We are all connected: they are us, we are them, and we must stop the small acts.
And so ‘Dear Men of Tomorrow’ was born. Collecting stories from women around the world about what everyday sexism looks like and to use that data in content or output for the next generation of men to influence them positively. Some of the stories have inspired blog articles, were posts themselves (I’ve tried graphically to represent them) and most of this data coming in has given me a knowledge base of the blind spots that men don’t see or don’t want to.
It’s an ongoing and changing project and I’m still collecting stories. To be honest, I haven’t done enough with those stories beyond some aforementioned blog posts with the learnings. However this project has allowed me to start really honest conversations with men I work with and it’s equipping me with the tools and vocab to shine a light of equality into male-only environments where sexism still grows unchecked. When I talk about topics like my own unfounded jealousies and how I have addressed them; men ask me deep and probing questions. Though it’s never about their own experience, I can see there’s a level of familiarity – a look of “Shit, that’s me too!” in their eyes. I have had the opportunity to call out workmates who objectify female colleagues behind their backs and explain why it’s shitty in a non-confrontational way. I’ve also been doing lots of one-on-one better guy coaching. Getting traction in this space is one of the most rewarding parts of this work.
“When I talk about topics like my own unfounded jealousies and how I have addressed them; men ask me deep and probing questions. Though it’s never about their own experience, I can see there’s a level of familiarity – a look of “Shit, that’s me too!” in their eyes.”
I have been mulling over now how I scale these conversations at work and how I can develop tools and teachings to inspire men to be respectful about women even when there are no women around. Getting them to understand it’s what you do in these guys-only situations that will define you as a fair and decent man – one that is genuinely pro-equality; not one who picks and chooses when to speak up. I have made many podcasts for brands, so it seems a no-brainer to move to this medium next. I just need to make less excuses and more time; this to me feels like my life’s work and I’ve got to be doing more.
- What is your advice to other men?
Do these five things that will change you forever, especially your attitudes and behaviour towards women and girls. It will take no longer than 30 minutes.
- Watch this first – it’s a Ted Talk by Jackson Katz on how violence against women is a men’s issue, not a woman’s.
- And this #DearDaddy campaign from Norway https://www.
- And read this article on ‘The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About‘
- And now watch this piece on Gaslighing
- Now, sit and think about all the times in your life that you’ve done what you’ve just watched and read. Call yourself out, make a vow never to do them again then start calling others out in your everyday life. Become active in this space.
- (OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED: Develop your own projects to carry the message forward.)
- Tell us about what prompted you to tackle this issue.
My upbringing and unhealthy behaviours towards the partners in my life has been a major driving force. I treated exes pretty poorly when my jealousies and insecurities kicked in. Growing up in media with all its trappings of douchery; I objectified women and other piss-poor bloke behaviours. Seven years into marriage, my wife called me out. I went to therapy and started to wake up. Having two daughters has helped along the momentum of my unlearning and relearning.
“What’s worked for me is to publicly own my jealousies and insecurities and talk openly about the stuff I did when I was unconsciously operating within the status quo.”
Success for me is more guys waking up from the men’s matrix by calling themselves out first, then starting to help others. This seems to be the order for them to do it. The big hurdle is men’s paralysis by hypocrisy. Men knowing they’ve been everyday sexists towards women in the past but feeling like that prohibits them from having a voice supporting the fight for gender equality. What’s worked for me is to publicly own my jealousies and insecurities and talk openly about the stuff I did when I was unconsciously operating within the status quo. I’m continually finding my voice by living my truth – warts and all. To these guys, I encourage you to be uncomfortable with your past but to channel that into action and owning your story.
Ultimately, I would like to be working in this space full-time in the future. Until then, I need to be more productive and produce more positive work that gets men to re-evaluate their own attitudes. I have got to stop ranting at the laggards and start championing the other early adopters. Time is my challenge, I need to find the time to make these projects happen, solidify and spread. I will get there – this is too important.
- Who are your role models and what has inspired you in the past?
- Jackson Katz’s ‘Macho Paradox’ book is excellent
- MC, poet and activist Guante.
- Founder and CEO of ASRC1 Kon Karapanagiotidis
- Dismantle Misogyny on Facebook.
