When I visit feminist online forums and go to women’s empowerment talks, one of the most common questions I see is about how men can be allies to women. I’m glad people are thinking about this because it’s very necessary. Even when they have good intentions, I’m often frustrated with men’s attempts at allyship — as well as the number of men who aren’t making any attempts at all. But I'm also inspired by those who are constantly questioning their words and actions, listening to women, owning their mistakes, and setting a good example for other men.
When gender equality isn’t hurting you in an obvious way (though it really is hurting us all, even if subtly), it can be easy to turn a blind eye to injustice and remain blissfully ignorant. So, it’s really encouraging to see men doing the right thing even when it’s not the easy thing. It’s a reminder that despite the ways patriarchy teaches men to dominate and objectify women, many possess an innate sense of fairness that overrides this socialization.
But since being feminist allies does go against how our culture socializes men, it takes conscious effort. Here are some ways men can step up and support women.
1. Share Our Words On Social Media
There’s a fine line between standing up for a less privileged group and claiming authority over their experiences, but one way to ensure you’re doing the former and not the latter is to amplify others’ voices. Retweet our tweets, share our blog posts, and quote our speeches. Sadly, people may be more likely to listen to them when they’re on a man’s page.
2. Speak Up Around Your Friends
If you stay silent when one of your friends tells a rape joke or uses a misogynistic slur, it may seem like you’re doing nothing at all, but you’re letting women down. And you’re creating more work for us to educate men about sexism. If you lose a friend because you speak up against injustices, they’re probably not someone you want to be friends with anyway.
3. Ask For Our Opinions
If you notice a guy interrupt a woman in a meeting, circle back later and ask her what she was saying. If you’re discussing a topic one of your female friends knows a lot about, asking her what she thinks. Otherwise, women's voices can get drowned out — often by men who are less qualified than they are.
4. Validate Our Feelings
If we complain about sexism, do not try to make the call about whether what we’ve experienced is actually sexist or not. Instead, give women the space to talk, express sympathy, and ask how you can support us.
5. Name Our Accomplishments
If you have influence over hiring for a job we might be good at, recommend us. If we’ve done really good work, give us a shoutout at a company meeting. If you owe your work success to a woman who was at home taking care of your kids, thank her. In other words, give us the recognition we deserve.
6. Practice Bystander Intervention
Often, I’ve been sexually harassed on the street or public transportation, looked at the people who must’ve seen it for some sign of sympathy, and seen nothing. This reinforces the message we're already given that such incidents are not a big deal. If someone’s talking to somebody in a way that’s making them uncomfortable, tell them to stop. Or, if you don’t feel comfortable being that forward, start talking to them about something else to diffuse the situation.
7. Talk About Feminist Issues
Today’s political climate presents so many opportunities to bring up gender in everyday conversations. From the role of sexism in the presidential election to the importance of bathroom access for gender-nonconforming people, it’s hard to not talk about these things once you’re educated. Once you do, you’ll open many people’s eyes to everything going on in the world. And the people who already knew will know you’re someone they can confide in. Since many women face hostility just for identifying as feminists, just knowing we’ve got a fellow feminist to talk to can go a long way.