When men say that they support women and feminism what most of them essentially mean is that they support equality till the time it doesn’t get too uncomfortable or challenging for them to question the systemic male privilege and misogyny that benefits them. Men enjoy a position that has been methodically created and upheld for ages to their own advantage- I understand it must be scary to suddenly give up that kind of power, and that is why dismantling patriarchy is so damn difficult.
Most cisgender men are of the belief that their personal experiences are universal and disregard anyone who dissents, which means that their own ‘truth’ is more important than the voices of the oppressed groups. So what do men do when they want to be allies in the fight for equality but, by “virtue” of their birth, ignorance and lack of exposure to gender-based oppression don’t seem to get the true meaning of feminism.
1. Stop playing the devil’s advocate
It is anyway hard enough to be at the receiving end of any kind of oppression- please don’t add to our existing challenges and anger by asking us to ‘explain’ our oppression and ‘justify’ our fight while you sit back and defend patriarchy and toxic masculinity under the pretext of a ‘healthy debate’. Expecting women to explain their suffering, struggle, and experiences of violence and abuse against them by men so that the same men can validate their fight is just downright ludicrous. Women don’t owe it to you to prove that their fight for feminism is important.
2. Educate yourself
According to a 2014 study reported by Forbes, when men talked with women, they interrupted 33 percent more often than when they were talking to men and “the men interrupted their female conversational partners 2.1 times during a three-minute conversation. That number dropped to 1.8 when they spoke to other men. The women in the study rarely interrupted their male counterparts—an average of once in a three-minute dialogue.”
The least you can do is sit down and give a listening ear to the oppressed group, reflect upon and learn from the people harmed by your passive and active actions of patriarchy.
Stop saying ‘because I think’ or ‘I feel so’- go and educate yourself with facts, literature, and history. Read books, watch documentaries by women and simply open your eyes and look around, trust me it won’t be hard to find evidence of misogyny and violence against women all around you.
3. Acknowledge and question your privilege
It is important for cis men to understand the social privilege conferred by their gender and to demonstrate efforts & compassion about gender inequalities not on just some woke Twitter thread, but at home and at the workplace through their actions and choices.
Did you know that replacing a woman’s name with a man’s name on a résumé improved the odds of getting hired by 61 percent? An average woman anywhere in the world spends most of her life trying to find ways to navigate around men carefully without taking up too much space, without being too loud or obnoxious, without looking up, without pissing anyone off. Acknowledge your male privilege and empathise with the problems that women around you face; until and unless you have empathy for people whose experiences are different from yours- there is no way you can address & act upon your existing role in perpetuating sexist behaviour.
4. Stop being triggered and feel personally attacked
Understand that your toxic masculinity is one of the many consequences of “toxic conditioning, or “toxic social programming.” Raising any particular gender to privilege and entitlement is toxic to all who are oppressed by the unequal distribution of power.
Misogyny is not just a social construct but its a carefully-crafted form of oppression, and an active (or subliminal) choice you get to make every day. It is a set up of extremely bigoted and prejudiced principles that men feel comfortable following because in the end, it benefits them in some way or the other.
And no matter what you say, women can see through it. We are not at a war with men, but with a society that perpetuates inequality and unyielding hierarchy.
5. Question your experience and ecosystem
In January 2011, the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) Questionnaire reported that 24% of Indian men had committed sexual violence at some point during their lives, and 65% of Indian men believe women should tolerate violence in order to keep the family together, and women sometimes deserve to be beaten.
Men are since childhood expected to conform to the conventional ideas of masculinity; predominant part of which is exercising and establishing their supremacy over women.
But who are you proving this masculinity to? To women, you would think. No, to other men. You all want to be a man among men. Your ignorance, comfort, and indifference make way for the rampant cruelty against women and the LGBTQ community who are treated as second-class citizens to ensure that the benefiters from this oppression continue enjoying their privilege.
6. Stop engaging us in pointless drama
Stop saying things like ‘oh, but why did you not give up your seat in the metro for that old man’, ‘but why don’t you celebrate men’s day’, ‘but men are also harassed’– yes, these are all social issues and must be talked about. But don’t you walk in with your ill-informed and low EQ doubts into an argument every time a woman is demanding her basic right to being treated like a human. Do not shift the attention to yourself when a woman narrates her ordeal in a country where as many as 2.5 million crimes against women have been reported over the last decade.
7. Don’t expect candies for it
If you are working for the upliftment and equality of women, it is because you believe in it. It is because you as a rational person believe in the liberation and equal distribution of power in society. But please don’t expect rewards for it, just like a father doesn’t get accolades for changing his baby’s diaper.
Question your privilege. Take up less space. Challenge your biases and prejudices – even by doing the seemingly smaller things like reading books or watching a movie on the subject. Take a look at the kind of content you consume online. Pay attention to women authors and LGBTQ artists. You can’t turn into a feminist overnight and no one is expecting you to. We are all unlearning our biases here. But at least try. Do the work, refuse to participate in a culture that benefits from oppressing and hurting women, and don’t expect a cookie for it. Because let’s face it, it’s the least you can do.
A depression survivor Ananya primarily writes about mental health, intersectional feminism and society.
When she is not working or traveling, she spends her days in a quaint little town of Northeast India with her husband and two cats, sipping red wine and writing poetry.
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