Recently, I was asked to present to a class of junior level social workers about engaging men in the movement of ending gender-based violence (GBV).1 The professor requested that I be inclusive of what it meant specifically to be a male-ally. This is when I thought that I really should put together a collaborative list of ally-actions to share with the men we speak with, to share what I’ve asked and learned. More specifically, I wanted to have an easy reference point or a place for men to do their (our) own research about male-allyship in ending men’s violence, within the realm of feminist work. The list that we came up with below is non-exhaustive, is fluid and changing and will be linked to more detailed explanations and ally-actions in future blogs.
By definition, an ally is an individual who is not a member of a particular marginalized identity but behaves in such a way that supports an individual or group, who are systemically devalued and/or oppressed. These purposeful and supportive ally-actions are achieved through very specific, purposeful and intentional actions. A pro-feminist male-ally specifically seeks to enhance and promote the impartial and equitable treatment of women and girls, in a society and culture that overwhelming proves to do her harm, degrade her, devalue her actions and life, victimize her, oppress and murder her. Often, these treacherous acts are on the hands and in the actions of men and boys. While most men and boys do not rape and murder women, the perpetrators of these specific crimes are statistically and overwhelmingly, men and boys.
While most men and boys don’t commit rape and murder, many men and boys do support the culture of sexism, misogyny and even rape and murder. It is critical for other men and boys to step up in allyship to counter this culture, but this is a topic for another day.
As *men and masculinities who embrace feminist/pro-feminist perspectives, it becomes an individual and ethical responsibility to use privileges and unearned resources to challenge and change a system that affords certain individuals (in this case, men) advantages over other individuals (in this case, women). It becomes the ethical responsibility of pro-feminist/feminist men and masculinities to bring pro-feminist thought and conversations, to the spaces he already unjustifiably dominates, rather than attempt to make more space for himself within the feminist movement. These actions are critical and important in being a positive and responsible male-ally. At times, specific ally-actions appear to counter his individual and personal self-interests, at least on the surface. These are actions that are rarely (if ever) perfectly applied and are non-exhaustive; however, in any socially-just movement we need a stepping off point, a place a reference.
It’s critically important to meet men where they are when attempting to engage him in ending GBV. This is sometimes a complicated undertaking and the experiences of activists aren’t identical in every instance, nor should it be with such a diverse population of people. Yet, once men are on board, once he is willing to minimally entertain the relinquishment of power and privilege in the plight of justice, once empathy is reached and sustained, it then becomes his task to move beyond bystander inaction and into the actual action of behaving as a responsible and active ally. It’s not a leisurely or relaxed journey. There’s not a definitive end point that essentially results in ally-status. These are supportive and purposeful actions, not an identity, and must become an individual and collective, continuous practice among pro-feminist/feminist male-allies. It’s worth repeating that this is not a one time behavior that results in carrying good guy status amoungst women, these are specific behaviors, repeatedly practiced, cyclical actions, a journey.
It’s work, man! Well, it’s not really work, it is a process and it takes effort and willingness. The actions below are truely more of a baseline for acceptable behavior for people in general. Following this as a baseline doesn’t afford you exceptional merit or make you a really great guy, it makes you a decent human being and a part of the solution.
It means gaining an understanding of one’s own male-privilege, and even more importantly, it means understanding how this asinine, un-asked-for, fucking-male-privilege, is related to the oppression, degradation and MURDER of women and girls. This is not simple or easy to accept, it’s not always easy or simple to practice. Yet, it is crucial. These actions are in support of all women and girls that populate this planet who deserve equal opportunity and respect. Women and girls who have just as much worth and as much value. It’s critical for the women and girls in our country, in our cities and in our collective global lives. The actions listed below are applicable with adaptation to an ally of many marginalized groups. Although in this case, these actions are specifically written to engage male-allies, from a pro-feminist lens.
Future links will be added to more detailed explanations of each ally-action and other resources.
12 Ally-Actions: ON BEING a MALE-ALLY
Action 1: On believing, respecting and listening to women’s lived-experiences. Look man, I know you have an opinion on just about everything, we all do, but in supportive allyship you simply listen and respect when women share their own personal experiences about injustice. Systemic oppression and the marginilization of women is something that men could never understand, if he is cisgender, as a result of male privilege. You may be able to draw a connection through another marginilized point of reference; however, you don’t understand systemic sexism through the eyes of a woman. You can do your best through active listening and resisting the urge to demand (or even request) she produce proof of inequality or evidence to support her claims of discrimination. Trans*men share different expereinces of course; however, no one has the right to audit the lived-experiences of margilized folks sharing their experiences of injustice, ever.
Actions 2: On challenging other men to step up and avoiding the ‘White Knight’.
Unfortunately, men have a ridiculous amount of cultural power and influence. Because of this precise advantage, it becomes an ethical obligation that men specifically challenge other men to step up to the plate in confronting sexist violence and oppression. This is particularly important to do while personally owning the problem. What I mean is that a male-ally speaks out on his own behalf. He speaks out, not in an effort to protect or speak on the behalf of women, he speaks out because violence against women offends and disgusts him. Women have been speaking out and protecting themselves from violence for a really long time. She doesn’t need a man to step in and save the day, we do need to stand in solidarity and collaboration, because gender inequality really does affect us all.
Action 3: On acknowledging and respecting women’s leadership in general and with children.
It’s sometimes difficult for men to take leadership from women, to listen to women and to take women seriously. Men and boys have been systematically trained not to. It’s critically important for male-allies to seek the perspectives of women, to listen to the voices of women in leadership positions, and then ask what it is that these specific women want from them as an ally. Women are not a monolyth and may need/want different things from men that are engaged in this work. This is critically important for young people to see happening if we want to create an experience where all people are valued.
Action 4: On resisting the temptation to get defensive.
