How Not to be a Male Ally

This blog post will mention and tangentially discuss things like sexual harassment and assault, particularly towards the end. Some links may also be triggering.

I've been thinking.

This is by and large considered to be a bad thing. It's an even worse thing when I'm being frustrated with male allies, because I end up stuck somewhere at the intersection of frustration, confusion, and emotions that threaten to boil over at any minute. Don't worry, there's logic in there too. Somewhere. I hope.

I fully believe that there are good men out there, that there are men who really do want an end to sexism and misogyny. If I did not believe that there were good men out there I would not condemn the bad ones so harshly. I fully want the help of men to end sexism because struggles are easier when you struggle together. I'm very much in favour of building broad coalitions to get things done; while they sacrifice ideological purity, which as far as I can tell is like sacrificing a limb for those who care about that sort of thing, they know...manage to worm their way into mainstream consciousness and get people talking and doing things.

But bad allies can be worse than no allies at all. They can slow you down. They can get in your way. They can hurt you. And so I am quite picky about who I call an ally in the first place, knowing that even the best allies are going to screw up and the worst ones might be hiding in plain sight.

I wanted to write a guide for men who are interested in dismantling the kyriarchy about how to be a good ally. Trouble is, when I was coming up with things to say I realised I was just repeating the advice of others: mainly, to just listen. Listening is the biggest part.

The problem is that differentiating a good ally from a bad one is mainly done on instinct, and in the words of this Slate article, the metrics used are often "squishy" and "abstract". Indeed, many feminists can't agree on whether male allies are valuable or literally the worst.

So I came up with a different idea. After all, I wanted to write my guide to being a good male ally because I'm fed up of dealing with the bad why not write a guide to being a bad male ally to highlight examples of what you shouldn't be doing?

Before we start, let me check off my privileges: white, cisgender, middle-class, able-bodied, and hopefully I haven't missed any of the big ones out because I haven't done my privilege disclaimer in a long time. So please add things I've missed off this bad male ally guide.

Let your guilt take over everything
This applies especially to the dreaded white cishet males.

So, you're a white cishet male. You've taken some Women's Studies classes and maybe some Queer Studies classes too (is that a thing? I do physics and am completely self-taught when it comes to things like this). You're active on the interwebs, most probably twitter and maybe wordpress or tumblr too. You know all about the crushing fist of the patriarchy. And you feel guilty as hell, a walking dildo, a walking abortion, a worthless piece of shit.

If you can honestly say you've never oppressed a woman, never catcalled, never used her sex to put her down, never pressured her into sleeping with you or gone right ahead and ignored her lack of consent, then you're a good human being and you don't need to feel guilty because you personally have done nothing wrong. In fact, I spit on the people who make you feel guilty.

If you have actually done something bad, then I'm going to be harsh here and say that guess what? You should feel bad. You done fucked up. You hurt someone else. I'm not going to absolve you of that so you can feel better. But understand that trying to fix what you've done wrong is more important than sinking yourself deeper into guilt. And if you can't fix what you've done wrong, set it aside. Put it somewhere in the back of your head. Move the fuck on and concentrate on what you can do today.

The thing is, your guilt will do nothing concrete to help dismantle the kyriarchy. "Allies" who do nothing but sit around and feel guilty aren't allies at all, because they don't do anything. I would rather work with men who didn't feel guilty but got shit done - partly because I don't also have to play caretaker and therapist. I'm sorry to sound so rude, but I have my own life and my own problems (and the problems of my friends, but that's a different story) and I cannot play therapist to every guilty man who comes asking.

Be patronising
This is the other one that applies to white, cishet, politically educated (thus usually well-off) males. When you start talking about women, PoC and LGBTQIA+ oppression, I roll my eyes and reach for my earphones and some hard rock. As a bisexual woman, I live out some of that oppression. I am fortunate to live where I do; I am fortunate to have a lot of privileges that mean I can amble along through life without too many problems - and even when xenophobes try to threaten me, I'm smart and resourceful and obsessed with living in space.

