Why Male Allies?
Many thanks to Rev. Marti for granting me access to this space. I’m Portland, OR-based cisgender white male UU in pursuit of solidarity with folks of other genders, races and target identities. In her invitation, Rev. Marti asked me to write about the need for or usefulness of male allies. My working definition for a male ally is a male-identified person intentionally working in partnership with women and folks of other genders to challenge sexism and interlocking systems of oppression.
One caveat: depending on the situation, maybe a male ally isn’t needed. For real. Regardless of our positive intent, sometimes, as Amanda Hess says, we’re the worst. Even when we’re not the worst, sometimes we’re not what’s needed. For instance, when the Portland-based Men Engaging Now produced a white paper documenting challenges and opportunities related to engaging men in Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault response work, they noted that “men have earned women’s skepticism and distrust” and while “many female abuse survivors do not experience generalized fear of men,” it is essential that male allies honor the boundaries set by survivors. Thus male allyship can only work when it’s done in partnership with women and folks of other genders.
2 Reasons for Male Allies
- Sexist men are more likely to listen to other men. It’s hurtful for me to acknowledge this, as I know some small part of the pain this causes the women in my life. Yet, if I accept that the primary work of a male ally is to utilize my gender privileges to subvert and challenge sexism, then working with men of unexamined privilege is a primary way to do so. This kind of intervention can look like something as small as (what Ngọc Loan Trần terms) calling IN someone who unintentionally uses trans-exclusive language or something as big as working with abusive men to account for and begin to repair the harm they’ve caused. To be clear, this tactic does not give male allies license to take up even more space and time in social settings. Rather, it encourages us to support the work of other feminists by pointing to or presenting the brilliant counternarratives y’all offer. This intervention is male allies’ response to the call, from folks of various target identities, for us to “get our people.”
- Because our liberation is tied up with yours. It’s the indigenous scholar’s truth. It’s the 7th UU principle. It’s even a stage in our male identity development process! As men who benefit from the same sexism that oppresses folks of other genders, we have a very human need to explore and align ourselves with feminism, Black Feminism, gender justice and related ways of knowing. We are not oppressed by sexism, but it does do us harm by separating us from family members and friends in dangerous ways. Thus we men need feminism just as much or more than feminism needs us.
What are your reasons for or challenges around male allyship?