“And so, what I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.” -Alexandria Ocasio Cortez
This statement was part of Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s speech in response to the verbal abuse she faced from Representative Ted Yoho on the Capitol steps, and the subsequent excuses he provided for his behavior. Rep. Yoho mentioned that he is aware of the language he uses - referring to the offensive language used about Rep. Ocasio Cortez to the press because he has a wife and two daughters. But, as AOC points out in her speech, having women in your life, even in your immediate family, does not provide a free pass to men. Knowing or loving women is only a passive action; indeed, to truly respect and support women, men must be active and intersectional male allies.
To be an active male ally means doing the work yourself. Allyship includes educating yourself and others, standing up for equality for women in the home and in the workplace, and donating your time and money to working to empower women. There are so many phenomenal resources out there, from books to lectures to social media posts where you can learn about the current state of gender equity in the United States and around the globe. Using these resources, including WFRI’s Male Ally Toolkit, you can find ways to be an active part of the solution. Whether it's voting for women running for public office, contributing to organizations that support women, or advocating for fair workplace policies and wage equality, male allies can be an essential part of the fight for gender equity.
Another vital aspect of male allyship is speaking up when you see sexism occurring. Just as Rep. Roger Williams stood by while Rep. Yoho spoke insulted Rep. Ocasio Cortez, far too often, men sit back as women face discrimination and sexism. As a college student, I’ve witnessed this occurring in multiple spaces. Many majors and classes still tend to be dominated by men, creating an environment where female students’ perspectives can be dismissed and discouraged. Outside the classroom, “locker room talk,” and the hypersexualization of women continues to permeate our social culture. In these instances and more, men must look to speak up against their peers and colleagues to address this sexism, while also amplifying women’s voices and holding space for their thoughts and needs.
Second, to be an intersectional male ally means that you respect all women, including women of all races, ages, sexual orientations, and identities. In the case of Rep Yoho and AOC, respecting your wife and daughters, but publicly name-calling your female colleagues doesn’t respect women. Only respecting women, you’re attracted to isn’t respecting women. Invalidating the womanhood of trans women isn’t respecting women. Belying the pain of black women, especially during childbirth, isn't respecting women. Consuming porn but not supporting the sex work industry and sex workers themselves is a massive contradiction. If you don’t support all women, you support no women. It is vital for all of us - of all gender identities - to examine our implicit biases and how they affect the way we practice feminism.
Interning at Women’s Fund of Rhode Island this summer and attending the 100 Men for Gender Equity launch event in June has emphasized the importance of actively having men involved in the fight for gender equity. I see many men in my life who stand up against sexism and are working to make a more just environment at school, work, and home for women. However, until all men are active participants, and women of all identities are acknowledged and included in this work, the push for male allyship must continue.