Quite often when I am having a discussion about feminism, one of the self proclaimed ‘nice’ guys will interrupt me in-between to ask me to educate him on feminism. There was a time earlier, when I used to explain the need and meaning of feminism to men or women quite eagerly. I no longer want to do that because I consider it exhausting to explain to people something as obvious as how power dynamics of the society we live in constantly oppress women or that women should have basic human rights.
So if I politely decline to ‘educate’ him, I am told that if I want men to be an ally, then I should at least ‘try’ to educate them. Or that I should be grateful that men are at least taking interest in knowing about feminism.
Firstly, men don’t deserve my ‘gratitude’ for taking interest in feminism. Patriarchy, as a social system, is responsible for the suppression of women on a daily basis. So you don’t get a cookie for taking interest in or being a part of the struggle against a system of oppression that should’t have existed in the first place. Fighting for equal rights does’t make you a ‘great guy’, it is a basic human thing to do.
Secondly, If someone actually tries to educate you, then great, you should really listen to them. There is nothing wrong with explaining your views and ideologies to someone, if you want to. But if someone has no interest in educating you, then you have no right to whine about how your question and theories are not discussed right away. It is men complaining about how women don’t do enough to educate them about their privilege. It takes a lot of energy and patience to educate someone about something as complicated as patriarchy and systemic oppression.
women experiences patriarchal biases on a first hand basis. So learn to be okay with just being an ally and not a dominant voice in the discussion.
More often than not these men will ask their questions while a woman is already talking, without bothering to think about their own privilege. This efficiently works as a tool to actually silence women when they are talking about their struggles. By asking a woman to divert her entire energy in answering their question, they are actually abusing the privilege they are so keen to learn about.
Whenever I refuse to educate a man about such issues, a common response is that how will they learn if I don’t teach them. Feminism is not something that can be spoon-fed, because someone is too lazy to actually make an effort by themselves. I am happy if men want to learn about feminism, but what men need to realise is that the weight of education is on them, and not women. You need to first educate yourself and then ask questions about it.
If you genuinely want to be an ally, then you need to realise that it’s your responsibly to learn about everyday sexism and misogyny and how to eliminate those aspects of the society. It is men who are beneficiaries of the heteronormative patriarchal society, and they need to devise ways to unlearn their sexist ideals, behaviours and belief systems and to contribute in creating a society where women are provided an equal space.
Start by listening to women and their struggles when they talk about misogyny and how it operates as an oppressive force in the society. Don’t dismiss their words and invalidate their stories and struggles because it is something you haven’t experienced or if it makes you uncomfortable and stop finding excuses for toxic masculine behaviours.
Read articles and books about feminism or even those which are not feminist but are written by women. Learn about intersectional feminism and its dynamics. Read about how male privilege works in the society in the most subtle ways also and it not always about aggressive male behaviour.
Once you realise male privilege and the aspects of the struggle against it, you will start to realise how it is to be suppressed and silenced in a society. It is not difficult to learn about these things in such a patriarchal society that we live in. You need to sit and actually think about the realities of women’s lives. All you have to do is to listen without interrupting and reading without any preconceived biases.
It is men who are beneficiaries of the heteronormative patriarchal society, and they need to devise ways to unlearn their sexist ideals, behaviours and belief systems.
After you have educated yourself about it, you can then have a discussion with women or men, but not by silencing other voices. First listen and then speak. Also, you need to realise that sometimes in this fight, a woman’s voice and struggles are more important because she experiences patriarchal biases on a first hand basis. So learn to be okay with just being an ally and not a dominant voice in the discussion.
This whole learning process is going to be very difficult and it will make you uncomfortable, but that’s the problem. We don’t discuss about gender relations because it is an uncomfortable discussion for many and so it becomes our responsibility to make it normal. Realise that doing all of this won’t make you a ‘hero’ and you shouldn’t expect accolades and applause for it.
Lastly, don’t expect women to educate you about feminism. You can ask women about their struggles with patriarchy but you should be fine if she doesn’t want to share her story with you. Men shouldn’t expect women to amend the feminist circles to fit them in. Instead, they should amend themselves to fit in the feminist circle.
Featured Image Source: Signs Journal