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Men as Allies

By Allan Kupersmith, AWP Development Intern

Being a cis-gender man who interns at A Woman’s Place, has made me think about how my gender affects my place at AWP and how I can be a helpful and supportive ally. Last month’s charges of psychical, emotional, and racial abuse against former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman should give men like myself more to think about. Schneiderman, a vocal supporter of #Times Up and #MeToo who had prosecuted Harvey Weinstein, is the same man whose been accused of slapping and choking romantic partners, threatening to tap their phones, and threatening to kill them should they break up with him. As such, writers such as The Nation’s Katha Pollit, and The Guardian’s Rosemary Westwood  have questioned the place and role of men in feminism. Ultimately,  Men who are progressive and will standup against issues like domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault are capable of committing them.

When Dave Chapelle joked that a handsome man wouldn’t be accused of rape and assault like Harvey Weinstein has been, he was supporting the myth that predatory men are all obviously evil and scary looking.  This is not the case, and abusive men can come in all forms. This is something that male feminists like myself need to acknowledge and learn from. While I do believe that cisgender men can be allies, we do have to take the backseat and listen. We should be supportive, but make no attempts to hijack the movement, and need to avoid making it about ourselves.

Steve Bloomfield of The Guardian’s piece After 30 Years, I’m Boycotting Aston Villa. Why? John Terry’s Past Racist Language is an unintentional showcase for this reductive approach. While it deals with a different problem, Bloomfield’s favorite soccer team signing a player who was suspended and fined for racially abusing an opponent, the writer made the issue about himself. There was no self-reflection or analysis of his fandom. Bloomfield could’ve grappled with instances of Aston Villa player’s  anti-Semitism and domestic abuse, before getting into his reasons for shunning the team he supported for 30 years. He could’ve used this to have a dialogue with other soccer fans about the game’s problems with racism, homophobia, sexism, and misogyny. Being a soccer fan, it’s frustrating that there’s isn’t much reflection and discussion on these issues, as well as the morality of supporting teams that sign toxic and morally dubious individuals[1]. While he might’ve had noble goals, Bloomfield’s rejection comes across as him using Villa signing the widely-disliked John Terry to make himself look good while ignoring his own willingness to ignore and cheer on troublesome individuals.

At the same time, cisgender men should still be vocal about issues like domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault. Actor and former NFL player Terry Crews has talked about his abusive father, toxic masculinity, and being groped by WME Agent Adam Venit. He’s also been open about his own failings, stating:

“I am guilty. I believed, simply because I was a man, that I was more valuable than my wife and the other women in my life.”

Acknowledging your own shortcomings and troublesome beliefs are an important part of being an ally. I had previously written about the late Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys, and his life as a feminist and advocate. Part of what made MCA significant was that he acknowledged his previous sexism and misogyny and tried to atone for it. Looking back, I can see that I’ve held misogynist and sexist beliefs before, and have been ignorant towards things deemed “women’s issues”. No one can pretend that we’ve always been a pure, perfect, progressive ally. Instead, we must acknowledge our failings and try to use them to educate others in order to move forward.

Despite the presence of #TimesUp, #MeToo, and numerous strong female voices; abusive and criminal men continue to succeed. In male dominated spaces straight, white, cisgender men are often the only ones who will be listened to. Being a heterosexual, cisgender man, who can sometimes pass for being all-white[2], I have to acknowledge that there are spaces when it’s my voice who will be listened to. Even if the issues don’t pertain to me as much as others, my take and views on it are the ones getting through. Ultimately, that privilege is something that myself and other men like me have to use.

[1] I support Liverpool F.C., a team which like Aston Villa and many other clubs, has employed individuals who can be deemed deeply problematic. They include former striker Luis Suarez who was fined and suspended for racially abusing an opponent, and biting opposition players three times.

[2] I am half-Asian and half-white. During the winter my skin gets lighter so people will assume that I’m all white. However, it gets darker during the spring and summer and people will assume that I’m of a non-Caucasian, I often get mistaken for being Latino, background.

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