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Thoughts on Being an Effective Ally to Women

I was one of the few lucky men to attend the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Forum on Women in Beijing. I participated in the conference with the Re-evaluation-Counseling-sponsored "No Limits For Women Project." I loved being at the Conference. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It was exhilarating to be with so many powerful women and men from around the world, thinking about women's liberation issues and planning to improve the situation of women everywhere.

The conference demonstrated that the women's movement is powerful. Women are well organized and have deep connections around the world. We men have a lot to learn from women about developing a liberation movement.

I originally decided to go to Beijing because I wanted to get a sense of the power of Re-evaluation Counseling in the world beyond our local Communities. I have used RC effectively in my workplace and with my family, yet I wanted to get a sense of our potential influence on a much bigger scale; in this case, a global scale. I also decided to go as an ally to women. The objective for the men in the "No Limits For Women Project" was to support the women's leadership and help make the conference function well. Lastly, I wanted to expand my vision of the possibilities of my work with Re-evaluation Counseling and find ways to extend my influence in the world around me for the liberation of all human beings.

As a man I felt incredibly welcomed by the women. There seemed to be an understanding that the advancement of women's liberation will ultimately necessitate the support and liberation of men as well. Many women thanked me for attending as an ally and encouraged my participation in seminars. In fact, our men's presence gave the women a sounding board for their issues and support for their struggles. I used the conference as an opportunity to learn as much as possible about the situation of women around the world. I learned that men can be helpful to women's liberation in important ways, particularly in supporting women's leadership, counseling them well, and deciding to be allies.

The balance of this article outlines some of my revelations from attending the Beijing Conference about being a more effective ally to women. I have divided it into two parts: areas for men to focus on among themselves, and areas for men to work on directly with women. First, it is important to review the general concept of men's roles as allies to women.

MEN'S ROLES AS ALLIES TO WOMEN

A man's role as an ally to women is to support their liberation by interrupting the oppression of women, assisting women to heal from the effects of past hurts, and supporting women's leadership. Making the decision to be an ally actually has many important benefits for men:

  • It helps to create a world in which the women in our lives can flourish. A world where all women are operating on their intelligence and power will offer incredible rewards for all of us, women and men alike.

     

  • Acting as an ally to women gives men a chance to heal their own hurts that were set in during their early conditioning to take on the sexist role. Not only do these old hurts influence men to adopt a sexist role towards women, they also serve to narrowly define men's gender roles. To the extent that men can heal the early hurts that set them up to act sexist, they can expand the scope of behavior that is considered acceptable for men.

In other words, men can lead more diverse and relaxed lives through a decision to be allies to women.

MEN'S WORK WITH MEN TO BECOME MORE EFFECTIVE ALLIES FOR WOMEN

Attitudes to adopt: It is important for men to adopt an attitude of complete delight in themselves when being allies to women, and to act on the inherent reality that men are good. Men can demonstrate this self-delight, by being self-assured, confident, relaxed, open, and connected with women. Men can also act on the expectation that women will be absolutely delighted to have them as allies. I tried this at the conference and I was encouraged by the enthusiastic response. Women want men as allies.

Recognize ourselves as leaders: All men (and women) have an innate ability to lead and inspire other humans to end oppression. Simply making the decision to be an ally to women is a powerful step out of the oppressive limits of men's conditioned gender roles. For men, it may never feel as though we are ready enough to be effective allies. Men merely counseling on our fears about inadequacy will not make much of a difference for women. Action will make the difference. Once we make the decision to act and then take action, we will contradict our feelings that once held us back and be provided an excellent opportunity to discharge our old hurts.

Analyze motivations for being an ally: We must be clear about the nature of our motivations for eliminating sexism. While this work is important, men should be careful not to work out of obligation or self-loathing. I have seen men work as allies because they feel bad about themselves (and want women's approval) or they want to be "useful." When such motivations override complete delight in ourselves, then it makes sense to discharge the negative feelings if we want to be more effective allies to women. Men will be more able to assist women when we operate from a place of knowing our complete goodness as men.

