not in Primary anymore

concrete steps for male allies to women

by Ingrid

I know practicing allyship in an everyday sense can be challenging. Maybe you know some theory behind how to be part of the liberation of a group you’re not a part of, but don’t know how to do this in your life. I have a few concrete pieces of advice, specifically for male allies to women. The advice I’m presenting here is very much based on my personal experiences, including my personal biases and (white/cis/het/ability/academic/etc) privilege, so I definitely can’t give advice on how to be a good ally to all women. Fortunately, you’re already on the internet so you have a wealth of information written by all kinds of different people. Hopefully this article will be one stop on a long and committed journey to being part of a world filled with justice.


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#1: Notice and start doing new kinds of work. 

I think one of the most important things a male feminist can do is the dishes. Learn how to cook, and see how it feels to regard this as a basic ability rather than a bonus life skill to brag about on first dates (also, stop bragging to your dates about your skills as a cook. Seriously. Show don’t tell.) Learn how to do a good job of cleaning and taking care of children. If people around you are pitching in to entertain children, prepare food, clean, or decorate, you should be too. And don’t expect a medal for doing this work. The folks who should be getting medals are the women who have dedicated countless hours of unrecognized, unglamorous labor over their lifetimes in order to make life flow smoothly for the people around them.

#2: Deal with your bros. 

I don’t want to be around misogynist dudes, which is hard because we all absorb the power structures around us so pretty much everyone is a misogynist on some level. Teaching someone that I’m a person deserving of basic rights and dignity is exhausting and demoralizing but often I have to do it because it just needs to happen with the people I need to be around. Helping people with the same kinds of privilege as you treat other folks better is a great idea because they probably take you more seriously than they take me, and because hearing people’s horrifying misogynist counter-arguments will probably make you feel offended and upset rather than unsafe and worthless, which is how that might make me feel. Of course this shouldn’t come at the expense of a woman being heard when she wants or needs to be. In feminist spaces, do your best to stop speaking over women and to start speaking over misogynist dudes.

#3: Do your own homework. 

As I mentioned above, teaching is real work. In the same way that you should start jumping in to help with informal and unrecognized domestic work, try taking over some of the labor involved in your own feminist or social justice education. It’s okay to ask questions, but instead of making a feminist pal take an hour out of her busy patriarchy-smashing schedule to explain something to you, why not take an hour out of your own (hopefully) busy patriarchy-smashing-assisting schedule to see what Google can tell you. Chances are, you’ll be able to find the answer on your own. What a time to be alive! Of course, there might be folks who don’t mind and even enjoy talking to you about this stuff. You can probably use your basic sense of social skills to read how fun a conversation is for someone, or even ask around to see which of your feminist pals find dude-educating to be fun and which find dude-educating to be exhausting. No matter what, it’s always fun to talk to someone who is putting in an effort, and coming prepared to conversations and feminists spaces is a great way to respect the feminist research that is surviving as a woman as well as the work in reading and researching that some more experienced feminist buddies may have put in.

#4: Think about what other people need to feel safe around you. 

Fun fact: men are responsible for a lot of danger to women. Like, a lot. Probably most. Women might feel unsafe around you. If that idea hurts your feelings, imagine what it would be like if you had to feel unsafe around half of the people, find some time to heal your hurt feelings, and move on. Consider what makes women feel especially unsafe and how you can change that. If you’re walking behind a woman (especially at night), she has no way of knowing you’re not following her. You can let her know you’re not following her by walking more slowly, walking ahead of her, or crossing the street. If you think a lady is cute and want to talk to her, use your awesome interpersonal skills to notice if she looks like she feels safe. If she’s giving you one-word answers, avoiding eye contact, not smiling very much, and looking around for an escape route, maybe she’d rather not talk to you right now. Offer to let her get back to her book/train schedule/2048 on her phone and leave her alone. Incorporate a good consent practice in every corner of your life– hugging, kissing, standing close, having conversations, sitting next to people, etc. Give the women around you ample opportunities to say yes or no, and remember that no woman should ever have to say no to you more than once. If you see other men making people feel unsafe, step in. If you see two people talking on the train or at a bar and someone looks visibly uncomfortable or like she doesn’t want to be part of the conversation, just talking casually to the person initiating the conversation might diffuse a situation that might feel seriously scary even when it looks innocuous. Respond to catcallers and let them know their behavior isn’t okay. Women put in a lot of energy trying to feel safer, and it’s great to put in some effort of your own to share that burden.

#5: Give credit.
Use your voice to represent some women who are saying awesome things. If you mostly share things written by white men on your social media profiles, change that. If you are making a point that was inspired or informed by a woman, name her and give her credit. You have lots of power as a person with privilege and you should use this power to direct attention to people and who are deserving of it.

4 Responses to “concrete steps for male allies to women”

  1. SMason

    I really like all your points, they are good advice for basically anyone one learning basically anything.
    I would add that African American and increasingly Latino males constantly deal with people feeling unsafe around them because of the color of their skin and sometimes the clothes they have every cultural right to wear. I have heard more than one black man complain about women and men liking their car doors as he walks by, looking uncomfortable near him in an elevator if he’s not wearing a suit, and that he goes out I his way ALL the time to not walk up behind a white woman or ever close a door behind her. It’s not really fair that we ask so much of these people just because our society has taught us to be very very afraid of them. There will have to be a little give and take. be aware of women’s discomfort, and go out of your way to remind yourself and show minority men that they aren’t inherently dangerous. Just regular people.

  2. Ziff

    Thanks for this list. I love how practical your suggestions are. Re: working to make it less likely I come across as threatening to women, I read a long thread on this topic on Ask Metafilter a few years ago that was really eye-opening. (I can’t find it at the moment, unfortunately.) Writers in it brought up lots of circumstances where men who want to avoid making women feel threatened can do pretty simple things to make themselves less threatening.

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