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There is a new wind blowing through society. Women are standing up for themselves, speaking out against decades - no: centuries - of sexual harassment and abuse. MeToo and TimesUp are both movements in which women speak out about their experiences with sexual harassment and where we take a stand and put men who feel entitled to our bodies on notice. There have been men too who have spoken out against this behaviour. Some celebrities who wore a TimesUp pin at the Golden Globes Award ceremony in support of this movement.
I am not here to argue that men cannot support this cause. Or that men cannot be valuable allies. But I still see a number of men writing under the hashtag #womenspeakout or joining female online spaces while clearly displaying that they do NOT understand what the movement is about. These are not bad men with bad intentions. These are men with good intentions who still don't really get it. So let me explain to our male allies what you can do to really be welcomed in safe spaces for women.
Are you a saviour or an ally?
It was a (black) woman who started the MeToo movement and women made it successful. We did not need men to tell us how to bring the perpetual, continuous harassment of women to the attention of men. We did not need men to campaign for us, the MeToo campaign was successful before any man jumped on the bandwagon. In fact, men were suspiciously quiet during the early days of MeToo or, if you did hear them, they tried to downplay the epidemic of sexual harassment. Only when it became abundantly clear that MeToo had traction did male allies speak up.
We are happy that men are also speaking up, don't get me wrong. But don't expect us to be grateful. We need you to fight with us, not for us. We are not looking for someone to save us, someone to solve this problem for us. In order to completely eradicate sexual harassment, men have to change the way they view women. They have to solve their own sense of entitlement. We don't want to be told "you should do this..." or "what if you try that...". We want to hear "yes, this is a problem and we will call each other out when we see another man behaving this way." We need allies, not saviours.
Check your ego at the door
Chances are, if you go into safe spaces for women, you will hear a lot of things you may not like. Women will talk openly about their experiences with men harassing them. You will hear a lot of "men always dismiss an idea when it comes from a woman" or "men never give a compliment without expecting something back". You are going to feel attacked and you may want to pipe up and say, "hey, not all men are like that. I am not like that." Don't do that. You don't deserve a medal for being a half decent human being. There are no participation trophies in this fight.
Instead, express outrage that women are treated the way they are. Accept a woman's experience without question. You don't know what it's like to be a woman. One of the most heard complaints women express? It's that men don't believe them. Ever. Not just about sexual harassment. So if you go into a safe space for women and start questioning their experience, you are just providing more fuel to the "all men" argument.
Listen before talking
Which brings me to the next point. Listen. I know that men are raised to be listened to and women are raised to be quiet. But guess what? Times are changing and women want to be heard. We are sick of always being shut up, our words questioned or twisted. If you truly are an ally to the MeToo and TimesUp cause, then you should listen when women talk. Hear about our experiences. Really listen without getting defensive or offended. Don't dismiss our words. Even if you have a hard time believing what you are hearing, don't question us.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but if you are lucky enough to be invited into a safe space for women, keep your opinion to yourself. Unless you are really sure that you are furthering the cause, don't butt into a conversation demanding to be heard. Don't try to temper our anger. We have every right to be angry - you are lucky we are not spitting with rage every single day. If something confuses you, don't immediately challenge it. Acknowledge that it is outside of your sphere of experience and ask for more information if you feel you need it. But in a respectful way, not in a challenging way.
No jokes, please
As I said at the beginning of this article, women have experienced sexual harassment for centuries. This is the reality we live, a reality we are fighting very hard to change. So if you consider yourself an ally, someone who will fight with women, then you don't joke about this. Sexual harassment is not a laughing matter. If you think it is, then you are not really an ally. If you think it's funny to make gender stereotypical jokes, you are not really fighting with us. I don't think you are really fighting for us then either.
Women are sick of hearing jokes which depict us in a derogatory manner. And often men will make an offensive statement in the guise of a joke. Just adding "it's just a joke" does not make the insult any less hurtful. Coming into safe spaces for women and then complaining no one can take a joke when you insult women is a sure way to get kicked out. Most of us have a great sense of humour. Most of us love joking around. But when a man comes in and makes us the butt of the joke, don't be surprised when we get angry. Sexual harassment is not something to make fun of.
All we are asking for is respect. Male allies are definitely welcome in safe spaces for women, but treat this space accordingly. With respect. You are in our house, so you should abide by our rules. Don't know the rules? Then ask. Or be quiet and listen and learn. Acknowledge that you don't know what it's like to be a woman and be open to learning about new experiences.
To be an ally is the right thing to do. Do so with respect and humility and you are welcome in any safe space for women.