The actions of men like Aziz Ansari, Louis CK, and Dan Harmon are not just disappointing, they’re dangerous beyond the monstrous harm they have already done to the women they assaulted/harassed.
These men have built their careers around creating content that is not just sympathetic to feminism and gender equality, but actively situates themselves as leaders amongst the men and within feminist creatives.
The harm that their actions have caused is social, they’re eroding the trust that feminists can have in allies, making it all the harder for the cause. Men who claim to be allies are the most dangerous of all; they are the wolves in sheep’s clothing of social justice.
Being the only man in a team of 10 campaigners for girls’ rights and gender equality here at Plan International Australia, I have been taught some lessons about our place as men in the movement for equality.
National Union of Students UK Women’s Officer, Kelley Temple once said “Men who want to be feminists do not need to be given a space within feminism. They need to take the space they have in society and make it feminist.”
Men grow up believing their voice is always valid, always relevant, and that we’re entitled to be leaders. Because of that, we can’t seem to shut up about how to make women’s lives better when we enter feminist discussions.
This speaks to our socialised entitlement and privilege, the idea that not only are we entitled to our opinions on experiences we’ve never had, but that we are entitled to have them heard, and taken into consideration as well.
Instead, if we just listen, it is obvious that our femme friends, partners, family and colleagues probably already know what we have to say. After all, they’ve been thinking about sexism and gender inequality for a lot longer than we have. We have a responsibility as men who have an interest in feminism, to always explore the option to shut up, because our voices aren’t always necessary, needed, or wanted.
It really makes no sense for men to claim to be leaders in this space, in the politics of emancipation. We need to either get behind women, or get out of their way. I am conscious of the irony of this piece itself taking up space, stealing some of the oxygen of the debate, but regardless, it must be said.
Men: It is absolutely necessary for us to lead in our own spaces. We should be speaking to other men about masculinity. Above all else, holding those who call themselves allies to account; these are after all the most dangerous men of all, because they have earnt trust.
We need to teach consent to other men, ad nauseum. We can’t be cutting out our misogynistic friends because it is “too hard” or too much work to change them. “Too hard” is living under rape culture, not standing up to your mates. We owe feminists that much at least.
We should be, between us, seeking to untangle and understand masculinity, to deconstruct it and leave behind the problematic and the toxic, and to hold each other accountable to that end. It all starts with recognition of our privilege and recognition that feminists want that for us too, they are not our enemy.
For that reason we should be outraged when male allies, who have become leaders like Ansari and Harmon, are found to be creeps in their own right. We can’t be upset that feminists don’t trust us, look at what the “best of us” have done, that is a reflection on us, and it is our responsibility to change that.
We have a lot of personal reflection, Googling, and work to do on ourselves, myself certainly included. Becoming a better man is a feminist act, and we can only do this when we are completely aware to our privilege and most importantly, accountable.
Just don’t expect anyone to thank you for it.