By Tony Rinna
The room was filled with professional women from various backgrounds, striking up conversations, exchanging ideas and enjoying themselves. The sense of sisterhood was palpable, and the ladies engaged one another, building fellowship as women, whether as professionals or friends.
Meanwhile, alone on the side of the room stood a lone man playing his saxophone. His instrument shone with the color of golden brass, and the air was filled with the sounds of his tune.
As fantastic as it may sound, this is the best way I can describe the amazing and humbling opportunity for play at a membership luncheon for the American Women’s Club in Seoul that I recently had. Aside from one woman who approached me and told me her son played the saxophone, no one really paid special attention to me. This was as it should be. My job was not to be the center of attention. My job was to provide (hopefully beautiful) music while the members and prospective members enjoyed their afternoon.
My physical location in the room says it all. I was not below anyone, but next to everyone filling a role. Even if I was not the center of attention, I could not be ignored, being the only man in a room with at least fifty women playing an instrument. Yet if I had been unwilling to accept a “lesser” role in serving a group of women, I would have missed a wonderful opportunity. My standing off to the side of the room to play was not a consignment or relegation. Rather, it was an honor and a privilege. It was an opportunity I hope will come up again.
This past month the digital world has showcased some pieces not conducive to the feminist movement, such as “Why I’ll Never Date a Feminist” and a piece exhorting women in tech to hide their identities. The term “feminism” itself has been given a bad rap, being subjected to labels such as “the other ‘f-word'”.
An unfortunately common view among men – one that I will, at full disclosure, admit that I have held in the past – is that feminism is a zero sum affair. If women rise, then men must obviously fall, right? No, absolutely not.
If men and women are going to coexist in society, we need to learn to see beyond the notion of woman’s gain is man’s loss. Men need to understand the unique opportunities that can arise for them when women are given a chance to shine also. Only in this way can we put an end to the societal infighting that comes with the march toward greater equality women are on.
In fact, as I write this, I can’t help but think of a male saxophonist supporting a woman that, while I never realized it, actually had an impact on my thinking. As a young boy, I was always fascinated by the male saxophone player on the ‘Rosie O’Donnell Show‘. He played his part (and his instrument) well, in support of the show’s host, who rightfully took her place as the center of attention.
Yet, while perhaps it was because he was a sax player, the man nevertheless caught my attention and always managed to shine in my mind, in such a way that he was always noticeable, but never in any way took over the main star, Rosie O’Donnell (or whomever she happened to be interviewing that day).
This is what should be in the minds of men when they consider their positions vis-à-vis women in society. If you’re not willing to take a step to the side, how do you know you may be losing a chance to let yourself shine while women do so as well? There is absolutely no reason why men and women can’t enjoy opportunities simultaneously and conjointly, be it in business, society or any other setting.
Tony Rinna is a writer and a freelance saxophone player. He is the creator of ‘Saxaphone for Women’, a one-man movement using his saxaphone to promote respect for women and their rights. He has used his sax to raise money for various women’s organizations, including Girls on the Run and Women at Risk, International. He currently resides in South Korea. You can contact him on Twitter @FeministSax.