Straight, cisgender, white males make up the most privileged group in society. This can be a difficult fact to swallow, particularly if you take ‘privilege’ to be synonymous with ‘having an easy ride’. Though privilege is far more complicated than that, it does mean people with more of it generally have greater opportunities and freedoms than those with less. But where there are many that bury their heads in the sand/are wilfully ignorant, there are also plenty of SCWM (straight, cis, white men) who recognise their privilege and want to fight the good fight.
Here are a few ways that I believe SCWM can help the feminist cause and be good allies to women (I don’t have any authority to speak on behalf of LGTQ people and POC, so I’m sticking to what I know). Definitely do try these at home.
- Don’t be a Meninist
From the research I’ve done into this movement that apparently started off as a joke but has now evolved into something much bigger, Meninists pick fights with feminism, raising men’s issues that they believe feminism has overlooked. Apparently we all ought to stow away our burning bras and turn our attention to the fact that men can’t get into nightclubs for free. Here is a much needed piece of truth; if not being able to get into a nightclub for free is your biggest problem at the moment, you’re having a pretty easy time of it.
When women are let in for free, it is so that we can be displayed like prime cuts of meat at the market to pull in more punters. This happens as a result of patriarchy, not feminism. Patriarchy treats women as objects à patriarchy creates this lose-lose situation.
- Don’t mansplain
Mansplaining is loosely defined as the tendency certain SCWM have to correct a woman, or explain something to her, even when they don’t have a clue what they are talking about themselves. Friends who study science in particular have told me tales of the men on their course who try to explain something to them that they understood perfectly well beforehand.
In my experience, I’ve found this when I have talked about my experiences as a woman. One guy tried to interrupt me once to tell me that feminism should be called ‘humanism’ because that’s ‘fairer’. Don’t tell me how to talk about my experiences of oppression. Women understand oppression better than you because they have experienced it.
- Stand up to other guys’ shitty behaviour
If you let sexism slide, you’re part of the problem.
Being a good ally means using your platform and privilege to challenge sexist behaviour. Often women might not stand up to sexist behaviour because they are scared or intimidated, or maybe they’re just exhausted from dealing with it all the time.
This doesn’t mean being a knight in shining armour and defending a woman’s honour; it might just mean gently letting your friends know that cat-calling isn’t cool, or asking them to rethink next time they call a girl a slut.
I’ve often been too scared to say anything when I’ve been intimidated by men in public. It would have been great if any one of the men that witnessed what was happening (and often there are many) could have stepped up on one of these occasions and gently said something.
- Challenge rape jokes and understand the importance of consent
I’ve not included “challenge rape jokes” in the “stand up to other mens’ shitty behaviour” section; I thought it warranted its own category.
Rapists are not generally shadowy, disturbed strangers who hide down dark alleyways. The overwhelming majority of them are your everyday guys who walk amongst us. Making rape jokes asserts a culture in which rape is normalised.
You might be thinking, ‘but I’m not a rapist! It’s just a joke!’, but there’s a chance that someone on the receiving end of your joke might well be, and in making that joke, you affirm their actions.
Now for consent. Consent is everything when it comes to sex, and though Spectator writer and general muppet Brendan O’Neill says otherwise, it’s really not that complicated. A good way to ease yourself into understanding the importance of consent and respect is to make sure you see women as actual human beings, rather than conquests/challenges/sex objects. E.g., don’t shove your hand up someone’s skirt next time you’re on a night out. Women aren’t there for you to grab at will.
- Stay silent when you need to be silent
This sort of goes hand-in-hand with the mansplaining point. I love to see SCWM get involved with and vocal about feminism. It’s a rare and beautiful sight. But I do sort of hate to see SCWM talk about issues that they don’t understand and haven’t experienced as if they do and have. Sometimes it’s important to use your platform and space to make room for a less privileged voice. Don’t talk over a woman’s lived experience of oppression as though you entirely understand it (side note: plenty of white, cis, straight women could learn to use this point with regard to women of colour and LGBTQ folks). Listening is important.
So there you have it. Five fool-proof ways to be a good ally and decent person. Now get out there and keep fighting the good fight.