This one is particularly challenging in working with men and boys. Generally, as he is exposed to more evidence of his own privilege, he is faced with a mix of blame, defensiveness, guilt and denial. I do believe that men, and some boys, instinctively know and often refuse to acknowledge that gender-based violence is in fact, men’s violence. Sometimes the violence is directed at women and sometimes other men; however, it is in fact men’s violence. As a result he may respond by feeling blamed. He may feel guilt over ways that he has supported the framework of sexism. Do the work to get over it, move through it, make amends, talk to other pro-feminist men about it, lean in to it and use it as your fuel for promoting change! Your guilt is not the responsibility of women or feminists to sooth or placate.
Action 5: On doing your own research and accepting responsibility.
It’s not women’s responsibility to educate men about the issues of gender-based violence and sexism. If she chooses to engage in this work, that is her choice and not an obligation. Once a male-ally is engaged and his interest is piqued, it becomes incredibly important for him to begin to do his own research. Dude, learn about feminist history on the internet. Learn about different types of feminisms. Read books and watch films. It’s ok to ask questions, but first ask yourself, can I find this answer on my own?
Action 6: On lifting up the contributions of women
While women are an important and integral part of society, culture and history, the women of our collective communities are rarely afforded the credit, respect and recognitions that their hard work deserves. Let’s teach our children authentic women’s history, all the time.
Action 7: On understanding male privilege and challenging it.
One’s own privileges are difficult to recognize and challenging to become aware of unless you work at it. Your own privilige will likely blind you from the lived-expereinces of sexist injustices. Many of us have privileges in various forms. Whether it is male privilege, white privilege, thin privilege, the privileges associated with being able bodied or even right handed. I could go on for quite a while. For a better understanding of privilege, check out this great piece. For a candid look at male privilege, check this out, or this simple checklist.
Action 8: Take risks, man! Then be willing to learn from mistakes.
An active male-ally takes risks and is willing to make mistakes. I’ve made many mistakes. It’s hard and not easy to admit in a culture that requires that men be competitive, on their game and in control. You are going to fuck it up man! Own it. Acknowledge it. Be honest about your mistake and actively work to change. Make amends when you are able to and understand that you may or may not be forgiven and/or trusted.
Action 9: On accepting feminist suspicion and earning trust.
Feminist women are often justifiably and rationally suspicious of men who become involved in pro-feminist work, of men who challenge sexism and of men who assert that they believe in equity for women and men. Even I’m suspicious! Men have used feminism as a platform for unearned authority, to gain trust (only to eventually destroy it) and in some cases to simply gain enough credibility to ‘get laid’. It’s important for men doing this work to accept suspicion and work through it without taking it personally.
Action 10: On knowing when to follow and when to lead.
Being an ally is knowing when and how to take the lead or when and how to follow. It’s important for men to respect the space of feminist women leaders who have been doing this work for a really long time. If there is a place where men can be in a leadership role, it’s within the realm and in the work of engaging men in ending violence against women. In this work it is important for young men and boys to see other men taking women seriously and valuing her leadership. It’s a delicate balance and critically important to be aware of.
Action 11: On feminist and personal accountability.
One of the ways that I define leadership is in the ability to remain accountable to one’s personal beliefs and social responsibilities. For pro-feminist male-allies it is even more important to find, seek and listen to feminists in his community that are already doing work toward gender equity. Find out what is already being done and who is doing it. Ask what ways you can supplement this work. Check in with the progress of the work you are doing.
Action 12: On understanding, promoting and fostering visions of healthy manhood and masculinity/s.
I’m not the biggest fan of using the language, healthy masculinity, although I’m very aware of the importance of the work that is being done around healthy masculinity as a concept. Eventually this will link to a more detailed description about what I’m talking about; however, this is the short-hand version here:
First, Identify and notice unhealthy aspects of masculinity and work to heal from within; as well as with and amongst other men and masculinities doing the same work individually and collectively. Start with learning what hegemonic masculinity is and then begin to look for ways that healthier models are being achieved. It’s more than a simple academic exercise in education surrounding the issue and it will involve replacing risky and violent behaviors with attitudes that respect the individual self and others. There are a number of resources to look into.
Brown Boi Project, Men’s Work, Men Can Stop Rape, Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP)
Then, learn to foster within yourself and promote empathetic responses to injustice.
In conclusion, take it to the next step! Learn the skills necessary to constructively confront and challenge unhealthy masculine attitudes and behaviors in ways that effectively dismantle the foundation of oppression and violence.
In Oakland County Michigan? Bring Mentors in Violence Prevention to your high school, men’s group, fraternity, university campus, organization or leadership group. Or attend this years National Conference on Men and Masculinities in Detroit, MI!
Other Great Resources and References to Study
What Men Can Do, Shakesville
On the Fixed State Ally Model vs. Process Model Ally Work, Shakesville
There is all kinds if material out there, go look for it!
Citations and Textual References
1. Gender-based violence (GBV) in this context is violence primarily against women based on women’s subordinate status in society and culture. Without the current heterosexist patriarchal foundation, this type of violence has little structural foundation. This violence and domination is supported in many cultures by traditional beliefs, norms and social institutions that legitimize violence as something that is inevitable and justifiable.
GBV has two major functions. It maintains inequity where men have political power, social/cultural control and economic access and domination. It polices and brutally punishes folks who do not conform to rigid and traditional gendered norms. This includes members of the LGBTQIA communities.
GBV includes a number of various forms of violence, including but not limited to: domestic/dating violence, sexual abuse and harassment, rape, sexual slavery and sex crimes, human trafficking, forced pregnancy, forced marraige, honor killing, genital mutilation and femicide to name a few.
2. Reaching Men: Strategies for Preventing Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors and Violence, Rus Ervin Funk