Living in 2020, a post #metoo era, overt sexual aggressions like physical assault, catcalling, and verbal harassment are widely understood to be unacceptable. And any man who doesn’t self identify as a feminist is seen as ‘problematic’ or ‘toxic.’ Consequently, today we have a lot of men who are feminist allies. Men who truly believe that womxn deserve equal rights and that sexual assault is bad. Unfortunately, most male feminists max out at this level of involvement. Men continue to fall seriously short of being true feminist allies, even in the best-case scenarios.
Social media has been instrumental in educating and amplifying countless (privileged) voices on matters relating to feminism. But being an ally is more than just outraging on Twitter or any other social media platform. Men tweeting angrily against rape, wearing pink clothes for the ‘gram, or applying lipstick/bindis at parties with their friends is a gesture of kinship, a token of feminism at best. Gender inequality spills out beyond the confines of social media and affects womxn every day. But the same men who are so articulate on the intricacies of feminism on social media, fail to see how gender plays out in real life.
The fundamental problem is that feminist spaces don’t seem to exist without womxn. In all-male circles, toxic masculinity still rears its ugly head, and male allies allow it to, without calling it out. In these circles, the same men even participate in the infamous ‘bro culture’; objectifying womxn, using gendered slurs, etc. If you’re a man reading this and vehemently disagreeing that this is actually for you, ask yourself- how much of your feminism relies on your womxn friends and acquaintances pointing things out to you? Male allies largely use womxn as a reference to understand and dissect feminism. Womxn shed light on casual sexism and everyday injustices. And womxn continue to break down their lived experiences to point out gender roles, power play, and other structural inequalities they navigate on a daily basis. These are the building blocks of your feminism, as a man. But they shouldn’t be. Men need to have conversations with other men, to understand the nuances of gender and how it affects womxn and men in day to day life.
The more I interact with men who claim to be feminists, even with the right intentions, the more I realize how removed they actually are from feminism. For womxn, their gender is central to how they navigate through daily life. So feminism becomes an integral part of their identity. Men still fail to see the extent of privilege their gender allows them. And feminism becomes a very disposable aspect of their personality, something to shrug on and off at convenience. A handy talking point at suitable social gatherings, clout on social media, and a false sense of security for the womxn they interact with.
Unless men (and womxn) view the world, and all their interactions within it, through a feminist lens, they will never be able to see how gendered the world really is. And feminism will never progress into the mainstream and achieve successful structural reform.
For a man, the most basic task of being an ally is observing and calling out everyday sexism in your own immediate circles. Having a conversation with that friend who acts overfamiliar with womxn, or the ‘bro’ who objectifies the womxn he sleeps with or wants to sleep with, or the friend who boasts about how he got his partner to give him a blowjob (you know that was coercion on his part).
But being an ally is more than just being bothered and brave enough to not engage in ‘locker room talk’ at parties, in board rooms, or even on group chats, where it’s just you and the boys. It is about broaching these uncomfortable topics, pointing out the problem, and educating other men.
As an ally, listening to womxn is fundamental. But the efforts and labour of womxn cannot and should not hand hold you through your interactions with feminism. Men need to observe and challenge institutional sexism by themselves, and include more men into the fold as you do it.
Simply put, men need to stop expecting a how-to guide on feminism from the womxn in their lives. Write it yourself, maybe?