When I first began to identify as a feminist, things were all shiny and new. Aren’t all women wonderful? I bet all of us feminists agree on EVERYTHING. And feminist men? Wow. They’re so enlightened. So wonderful.
Fast forward a year and I’m a little more versed in feminist ideology, I’ve interacted with more fellow feminists, and I’m just a little more jaded about male allies. A lot more jaded actually. I’ve found myself having to distance myself from friends and acquaintances for displaying some hugely problematic behaviour, despite outwardly claiming to be allies. These are people who go to rallies, post tweets about toxic masculinity and why we MUST smash the patriarchy. They say they are outraged by the wage gap. They share Facebook posts about issues important to feminism, and they will be the first to jump into an argument about the existence of rape culture in our society. On paper they sound fabulous don’t they?
The very first thing I did as a fledgeling feminist was to follow some amazing feminist bloggers. I read their blogs almost religiously, I shared their posts, and I engaged in conversations with them on social media. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, because I wanted to get better. I wanted to unlearn what all those years of latent internalised misogyny a patriarchal society had taught me was “normal”. If I saw a dude speak out about gender equality issues, I would inwardly cheer. Have you noticed that we hold men to a lower standard than we do other women? All a man has to do is SAY he’s a feminist, and that’s already elevated him above other men in the eyes of many women. Isn’t that in itself problematic?
It’s only when I looked beyond the proclamations of feminism or allyship that the cracks would show. It’s very easy for a man to say he is a feminist. It takes seconds to share a post or to quickly type out a few words in solidarity. It really takes no effort at all to claim they have the same interests at heart, but for a worryingly significant number of male feminist allies, it’s their actions that contradict their words.
I’m not arguing that male allies do not exist. I can list a few off the top of my head, including friends and the partners of friends. I have even spoken to a fair few on social media. Before I get all cynical here, there are good people out there. Unfortunately there are still many very vocal men who are in it for the accolades, and who have really no interest in feminism past their own interests. Let’s call them hypocrites.
Have you ever noticed that when a woman talks publicly about an issue important to women, whether it’s gender equality, body positivity, period positivity, gender conformity, rape culture, slut-shaming, personal safety, catcalling, or any number of issues that are relevant to us, chances are she will be met with relentless abuse? I’ve experienced it. My friends have all experienced it. It’s sadly almost expected when we publicly share an opinion that men (and some women) will lash out at us and try to shut us up. Yet if a man makes the exact same comments or shares the exact same views? They are given a pat on the back and told how awesome and enlightened and BRAVE they are. Double standard much?
If you are a man and you support feminism, then it’s so important you do exactly that. Support. This is not your platform. This is not your voice. This is not your time in the spotlight. Showing solidarity is great, but it’s important to remember not to speak over the voices of women. It isn’t helpful to downplay or invalidate our experiences, because we live through the ramifications of inequality every day of our lives. To be a good feminist ally, first and foremost it’s important to listen.
Another issue I have with faux feminist allies is the assumption that they are somehow exempt from being called out on problematic behaviour. Making “jokes” about alcohol and consent is not ok, even if you claim to be an ally. They’re still not funny. Making women feel uncomfortable in any way is not acceptable. Touching a woman without permission is not excusable even if you call yourself an ally, whether it’s meant in a sexual way or not, nor is getting in their space. Standing overtly close to someone “for a laugh”, tickling them, poking them, touching their hair, trying to pick them up against their will, sending naked or semi-naked photos of yourself, asking very personal questions about their sexuality – all of these things are NOT OK. These are not things a true ally would do. These things are creepy.
Some of the best allies I have ever met low-key support feminism, but they are careful not to make it their platform. They realise that this is not their audience, but they would do everything in their power to fight against inequality. Nobody is perfect, but they realise that when they do express an opinion that is problematic and are called out, that it’s time to think about why that comment or action has caused offence. There are so many ways to show support without making it all about you, as a man, and if in doubt? Ask.
Being a male feminist ally is more than just wearing a t-shirt that tells the world you are a feminist.