I’ve always had big groups of female friends and only meshed well with guys a fraction of the time. But when I reflect on my youth spent frequently with male cousins and classmates, there’s always a recurring theme: I was hardly ever treated as an equal, even among my so-called peers. This trend continued as I got older. I had male friends who would talk over or belittle me. If asked if men could be productive, inclusive feminists back then, I don’t know that I would have answered “yes.” I have come to understand that men can be responsible and important members of the feminist movement and can have a positive effect when they are helpful allies. Feminists of any gender who speak out against injustice spark more conversation and support for the movement. There is a fine line, however, between productive and overbearing forms of allyship — when men engage with feminist spaces and attempt to be productive allies, they should focus on calling out misconceptions of feminism and sexism from other men, while keeping in mind not to overshadow or take over women in the movement.
Most of the men I have met in my life have either been of the machismo mindset or wanted nothing to do with me, let alone have intellectual conversations about gender inequality and feminism. The negative connotation of the word “feminist” often includes leaving many men feeling threatened. The Telegraph even published an article last year that blamed feminism for destroying marriages. Though one author is not representative of the male gender, this highly sexist piece did little to improve male relationships with the feminist movement. Male allies can do a better job decrying blatant sexism when they see it, whether in print like the Telegraph article or in personal interactions.
The oppression of marginalized communities is at the forefront of our media and newsfeeds. Yet instead of coming to the aid of those suffering, those with privilege often respond with hate or denial. People in a privileged position need to not only acknowledge their level of advantage, but help in the fight for equality of all. Men must recognize and accept their privilege and culpability in perpetuating systems of gender inequality.
Male feminists must also realize that while this movement is more than willing to welcome them, they must actively prioritize the empowerment and betterment of women. Feminists strive for the equality of the sexes, but patriarchy functions to discriminate against women and non-male or gender nonconforming individuals. A male feminist ally should follow feminist leaders, call out fellow men when they make lewd remarks about women and attempt to stop the jokes that perpetuate rape culture or degrade women. Male allies should use the privilege they have in order to help those groups held down by patriarchal structures.
Feminists should work toward equality for all. Feminists want to dismantle the system that promotes toxic masculinity to young boys, as well as make sure all girls of all races can receive an education and live free from the threat of violence. Feminism can grow and thrive through male support for the elimination of harmful patriarchal stereotypes and practices. Being a male feminist ally is great when it’s genuine and for the greater good. A male feminist ally who mansplains and overpowers women in conversations is not the kind of ally we need.
Alani Vargas is a Medill junior. She can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.