20 actions men can take to be better allies to women

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This week has been heavy for women and non-binary people. I’ve been full of anger and sadness all week about Sarah Everard and the subsequent outpouring from women on social media about their experiences of fear, assault and misogyny. This is why I post about feminism on my social media accounts every day, even when I get a lot of shit for it (usually whataboutery, mansplaining, and ‘not all men’ crap from men).

Decades on from “Reclaim the Night”, the demand for an equal right to public spaces, it seems as if we have progressed too little, and it is damning that so many women have felt compelled to share stories of their own experiences this week.

Yesterday, MP Jess Phillips read out in Parliament, the names of the 118 women and girls who were killed in the UK in the last year, where a man has been charged or convicted as the primary perpetrator.

Just this week a YouGov opinion poll for the UN Women UK’s Safe Spaces Now project finds that almost all (97%) young women in the UK have felt threatened. 96% of respondents say they did not report incidents of sexual harassment, with 45 per cent saying they thought it would not change anything. Women know this to be the case aside from the survey results.

Every woman I know can list countless occasions she’s felt afraid by the risk of harm from men. To women, what has happened to Sarah is that fear brought to life and personified. We will remember her every single time we walk home in the future.

It reminded me that one of the major reasons I much prefer working from home is that the walk from both my office to the metro and from the metro to my house in the winter is dangerous to me because it’s isolated and poorly lit. I clutch my phone, holding the buttons to make an emergency call, my watch shows my heart rate racing. I feel genuine terror in those moments till I get safely indoors again. I have to take the long route because the short cuts have too many spots where no one could see me. My husband always takes the short cuts. Must be nice. The irony is I’m still shitting myself taking the long route because that’s not safe either. We have for all intents and purposes a darkness curfew for women where we either stay home or face danger. I’m fucking sick of it.

zooey deschanel feminism GIF

To the ‘good guys’

Men, we need more from you. We are exhausted trying to change this on our own. You hold the power in the patriarchy. You have most of the positions of power, you have most of the money. We can not change this without your help.

I have a son and a daughter and you better believe I’m raising my son to do better. I don’t want my daughter to be harmed, restricted and minimised by this, like we all ultimately are. She doesn’t need to change, society does and that starts with our boys and men. Do better.

Most of the men I know are ‘good men’ however, most of the men I know are doing a lot less than women to drive forward gender equality. Even the ‘good ones’. The thing is, men are benefitting from the patriarchy more than women (and yes, they are also harmed by it). For women to become equal the uncomfortable truth is that men need to get uncomfortable and give up some power.

This is why us simply asking for equality often feels like an affront to men. We just want to share what you have but are you really ready to share it? What are you willing to give up to make us safer? What are you doing right now? How are you going to put yourselves out to do the right thing? What difficult conversations will you have? Are you uncomfortable because we are.

Yesterday the organisation @Every2mins on Instagram posted the following interesting stat – “It only takes 10% of men to change rape culture. Scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that when just 10% of a population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will be adopted by the majority of the population. The scientists used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion.” So we only need 10% of ‘good men’ to change the rest of them. Now, do you see how you could help us fix the problems? If men collectively took as much action as women to drive gender equality we would get there so much quicker. Good men, we need you now!

I know that some men do want to do more but don’t really know how to get started. Today’s blog post is a list of concrete actionable things you can do today to help dismantle the patriarchy. If this list makes you feel uncomfortable and defensive we need you to sit with that discomfort and work through it. My dad (good guy) always said to me that if someone says something about you that isn’t true it doesn’t hurt you. It’s when there is a truth in it that we don’t want to accept that truth that we get defensive. Discover your truth and make it your baseline for improvement.

Also – I’ve not included things like ‘stop hurting us’, ‘stop raping us’ because it should go without saying. This is for the so called ‘good guys’ (in brackets because clearly some guys think they are good and they bloody well aren’t).

