One of the main goals of HeForShe is for boys and men to become the leaders in the movement toward gender equality. After all, the campaign is called “Heforshe.” Like I had said in a recent post, feminism is largely misconstrued nowadays. Because of this misconception of feminism, people often think only women can hold the identity of a feminist. This just isn’t the case, and Emma Watson clearly stated this in her speech and spoke to men and boys directly with: “I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too” (“Emma Watson” UN Women).
Before Watson made this speech and before HeForShe began, “male allies” to women did exist. But what exactly are “male allies”? Are they different from feminists who happen to identify as male?
Funnily enough, it is a bit hard to track down a formal definition for a “male ally,” even though the term is used quite often. Formal definitions for gay allies do exist, which can help determine what it exactly means to be a male ally. A gay ally is commonly defined in this way: “Typically any non-LGBT person who supports and stands up for the rights of LGBT people, though LGBT people can be allies, such as a lesbian who is an ally to a transgender person” (University of Michigan).
So, would a male ally be someone who identifies as male and who personally advocates for equal rights and fair treatment of women? Wouldn’t that just make a person a feminist? Some have argued that men calling themselves “male allies” or sometimes “feminist allies” are afraid to label themselves as a feminist, and because of this perpetuate the false assumption that only women are feminist (Nerdy Feminist).
In addition to the frustration people have with the term “male ally” rather than just “feminist”, there was recent controversy during the Male Allies Panel at the Grace Hopper Celebration. The panel brought together male tech leaders to discuss how men could advocate for women in the tech industry (Larson). Unfortunately, the panel didn’t go as well as most thought it would. The panel “spent less time discussing how men can advocate for women than it did instructing women to advocate for themselves by ‘speaking up’” (Hess). People were largely disappointed by this.
Instances like this, and even some popular male celebrities proclaiming they are feminists, are not the only issues people have with “male allies.” In 2012, North Carolina State University sociologist Kris Macomber interviewed several men and women “who advocate against gendered forms of violence” (Hess). What she found was a string of contradictions that lie in the process of incorporating men into feminist movements (Hess). It goes like this… “Because men are ‘members of the dominant group, they have access to social and institutional power that women lack;…and that makes them valuable to feminism—but it also makes them representatives of a culture feminists are working to change” (Hess). So basically, men are called upon to change these gender norms, while at the same time still perpetuating these norms. There are several other interesting findings of this study (that include many more contradictions) and I highly encourage you to read more about it here.
I think that HeForShe has combatted a lot of the problems that people might have with male allies. It might be a bit harder to tackle the controversy over the use of the identity of “male ally” rather than just “feminist.” But like I mentioned in my last “what if?” post, Emma Watson is the perfect person to lead this campaign and I think the selection of her – a strong and influential female – combats the second problem people have with male allies and their influence perpetuating gender norms. Watson has a huge influence among young and old, male and female, and I think that is pretty remarkable.
“Emma Watson: Gender Equality Is Your Issue Too.” UN Women. 20 September 2014. Web. 29 November 2014.
Hess, Amanda. “Male Allies Are Important, Except When They’re the Worst.” Slate. 15 October 2014. Web. 29 November 2014.
Larson, Selena. “White Male ‘Allies’ Have Surprisingly Little To Say About Fixing Sexist Tech Culture.” Readwrite.com. 09 October 2014.
University of Michigian. “LGBT Terms and Definitions.” Interntional+LGBT. Web. 29 November 2014.
“What is a ‘Feminist Ally?’” Nerdy Feminist. 06 March 2010. Web. 29 November 2014.