Being a Male Ally: My Experience of SlutWalk and Take Back The Night

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Even though our wonderful TBTN blog has only been around for two months we’re already starting to do grown-up blog stuff like having a guest blogger!

Taylor blogs at No Greater Male Supporter where you could find him musing on victim blaming, sexism, allyship and sometimes hockey.

What a pleasure to be writing for SACHA and Hamilton’s Take Back The Night this September!

I first learned about Take Back the Night during the weeks leading up to Vancouver’s SlutWalk a couple months ago.  I was (and still am) very excited about the SlutWalk movement, but I originally did have two misgivings about it. One was the “mesh panty hose” image of the event, which I felt to be less an effective satire of the word, “Slut”, and more of a distraction of the event’s message, which is that, contrary to the beliefs of a certain Toronto Police Officer, women are sexually assaulted irrespective of whether they wear said mesh panty hose.  If the vast majority of sexual assault happens in a trusting relationship, and given that clothing does not contribute to assault, why make the focus of the movement so attached to clothing…

Then of course the event happened and all of a dozen or so out of the thousand plus there actually dressed ‘sluttily’ (whatever the definition of the word may be to you). I’d been had. The “Look at us high fiving in our mesh stockings” message that SlutWalk was supposedly all about was more a function of reactions from outside the movement, and anyone who actually listened to Katie Raso, Vancouver SlutWalk’s organizer, would know the message of SlutWalk was to “get out of a culture that says hey women don’t get raped and [become] a culture that says hey men, don’t rape women.”

The lesson for me was that there are those who’ll take an anti-violence message and find any reason they can to take away the messenger’s credibility without addressing the message itself…  Especially if the messenger happens to not be a straight white male.   At Vancouver Pride I saw the same “But what they’re wearing takes away the REAL message” drivel all over Facebook and Twitter. The vast majority of said drivel came from straight people who identify as supporters of Pride. My message to them: If you’re truly a supporter, then wouldn’t you agree we’ve dominated ‘their’ narrative enough already? Also, good criticism folks, now will you engage in any meaningful activism?

The second misgiving I had about SlutWalk was the effort, particularly of Vancouver’s event, to emphasize men within the movement. The intention was to get men involved, but I felt it was done in a way that not only softened the focus on the female experience of sexism and rape culture, but also equated male oppression with female oppression, which is hugely problematic. Last I checked I’m far less likely to be assaulted, I don’t have to wonder whether I’ll be cat-called when I turn a corner, and I don’t have to worry about someone walking twenty paces behind me at night who might well be listening to their iPod but damned if my heart isn’t racing anyway. I’m also more likely to be hired than a woman with the same credentials, more likely to be paid better than a woman in the same field with the same experience, and more likely to have someone genuinely wonder what I’m thinking without immediately labeling me when they see me on the bus reading Feminist literature (Oh, the looks I get, of surprise, excitement, pity…).

I shared this misgiving with a few Feminist bloggers, all of whom had a background in Take Back The Night rallies. Take Back The Night always made women its focus.  It didn’t rely on a male voice because it saw that if the root problem is women not being heard, making the male voice the salient one doesn’t solve anything.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that men should GTFO where Feminism is concerned (It’s interesting to me that my brain went from Take Back The Night right to the word, “Feminism”, and so to all the connotations and politics around the word, when what we’re talking about is what should be an uncontroversial Human Freaking Right to walk down the street without being harassed or assaulted). What I’m getting at is the tendency I’ve seen all over the internet and newsprint to bring men into the conversation in a way that lets it be all about us (“But what about teh menz”, as my girlfriend refers to the phenomenon). What I love about Hamilton’s Take Back The Night is that it offers a “Male Allies” section on the blog while sticking to its guns about the rally being a women-only space. This is so positive and, with what SlutWalk is doing, gutsy. Men are socialized to take charge and assume leadership, which gets problematic if we’re allowed to co-opt a movement where women take charge and assume leadership.

What my gender needs is to have our neural pathways tweaked so we get used to participating in spaces where the female voice is the salient one.

And there are many ways in which men can still participate in such a space, some of which I’ll list in a separate post.

-Taylor

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2 thoughts on “Being a Male Ally: My Experience of SlutWalk and Take Back The Night

  1. Yolanda

    I agree the ‘neutral pathways need to be tweaked’. We have also as women been socialized to make it hard for the males who get involved to step back while women do their thing. In the helping proffession for example, where women dominate, you will find men who work there getting leadership positions and practically idolized by their female coworkers. As for rape, we as society continue to raise boys to not take responsibility for their sexuality and behavior towards women. Somehow this responsibility is carried by the women. If they do not want to be raped then they should do something about it. The ones (men/boys) that do not have notions of assaulting anyone keep quiet and do nothing. Bad things continue to happen because good people continue to do nothing.

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