Odaat GIF by One Day At A Time

21 actions men can take to be better allies to women

  1. Learn about sexism and feminism. I can’t stress this one enough. You have to do the work. I spend so much of my free time reading and learning about feminism and equality just to have men come into the comments of MY social media to challenge me about not only my lived experience but about my education on the matter when they’ve done ZERO learning. They don’t know the stats, they don’t know the history. They do not know the struggles and challenges because not only have they not experienced them but they’ve made little effort to educate themselves on it. There is a gender equality for men training session being held on 20th March by Beyond Equality – a charity that works with boys & men towards gender equality, inclusive communities, and healthier relationships that could be a great first learning action for you to take. White ribbon has some good resources on ending male violence towards women too.
  2. Read and watch books and tv created by women. Learn about the impact that the patriarchy has on women and men. Here’s 11 feminist books I shared in 2016 to get you started. Could you set yourself a simple goal of 1 book, 1 TV show, 1 film a month all written by women or that highlight feminist issues? Some examples of shows and movies I would recommend for you as a starting point are: Promising Young Woman, I May Destroy You (BBC iPlayer), Moxie (Netflix), Mrs America (Netflix), Orange is the New Black (Netlix), Unbelievable (Netflix), Handmaid’s Tale (Amazon Prime), Broad City (Amazon Prime), Glow (Netflix), Feminists What Were they Thinking (Netflix), Tales of the City (Netflix).
  3. Listen to women and believe us when we speak about our lived experience. We’ve been telling you this shit for YEARS. One of my most feminist male friends was surprised when his wife said ‘me too’. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. What surprises us is your shock because we aren’t hiding our feelings and experiences. You just aren’t absorbing it as a priority because it doesn’t affect you directly. That’s why this week there is outrage from men over the suggestion by the Green Peer Jenny Jones that a 6pm curfew for men at night would make women safer. We already feel like we have a curfew at night, we can’t walk safely or go for a run in the dark but you suddenly care when it’s suggested that your freedom is restricted? If you care about one then you should care about the other. (By the way, that’s not a genuine thing we are fighting for. We would much prefer education and behavioural change from within rather than moving the issue indoors).
  4. Do some soul searching and recognise where sexism exists in you. Every woman I know has internalised sexism within them. I do! I have to challenge it when I recognise it and work to root it out. Every man, deep inside will have some sexism, whether intentional or not and whether you realise it or not. It’s a natural result of growing up in a patriarchal society. Recognise it and then ask yourself what you can do about it. Challenge yourself when you recognise it. We don’t expect you to be perfect, we just expect you to be trying.
  5. Learn about and work on your toxic masculinity. Open up about your feelings. Get real with other men and stop taking the piss out of men who share their feelings. Violence by men is driven by toxic masculinity by men who can’t handle their emotions. Get your own house in order. Go to fucking therapy.
  6. Don’t make or tolerate sexist jokes. It’s time to call out your mates instead of leaving it to women who ‘just can’t take a joke’. Yes, we know this is awkward AF because we’ve been doing it for years. People might not like you for setting up these boundaries. Chances are the women labelled ‘difficult’ that you know gained that misnomer from simply doing this. It’s time you stepped up too. Be uncomfortable calling it out because guess what, we are more than uncomfortable when you don’t. Violence against women exists because of this foundational block at the bottom of the triangle of simple sexist jokes. It creates an environment of acceptability. Murder is the top of the triangle. It can’t exist without these seemingly ‘harmless’ jokes at the bottom that create a solid foundation for it to thrive. Cut it off at the roots.
  7. Stop interrupting us when we speak and mansplaining – especially at work. Stop repeating our ideas like they were your own. Give us credit where credit is due.
  8. Never describe a female colleague as ‘cold’, ‘difficult’ or just ‘not nice’ when you wouldn’t describe a male colleague that way for behaving the exact same way.
  9. Challenge organisations that don’t have equal female representation or that have a gender pay gap. All white men running the show is whats got us into this mess. It’s time for that to change. Hell, it’s well past time. Don’t forget to champion other minorities while you are at it.
  10. If you are in a heterosexual relationship, recognise where you aren’t demonstrating equality in your own home to your partner and your children. Are you doing your fair share of the chores? Are you doing your fair share of the mental load? Teach each other to do tasks so they are all interchangeable. If you don’t have fairness in your home you are teaching that to your kids by example.
  11. Encourage your sons to talk about their feelings. Talk to them about yours. Please stop saying ‘man up’ or ‘don’t be like a girl’ anymore.
  12. Push for flexible working and take flexible and part-time positions. We will only close the gender pay gap when true flexible working becomes the norm for all. 
  13. Stop leaving all the unpaid caring work to women. It means we don’t have the time for our careers or ourselves.
  14. Follow feminist content creators on social media and learn from them and champion their causes. If you go through the list of who I follow on any of my social media channels (below) you will find lots of great examples.
  15. Support and buy from female-led and non-binary businesses.
  16. Support feminist charities – literally put your money where your mouth is. Just off the top of my head I like women for women international and Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland.
  17. Vote with women in mind – what are a politician or their party’s policies for women? And vote in more women while you are at it. 
  18. Stop talking using the passive voice about women to describe active behaviour by men. Put the responsibility on men in language. It’s not women who were raped, it’s men who raped women, it’s not ‘she got herself pregnant’ or ‘she fell pregnant’ it’s a man who impregnated her, it’s not how many single mothers there are, it’s how many men abandoned their families etc. 
  19. Stop victim-blaming and challenge those who do victim blame.
  20. Stop supporting companies that put out content that perpetuates gender stereotypes and harms women. Don’t click on the Daily Mail or the Sun, don’t watch sexist porn (it makes you shit in bed anyway because it’s always about male pleasure, go have a wank to ethical porn instead, you might learn a thing or two), stop watching shows and films that hardly have any proper female characters with nuanced plot lines and are just there to look sexy. Another thing that may seem silly but it creatures an environment and culture where worse crimes take place. It objectifies women and that dehumanisation helps to enable violence against women.
  21. Above all just do the work – learn, listen and think about what actions you can take big and small to effect change around you. 

And I can’t stress this enough (because I know I’ll be accused of this in the comments), we aren’t hating on men. Every single woman I know has men in her life that she loves. It’s the patriarchal system that damages us all that we hate. Yes, men have a mental health crisis right now, yes men experience violence too but guess what causes that, yup the patriarchy and men again. It’s the same problem. Now if you can truly hold your hands up and say ‘I’m doing everything I possibly can’ then fantastic. We love you for that. But if you can’t, then here are your starting blocks. It’s not all men but until we can say it’s not all women experiencing this, we’ve got work to do.

I’m aware I’ll have missed loads out here so if you have any to add then pop them in the comments!

Feminism Girl Power GIF by Hop To It Productions

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2 thoughts on “20 actions men can take to be better allies to women”

  1. I consciously challenged my own internalised sexism tonight. I nearly went to describe a woman I know as someone’s wife on first description – which she is, but that’s not the only thing about her. She’s a baker and a freelance journalist. So I corrected myself, and then explained I know her because she’s married to someone I used to work with.
    I’m going to share this article with my family, and also share the link to that training event with my internal comms team at work to see if there’s any chance of it being shared. There’s so much of this work I still need to do myself, but I recognise that it can’t be all down to me and I absolutely have to share it with my male relatives, friends and colleagues. Thank you for writing this. xxx

  2. Add no bigot jokes full stop

    There is already a strong correlation between alllivesmatter and notallmen hash taggers

    They’re often cut from the same cloth


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