Recently, I woke up to read about a woman who had been silenced at her place of work: on the Senate floor. Day and night, since November 8th, I’ve heard women’s unmitigated howling, fine and high and sounding everywhere — but men can’t hear it.
Many men I love call themselves feminists. Many men whose politics I agree with do, too. Fine. But men, I want you to stop talking for a second. I want to see you put your money where your mouths are. Because I’ve heard far too few men ask women this question, the only one that matters:
What can I do to show up for you as an ally?
Maybe men don’t ask because this plight, women’s plight, our plight, doesn’t seem edgy and urgent. How about rape. Sexual assault. A global gag. Death threats in the comments section. The Sisyphean task of making oneself less than half as threatening and more than twice as good. Wake up, bros. The violence is real.
Now, are you asking what you can do? If you aren’t, I’m going to pretend that you are.
1. EDUCATE YOURSELVES
Read Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit. Or Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde. Or “The Declaration of Sentiments” from Seneca Falls (by the way, do you even know what Seneca Falls is?) Or "Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain" by Leslie Jamison. Or this furious and excellent “Open Letter to White Liberal Feminists” by Rhon Manigault-Bryant. Or Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa. Or “Fuck Us Harder,” by Cade Leebron, a hurricane of an essay about being raped the first weekend of college. Or “When Rape Culture Comes From Inside The House,” an essay by Leora Fridman. Or watch the now-cancelled-by-decision-of-an-all-male executive team Amazon original series Good Girls Revolt, about women’s fight for equality at Newsweek in 1970. Know that nearly 50 years later, I and many other women still relate to the female characters’ struggles. And take a look at your bookshelves. How many of those titles were written by white men? Maybe you want to change that.
2. RAISE YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS
How much space are you taking? Literally, figuratively. How loud is your voice? Literally, figuratively. How many times have you corrected/interrupted/spoken over/explained something to a woman today? To which concerns do you give not even a glancing thought, ever, because you are a man? In what ways have you been insensate? Here, let me get you started: “Well yes, gender certainly had something to do with the outcome of the election; but really, ultimately, it was about economics.”
3. GET HUMBLE
There are things you will never understand about oppression, suppression, prejudice, and dismissal of personhood. It’s simply not your lived experience. Your initial unawareness is excusable; your continued ignorance is not. I presume you all have at least one woman somewhere in your lives. Ask one of those women, one who will not pull her punches, to explain how she’s feeling post-election and why. Ask her to explain beyond and before that — what she struggles with most in her career. Ask her to explain when and how she has had to work around being sexualized when it was not what she wanted or asked for. Then, ask the hardest thing. Ask her to reflect you back to yourself. Ask her to recount the times and ways in which you have made her feel smaller, unconsidered, condescended to, gaslit. Ask, and then listen. Sit in your discomfort. When you feel you’ve listened respectfully and patiently for long enough, listen longer. And then, when you feel you must say something or you will explode, don’t. say. anything. Humble. Really deeply profoundly truly painfully humble.
4. LEVERAGE YOUR PRIVILEGE
If you are in a position of professional power, hire women. Make them team leads. Praise the excellence of their work publicly and to your superiors and your colleagues, some of whom are also men and will likely give your word more credence because on some deep, reptilian level, they trust your word more. If you really want to understand what it’s like to walk around the office as a woman, read Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (For a Sexist Workplace). Take ownership for your own discomfort after hearing “locker room talk.” Voice it. Model vulnerability amongst other boys and men.
Men, are you ready? You understand what “yes” means, right? Giving up some of the all-encompassing, eon-spanning spotlight and glory you were born into, simply by virtue of being a man. It means putting a woman forward for the promotion/honor/public role instead of yourself. It means dismounting your horse and taking off the White Knight’s armor. If you’re serious, show up as a foot soldier.
You are free to like or share this piece. But if you do, it is your commitment to do at least— at least — one thing on this list. Click that Like or Share button, and you are agreeing to take direct, concrete, allied action on behalf of women. Because if all you’re doing is reading the news and engaging in the micro-act of social media Like button/Heart click slactivism, you are propping up The Patriarchy. You are aiding and abetting misogyny, sexism, and chauvinism. You, my male-identifying friend/former lover/college classmate/current colleague/family member, are perpetuating unacceptable, intolerable, outrageous, rage-making inequality.
To live as a feminist, ally and advocate calls for a transitive verb. You “are” not a feminist, you “are” not a “good guy.” You act. You practice. You show up. Again and again and again.
“Smash The Patriarchy.”
Then pick up a hammer.
This is your work too.
published February 14, 2017
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Alessandra Wollner is a writer, educator, and community organizer in Oakland, CA. She writes about language, gender, and power. Read more at www.alewollner.com and follow Alessandra on Instagram @awolnut and Twitter @AleWollner.