The point I'm trying to make is simple: unless you live as X, you don't fully understand what it means to be X. I don't go around claiming to speak for all men, for example, because I'm not a man and so there are things I will never fully understand unless I live as a man. It doesn't irritate me that you speak out about women's oppression; in fact, I'm glad. It irritates me when you pity me or patronise me or treat me as a tickbox, when you think that just because you took a Women's Studies class you can speak for me. I am perfectly capable of speaking for myself, thank you very much, and I don't appreciate being told that I have internalised misogyny just because I happen to disagree with you. We are both adults and can disagree as equals.

Make exceptions
As far as I can see, this applies to all men. So, you're sort of vaguely politically educated, enough to know that misogyny is bad and you have the power to stop it and the like. You believe we live in a patriarchal society, one that imposes strict roles upon men and women and strict penalties for anyone who dares to live outside them (happily, those roles are being relaxed, but they still live on in a lot of places). You'll be wonderful to feminist friends and partners, but you'll still make sexist criticisms of other women.

This is mainly a personal hangup that I have, but I dislike inconsistency. I view all people as equal and able to change for the better, so I try to treat them all with compassion. I don't like to make exceptions and treat some people like complete shit. Perhaps I'm asking too much when I ask the same of other people; after all, people will find reasons to make exceptions for everything.

"I have feminist friends!"
Ah, yes, but there are 3.5 billion women on the planet, all with different experiences and worldviews. People are not interchangeable - none of them are. Instead of flaunting your friendship with feminists when we disagree, consider asking me how and why I think the way I think and we'll try and have some sort of intelligent discussion. I like being challenged as an equal. I fear stagnating in a little pool of righteousness.

Become a male ally to sleep with women
Just please. No. Don't do this. It's dishonest and disgusting and once a woman spots it, she will turn all her friends against you. If you want sex, there are a million and one ways to get laid without being deceitful.

Be an actual, honest-to-god abuser and/or general creep
Right. This is the section that's going to be the most triggering for abuse, harassment, coercion and assault. Some links may also be triggering; they will be marked.
You'd think I wouldn't have to put this section in, but the fact that men like Hugo Schwyzer (triggering stuff: sleeping with students, attempted murder, harassment, attempted suicide, showing someone how to self-harm, manipulation) and Charles Clymer (triggering stuff: just generally being a manipulative douchebag I guess) exist and are reasonably well-known disproves me. Even without their examples, I'm sure just about every feminist has a story of meeting a man who said all the right things, yet did wrong by her, from harassment all the way up to attempted murder. The sad thing is that most of these men will probably never have their crimes exposed. Most of these men are not well-known. At least some if not most of the women feel very alone and afraid to speak out, because of all the stories of women speaking out being accused of lying and because the more oppressed you are in society, the harder that society will push back against your testimony. And so most of these men will continue on creeping on and abusing people.

I started my political education at fifteen. If you have only just started your political education, perhaps you can be forgiven, though given that before fifteen I still had the moral agency to not creep on people there is some room for debate here. If, however, you have been steeped in anti-oppression politics, you should really know better by now.

Creeping on or abusing people will put you past the point of no return. Guilt complexes, being patronising, invoking your feminist friends or trying to sleep with women - they get in the way of dismantling the kyriarchy, but in themselves they don't make you a bad person. Being creepy or abusive doesn't just get in the way of structural change but affects people on a personal level.

It makes you a terrible person.

And I don't mean terrible in the "because I was born with male privilege, I'm the bad guy" (I happen to think this view of morality is complete and utter bullshit) way. I don't mean terrible in an abstract way of "I am male so I oppress women with my male privilege". I mean terrible in the "I hurt another human being in ways that could stay with them forever, and I had the free choice and the moral agency to not do that" way.

Of course, people can change and repent. But it is easier to, well, not be a creep or an abuser in the first place, to be frank, to be disgusted to your core at the very idea of doing something like that rather than making excuses like "it was just banter". And for the sake of whatever you hold dear don't do a Hugo Schwyzer and claim to have changed while still keeping up those same old habits.