Ozy Frantz offers 11 ways men can be better allies to women, including learning a few things about gender, challenging their female friends, and supporting a woman’s bodily autonomy.
1) Educate yourself. One summer, in high school, I literally read every book the library had about feminism. You don’t have to go that far, but a familiarity with concepts like male privilege, slut-shaming, and rape culture can give you a lot more understanding of how gender works.
2) Don’t be that asshole. Don’t assume that the women in the room have no idea what they’re talking about regarding gender. (If they clearly don’t, well, see #4.) Don’t expect to be thrown a parade because you’ve decided to vote pro-choice. Don’t forget that most men are not feminists and that many feminists are survivors of rape or abuse, and that you’re not sending out Beacons of Awesomeness that show that everyone has to trust you. Check your privilege.
3) Talk to your male friends. It’s sad but true: For a lot of people, men have more credence when talking about gender issues than women do. If your friend tells a rape joke or says that women just aren’t as good at science as men are, challenge them on it. A lot of times, people can’t think of anything to say in the moment; if that’s you, prepare comebacks in advance so you know exactly what to say when it comes up. Even if you forget in the moment, a simple “that’s not cool, dude” can go a long way.
4) Challenge your female friends. A lot of people say that men shouldn’t tell women when they’re being misogynistic. That’s crap. There are plenty of sexist women in the world and they should not get a free pass. If your friend starts snarking about a fat woman or saying that she’s so much better than all those silly other women that are only concerned about their hair and boys, tell her she’s full of it. Other women will thank you.
5) Consume media made by women. A lot of people listen to music made by men, read books written by men, watch movies directed by and starring men—without even realizing it. That’s stupid! It neglects women’s voices and experiences; besides, think of all the amazing talent you’re missing because of their gender. If you like comics, try Alison Bechdel or Gail Simone; if you like movies, look for Kathryn Bigelow or the late Nora Ephron; if you appreciate music, add some Bikini Kill or Nicki Minaj to your playlists.
6) Practice good consent. The general rule is that all sex should be sex that everyone involved wants. I know you, personally, would never have sex with someone who said no, but good consent goes far beyond that. Talk openly and honestly with your partner(s) about your and their sexual desires. Check in when your partner seems to not be enjoying themselves. Eschew pressure and coercion. And the same applies to you—if you’re being pressured or coerced or not having your consent respected, you are not in a healthy relationship.
7) Believe the survivor. It’s true that occasionally people falsely accuse other people of rape or abuse. This is very rare, however, and time spent figuring out the truth is time not spent supporting the survivor. Also, if there is a rapist or abuser in your social group, don’t take “I don’t do drama” as a reason to keep hanging out with them. Not being invited to parties is not a cruel and unusual punishment, and most rapists are repeat rapists. You can keep them from doing it again.
8) Support women’s bodily autonomy. On a political level, of course, one should fight pro-life initiatives, attempts to de-fund Planned Parenthood, forced sterilization efforts, etc. On a personal level, of course, it’s almost more important. If your partner gets pregnant, it’s up to her whether to have an abortion, give the child up for adoption, or raise the kid. Her body, her rules. If a woman is having sex with hundreds of people, don’t call her a dirty slut; if she’s a virgin until marriage, don’t call her a prude. Her body, her rules. If she weighs more than you think she should, don’t call her fat or tell her to go on a diet; if she weighs less, don’t tell her to eat a sandwich. It’s her body and, ultimately, what makes her comfortable in it is what matters.
9) Be a feminist because you support equal rights. Don’t become a feminist because you want to get a girlfriend or because you heard that feminist chicks are easy. Don’t become a feminist because your girlfriend is a feminist and you want to get in good with her. Don’t, for God’s sake, take women’s studies classes because it’s an easy A. Become a feminist because you believe women are people and you will not be satisfied until they are fully treated as such.
10) Be intentional. Maybe it’s best for your family that your wife sacrifice her career to raise kids. But is it really, or are you just assuming that because it’s the narrative you’re used to? Maybe you’re only attracted to 22-year-old blonde skinny women. But are you really, or have you simply not explored your attraction to other people? It’s OK to do things that look anti-feminist to outsiders…as long as it is honestly what you want, and not just falling into the patriarchal rut because you haven’t thought about the other options.
11) Don’t satisfy yourself with just being a feminist. If you are just a feminist, you’re only advocating for the rights of women—which means that you’re advocating for the rights of straight, white, abled, middle-to-upper-class, privileged women. Everyone else? They suffer from racism, queerphobia, ableism, or classism in addition to sexism. Fighting for those rights means fighting for everyone’s rights.
Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman; identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary; and blogs at No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?