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  • Writer's picturethekatediaries

Being a feminist ally and partner….

As they say: if you’re not with us, then you’re against gender equality and fighting capitalist-imperialist patriarchy… or something along those lines.

Of late, I have been confronted with an increasing sense of irony between the conversations around gender and equity from colleagues and friends, and the real-life actions and situations that have occurred. Not only does the chasm between words and actions seem deeper than ever, but the cognitive dissonance is indeed peculiar, with a dash of bewildering.

Let’s start with a baseline assumption, in that whilst patriarchy (and its blood relatives, capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism) is also a bad and destructive force for men, it goes without saying, that it is also a rather beneficial deal for those who choose to subscribe. It is in this salty little contradiction that arises the tension between weighing up the true costs and benefits of being a feminist - and being a feminist ally.

God bless the men who grew up with the iterations of feminism as a part of their everyday outlook and happily call themselves as such. However, in 2023, just having read Simone de Beauvoir’s “The second sex” from your politics classes without subscribing to her calls on how to overcome this is simply no longer enough

It is actually those moments which are the most insidious against feminist progress- where those more powerful allies pay lip service to tenants of feminism- but without taking the pains to take a stand and put it into practice. This kind of situation gives the illusion of progress without the substance, and in turn, nothing to rage against, nothing in which to force change- as everything has the appearance of agreement.

One can easily call out and be outraged at those on the right - the “grab em by the pussy” types- for being blunt about their thoughts on what women should do with their bodies, or who is better suited to office, or should be allowed to take up space. But arguably, what is more potent are those who talk the talk but never walk the walk- i.e. who never take the time to listen, to be made uncomfortable with the actual state of things, and see that their own world slants disproportionately in one direction (and thus take action). It goes without saying that we are all a work in progress, but I guess that is why we are here today- reading this post and figuring out ways to do better, be better, and ally better.

As one example of these moments, take working life, where the prevalence of a boys club in and with the upper echelons of management can be rampant and as naturally occurring as the setting sun. Thus, the promotion, pay rise or stellar career opportunities for those attached to said boys club is usually just a hop, skip, and jump away.

While private life may allow the space to entertain and act upon these feminist values easier, work proves more difficult. It is a different game, with different rules, where money, power, and the role of men are more heavily embedded. And as such, the inconvenience of being a feminist ally is a rather unnatural and bulky move for many men on the career ladder who have been trained in the art of aggressive ambition and leadership bias.

Is there a moment in this well-troped journey to leadership in the workplace where critical reflection and potential change could be possible? Asking questions like: could a woman have done this step as easily? Is there a desert of diversity around at those higher levels? Are there women below or who used to be around me who have tried to start conversations about work dynamics, glass ceilings or failed opportunities? Did I a) listen, and b) connect it with reality?

Is someone wrong for making the most of his privilege- perhaps even unassumingly (..if we want to be really generous)? Technically, no one did anything wrong or purposefully malevolent, they just walked through the doors that were opened for them.

And yet, somehow, this one act seems intrinsically linked to a world where gender equality is now projected to be achieved in 289 years according to the latest reports. In a world where 9/10 people hold a bias against women, a figure which has stagnated for 10 years, where is the change going to come from?

The ability to ignore or feign ignorance is easily still possible as we live in a world able to compartmentalise our different selves (our work self, our home self, our zumba instructor self, our online self, our environmentalist activist self and the self we take with us on a wild weekend away with friends). This compartmentalization allows us to deal with these inherent value contradictions and the hypocrisy that would interrupt the narrative we tell ourselves of who we are- i.e. our ego (ugh… very uncomfortable indeed)

Along these lines, we live in a world that chases ease and shuns discomfort at all costs. The cost of being a feminist ally is hefty - it costs time, it costs energy, and, more importantly, it costs the illusion that everything is completely fine and fair as it is right now.

Because it is not- and our eyes and minds have been trained to deceive us- often

Studies show that when there are 17% of women in a room, men see the gender ratio as equal, and when there are 33% of women in the room, they see it as disproportionately and overwhelmingly women. These unconscious bias’ about how much space is and should be taken up by certain groups, and what equal looks like, should give us pause for consideration about the perception vs reality gap in our own levels and cultures of inclusion

As such, if we preach inclusion, if we desire that both our personal and work lives create moments where everyone feels welcome to participate in and not relegated to spectators watching on the sidelines - then there requires this fundamental shift in questioning, listening, and acknowledging that not everyone experiences the world the same. Or, put more bluntly, acknowledging that at its baseline assumptions- the world was made for men.

Having said that, being an ally is not all that complicated; neither does it mean paralysis in a cancel culture. It is a simple two-step process.

  1. Accepting this fundamental truth that everyone experiences the world differently - some unequally, and some without recourse to be able to change it

  2. Asking questions, listening to others’ experiences, looking around and noticing who is in the room, and from that knowledge taking appropriate action where possible (fun fact: this can also work for anyone who identifies differently from the norm)

I write this because I don't think men do this on purpose or are deliberately malevolent. When the wind is on your back, you usually have no good reason to stop and turn around. However, I write this because men deserve to know that they can do better, that they deserve better as well. Because their tradeoff with keeping this privilege and the status quo is loss of intimacy and connection with all those pushed out and excluded in the process- which if you are reading up to this point, I would assume you agree with me- is a high price to pay (....we are pretty fun to be around).

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