Being an Ally is an important part of working together to end oppression. This is the first of a series of “How to Be an Ally 101” articles. This will focus on those who identify as male, masculine and on the masculine side of the gender spectrum. This includes cis-men, trans-men and all other masculine-identified folks.
Why be an ally? The most reasonable answer is, we all need to be a part of ending oppression in the world. Most of us start with our lives, personal and work, our families, and move out from there.
Another reason to be an ally is that if we all spoke up when something messed up happens, especially for issues that doesn’t effect us personally, more and more people will see this as a systemic thing, not “only Group X is bothered by this”.
If you’re an aware and caring man-person, you should be annoyed (at the very least) about injustices, violence and discrimination that women face. Are there things you can do? Absolutely!
- Speak up when you’re the only one in the room. When you’re in a group of all men-folks, and hear a male friend, co-worker or family member say something sexist, misogynist or hateful about women in general — speak up! Yes, this will possibly put you in the target zone for their ire or wrath. So? This is the absolutely safest way to confront this behaviour. And, when you do speak up, you might find you’re not, in fact, the only one in the room. If you always do this, change is inevitable — you will eventually become less subject to such jokes and talk anymore. Yes, you might get the eye roll from other men. If you know anything about what women face everyday, you will know this is nothing in comparison.
- Witness and speak up in public. With strangers I would advise a bit more caution and less lecturing, but the act of staying and witnessing a possible abusive interaction will mean a great deal to any woman being verbally or physically threatened — or assaulted. Don’t pull out your phone to record anything at first. Just stand and witness, being clear you are not cheering the guy on. You can even ask the woman, “Are you okay?” and see what she says. Many women in abusive relationships will say they’re fine when it’s clear they are not. As long as this is in public, you have every right to witness. If you’re feeling more concerned, try to engage the man, talk to him, talk him down. Yes, again, this is risky behaviour. But imagine what happens behind closed doors if a man acts like this in public, assured that nobody will say anything.
You do it because it’s the right thing to do.
- But also shut up sometimes and don’t go on and on about every time you’ve spoken up. Just do it. Do it when nobody will praise you, do it when you risk being mocked, and don’t tell people, especially women, what you’ve done. To brag about this, or to go on and on about what a great ally you are doesn’t make you a great ally — it makes you look insecure and like you still don’t get it. Maybe others will follow your lead. Shutting up and listening is something all allies need to do as another way to support.
- Know when to not speak up. Maybe you’re somewhere social and there are men and women present. You begin to challenge a sexist comment or joke some dude makes and a woman who’s present decides to speak up herself. Step back. Let her take the lead if that’s what she’s indicated she wants to do. If she seems to welcome your comments, don’t take over, but support what she’s saying.
- Make mistakes. Because you will. The risk that all allies take is that we’ll make mistakes. A good ally will make mistakes, think about it, and come back again to be an ally. You can get over making a mistake and feeling embarrassed or silly, as long as you learn from it, and keep going.
- Educate yourself. The internet is out there. There’s lots of resources and information about men understanding what sexism is like for women, and men learning to be allies to women. Here’s a few:
- My Feminism will be Intersectional or it will be bullshit
- Schrödinger’s Rapist, or, a Guy’s Guide to Approaching Strange Women without being Maced.
- Next time someone says women aren’t victims of harassment, show them this.
- Handy Reference Guide to Oppressive Silencing
- This is a mocking image of a bingo card about male allies. Don’t do this stuff. Note the references are in the tech industry but I think you will get the picture.
Male allies are very much wanted and needed. However, it’s important to remember that while you can call yourself an ally, this is a label that is best applied by others about you. Anyone can call themselves an ally, but to actually be one, you need to do the difficult and risky stuff as much as possible.
I only gave a few examples in this article. But it’s seriously important that you do something. There’s so much hatred, discrimination and violence directed at women, and while many changes have happened in Canada over the past 40-50 years, we need you to join us. (That’s join us, not take over.)
Step up, I know you can do it, guys!
Image credit: Instagram (feminist poster child Matt McGorry to be specific)/Tumblr