Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Be a Male Ally

The self-professed king of the male feminists has had his downfall, sparking a flurry of social media outrage. My initial reaction to his reprehensible behavior was that of equal parts disgust and anxiety. So few men call themselves feminist that I was genuinely afraid I might be lumped in with him. Often, I've taken an apologist's space, speaking in front of a skeptical, yet potentially sympathetic audience. It took me a while to learn the lingo and refine my beliefs, and I intend to continue to build upon those initial gains for the rest of my life. 

These times do not always invite trust and belief, but I have a great admiration for those who leave the possibility for both open. Polarization is the buzzword for the current day, from Congress to the workplace; I often wonder whether this is perception or reality. There have been other periods in history full of strife, mistrust, and spleen for an enemy or adversary. Today we are aboard a ship headed for the New World, with only minimal understanding of how to reach our intended destination.
Relatively few men have been involved in feminist discourse. Some recoil from the threat of real or imagined emasculation, as though their very manhood is on the chopping block. This comes across as hostility, but it is mostly based in fear. Others have never had any prior reason to entertain what they see only as womens' issues and feel no compelling reason to start now. They've never been taught to think otherwise.

I won't pretend that I will ever understand all of it. None of us pick our parents, our upbringing, our social class, our racial identity, our sexual orientation, and our biological gender. We are, to some extent, locked into a particular mindset from birth. All of our thoughts and feelings are filtered first through that kaleidoscope, though we can learn to look outside ourselves for the sake of compassion and mercy. Additionally, we are highly indebted to a generational mindset that will frame our thoughts for the whole of our lives. This makes it difficult for us to push aside judgment for the sake of greater comprehension, especially when that quantam leap cannot be easily understood.

Feminism has sought to encourage intersections between broad concepts like race and poverty, religion and class conflict. If I were speaking of a religious matter, I'd say that the current state of affairs is part of continuing revelation. Ideas and philosophies change dramatically over time. Someone sees a need for change and casts aside a prior way of thinking. Forty years ago has everything and nothing in common with today.

How does one become a male ally? The answer depends entirely on the person. Each of us starts somewhere. Listening is essential and with it a willingness to be constantly challenged for the sake of greater growth and personal development. Constructive criticism produces maturation of perspective and the humility necessary to continue to learn. We're all susceptible to hubris, especially when we think we no longer have a need to be taught. That is our challenge and the ideal we seek, although each of us will fall short of it from time to time. 

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