How to be a (male) feminist ally
1) Read as much as you can about feminist issues and feminist critical thinking … and keep reading. Not just mass media either. In fact, with a very few exceptions, reports about feminists and what they do in the mass media are apt to be oversimplified, sensationalised or outright sexist.
2) Talk to women and mostly listen. Or ask questions. Try not to presuppose. Be curious as opposed to critical – for your own education and our good.
3) Think for yourself but do it mostly by yourself. It’s your work, not the work of feminists, to educate yourself. Don’t come to us knowing nothing and acting as if you know everything. We are most often treated by men as if we are in need of their advice and direction and we might just be a little sensitive about this. It’s YOUR job to treat us as true equals – because we are – and because when it comes to women’s lives we know more than you do. It’s true that we’ll make lots of mistakes – just like you. It’s not your job to tell us what they are. We are an exploited and oppressed sex class and it is up to us to define the terms of our own liberation.
4) There are differences among feminists in terms of our analyses and the strategies and tactics we decide are appropriate for our own liberation. Choose those whom you wish to support and then support them by advocating amongst men. Keep your critiques of individual feminists or feminist perspectives to yourselves. As a result of our exploitation and oppression there is horizontal fighting and even bullying between us sometimes. Leave this to us to sort out. Your “contributions” to the fight only make matters worse, divide us further, force us to choose between our supporters, make male opinions the issue instead of feminist opinions and generally stall our efforts. If you think you have some brilliant insight or thought that no woman has had that can save our movement or send us unerringly in the right direction – I don’t believe you. But feel free to send us a secret message via a feminist friend.
5) It’s a fact that you will hear some women/feminists say things that sound negative toward men and about men. Leave it alone. It is the result of our experiences of violence and oppression. There isn’t one single woman who isn’t placed somewhere on the continuum of violence against women either as a direct or vicarious victim. Let us deal with it and accept that a generations-long system of oppression and violence has done its work on some of us. Wait for us. And don’t take it personally – it just makes you sound defensive and it lengthens the time it takes for each of us to come to terms with our lives and the lives of our sisters. Be particularly attentive to this with women whom you know have experienced violence and those of us who work with them.
6) If you feel divided from women and excluded from feminism sometimes, for gawd sakes deal with it. Women are divided from men and excluded from social, cultural, economic and political life in a thousand ways. We have to deal with it. You should be able to do that much. And use it to motivate your actions on behalf of our liberation.
7) If you’re afraid to stand up against sexism, male violence against women and the exploitation of women – how do you think we feel? Speak up and speak out.
8) Your primary job is with men. And yourself.
*This piece was written with the input of women at Feministas of Canada.