Guide: What is Male Allyship?

From: Claire Nicholls @Bristol_teacher

What do Women want from Male Allies?

Well, what this woman wants.

I can’t speak for all women, but when Pran asked me to write something about male allyship, I jumped at the chance because it’s been something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.

I’ve written a little about men before, here and here, but this post is specifically, as asked, about what men can do to be good allies to women. Much of it also applies to other marginalised groups, but I’m staying in my lane here.

So, this is what I want:

Recognise that women aren’t all the same

This sounds obvious. However, it’s clear that most feminism centres around middle class white women. I’m not saying some of those campaigns aren’t hugely valuable, but understand that trans women, women of colour, poor women, disabled women (etc) face more complex issues than others. Wherever you can, support these women. You can learn more about intersectionality by watching Kimberlé Crenshaw’s Ted Talk.

Magnify our voices

Women don’t get adequate recognition for their ideas and labour (source: the whole of history). If you read a great book by a woman, share it. If you know a woman who is an expert in a certain field, recommend her. See a great tweet by a woman? You can simply retweet it. Not quote tweet it, with your ideas added, but retweeting the original tweet. Even just adding “this 👇🏻” means that you’re generating traffic for your own tweet rather than hers.

Give up some of your platforms

This is a tough one. But sitting on an all-male panel legitimises it, no matter how much you later say it was a shame there weren’t any women involved. The more you take action, the more the message gets out. If you notice you’re one of several men asked to do something, ask if they’ve considered asking a woman. If you’re organising an event, ask women to be an equal part. If you don’t know any women who are experts in the field, ask around. Organisations like Women Ed can help.

Don’t take it personally 

I’m white. Unpacking my whiteness has been, and continues to be uncomfortable. I’ve often felt defensive. But in order to strive to be an ally, I need to do this. I imagine it’s the same for men striving to be good allies to women. You’re going to feel attacked. You’re going to want to defend yourself as different and distant from the toxic masculinity that women like me talk about. Please understand that it usually isn’t about you. It’s about systems. It’s about power. But you as an individual can make a difference. Sit with your discomfort and listen to what women are saying.

Respect all women

Women deserve respect because they’re people. Some men only seem to realise this once they have a daughter. Or relate ill-treatment to female relatives (‘imagine if that was your mother!’) Women don’t need to be wives, mothers or sisters to be respected. Relate to us as people. Respect our ‘no’ on its own, without the need for a (real or imagined) male partner to defer to. No woman should have to use ‘I have a boyfriend’ as a reason to turn you down.

It’s also very obvious if you’re not following Lisa Simpson’s advice:


Don’t use a woman to prove your bad point

Women disagree with each other. Passionately. If you try hard enough, you’ll find women who agree with your opinion, even if on the face of it, that opinion is strongly anti-woman. Let us have those arguments. If a woman calls you out on something, ‘but my wife/mother/boss/friend thinks so too’ isn’t a justification. If you’re talking about issues which affect women, then you need to listen to women. Repeatedly telling a woman she’s wrong about women’s issues is not a good look.

Focus your energy on men

Related to the above, if you think a woman holds a wrong opinion on something related to women’s issues, leave it. You’re either (a) wrong, or (b) right but it’s not your lane. If it’s the latter, you’ll be unlikely to be effective as you’ll get told you’re being patronising, mansplaining or shouldn’t have a voice in the debate. A good strategy in this situation is to ask a woman for her advice. We can have those conversations ourselves. What we need you to do is challenge other men. Unfortunately, most of the men who need challenging are more likely to listen to and respect the opinions of a man. Use that to your advantage.

Know better, do better

It’s ok to have a less than perfect history. It’s ok to have made mistakes and continue to do so. Own them, apologise sincerely (I’m sorry that you were hurt/offended is not an apology) and do better next time. We don’t expect you to be perfect. We shoulder enough internalised misogyny to understand that it’s hard to change the messages you’ve received your whole life. We’d like you to try though. Preferably without drawing attention to how much of a great ally you are. If you’re out there doing the work, we’ll see you.


Published by Pran Patel

@MrPranPatel - Assistant Principal - NPQSL- Curriculum and Standards - Transition - Outward Facing Leader @UKedChat ambassador @UKEd_London @2ndaryrocks #HeForShe #BAMEed

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