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Schwartz: After Kavanaugh, men need to take allyship seriously

Alex Schwartz, Opinion Editor

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I got the notification on my phone in the middle of a meeting on Saturday afternoon — the one telling me they’d confirmed him. Normally, my guttural reaction to bad news is some kind of righteous anger. I project myself outward, positively or negatively searching for a face or name to stab blame into like a tack on a corkboard. I think of next steps, I draft a post, then I almost always — and for the better — delete it.

But that fury and passion didn’t overtake me this time. What I felt was much more insidious: fear. Bone-chilling, face-flushing fear. Fear that clogs your brain with thick, dirty crude, muddling your thoughts and making you wonder whether the room just got darker and colder and tinier, or if it’s just you. Fear is worse than anger because it swallows up your energy. You don’t want to fight anymore; you just want to hide.

Obviously, much of this fear was secondhand: for my family, friends and acquaintances who are women, who are LGBTQ, who are survivors of sexual assault and who regularly face harassment and discrimination because they were unlucky enough not to be born looking like me. I’m scared for them, truly. To my fellow men who are decent human beings (not “heroes” — decent human beings), I’m sure you may be scared for your peers, too.

But more than being scared, men can and must be helpful. We must do everything in our power to support women and survivors. There are the obvious things: march, vote, empower others to march and vote, donate to charities and the campaigns of progressive people who will run the cowards out of office. We to turn our fear into fury, and our fury into action.

Aren’t you sick of this? Sick of the ugliness you feel as you go through life knowing that, amid all this chaos, you have relatively little to worry about? Wake up, men, and realize that this moment is not an anomaly but a grotesque display of some truly evil forces woven into the very fabric of this country. These forces work to keep us in power; therefore, we must work against them.

I don’t worry about getting followed as I walk alone at night. I don’t worry that someone will slip something into my drink. I don’t worry that someone will pull me into a room and cover my mouth. I don’t worry that I’ll have to live with something so horrific for the rest of my life. I don’t worry that no one will believe me. I don’t have to worry, and that disgusts me to my core. So I will not merely dismantle the systems that keep me comfortable while others suffer; I will obliterate them.

Righteous anger is a powerful thing, but it is not all we should put our energy towards; we should turn some of our fear into compassion.

When things go wrong in politics at a national level, we shift focus to mitigating their effects locally. Now, we need to work at an even smaller scale by taking care of each other. Ask your friends who are women and/or survivors if they’re doing O.K. Tell them you’re here for them. Tell them you believe them. Be there for them. Sit with them. Give them space. Bake them cookies. Play music. Make face masks. Go hiking.

And listen to them. Listen to them vent, cry, crack jokes, rant, sing — no matter how articulate or incoherent. Validate them. Hear them. See them. Show up for them. Don’t speak over them. See them as humans whose jobs are neither to detail their suffering to you nor to spare your feelings as they cope with injustice. And as life gets harder for women and their necessary healthcare becomes restricted, you need to be prepared to drive them to abortion clinics, help them acquire birth control and assist them financially and emotionally.

Check yourself and check each other. Examine your biases, and think about how you behave around genders that aren’t your own. Stop yourself from taking control of a situation that isn’t yours to control. Work on your relationship with healthy masculinity. Verbalize your opposition to rape culture and misogyny wherever (and I mean wherever) you see it.

Now is not the time to be polite; now is the time to be ruthless. Do not give your friends, coworkers or family members the luxury of shrugging off their bigotry, whether casual or overt. Call them out, educate them if you are able (or direct them to resources) and move on — with or without them. Be advocates; take as much of the burden of discourse off of women and survivors as you can — they should not have to defend their right to exist equally.

It’s time for men to become more self-aware, to stop suppressing discussions of our privilege and to start actively fighting the system that brought us to this moment in history. It’s time to do something productive with our fear.

Alex Schwartz is a Medill junior. He can be contacted at alexschwartz@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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