Matthew Facciani understands that for a man, becoming a feminist ally is an ongoing process, not a fait accompli.
I recently gave a talk about preventing sexual violence to an auditorium full of fraternity men and I found it difficult to express some of my points. I understand that talking to other men as peers can be especially effective when discussing feminist issues, but sometimes it’s hard to get through to them. There are few male feminists to learn from and I am always searching for better ways to talk to men about gender equality. I was fortunate enough to recently present some of my research and attend the International Conference on Masculinities: Engaging Men and Boys in Gender Equality. At this conference I learned so much from leading activists and researchers from around the globe and it was an incredible experience. I’ve synthesized what I’ve learned into five general themes that may be useful for men helping other men become better feminist allies.
1. Be authentic
A common theme at this conference was the importance of authenticity when addressing feminist issues. Several activists discussed how having celebrities read a few one liners to a group isn’t effective when it doesn’t seem authentic. Exposing one’s vulnerability while discussing a personal story could provide a much stronger and lasting impact.
2. Avoid using unhealthy forms of masculinity in your message
As the amazing activist Jackson Katz said at the event, simplifying your feminist message may cast a wider net, but it comes at a cost. Messages such as “be a man, don’t rape” can be helpful in certain contexts, but they perpetuate the gender roles that we are trying to fight against. Such language may be useful in certain situations, but we should avoid it when possible or explain why it is harmful afterward.
3. Meet the person where you were, not where they are
Achieving a feminist consciousness takes a lot of work and is a never-ending process. We all have to constantly fight cultural messages and work through our own biases. Men are collectively exposed to the same forms of toxic masculinity and we should remember where we were in order to better relate to those new to feminism.
4. Try to unpack their concerns
Men may generally support gender equality and understand that sexual assault is wrong. However, many men still could have issues with various nuances of sexual assault and feminism. It’s important to understand what is driving these concerns in order to combat them. Joe Samalin of Breakthrough shared an example of a man who had issues with street harassment always being wrong. Joe kept trying to get through to him and the man finally admitted that he was concerned that a woman on the street may be “the one.” That allowed Joe to address the concerns of unrealistic relationship expectations and move forward from there instead of fighting about street harassment.
5. Explain how feminism helps men
At the conference psychologist James O’Neil discussed his research on how rigid masculinity and gender role conflict is linked to a host of psychological dysfunctions and unhealthy behaviors. Feminism aims to end gender roles and restrictive definitions of masculinity which will lead to more emotionally healthy men who have better relationships. Many men (myself included) attest to having healthier and more fulfilling relationships once they embraced feminism.
The amount of information I learned from this conference was overwhelming, but I hope these quick themes are useful for other male feminists who want to talk to other men. It’s important to remember that men talking to men as peers can be effective, but we have to be careful not to silence the perspective of women. Thus, it’s also vital to mention the work of activist women and mention how we are able to be gender equality activists because of the brave women before us.