- Gippsland Women’s Health Make the Link
- The Girls Not Brides Movement
AND every woman and girl who’s been on the receiving end of our guy bullshit forever.
- What does business specifically need to change, and how do you envision our future?
I dream and look forward to a future of more woman founders, bosses and managers.
“It’s the stuff you say and do about women when there’s no women around which will define your character as a good man, an ally of woman and a fighter for a fairer today and tomorrow.”
As this happens, the behind closed doors stuff will become less tolerable. Until then, men in positions of power need to have zero tolerance towards any sexist attitudes or actions, especially in guy-only environments. Think of the alpha men at the bar or pub where the informal man-to-man mentoring happens and women are excluded. This needs to end or be replaced with something more inclusive. Men at the top have to understand they can’t disrespect women in the dark and attempt to champion change in the light – the hypocrisy will leak through. All of this goes for men at any level in all businesses. As my good friend Steph says, “What you do in the dark always comes to the light.” It’s the stuff you say and do about women when there’s no women around which will define your character as a good man, an ally of woman and a fighter for a fairer today and tomorrow.
As a companion to this ‘high performance’ buzz sweeping business, I’d also like to see some training around the positive and negative characteristics of success. Seems to me there’s really shitty behaviours and characteristics that are accepted as part and parcel of a high performer. I’d like to do some work on redefining success, most importantly what it isn’t. Strong leadership needs to call out the unacceptable stuff early and not be afraid of the supposed short-term revenue impacts from losing a star performer if they can’t change.
- What are your feelings about the cataclysm of change for women over these past few years?
It can’t happen fast enough. Every industry has its Weinsteins; hopefully they get called out even though they’re not click-worthy. It’s going to take more male bystanders standing up to the boss or owner and sacrificing their jobs to help end the reign of abusers. Calling them out doesn’t have to be public shaming; it can be a quiet word.
I have this pendulum / wrecking ball theory. Men are trying to do what they do and control the rate of change. Regarding the fight for equality, I’ve been told by some men that it needs to happen slowly otherwise it won’t stick and guys will get their back up. When I hear that I think they’re imagining equality as this slow crawl towards 50/50 with a rate of change at the speed allowed by their fragile egos. It’s not; it’s a pendulum that’s been completely on the male side for most of history. Now it’s swinging back towards the centre and sometime soon, in different scenarios, it’s going to swing wholly to the female side – past 50/50. This will be a breakthrough moment and a lot of the old status-quo abiding, unconscious guys will hate it. We’ll find true centre after that but before then the pendulum will be a wrecking ball, breaking the ceiling of belief systems for many men. They’ll either play victim to the falling glass or grow and occupy the space as better, more equitable men.
- Do you have a message for women?
Sorry, thank you and keep sharing your stories of the shit things we guys have done. They make us uncomfortable, they help some of us unlearn, relearn and empathise. The “some” will become more, the more will become the many and eventually we will become the norm.
- A message for men like yourself?
Find your voice, start a project, be an ally and most of all understand that everyday sexism is ingrained and it needs a fully conscious and emotionally aware you to help call it out.
- Any final parting thoughts?
Men need to read more fiction and non-fiction with female narratives or written by female authors.
“There is an urgent need for men to really walk in the footsteps of others and genuinely feel what other people experience every day.”
They did a study with kids and found a fast way to generate empathy is through literary fiction. A friend of mine told me recently she thought a lot of us guys lacked natural empathy. There’s something in that, whether it’s the conditioning of “nice guys finish last”, “emotions are weakness” or something else – there is an urgent need for men to really walk in the footsteps of others and genuinely feel what other people experience every day.
I look back upon my awakening years and realize my incredible mother in-law has fed me these great books that have contributed massively in bringing my empathy to the surface. I made a bookshelf on Goodreads called ‘Uncomfortable Reading For Blokes’ that lists all the titles that have helped rewire me. These aren’t self-help books set, these are novels and non fiction books way outside of my white suburban male comfort zone. Reading ‘Lolita in Tehran’ is a good place for any bloke to start.
Check out Andrew’s project ‘Dear Men of Tomorrow‘ here.