Being a Male Ally: How We Can Help

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Taylor blogs at No Greater Male Supporter where you could find him musing on victim blaming, sexism, allyship and sometimes hockey.  Taylor is generously guest blogging for TBTN Hamilton.

As prefaced in my last post, here are some ways male allies can help:

We can be okay with just being there in solidarity. We don’t always have to speak. Our presence alone can speak volumes, whether it’s at a rally or a bookclub.

We can invest energy in learning about all oppressed groups, not just our female loved ones who face oppression. If we read up on homophobia, racism, ableism, ageism, transphobia, et cetera, we’ll have a much broader spectrum through which we view how oppression works and how it can be counteracted. “Whistling Vivaldi” by Claude Steele is a great example of a book that encourages such a perspective.  Challenge yourself to be a Feminist all the time, not just when you’re around your girlfriend.

We can, wherever possible, not fund sexist culture by refusing to buy products with sexist advertising, and we can point out that reasoning so advertisers start thinking that maybe sexism doesn’t work for them anymore (currently it seems to work, so we have some work to do here).

We can ask whether use of pornography jives with our ethics, and if the answer for us is yes, we can ask if we’ve truly sourced that in every ‘viewing’ we have.

We can see and point out where “Not being too PC” is a thinly veiled excuse for being sexist, racist, or homophobic.

We can refrain from laughing at sexist jokes (and thus we can avoid the implicit assumption that we agree with the sexism that has just happened).

We can recognize the shallow benefits we get from sexist culture while also realizing that this doesn’t equate our oppression with anyone else’s, nor does it allow us to absorb someone else’s pain into our own identity.

We can realize Feminism is not a hive-mind, and spread the word on this point. Find out that there are, in fact, disagreements within the movement about, say, prostitution, and bring that up when someone suggests Feminists think the same way about everything. We can also recognize that every oppressed group that ever speaks out is on some level labelled as hive-minded.

We can recognize where the modern image of Feminism has been manufactured by non-Feminists. If you see that a Feminist TV character wears her hair in a bun, speaks aggressively, and displays hatred for men, ask yourself what the message is, who is spreading it, and how such an image can silence people.

We can recognize that Feminism does not equal Misandry, and that victims are not vengeful people. We can work to dispel the fear that a society with more female empowerment would somehow suck for men.

We can change our own brains vis-à-vis what we’ve been socialized to think a woman’s body is ‘for’.  ‘For’ is problematic here because a woman’s body isn’t ‘for’ giving birth, but I do feel every image I see of childbirth (real, not TV sitcom) undoes a lot of my memory that has attached the female body to pornography (I was a user myself between ages 14 and 25). My girlfriend is training to be a Midwife so it provides some opportunity for me in this regard.

We can call out victim-blaming wherever we find it. We can add to the conversation on rape prevention the pillar of “Here’s what men can do”, and stop the continual over-emphasis on how female behaviour contributes to rape. We can talk to our kids about consent rather than skirting the issue of sex altogether. While we’re at it, we can recognize that if 1 in 3 women experience sexual assault, we would probably do well not to have flippant conversations about rape on the bus or around people we don’t know intimately. I was recently as a dinner party where someone compared being raped to getting punched in the face, and I’ve recently seen responses to Hugo Schwyzer’s blog comparing cuckolding to rape.  Men who are this insensitive need to be responded to, and we men can do some of the responding. This is where our silence is not helpful.

We can be honest with ourselves about when consent has been blurry for us.

We can support other men who struggle with how they have been gender policed, and we can empower them to perform their gender how they darned well please.

We can also support male victims of sexual assault. As a survivor myself, I was so empowered by an older male co-worker who supported me when I told him about it happening to me.  He didn’t blame me, he didn’t say it couldn’t happen to a man, and he put no pressure on me to conform to a male standard that says we should always be primed for sex like some emotionless machine. Male victims need more male support.

We can call out homophobia and transphobia, and point out how both are ultimately anti-woman.

We can realize that sex is biology, and that our conception of gender is a performance. Pink used to be the boy colour, men in some cultures wear dresses, and some cultures do not, in fact, fetishize That Which Feeds Our Babies. We can let go of standards that imply a certain behaviour makes one a ‘real’ man or ‘real’ woman (today I laughed at a sign on a downtown Vancouver storefront that said “Real Men Don’t Riot” – I doubt that’s the carrot to dangle in front of would-be rioters).

If it takes us a lifetime, we can undo for ourselves that notion in the back of our minds that women are less than us and need rescuing. Knowing when our silence speaks loudest is a crucial step.

-Taylor

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