Man Up! Being an Ally to Women

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WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH IS AN OPPORTUNITY to both understand
the past and set our sights on our future. Part of this
future is men, men becoming allies to women.
When men come to understand sexism, it usually isn’t of
our own accord. Women in our lives usually have to point
out the ways that they experience gender inequity. For the
past 15 years, I have struggled to understand my role as an
ally—to women, to people of color, to the LGBT community,
and so on. For me, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to
learn from some wonderful female mentors in my life what
they needed from me – then I began to understand what sexism
has meant for me, and what my role is in dismantling it.
One of the privileges I experience is that I do not have
to think about sexism on a daily basis. As men, we have a
critical role in working to dismantle the gender inequities
and sexism faced by women and transgendered folks in
our lives. So in honor of Women’s History Month, here are
four simple steps to becoming an ally to women:
STEP ONE: LISTEN TO WOMEN
If we don’t listen to women in our lives, we cannot begin
to understand their collective experiences of gender discrimination
at work, growing up, in the home, or in
school. We have to ask the questions honestly and curiously,
really seeking to understand their experiences.
STEP TWO: EDUCATE OURSELVES
When we just listen without doing some of our own selfeducation,
we recreate sexist structures of caretaking. We
say we would like to help, but we become reliant upon
women to handhold us through the process. Pick up a
book, attend a workshop, surf the web, talk to friends, but
ultimately challenge and educate yourself.
STEP THREE: RECOGNIZE OUR OWN PRIVILEGE
It is easy to get stuck in a “good guy” space: “I don’t
rape/abuse/objectify/discriminate against women, so I’m a
good guy.” Most of us have committed some level of sexual
violence, and all of us have benefited from male privilege
in our lives, even if we never sought it out. Recognize
and name the ways that you’ve benefited from male privilege
and used this power in your life.
STEP FOUR: RESPONSIBILITY
One common reaction of individuals in positions of privilege
is guilt. Guilt is a powerful emotional reaction to the
realization how our actions—and the system around us –
have hurt people we care about. Guilt is understandable
but paralyzing. When we get stuck in guilt, it becomes all
about how awful our experience of others’ oppression is.
Instead of guilt, let’s think about this in terms of
responsibility. What is our responsibility as men for
understanding the ways that sexism impacts (and I think
harms) us all? Stand up against language that demeans
women, subtle attitudes that don’t take women seriously,
and gender socialization that keeps us all in rigid boxes.
We owe it to women. Frankly, we owe it to ourselves, too.

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One Response to Man Up! Being an Ally to Women

  1. Pingback: Ways to be an Ally to Women in Tech | Girlforce

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