I came away from C2E2 simultaneously reenergized and profoundly troubled. Energized because of the terrific conversations that happened there. Troubled because so very many of the conversations I had surrounding misogyny in geek culture, at one point or another, involved a guy standing up and asking “Sorry, but what can I do?”
So whether you think of yourself as a feminist, a male feminist, a feminist ally, or just a man who believes that there’s something deeply wrong with half the population still being oppressed, this article is for you.
Here Are Sixteen Ways To Be a Better Ally:
2. Then educate yourself. Read. Read far and wide. Read blogs--there’s a list of some good ones here. Personally, I write for Feminispire, a small site with a young, all women staff of writers that features a lot of personal essays. My favorite site to read is RoleReboot, which has immensely powerful things examining gender every day. There’s Everyday Feminism, and the large project that’s become Everyday Sexism. Crunk Feminist Collective and Black Girl Dangerous reminds us all that we need to take intersectionality into account, regardless of what race we are. Feminist Frequency has amazing backlogs of media analysis to read, and a lesson in what it’s like to be a woman on the internet embedded within the story. These are just suggestions. If you’re a Tumblr person, the community is massive. Explore. Find out what you like.
3. Don’t just stay with the internet--read published feminist lit. Read the classics. Read the new. Here’s a pretty comprehensive list--jump around it as you like. Know that there is endless amounts to read, and no one is asking you to know it all--it’s a work in progress. But the more informed you are, the better you can help.
4. Know where you fit in all of this. Know that you are in no way entitled to anything from a woman--not sex, not conversation, not even the time of day, no matter how many drinks you bought or how long your relationship was--no matter what your experiences in the past were, no matter how badly you were bullied. Know that if you are a straight white male in the United States, you are living life on the lowest difficulty setting there is, and that things that are horrifyingly offensive to you are background radiation--ie, the unfortunate facts of life--for everyone else. As Scott Snyder pointed out, his hate mail is far less threatening than Gail Simone’s.
5. Realize that feminism is not “colorblind,” because nothing in our world is. Women of color, women of differing sexual orientations, trans women, lower-class women--all encounter more discrimination, more barriers, more resistance. It’s called intersectionality, a theory coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw. Learn about it. Step outside your comfort zone--don’t limit yourself just to the world of upper middle class white straight cis feminists, because there is so much more out there. Recognize that the patriarchy isn’t doing all the oppressing--the whole intersection of all those systems is known as the kyriarchy. It’s an impressive word, so get to know it.
6. Listen to women. Ask questions of your friends, your relatives, your coworkers, your acquaintances. Try to understand their experiences. Don’t interject with your own stories, or compare their lives to yours, but just take what they have to say, and internalize it. Don’t interrupt or talk over them. Realize that feminism, in many ways, is not looking to compromise. We will not stand for things just a little better than they were a few years ago. We want change. We want to tear down the walls. We are radical.
7. Take a real, good, hard look at yourself today. Do not assume that just because you call yourself a feminist, or believe that women should be equal to men, that you are beyond criticism. Because you’re not. Question every statement, every assumption, every decision. Then go to bed. Wake up, and do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And every day after that. Remember that if you’re not part of the solution, you are the problem, and there’s no alternative to that. As Ross Lincoln pointed out “many men in the geek space... who consider themselves feminists or feminist allies, have not managed to examine their own prejudices and preconceptions deeply. It's easy to assume that because you agree with and support equality, you yourself are not part of the problem. Without that kind of introspection, it's easy for tendencies you weren't even fully aware of to emerge in horrifying ways when you're emotionally compromised.” Don’t. Be. That. Person.
8. Do not let me hear you say “But what about the menz?” In fact, don’t say it, regardless of whether or not I can hear it. Because you will invariably get the response “Fuck teh menz!” We appreciate your support, and you as an ally. But this is not about you. Listen to women. Spread the message they are trying to make heard. But do not put yourself first. Do not let your ego drive. Do not use the phrase “Not all men..." because that is the worst form of derailing ever. The woman in question may or may not be talking about you. But here’s the kicker--even if she is? It’s irrelevant. Remember. This is not about you.
