How not to be an ally…

 

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Photo credit and further awesome information:
https://decolonizeallthethings.com/2014/03/03/how-to-be-an-ally-not-an-asshole/

I’ve seen various posts and articles online written about “how to be an ally” or “how not to be an ally” to marginalized groups.  I thought I’d contribute my thoughts to this debate.  Many people are no longer fond of the word ally.  I find it problematic in certain circumstances but potentially useful in others.  These are my own thoughts on being an ally and I am not attempting to speak for anyone or any group of people.

First, I think of the word ally as a verb, not a noun.  Ally is an active state, not a static one.  In order to be an ally, you must be continually working, learning, unlearning, listening to and magnifying the voices of people and/or groups you hope to work in allyship with.

I’m going to give some examples of how NOT to be an ally.  I’ve recently experienced issues with men calling themselves allies to women and declaring themselves feminists, without ever actually asking if they are working together with or supporting women.

1.Do not independently declare yourself an ally.

Generally, I consider myself an ally only when the person or group I’m working with considers me an ally.  In other words, my actions on their own don’t constitute being an ally unless the person or group I’m working with considers those actions positive, supportive or productive.  If you think you are being incredibly helpful, but the person you are trying to ally with thinks you are being a privileged idiot, then you aren’t an ally.  It’s not possible to be an ally in isolation.

2. Do not speak over or speak for marginalized people or groups and label that “being an ally”

If you are a man, working to end sexism, it is not your job to speak for women or about women’s experiences.  Speaking for women is not feminism.  Ways to speak out as an ally to women might include calling out male friends/coworkers/acquaintances on sexist behaviour, starting discussions with male friends about ways to reduce toxic masculinity, stepping in as a bystander to prevent street harassment by telling men this behaviour is not cool and so on.

3. Do not attempt to explain an oppression that you do not experience to those who do experience it.  In other words, no mansplaining, whitesplaining etc!

If you are in a position of privilege with respect to an experience do NOT try to explain that experience to the person who is being oppressed.   White folks, do not try to explain racism to People of Colour!  They experience it every day.  Men, do not try to explain sexism to women!  They experience it every day.  Don’t argue that a woman couldn’t possibly be experiencing sexism in a given circumstance.  If she feels something was sexist, that is her experience and it needs to be validated and believed. Instead, stop and listen to the experiences of marginalized groups.  This includes reading articles, books and consuming art or media created by marginalized groups and groups you are not a member of.   For men, this includes talking to your male friends about unlearning male privilege.  This includes white folks talking with other white folks about deconstructing white supremacy.

4. Do not ask the person experiencing a certain oppression to spend large amounts of emotional labor explaining their oppression (or even worse your privilege) to you.

This is why the internet and libraries exist.  Do your homework. Educate yourself.  Spend time reflecting on your privilege.  This does not mean it is always inappropriate to talk about oppression you don’t experience with someone who does experience it.  But please don’t expect that person to hold your hand and walk you through 101 level knowledge of their own oppression.  This also applies to asking 101 level questions about systemic oppression or systems the perpetuate oppression.  Do your research first.  It can be okay to ask a friend specific questions about their personal experience with oppression or specific ways they would like you to act as an ally, but respect their right to say no to these questions.  It’s not their job to educate you and they may not have the emotional energy to answer the questions at that moment.  Remember, that person is likely experiencing that oppression on a daily basis and this can be exhausting.  A man needs to respect that a woman may not have the energy to explain her experiences of sexism to him.  As a white person I need to respect that a Person of Colour may not have the energy to explain their experiences of racism to me.   Don’t expect people experiencing oppression to take care of your feelings related to your privilege.  Being an ally is not about you.

5. Do not lump all people experiencing an oppression together and expect their experiences to be homogeneous.  Diversity exists within marginalized groups.

An example of how not to be an ally to women:

Well, even feminists don’t all agree on what feminism is!  How do you expect men to listen to women if you can’t even agree yourselves?

Stop.  Just don’t do this.

