Men must be better allies to women

We must create a society that gives women the freedom to feel loved

This is a letter to all the men who create environments that are harmful to women, whether by unintentionally co-opting feminism to fit in to the “cool” liberal culture or through being blatantly ignorant on issues of gender equity. You cannot call yourself an ally if you are simply not committing assault; you must actively work to create a community whereby women can feel more than just safe. We must create a society that gives women the freedom to feel loved and valued in their bodies, the opportunity to feel safe and successful, and the respect to feel supported in their choices. We must rework our definition of masculinity to encourage and strengthen the women in our lives, as current manifestations of masculinity have failed us.

If you think sharing a status about the injustice inherent to the Brock Turner case or taking a gender studies class absolves you from your complicity in our patriarchal system, you are wrong. If you think having the privilege to not consider what you are wearing at night or what a political candidate says excuses your inaction, you are wrong. Likewise, there is a proclivity even amongst self-professed allies to fundamentally agree with the intentions of gender equity and social justice, and yet still criticize women’s rhetoric and methods in their fight for basic human dignity, particularly through condescension and tone policing.

That’s not allyship. That’s an expression of the toxic masculinity that assumes a man not only knows the struggles of womanhood, but actually knows better. I am not saying I know anything about these struggles myself or am at all impervious to societal sexism or conditioned misogyny. But I do know we cannot actually help women when we view ourselves as perfect, educated and agreeable allies, independent of the problem and outside of the confines of a male-dominated system. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are conditioned as men to use our masculinity to assert our power and dominance.

But this is not what true masculinity is or should be. Masculinity is not defined by the number of girls you’re talking to or the number you’ve slept with, the number of reps you can lift or the number of sports you play. It’s not about giving into “rape culture” and “party culture” – it’s about their active opposition and deconstruction.

Masculinity is about respect, about empathy, about understanding and supporting both men and women in their bodily choices. Being a man does not mean pushing yourself onto a woman (emotionally or physically) to show how strong or powerful you think you are. Being a man does not mean ignoring the claims of women to protect the weight and volume of men’s voices. We must be listeners. We must be validators. We must be fighters for those who cannot.

Gains for women do not detract from the relative status of men; as women progress, we as a society become better. In that vein, masculinity should not be constructed as something resistant or aggressive to femininity or womanhood; it should be a source for its cultivation. Masculinity should not be separate from or opposite to femininity, it is its complement.

I ask that you not only actively practice enthusiastic consent and forego judgment onto another based on the norms of sex, but also stand up for those society has deemed unworthy of the voice we are given. We need to use the injustice inherent to our male privilege to correctively create justice, and open spaces for those that have been in the shadows to feel protected and valued in the light. It is simply not enough to reject obtrusively masculine behavior — we must actively encourage female empowerment.

We need to make sure women feel safe, because we are the reason they do not. It is not the responsibility of women to prevent assault, gender-based shame, and sexual stereotyping. It is not the responsibility of women to expend the emotional labor to educate, convince, or persuade men as to the moral atrocities they endure daily. It is ours. Your worth is not defined by our patriarchy; it is defined by what you do to counteract it.

Alex Volpicello ’18 thanks his girlfriend for being an inspiration to him and can be reached at [email protected]. Message him for questions, feedback, or support.


Brown University