Being a male ally in the #metoo era
When Pran Patel explained his main drive to create HeforSheEd was to provide a platform for male allyship to gender equality within education and asked if I would write an article on the topic, I was like Bambi’s mother caught in headlights.
I do not have a clue what male allyship looks like. The #metoo movement has changed everything; men are walking a tightrope and women have taken away the safety net of their silence. It has thrown the whole system out of sync and we are scurrying around like rats in a maze trying to find the centre. I do however, know what male allyship does not look like.
On International Women’s Day, Head of Content at TES, Ed Dorrell, wrote about his ‘mea culpa’ on how, despite 74% of teachers being women, the majority of their external contributors are male, and I’m willing to bet, white, middle-to-upper-class males at that.
In fairness, Ed Dorrell addresses the lack of female writers could be down to his unconscious bias in the opening lines of the article but soon dismisses it because, “if the words are golden, the argument is strong, and the article adds to one of the many debates that engulf education,” it doesn’t matter to him. Ah, if only women were more talented it would make his ‘passive gender blindness’ so much easier, I can hear him sigh.
It also acknowledged that women may have less time to write because although they are strong, intelligent women responsible for shaping future generations, they are after all, still domestic servants with duties at home. The TES team muse that men are more likely to put themselves forward than women and in their busy 24-hour-news-cycle environment they want quick opinion pieces, from well, those that have the guts to put themselves forward.
The message is clear; women are solely responsible for changing an inherently sexist institution and we are the merciful patriarchs opening the doors for you to finally join our little boys club.
Dorrell’s ‘idea of no excuses’ and a promise to seek out talented female writers, may have just about saved the day, but it was quickly demolished by a thoughtless tweet from one of his teammates calling for women to get in touch, which once again proves the belief that the political football of achieving gender equality is firmly at the feet of women.
That, coupled with the fact the TES team had to suddenly create submission guidelines following the response, shows they had given little thought on what their supposed call for change actually looked like.
While I have no doubt the intentions behind the article were good, it doesn’t detract from the fact it was a clumsy, ill-thought-out, see-through attempt to jump on the bandwagon of female empowerment on International Women’s Day.
That is not allyship. That is men flouting their dominance in the disguise of being charitable patriarch.
Of course, there is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t, exasperation to all this. I get it. I’m tired too. The men in my life often say they feel like they are walking on egg shells, desperate to not offend, eager to help, but are unsure what the rules are now. And I, like many women since #metoo and #timesup, feel a rage that has been suppressed for years bubble uncontrollably over, which makes conversations about allyship difficult.
I’m not perfect either and recently, I have been acting like a bull in a china shop. I am an intersectional feminist. This is such an integral part of my identity I’m pretty sure my heart beats to the rhythm of the saying, "your feminism isn’t feminism unless it’s intersectional.”
But yet, I am researching masculinity in men’s mental health. I am asked almost daily, “why men?" I carry with me the most cutting remark I have ever received, like a broken shield on my back, “when you’re done, have a look at women yeah?” It’s hardly abusive but the acidic accusation of betrayal drips from every syllable and burns my skin.
When I stumble over my words to explain why I choose to focus on men’s mental health, I have Bell Hooks’ words echo in my ears;
I may get that tattooed on my arse.
The thing is, the deep divide between the sexes and our subsequent muddled attempts to come together, is something like Harry Potter’s he-who-shall-not-be-named. We rarely discuss it. We give it many names - sexism, chauvinism, misogyny - but we rarely recognise that it creates victims of both men and women. We never name it for what it truly is. But like Harry naming it diminishes its power; Lord Voldemort, The Patriarchy.
Or if we really want go in hard, imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
The words may feel heavy, unnatural, even radical; reserved for the man-hating, bra-burning of the 1960s. My alienation from the the word is why I have been making a conscious effort to use patriarchy over other terms such as, sexism. I do this because words like sexism, is so closely aligned with the female experience that it can be easily dismissed by men as irrelevant to them, which is at the heart of the problem of male allyship. The Patriarchy is a male problem as much as it is a feminine one.
The Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists males are inherently dominate and powerful. Patriarchal thinking shapes the values of our culture and we are socialised into this system, females as well as, males. Patriarchy with its rigid gender roles demands of men that they become and remain emotionless, which is deeply harmful to not only their emotional development, but how they form relationships, and is that not the source of happiness - fulfilling relationships from best friends to lovers?
Patriarchy imprisons men in a system that undermines their mental health, and ultimately, patriarchy brainwashes men to believe domination over others is a privilege, a privilege they do not want to or cannot give up.
That is why despite the many gains we have achieved - greater equality of women in the workforce, same-sex marriage, and more tolerance for the relinquishing of rigid gender roles - patriarchy, as a system, remains intact.
The press is full of ‘crisis in masculinity’ headlines and pundits like, Piers Morgan, claim women have gone too far in their demands and trying to take power away from men. Much like Carol Dweck’s, Growth Mindset, workshops to help boys and men escape the ‘man box’ are the latest ticket in town with a fancy price tag to match.
The crisis facing men is not the crisis of masculinity, it is the crisis of patriarchal masculinity. Until we can make this distinction clear, men will continue to perceive any critique of the patriarchy as a threat and any attempts of change will be met with fear.
Until we can collectively acknowledge the damage the patriarchy causes and the suffering it creates, we cannot change.
Until men realise that they must save themselves from their own oppression, we cannot change.
Until we realise the two perspectives of men as oppressors and that people are people who are all hurt by rigid sex roles, coexist, the sooner we can begin to work together to dismantle a system that harms us all.
Allyship won’t even be a thing, it will be just people coming together with the indestructible will to change.
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