There are as many different types of feminism as there are women on Earth.  Not ALL women agree on every aspect of every type of feminism.  That does NOT mean that feminism is inherently flawed or that women need to just “get it together” before men can work to end sexism.   It also does not mean that sexism does not exist. The same goes for other types of oppression.  People do not exist in boxes and are not single story, monoliths.  A trans woman of Colour who identifies as queer, will experience sexism and oppression in a different way to a white, cis-gender straight woman.  Some folks are facing multiple types of oppression and that is their lived reality.  It’s important to respect people’s diverse identities and experiences while acting as an ally.

6.  Do not expect a cookie, pat on the back or gold star. 

Do the work of allyship and unlearning privilege because it’s the right thing to do. Being a good person and working to end oppression isn’t a badge of honor.  You don’t get a reward for not being a racist.  Men don’t get praised for NOT being a toxic, sexist animal.  Doing the bare minimum of not being a shitty person isn’t enough.  Also, don’t go around proclaiming yourself ally of the year.   Being an ally is not about you, it’s about working to end oppression.

For more information about allyship and anti-o work, please check out this amazing resource The Anti-Oppression Network:

allyship

Or this amazing post by blogger Mia McKenzie:

https://www.bgdblog.org/2013/06/20136178-ways-not-to-be-an-ally/

 

 

 

Mansplaining.

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I’m single right now.  Single enough that I sometimes frequent online dating apps, despite the peril and the ridiculousness involved.

I’m also queer.

This is the term I use to self identify my sexual orientation.  Key word being “self” identify.

Recently, I’ve been hoping to meet another woman or anyone who doesn’t identify as a cisgender man.  I haven’t met anyone.  There are fewer people online who are also not straight, and so today I switched my profile to show me everyone (men and women).

I messaged briefly with this guy, he seemed interesting and apparently we were a 92% match.  That was BEFORE the train wreck of mansplaining that derailed the conversation.

Dude: What’s the difference between bisexual and queer?

Me: It’s just another word for not straight. I’d be open to dating any gender, including trans folks, so bisexual doesn’t seem to quite fit and I just like that way of self identifying.  It seems to fit.

Dude: Isn’t that pansexual?

Me: (silently thinking is this actually happening?)  Yes, that’s true. pansexual, but I identify more with queer. I just looked it up on Wikipedia and it gives a decent explanation of it:

Because of the context in which it was reclaimed, queer has sociopolitical connotations and is often preferred by those who are activists—namely, by those who strongly reject traditional gender identities; reject distinct sexual identities such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight; or see themselves as oppressed by the homonormativity of the politics of the broader “gay” or “LGBT” community. In this usage, queer retains its historical connotation of “outside the bounds of normal society” and can be construed as “breaking the rules for sex and gender”. It can be preferred because of its ambiguity, which allows queer-identifying people to avoid the sometimes rigid boundaries that are associated with labels such as “gay”, “lesbian”, or even “transgender

….so… I like it for those reasons.

Dude:  I get that but, assuming the purpose is to indicate who you’re (sexually) attracted to, selecting “queer” seems unnecessarily vague. Especially given that queer could meant that you’re gay, bisexual, pansexual or everything in between.

Me:  That’s what it means..and that’s okay.

Dude: silence

What the actual f#@k just happened?  This complete stranger,who I’d known for about 5 minutes online, decided that my sexual orientation was “unnecessarily vague” and that he knew a better word (pansexual) for me to use to define myself more clearly.

This is a terrible example of mansplaining and oppression rolled into one.

In my experience, folks choose words to define themselves based on how they feel and how they want to express themselves.  The words marginalized groups use to define themselves are important, and often have historical or political significance.  Nobody has the right to tell someone else that their identity is incorrect or inconvenient.

This is the type of binary thinking which problematically excludes so many people.  People don’t just exist in boxes: gay or straight, man or woman, black or white, disabled or able bodied and so on.  There are beautiful spectrums of folks in this world, people who identify all along those spectrums and don’t identify with binary concepts.  Self identification doesn’t exist for the convenience of others.

When it comes from outside it’s a label and labels are for jars, not people.  When it comes from inside, self identification can be liberating and empowering.

Please, ask questions from a place of curiosity if you do not understand a word or concept.  Better yet, educate yourself first.  That’s what google is there for!  But don’t assume that you know a better, more accurate or clearer word for someone to use to define their own lived experience.  It’s not cool, it’s oppressive and it is certainly not attractive.