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To any men and boys reading, have you ever wondered how you can be an ally in the struggle for women’s liberation and against gender-based violence? Although gender-based violence is an urgent issue that is often left to women and gender non-conforming folks to deal with, as Minister of Families Nahanni Fontaine recently put it, this really isn’t a women’s issue. The root cause of gender-based violence is toxic masculinity, which comes from patriarchal and colonial values that continue to shape society all over the world. Men need to be involved in the process of building a new vision for what positive, healthy masculinity can look like. Male allyship is a key piece of ending gender-based violence.
Let’s talk about what allyship is not. Allyship is not performative. The purpose of allyship is not to make allies feel like they’re “good people”. It’s important we avoid centering ourselves and making the conversation about us and our feelings. Being an ally means we don’t have the same experience of marginalization as the people we’re supporting, and it’s really important to be humble and recognize that we are lacking that lived experience. We’re not here to lead the movement; we’re here to listen to those with lived experience and support the movement.
A great place to start for male allies is to begin unlearning toxic patriarchal values many of us were raised with and replace those values with a more healthy masculinity. The idea that boys don’t cry, that men should only express their feelings physically and through anger, that a man should be the breadwinner and head of household—all of these ideas are part of the root cause of gender-based violence. Not only do we need to unlearn these values ourselves, we need to encourage others to unlearn them. That means calling out toxic masculinity when we see it and identifying toxic masculinity in our own thought patterns.
Another key role we have as allies is to uplift marginalized voices. Have you ever been in a meeting or a class and noticed men dominating the conversation? Sometimes uplifting marginalized voices means quieting our own voices, taking up less space, and making space for others to be heard. It could also mean sharing content from feminist creators on social media or with your family. It’s especially important that we look to leadership from Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour, while at the same time not expecting them to do the work of educating us.