I started by morning, before coffee, reading Irin Carmon’s “Women shouldn’t trust the men who call themselves allies” at The Washington Post. Go ahead and read it. After coffee. Carmon writes powerfully about Harvey Weinstein and a whole bunch of men who proclaim to be allies while harming, maligning, and harassing women. The actions of this men tell us a story about how claiming to be an ally doesn’t actually mean you are an ally. This is a story, the story, about power, misogyny, masculinity, and the emptiness of words without action. Camron writes:
To the preexisting condition that is misogyny in the world, such men add a certain sense of hopelessness. They fuel those old snickering jokes about the ulterior motives of men who visit feminist spaces. They exploit the fact that women are eager to affirm men making baby steps toward our humanity and make a mockery out of our socially ingrained impulse to give them the benefit of the doubt. At least the Bannons of the world stab you in the front.
As I read her article, I laughed grimly, though I wanted to cry, when I reached this line: At least the Bannons of the world stab you in the front. At least, we know where the Bannons stand and how much they hate us. It’s the knife in the back from the men who are supposed to be friends, partners, colleagues, co-workers, bosses, and professors that we aren’t expecting. They say that they are allies. They say they are feminists. And we want to believe them. Like Camron, I’m not sure we should.
A man, who claims to be an ally and/or a feminist, has become a red flag for me. Especially if he loudly proclaims to be an ally. Especially if he insists on telling me about his feminism in detail while ignoring my arched eyebrow.
He’s a guy who has learned to use the right lingo. He talks intersectionality. He tells me about what he’s been reading (but doesn’t necessarily ask me about what I read or think). He’s trying so damn hard to show that he is “woke.” He’s hoping that someone might call him a “feminist” or an “ally.” He really wants me to praise his ability to use the right terms. (He really wants praise for thinking other people are also human.)
And yet, he doesn’t ACT like an ally. He doesn’t notice I’m being patronized, talked down to, objectified, sexually harassed, or worse. He doesn’t have my back something goes wrong. He doesn’t believe what I say about other dudes and how they act. He explains that I must be remembering something wrong; that I must have misheard; that I must have imagined something rather than it being real, that another dude, especially another ally, would never, ever act that way; and that maybe I was overreacting or emotional or hysterical or some other gendered insult that folks like to pretend isn’t. He claims to be an ally, but never acts like an ally should.
He doesn’t support women to just support women, but rather he’s hoping to cash out on being called an ally. He’s hoping to gain some cultural capital by using the right words. He’s hoping his words deflect from his action.
Worse than that, some men, who claim to be an allies, talk feminism and allyship while they actively harm women.
I’ve known and know so many of these so-called allies who are men. They are mostly white men. They’ve been my professors, colleagues, bosses, fellow writers, and even my friends.
There were professors who claimed to be feminist while doing extra for male students so they could get ahead and less for their female students. These professors who claimed to be allies also questioned my commitment to my work because I was a woman and mother.
There were colleagues who talked like they were feminists but acted like they were misogynists because they were. Theses colleagues understood women to be objects, not people. These colleagues hugged a little too long and their eyes lingered. They commented on my appearance and other women’s bodies to let women know their “place.” They talked to other colleagues about how women were “bitches” who you couldn’t trust. They ignored sexual harassment because that dude was such a “nice guy.” They ripped off the work of white women and women of color and pretended it was theirs. They hepeated, mansplained, and gaslit women, all while calling themselves allies & feminists.
And then, there were/are the men who are writers. They who loudly proclaim their feminism while denigrating women in the same breath. They put feminist in their Twitter bios but don’t act like feminists.
I could tell you more stories, so many stories, about the men who claim to be allies and the damage they wrought. I could tell you more recent stories about my interactions with men who are self-proclaimed “good guys” who are anything but.
But, reader, would you believe me? Or would you trust their words over mine?
They’re men, after all. We tend to believe them. We tend to not believe women.
But, maybe you will believe women. Maybe you’ll hear their words. Maybe you’ll pay closer attention to their actions. Maybe you’ll realize that they aren’t allies. Maybe you’ll realize they aren’t feminists. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in the men who claim to be allies. Maybe you’ll change. Maybe you won’t.
I hope you will.