I’m reaching out to the feminist men today in solidarity with everyone that is supporting women this weekend (and every weekend). There are so many of you out there. You believe in and support the women’s movement. You are celebrating the historic wins by women and are horrified by the revelations of #MeToo. You think equal representation matters. You see progress and you also see how far we have yet to go. You share our anger. Thank you. We need you.
Many of you are already driving change and trying to make your pocket of the world better. This problem feels enormous, though, and some of you might find yourself wondering “How can I make a difference?” I want to share some ideas here for those of you that might be unsure of what you can do or who might be looking for ways to be more effective in the things that you are doing.
- Make sure your definition of feminism encompasses all women – minority women, transgender women, women of all sexual orientations. It’s not feminism unless it’s equality for all of us.
- Vote like a feminist. Prioritize “women’s issues” when you are considering candidates and vote for the ones that will fight for women. Not all women are feminists, but vote for women that are when you have the opportunity. We need advocates and we need voices that understand women’s experiences where legislative decisions for us are being made.
- Trust our interpretations of our life experiences and challenge men that don’t. With the exception of transgender men, men really don’t know what living in our society as a woman is like. Listen to us when we try to tell you. Don’t minimize our traumas and frustrations. Don’t suggest that we are wrong or being sensitive or misunderstanding our own experiences. Maybe you don’t understand why something made us scared or angry, but it did and we have a lifetime of reasons why. Read work by female authors. Listen to podcasts by female hosts. Listen to women. Ask other men to do the same.
- Be aware that you are surrounded by survivors. Nearly every single woman you know has been harassed and many of us have been assaulted or raped. Exact numbers are hard to pin down because so many assaults go unreported, but estimates are that 20% of women have been raped. Count the women in your life and divide by 5. That’s how many rape survivors you know. This should devastate you. Many of us carry this burden privately. Don’t force women to share their stories, but understand that many of us have them. If you are in a group setting, assume that someone there has been raped. Listen to the conversation with this mindset and speak up if things veer towards victim blaming, shaming, or doubting. Be sensitive in how you talk about this topic because most likely you are talking to someone (or around someone) that has experienced it.
- Be aware that you are also surrounded by assailants. Once you realize how many survivors there are, you have to also realize how many assailants there are. Some of them are men that you know. Don’t let them normalize their behavior. Challenge their stories. Don’t celebrate what they try to pass off as drunken escapades. Ask them if they had consent. Stop them from taking advantage of someone if you are there. Don’t refer to rape talk as locker room talk. Don’t laugh along or stay silent. Tell them they are wrong.
- Believe women who are reporting an assault. Accusations should be investigated, of course, but we don’t approach victims of any other crime with skepticism and doubt. If someone’s home is burglarized, we don’t start with the idea that they are probably trying to frame someone. We don’t ask if they’re sure it really happened or if maybe they wanted to give the burglar their stolen items. We don’t wonder if they had ever invited any other person over to their home before. We don’t question why they would care if someone broke in if other people had already been there. We don’t tell them they shouldn’t have flaunted their home or decorated it to look so nice. We don’t worry about how this crime might impact the burglar’s future or reputation. These types of doubts sound ridiculous when applied to another crime. They are ridiculous when applied to crimes of sexual violence too.
- Recognize that you might be scary to us. We can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys just by looking at you. We don’t know which strangers are a threat to us. Don’t be offended if we try to give ourselves space from you or if we wait for the next elevator or we alter our route to avoid you. Even better than not being offended, try to take actions to reassure us if you can. If there is space, don’t sit or stand right next to us. If you are walking up behind us on a quiet street, cross to the other side. If you are on an elevator alone with us, let us be the one that is closest to the buttons and the door. Give us space if the situation allows it and don’t block our exit path if you can help it.
- Amplify our voices. Don’t speak over us or try to take over the narrative, but help make room for us to speak. In professional settings, keep an eye out for women being ignored in meetings. If you see this happening, invite us to repeat ourselves. “It sounds like so-and-so had some thoughts. What were you thinking?” If we haven’t had an opportunity to speak at all, find an opportunity to directly ask us, “What are your thoughts on this, so-and-so?” In personal settings, help us challenge other men that are being inappropriate. Back us up when we speak out. If you are in a group without women, speak on our behalf. Speak up when you hear an offensive story. Speak up when you see someone objectify a woman. Speak up when you see someone doubt a sexual assault survivor. Speak up when your friend hits on the waitress.
- Try to improve our work environments – whether you are working with us or visiting our place of employment. If you wouldn’t say it to a male colleague or worker in the same situation, it’s inappropriate to say it to a woman. A meeting with a woman is not a date. Don’t let other men around you speak like this without speaking up either.
- Help raise the next generation of feminists. Whether you’re a parent or not, children are always around and observing. Make sure that our children see a good example from you. Demonstrate respectful behavior. Not all of our children will have heterosexual relationships, but they will all interact with people of all genders. Show our sons how to behave and how to treat women with respect. Show our daughters the type of treatment that they should demand. Talk about and teach consent. Teach your children to verbally express when they don’t consent and teach them how to recognize non-verbal cues of a partner that does not consent.
Sometimes it feels daunting to be up against a problem of this magnitude. It’s tempting to feel overwhelmed and sit back because “what can one person even do?” Progress and change don’t happen on their own, though. They happen because people decide that they are going to do what one person can do. We aren’t marching alone. We are marching together.