3 Things That Make You a Male Ally
Allyship in theory is easy — I am sympathetic to this cause and I want to help them achieve their goals. In reality, allyship can be tricky.
For one thing, we’re afraid to fuck up. In today’s PC culture, it’s so easy to say the wrong thing and genuinely offend someone despite our good intentions. Terms and phrases change so quickly that one week something is acceptable and then the next, it’s not. And with social media, it’s so easy to have our not-so-great moments and private conversations exposed. No one wants to appear insensitive towards injustice.
Despite the potential messiness, needing to find a place for men in the women’s movement is a great problem to have. It means that for the first time ever, there are enough men out there who actually want an active role in fighting for gender equality. I think it’s worth it to have a conversation about what it means to be an ally and what role they play in the movement. Allies are important to any kind of social movement because (1) they have privilege and (2) they ease some of that “them versus us” tension that makes having a productive conversation nearly impossible.
Here are the 3 Basic Things That Make You a Male Ally.
1. You acknowledge your privilege.
Can you get your car fixed at a mechanic and expect to get a fair deal? Can you disregard your physical appearance without being criticized in social settings? Can you have frequent, casual sex without being denounced as a slut? If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions, then you have male privilege.
The good news is, you don’t have to deny your male privilege because it’s not your fault that you have it.
Some men are absolutely at fault for perpetuating it, or using it for their own personal gain, but it isn’t necessarily your fault that it exists today. Unfortunately, that’s just the way the current system works. Male privilege has been embedded into every one of our social, economic, and political institutions starting long before any of us were born. As an ally, this institutionalization of male privilege is one of the things you are helping to dismantle, so don’t be afraid to recognize your own. When you do, it makes you a better ally.
Having privilege is also what makes allies so powerful when joining social movements.
By recognizing your privilege, you have the power to end the perpetuation of the injustices being committed and use it as a tool to effect social change. Instead of ignorantly accepting the benefits of your privilege and being a part of the problem, you can use it to take action and be a part of the solution.
[Note: Just because you have privilege as a man doesn’t mean that you don’t experience discrimination in other ways. Your sexual preferences, gender identity, race, class, nationality, ethnicity, ability, etc. still apply. For example, if you are a man with male privilege, that does not mean that you can’t also experience discrimination for being Black. It just means that you experience certain privileges due to your status as a male compared to your female counterpart.]
2. You do the work.
If you want to be an ally, you need to show you’re an ally. The entire concept of allyship is that you’re joining a movement to change an oppressive system. You can’t change anything without taking action.
You can take action in a number of ways —
Donate your money to women and children’s shelters or Planned Parenthood (did you know they do more than just abortions?).
Educate other men when they’re being misogynistic. Let’s say your friend Derek is angry about one of his female co-workers being promoted to a higher position than him and he says she only got it because she probably slept with the boss. Even if he meant it as a “joke,” it’s still offensive and mimics the cultural message that a woman’s only asset is her body. This comment would need to be addressed.
Vote for female or male candidates who are advocates for women’s rights. Before voting in any election, whether it be local or national, do your research. Look at the candidates’ websites and see what their voting history is like in terms of what bills they support and what they have personally done to help women in their districts.
Seek meaningful female relationships outside of the romantic and sexual. Having female friends is not only awesome but also provides you with experts on sexism because, odds are, they’ve experienced it. Having their insight will help you empathize with other women and also can educate you on the issues that you’re trying to address.
Surround yourself with other male allies. Use them as your inspiration and learn from them. You’ll feel less alone in the movement and you can all keep each other accountable.
If you’re friends with guys who don’t share the same goals of gender equality, who criticize you for being a male ally, or are known for being dicks to women, now would be a good time to seek other friendships. Do better for yourself — you deserve to have friends who care about something important.
Most importantly, educate yourself on women’s issues and work towards dismantling your own internal biases. This requires you to be self-aware, which isn’t always easy. You can practice by reflecting on your interactions and relationships with the women in your life. Ask yourself what you do well and what you can improve on.
“To be an Ally requires that a person not simply notice an injustice, but also take action by bringing attention to the injustice and requesting that it be corrected.” — Dr. Makini King, Director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives
While you should use your privilege to take action, don’t make the movement about you. You’re not there to be the face of the movement or to receive praise for caring about these issues or to tell women what they need — you’re there to offer your support.
3. You Practice Inclusivity
If you are a male ally who only supports women who look like you, you’re doing it wrong.
The goal of being a male ally is to achieve gender equality for all women. That cannot be done if other groups of women are left out and ignored.
Women as a group may experience injustice and gender discrimination, but that doesn’t mean that each and every woman experiences the same kind of injustice and gender discrimination. Not all women have the same lived experience. For example, the kind of gender discrimination I experience as a white woman is not the same as what an indigenous woman experiences. A woman with a disability experiences a different kind of gender discrimination than a woman who is undocumented. Hell — even blondes and brunettes experience different kinds of gender discrimination. These are all examples of a concept known as intersectionality.
“And black mothers are 243% more likely than white mothers to die from pregnancy-related complications.” — Jerica Deck, Why the Fight for Women’s Rights Must Include Women of Color.
To practice inclusivity and intersectionality, you need to challenge your thinking, educate yourself, and make it a priority to include it in the conversation when you’re talking about women’s issues. Take an issue that you know affects the women who look like you and do some research — look up how the women in a different group experience the same issue. Look at differences in race, socioeconomic status, sexualities, citizenship statuses, etc.
Remember: fighting for one group while leaving out another defeats your purpose and undermines the women’s movement as a whole.
I know that keeping intersectionality in mind when conceptualizing women’s issues can complicate things a bit, but it gets easier the more you pay attention to it and the more you educate yourself on the topic. Plus, intersectionality applies to men’s issues, too. It’s a valuable concept to understand.
Congratulations — you’re an ally!
If you’re a man who acknowledges his male privilege, does the work, and practices inclusivity, you’re a male ally…but it still doesn’t mean you’re a good male ally. That comes with intentionality and effort on your part to make it happen.
Another thing — accept the fact that you’re going to mess up at some point. You’re going to be in a situation where you offend someone. Remember that that’s to be expected, you’re not perfect. Accept the criticism, apologize, and move on. It’s all part of the growing process and will make you a better ally.
Just don’t be that guy with the fragile male ego that dismisses the entire women’s movement after one set back.