Be bold: The decision to be an ally is an opportunity to take our leadership into areas that do not feel safe or comfortable. We can try new ideas, make big mistakes, get close with people different from ourselves that do not look "safe." We can accelerate our own re-emergence if we use this as an opportunity to discharge the feelings that arise. I personally found a high correlation between my huge blunders and great sessions at the Conference.

Don't dramatize: When men get restimulated by being allies to women there may be a temptation to dramatize our hurts. We need to make the decision to "stay counselor" and save the feelings for a session. Women are not likely to feel safe around men who dramatize their feelings.

Plan for great sessions: Men acting as allies to women will experience a lot of feelings. In fact, as we challenge our gender conditioning we may face our most chronic distresses. We can remember that these are just feelings. We can plan for this and set up sessions in advance to discharge the feelings. We can organize men into support groups. We can find women counselors to offer their unique counseling perspective from outside men's internalized oppression.

Support other men's leadership: We must discharge any feelings that get in the way of completely supporting other men's leadership. Men's isolation and competitive patterns can come up in the presence of other male leaders. Also, we may be restimulated by men who step outside traditional gender roles and challenge institutions or customs held rigidly in place by fear. We should make the decision to support these men, to get in close with them and notice they are human beings. Any attempt to cut through men's internalized isolation will better equip men to work with women against sexism.

Expand the scope of men's liberation efforts: Men's efforts as allies will not be completely effective if confined to only eliminating sexism or other narrow definitions of traditional "men's liberation" work. We need to expand the scope to eliminating white racism and to working-class liberation, Jewish liberation, Catholic liberation, young people's and young adults' liberation, etc. These liberation movements are by definition aspects of men's and women's liberation. Any success in one area will enrich our lives and enable us to be more effective allies for other groups.

MEN WORKING DIRECTLY WITH WOMEN

Strive for complete closeness in relationships with women: Go after complete closeness with women. This will contradict the distresses about male-female relationships that are often patriarchal or sexist. Men will benefit by exploring a wide variety of ways to be close with women, starting by making friends and building towards long-lasting friendships. If necessary, we can discharge any sexual restimulation that may arise and focus on emotional closeness. Men can be bold by seeking out relationships with women who don't necessarily look "safe" or "approachable" based on our history. All men have the ability to develop deep, loving, and close relationships with all women.

Learn about women's lives: In order to be good allies for women, men need to learn in real terms about the oppression of sexism. We need to ask women to tell their stories and then listen well. Men are often expected to "know it all," yet here is a place where we must rely on women's experiences. We can do research, read books on women's issues, and learn about the impact of sexism on women. We can do whatever it takes to make the link between the abstract concept of sexism and the real situations of women in our lives.

Stop the hurts: We must interrupt the mistreatment of women and work to change the institutions that oppress them. Opportunities abound for men to directly challenge sexism-from stopping physical violence to correcting other men's sexist behavior "man-to-man." Also, men can create or fight for more humane policies for women in institutions where we have personal influence (even when it feels that men cannot make an impact).

Heal the hurts: We can assist women in healing the hurts of sexism by counseling them well. Men can offer women a unique counseling perspective outside of the oppression. We need to be bold and not settle for women acting within the internalized oppression. Men may need to discharge on where it becomes difficult to counsel women. This may have its roots in men's own chronic distress set in during our sexist conditioning. Also, as men appear safe, women may offer us their most difficult distresses. We should welcome the feelings and be prepared for some intense sessions as counselor.

Support women's leadership: Men's thoughtful support of women's leadership will accelerate women's liberation. This will include counseling women well and sharing the work. Men will need to discharge any feelings that may get in the way of completely supporting women's leadership, particularly around the expectation that men are supposed to lead and women follow. Rather, let's challenge women's internalized oppression, demonstrate high expectations of women's leadership abilities, and personally commit to their success.

I am very pleased about my decision to attend the Beijing Conference. I learned a lot about myself and got a good perspective on the role of liberation work in the world. My views on the power of women, the oppressive nature of gender roles, and the effectiveness of Re-evaluation Counseling have shifted permanently. Working on being an ally to women has not only deepened my connection with women but has made me feel more relaxed and secure as a man.

John Kinsella
San Francisco, California, USA


Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00