We talked a lot about the importance of becoming a women’s ally. As we look closely at masculinity, men also need you on their side. Help them in these 6 ways.
A common strategy to inspire men to become better humans is to beat them until they mould into the desired shape. Somewhat oddly, it doesn’t always work. Here is a dangerous new strategy: use a carrot as well as a stick and maybe, like, help them.
If you’re a man these days, you likely feel that there is a whole bunch of people standing over you with sticks, telling you how toxic you are and how much you need to change.
If you don’t want to change, they’ll hit you hard, because you bloody well should!
If you do want to change, they’ll hit you hard, because you should have done it already!
If you are working hard to change, they’ll hit you, too, because come on, what’s so difficult about unlearning years of social conditioning, standing up against centuries of cultural narratives, and upending the system of values and incentives you internalised throughout your life?
And if you have already changed, one of them might praise you, but all the others will hit you even harder because it turns out that they all had slightly different ideas on how you were meant to change in the first place.
It is a real mystery why this process doesn’t have more takers.
So here is a crazy thought: Maybe use a carrot as well as a stick?
Because men can indeed be a bit fragile. We have emotions nobody taught us to express. We have fears, and fear of change is one of them. And we can be very confused.
We could really use some help dealing with all that.
And yes — men do find it hard to give up privilege. Let those of you who find it easy to give up your white, able-bodied, middle-class, heterosexual, cis-gendered, non-immigrant, beauty, age, or geographical privileges — let you throw the first stone.
Or maybe instead of fighting with sticks and stones, we could just support each other in creating a better world.
Just as women need allies on their journeys, so do men.
How can you inspire and support men who might not be shining examples straight out of a feminist utopia but aren’t exactly monsters either and want to be better (that is, the great majority of men)?
1. Allow men to be vulnerable
You know this Friends plotline with Rachel dating Bruce Willis? He’s a big tough guy and all, but at some point, he breaks down and gets super emotional. And she… ridicules him for it in front of the gang and breaks up with him!
This isn’t just fiction — this happens to guys all the time. People tell us we should be vulnerable, but when we are, they only confirm toxic narratives: vulnerability makes you weak, and you will regret it. You’d better hide your soft belly back into a hard shell.
And remember that when boys cry, they won’t just cry about the things you think they should cry about. The things that are easy and convenient to deal with for you.
We will cry about what hurts us.
We will cry about lost connection with our fathers and having to play a role, but also about feelings of inadequacy, sexual frustration, feeling lost in a world of changing values, hurt by misandry…
We need to feel supported in all those cases, not supported in some but ridiculed in others.
2. Guide men through the loss of privilege
Yes, men will absolutely cry to no end about losing undeserved privilege. But you know what defines privilege? That it is invisible to those who have it.
Let that sink in while I hold the stick you used to beat someone for not seeing what is by definition invisible to them.
And remind me, how is your privilege treating you? Are you donating 20% of your middle-class salary to help those born in poverty? You do at least regularly give up opportunities you have because of your race and pass them on to someone from a minority group, right?
Men need a kind ally to first make our privilege visible to us. As we lose it, we need to know that it is for a good cause. We need a firm but gentle prompt to do the right thing. We need to see that there is a place for us in the future we’re building, and it isn’t all that bad.
3. Help men develop emotional intelligence
It is no wonder men don’t know how to deal with their emotions — nobody ever taught us! If anything, we’ve been taught that not dealing with our emotions is the manly thing to do.
I wrote about this at length, but bashing men for lacking emotional skills is like bashing women for lacking mathematical skills. Maybe it’s better to just teach them the skills.
4. Guide men through their mistakes
Nobody decides to make a massive change to their beliefs, lifestyle, and values one day and then wakes up with everything sorted the next.
Change is a process, and in our first steps, we’re not that different from our old, problematic selves. We still hold many wrong beliefs. Still have bad habits.
Encouraging change means encouraging steps in the right direction. When we misstep or try to go back, show us the stick, sure. But also show us how we erred and what we should do instead. Maybe even do it in a kind, supportive way. You know, the carrot part.
5. Adjust your criticism to the offense
Criticism, especially online, tends to be indiscriminate and has only one setting: up to 11.
I see it all the time: a guy who is generally quite decent and clearly on a way to positive change says something ignorant that could be understood as sexist. Next thing, shit is poured on him as if he was an Andrew Tate — Hitler mutant.
Sometimes, somebody will write: hey, I see you’re generally a sensible person, but this one thing you said could do with some work. That’s what an ally would say. Criticise, by all means, but at a level that’s appropriate to the situation and the person you are talking to.
We need to be able to tell we are going in the right direction, and toning down on the criticism when we are, would be a good indication.
6. Throw us a carrot
We are all just human, and we all need some little encouragement to stay on the right track. You might feel like men shouldn’t need doggy treats to learn to do the right thing, but you know what? We do.
And get off your high moral horse, because I bet that you do too. Like you never needed a little prod to do the right thing that wasn’t convenient to you. Remind me, how is setting aside some time in your week to volunteer for a disability charity going?
Be an ally to your ally
You can’t expect us to fight your corner, but when we need your help, turn around and say: dude, stop whining, you should have figured that out decades ago. You need to be an ally to your ally.
An ally is not a servant, mind you. Nobody asks you to support men in things that effectively uphold the patriarchy. Nobody asks you to coddle them as they continue to resist any change.
Allies help each other reach a joint goal. They work together on achieving something they all want.
And sure, some guys don’t want any form of equality. But most of us are perfectly willing to look beyond our selfish short-term interests to build a fairer future — we just don’t want to feel like we are asked to put in all the work, watch others reap the benefits, and then get bashed as we’ve never done anything anyway.
Women need allies on their journeys. Men also need allies. Instead of fighting each other in a pointless gender war, let’s become allies in building a gender peace.