I will be the first to admit that the feminist movement needs male allies. Feminism thrives on unity, even in the face of our less-than-unified American government. As an intersectional feminist, I think it is important to view our world through a lens that incorporates all aspects of privilege and oppression, including race, gender, economic status, ability, etc. In order for feminism to have an impact on modern culture, it needs to be expansive and inclusive of all people from all walks of life. So yes, I think men can and should be involved in the feminist movement. We are always stronger together.
Even in these trying times of political disunity, I have seen many male allies take a stand against sexism, support women when they are attacked with hateful rhetoric, and make an honest, if imperfect, attempt to be educated on important issues. I have seen my father make tremendous strides towards a better understanding of feminism and stand up to family members who repost hate speech and target women with opposing viewpoints. I have seen my brother stand up to his friends, my teachers encourage female students to speak in class, and more.
In this way, I have seen that the voices of men have a unique impact on modern feminism and how it is perceived. Where sometimes the voices of women are overlooked or belittled, men can do a lot to amplify those voices. Men can stand up to other men. Men can walk shoulder-to-shoulder with women, and support us in our fight for equality. Men have the potential to do amazingly positive things for the feminist movement. And I truly believe that all male allies want to do what is best for the women of our world.
But I also have to be honest when I say there is a time and a place for a male ally to speak on feminist issues, and even when a male ally has good intentions and has the correct information, feminists are not required to relinquish their platform so that a well-intentioned man can speak. And it is disrespectful to feminists everywhere for a man to take the place of a woman in a discussion on women’s rights.
This is where the term “mansplaining” often pops up.
But what is “mansplaining?” Mansplaining is, in its purest form, a man taking a woman’s place at the podium. It is a man needlessly replicating, dumbing down, or belittling the voices of women in a conversation about women’s rights. While mansplaining often occurs in a wide variety of conversations, like explaining medical science to a doctor or comic books to a woman in a comic book store, the topic most relevant for this discussion is women’s rights. So many times have I seen men speak over the voices of women in a conversation that isn’t even about them. And again, even if their facts and intentions are good, it isn’t their place.
In no way am I saying that the best thing male allies can do is sit down and shut up — far from it. What I am saying, though, is that there is specific work that male allies can do, and it doesn’t involve inserting your opinion in place of a woman’s, or dumbing down her argument for an online DudeBro. What you can do, though, is stand up to men using “locker-room talk.” Call out your friend for cat-calling, or walk your female friend to her car if it’s dark out.
Instead of being frustrated that you have male privilege and wish you didn’t, use your privilege to do the work that only you can do. Use your position to support and defend and amplify.
But how does one “amplify” the voices of women without being a jerk? Online, often that means you reblog instead of post. In person, that means you stand up for women when they are interrupted, rather than getting into a discussion with the man who interrupted them, which, while good-intentioned, is still not allowing that woman a place to speak. It means that when a female student makes a point in class and a male student interrupts her to say the same thing, you acknowledge that, and don’t attribute any credit to him for restating her point. It means that when there is a discussion on women’s rights, you don’t just interject your opinion; you listen first and talk second.
And listening, perhaps, is the most important thing you can do. When you are caught mansplaining (and believe me, it happens even to the most well-intentioned), and a woman calls you on it and tells you to listen instead of talk, you actually need to do that. You are only as good an ally as you are a listener.
You do have a place in the feminist movement. All we ask is that you are aware of your privilege and that you seek to amplify instead of argue.