9. Identify. Consciously call yourself a feminist. Encourage others to do the same. Be ready to correct people’s assumption perpetuated by years of media indoctrination--that feminism doesn’t mean hating men. Yes, we say “fuck the men”--because we are tired of having to cater to them. Yes, you are one of them. No, we don’t hate you. We hate the system that’s kept us oppressed for centuries. Understand where that anger is coming from.
10. But don’t just claim to be a feminist--act as one. The primary watchword here is “show, don’t tell.” Call out sexist things that you see. Stop harassment before it escalates--between colleagues, friends, even on the street. You have the privilege to do this. You have the privilege to make this world more diverse. As much as it kills me to say it, people listen to your voice more than mine. Use your privilege for good. And though it may seem obvious, I’m going to say it anyway: don’t be that person who is saying misogynistic things. Don’t harass. Know what a compliment is, and when it’s inappropriate to give one.
11. Be aware that the silencing of women comes in many forms. There’s gaslighting, which is so common that the term for a thing that has lasted centuries has only come into usage recently. Wonderful myths float around, myths that claim that women are liars, women are crazy, women are emotional, women are too sensitive (and yes, those are all different links). Realize that actions from men are assertive, while those same actions from women are considered bossy, and that banning bossy is kind of missing the point. Know what rape culture is, and how it presents itself in everyday guise. Realize that it even applies to dress codes, how men can go topless in summer and women can’t, and every form of policing the appearance of woman ever. For a neat twist, watch this short film from France about a world where these roles are reversed, and then try doubting that misogyny is a painful, constant, everyday reality.
12. At the same time, make sure that the marginalized are heard. If you have a platform upon which you hold a lot of attention--whether as a writer, blogger, speaker, manager, boss, or general respected individual--use that platform to make sure that the voices of those who are often dismissed or silenced get heard. See Anil Dash, who spent a year only retweeting women. See Jim Hines, who used his blog as a platform to feature guest writers on representation in SF/F, and then compiled their essays into an ebook, Invisible. See Mick Foley, a former pro-wrestler who now, among a whole host of volunteer activities, answers phones for victims who call RAINN. See this list of things you can do if you work in tech, especially as a manager--ie, the person who is completely in charge of hiring a more diverse staff.
13. Be an activist. Now, I’m not saying you have to join protests or lead campaigns tomorrow. But find something within the realm of feminism that you’re passionate about, and focus on it in little ways. Maybe you feel strongly about making sure abortion access is available and safe--so sign petitions against restricting it, or sign up to be an escort at a clinic once a month. Are you against one-dimensional female characters in books and movies and other media? Acknowledge that some of the things you’re a fan of are problematic, or stop supporting problematic things, or advocate for better media.
14. Realize that sometimes you will fuck up, and others will call you out on that. Realize that, again, it is not about you. They are not saying you are a horrible evil person. They’re saying that you’re displaying some of the more problematic elements of a patriarchal misogynistic culture, and you should stop. So stop, and apologize. Ask if they’re willing to explain to you what you did/said that was a problem. But remember: it is at the end of the day your responsibility to figure it out and to act on it. It is not the responsibility of a marginalized person to explain to a privileged person exactly how they were marginalized.
15. Overall, show, don’t tell. You can discuss things until the end of the earth, but the most good comes out of you taking action--sometimes actions that women cannot. But remember--you are not the oppressed here. You are not the authority. You cannot tell women what feminism is, where it should go, or what it means to them. We appreciate your declarations of feminism, but will not give you cookies or pats on the back for it. We are grateful for the men who stick up for us, but also know that they can turn a blind eye whenever they so choose, ignore it and never pay the price. Choose to keep your eyes open, and bear the same burden that the women you work with do.
16. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.