The past few weeks have seen a massive exhalation of once unknown accounts of sexual abuse, and the great volume of testimony regarding the lived experiences of women throughout the country, and world, with respect to sexual violence has shaken the public discourse on gender inequity. The #MeToo movement has shown the power of public discourse on once-silenced areas of discussion and has incited the first sparks of healing for victims of sexual abuse and overall gender inequity.
The pursuit of healing, however, is just one very important component to curing the wrongs perpetrated every day in environments of indifference. Another important, and necessary, component in this endeavor is the involvement of men in movements fighting for both eradicating gender-based violence and achieving gender equity. Here are some simple ways that you, men, can begin to play an effective and meaningful role in curing the most devastating materializations of gender inequity.
- Say, “I’m sorry.”
If you find yourself at the other end of an accusation regarding a woman’s discomfort, apologize. Whether or not you intended for your actions to be perceived the way they were, your intent is irrelevant if they made another person feel unsafe or, worse, attacked. Apologizing instead of trying to convince an accuser that their experiences are unreal eliminates much of the unnecessary emotional labor inherent in these kinds of interactions.
- Say, “I believe you.”
When victims of sexual abuse share their painful experiences, refrain from trying to disprove those experiences with spurious theories of consent or de facto witch hunts on their character. Much like apologizing, confirming your belief in victims who are both vulnerable and afraid will avoid undue additional trauma for those victims. It will also allow other victims to be unafraid of speaking out about their own experiences rather than fearing attacks on their character and history.
- Ask, “How can I help?”
In the pursuit of gender equity, there is much that may not always be clear, as these movements are fueled by experiences that are not your own. If you are unsure of how you can help, just ask. The answer might be as complicated as, “let’s come up with a solution together,” or as simple as, “it is best that you allow female and female-identifying voices to dominate this discussion.” Remember, part of being an ally is knowing when your efforts are needed and when they simply get in the way.
- Show up.
Your attendance is important. In gender equality movements, male visibility is a precious act of ally-ship. Show up to the protests, the lectures, and the symposiums. Without your representation and visibility, these issues will continue to be seen as purely feminine, thus rendering male involvement nonessential. While you should be mindful of unnecessarily taking up space in key political platforms, also be mindful of the ways that your absence or silence can negatively impact the success of movements that your female and female-identifying counterparts are laboring to catapult into mainstream visibility.
- Say, “I’m listening.” And actually listen.
In the pursuit of generating discourse on the topic of gender inequity, your ability to engage in meaningful discussion, while valuable, comes second to your ability to listen to and learn from the women around you about their experiences. Dominating vocal space is a disservice to the effectiveness of these conversations by contributing to a climate of distrust in opportunities for dialogue.
- Do not be afraid to say, “I do not understand.”
If there is something you do not get (and there will be), just say so. And then listen. Engage in conversations with women who want to be resources for your understanding, ask questions that will help you to understand the issues that you are unclear about, and then develop your understanding of those issues with follow-up inquiries. The intellectual labor of understanding female and female-identifying suffering is an imperative undertaking. Your ability to assist in these movements is necessarily predicated upon your ability to understand the underlying issues of these movements and the realities that brought them to be.
- Say, “Bro, that’s not okay.”
One of the most significant ways by which you can be an agent for change, and a tool toward the realization of gender equity, is through your interactions with other men (read: your bros). When you see inappropriate behavior or hear problematic rhetoric coming from other men, call them out. By doing so, you are letting them know that the behavior they have demonstrated is unacceptable and that you are on the side of history that wants to see a world where such behaviors no longer exist. You will also be assisting with male visibility in the spheres of feminist ideals and actively contributing to the elimination of toxic forms of performative masculinity.
- Understand that we know men suffer as well.
We are aware that men are also victims of abuse and inequity. However, if you only raise these points in response to discussions about the suffering of women, then your citations of male suffering are solely being used as rhetoric for muzzling important conversations on the disproportionate rates by which women are victimized socially, sexually, and institutionally. We understand your pains. Now try to understand ours.
- Have moral courage in the workplace.
The workplace can be a professional breeding ground upon which sexism and harassment regularly transpire over the forty-hour work week. As a result, there is much to be done in the pursuit of challenging the seemingly rigid institutions dictating women’s ability to earn, live, and thrive in the workforce. Having the moral courage to call out injustice in the workplace is a robust medium for advocating gender equity. If you do not see other men displaying the same moral courage, encourage them to join you, but also understand that not all men are as easily able to do so—and perhaps you are one of them. Men of color, for example, also suffer from inequities in the workplace whereby they are unable to display the same gusto for challenging systems in which they are already disadvantaged. Analyze the layers of privilege that you may or may not possess. Add up your social currency and spend it. This is the rainy day you’ve been waiting for.
This is by no means an exhaustive accounting of ways to be an effective ally in the fight for the collective liberation of your female and female-identifying counterparts. It is, however, a productive way to generate lasting positive impacts along the long road of advocacy and healing.
Welcome to the movement. You’re a little late. But we’ve been expecting you.