By: Alexis M.
Allies are an important aspect of any community. Although men are directly affected by patriarchy as women are, men are also direct beneficiaries of this type of social order. To have male allies involved in the feminist community is extremely important because it shows solidarity within the feminist community and it puts a huge emphasis on male engagement in reversing and questioning the effects sexism has had on our society.
For clarity, an ally is an individual or group who join with other individuals/groups to achieve a common goal. For example, since the purpose of the feminist community is to combat sexism, male allies are people who join the feminist community to contribute to this goal as well.
It is so important to have allies in any community because it shows that this issues faced by that group are not just issues that that group as a singular entity needs to solve on its own. Rather, it’s a human rights issue which needs the help and support of other communities in order to resolve the current problems. Sexism is not just a women’s issue, transphobia is not just a trans issue, homophobia is not just the LGBTQ’s issue, racism is not just people of colour’s issue. They are all human rights issues which need to be addressed by all communities.
As someone who has a lot of male friends who identify as feminist or with feminist ideals here are a few tips on what they can do to be better allies.
Tip #1: Listen
To be an ally to a community is to be someone who is concerned with the treatment and issues that another group in society has. The best way to really understand issues in the feminist community is to be an active listener. Listen to the experiences of others and to the concerns they have, then take those concerns and experiences at face-value as legitimate.
You may feel the need to speak a lot in workshops, during group conversations and at meetings, and it’s great that you want to contribute to conversations about and with feminists, but be aware of how much time you are taking up. Your role as an ally is to help lift up the voices of others, but not to talk over them. Ask yourself: Are you dominating the conversation? Are you dictating it’s flow? Are you making it about yourself? Make sure you are aware of these things when you’re speaking in feminist spaces.
Tip #2: Self-Awareness
Speaking of awareness… self-awareness is key to becoming a better ally to the feminist community. This means being mindful of your presence, of the space you take up, of the way you speak and other things you may have not considered in your daily routine such as the privilege you have as a man.
Male privilege is essentially the ways in which men benefit in society over other groups based on their maleness. Examples of male privilege are not getting cat called while walking down the street, feeling generally safe walking home at night, being hired for a job because you are male even though you and other female applicants may have the exact same credentials, having your sex represented in multi-faceted ways in different forms of media, the chances of your personal mistakes/failure being attributed to your entire sex are slim… the list goes on and on.
The point of recognizing or checking your own privilege is to challenge the way you have interpreted the world and question ideas that reinforce gender norms. By checking your own privilege and realizing the advantages you have in social, political and economic spheres over other groups, you have already taken a big step forward in being an ally to the feminist community.
For more on how to identify your own privilege and call others out on theirs, don’t forget to check out our Feminist Dictionary entry on privilege.
Tip #3: Do Not Play Devil’s Advocate
As a philosophy major I can understand the appeal of playing devil’s advocate in hypothetical, philosophical situations/discussions, but when you’re dealing with the lived experiences of real people this is not okay.
If you’re coming into a feminist space to ruffle feathers, argue pointlessly and start a fight it is not the space for you.
Of course there are legitimate criticisms that can be discussed within a feminist community such as inclusivity, diversity, representation, etc. It’s great if you want to discuss those issues, but if you’re coming into a feminist space with the mentality that you need to prove someone wrong, then you really need to reconsider if you have sincere intentions for wanting to be more involved within the feminist community.
Tip #4: Get Active
A great way to get involved in the feminist community is to go to rallies, protests, workshops and events hosted by local feminist groups. Donate to a local women’s shelter and volunteer your time if you are able. Getting active is a great way to be a better ally because it shows that you want to be involved and want to learn more and do more for the community.
If you don’t have the time to be physically present at rallies or organizations that’s okay! There are plenty of amazing online communities that can help you get your start in feminist activism. Tumblr has a huge feminist community that was actually the first place which sparked my love of feminism. Consider creating a feminist tumblr or join a discussion forum on feminism. Everday Feminism has great online forums to help get you involved and connect you to other feminists!
Tip #5: Do Your Research
I cannot begin to count the amount of times that I have been used as a feminist encyclopedia for my male friends. I don’t mind being asked questions, but there comes a point where it becomes exhausting and irritating. Answering the same basic questions over and over again is not fun, and if you’re really interested in feminism then there is plenty of literature available at your disposal.
Do your own research, don’t make feminists explain why their oppression matters. Don’t make them prove to you that it is a legitimate concern. We don’t owe you that information. You owe it to yourself, however, to learn about these issues.
Tip #6: Call Others Out
If you see sexism being perpetuated by your friends or other people you know in your life, call them out on it. Explain to them that what they may be doing/saying is really harmful to women (i.e. catcalling, calling women inappropriate slurs, degrading women). Question their values and ideas, especially in spaces where women aren’t present.
For example, if one of your guy friends makes a joke about sexual harassment, rape, violence against women etc. tell them it isn’t funny. You don’t necessarily owe them an explanation as to why it isn’t funny but it couldn’t hurt to explain why exactly the jokes they are telling are problematic and harmful.
Being a feminist is a full time job and you can’t pick when to be one and when not to be. If you want to be a good ally, you need to be one in every space you are in.
Want to learn some more tips on becoming a better ally? Check out these articles: