I feel regularly exhausted by sexism, misogyny and inequality. I think this is for two reasons.
The first is that it is an almost constant slew, a war of attrition on women’s validity to just exist. Whether it’s being asked if I’m going to “wear something sexy” to my performance review with a male team leader, learning that being “chicked” is the embarrassing emasculation of a man beaten by a woman in sport, or ‘everyday’ microaggressions like a man acknowledging every man in the room but not the women (I have experienced all of these).
The second is that although all women and other gender minorities experience these kinds of things, it’s often a very lonely and isolating experience. I often feel like I can’t speak up for fear of being the one to ‘make a scene’. This is why good allies are so important. It’s not that we need men to do things for us, but we need strong allies in positions of privilege to make sexism a less lonely thing to experience. In my view, that’s the only way we can eliminate gender inequality. Even Kate Sheppard and other early 20th century activists like her couldn’t have achieved universal suffrage without the help of male allies.
So my challenge is to men and other people in positions of privilege to challenge sexism, misogyny and inequality whenever they encounter it, whether there is a woman present or not. Inequality affects everyone, but it shouldn’t have to affect you directly in order for you to care.
After all, to an extent, I can relate. I’m a white middle class person, I don’t live with any disability, I’m fit and healthy, I’m employed and I have a roof over my head and money to save. I’m in a position of privilege in most ways aside from being a woman. I’m not a perfect ally to groups I don’t belong to, but I try to respect, listen and learn. I support them in appropriate ways. I ‘pass the megaphone’ – I will stand with people in solidarity but I do not speak over them and I believe their lived experiences. I see using my privilege to amplify disenfranchised voices as an important part of being a good citizen and indeed just being a decent person.
This is all we ask of male allies. Metaphorically, we need to sit on your shoulders as you hand us your megaphone. There are many things men can do to be good allies, but the first step is to just ask.
Gender equality matters to me because it’s about human rights. There’s a lot of rhetoric around “do it for your sister” or “care about it because everyone has a mother” but screw that. You shouldn’t have to have a female-identifying relative or be a woman yourself in order to care about equality. It’s about being a decent human being and a decent society.
By Rebecca Eng
Rebecca lives in Auckland and writes frankly about women needing allies, and how privileged women can be great allies too.