THE BLOG
15/09/2015 06:59 BST | Updated 18/12/2017 06:49 GMT

How to Be a Feminist Ally - In Nine Confusing Steps...

Last week I gave a talk on gender inequality and violence against women in the UK at an event in Liverpool as part of the international charity ActionAid's Fearless campaign.

The Fearless campaign seeks to end violence against women in the UK and the world over. I talked about my own experiences, those of the people around me, my friends and family members. These were experiences as a feminist; receiving verbal and online abuse and even just as a woman, putting up with street harassment, abuse and worse from men and sometimes other women.

After the talk, I was approached by an older gentleman who simply asked me, 'Kate, what do you, as a feminist, want from me as a man?'

This man had found my stories distressing. He felt, in his words 'helpless'. He wanted to know what to do. I told him that I thought what he was really asking me was, 'How can I be a good ally?'

It made me think, what if there are other men out there, other people, other possible allies who just don't know what to do? Now, believe me, I don't want to spoon-feed anybody. But if reading an article could cause anyone to adjust their behaviour and in turn help towards the cause overall, then I think it's worth a shot.

So, here goes. Here are my nine steps to being a feminist ally.

1. Start by starting - just ask!

To a woman who is usually barracked for talking about gender inequality, there's nothing lovelier than a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed would-be ally asking explicitly, 'What do you need me to do?' It's the best and easiest way to start. (We'll get to the, 'I don't NEED you to do anything!' bit shortly...)

2. Know your place!

Sure, you may be able to use your unearned birth right to someone else's advantage because sadly, yes, some narrow-minded people are still more likely to listen to a cis white man than to a 'bra-burning feminist' woman. But here's the thing, and I don't mean to be blunt, but, we don't 'need' your help. Your privilege is the problem, remember? I don't want to achieve my equality because a man endorsed it for me first. Just like women of colour don't need their equality endorsed by white feminists. If you can change someone's mind, by all means try. But you must take a backseat and let the sisters do it for themselves as well.

3. Respect the intersect

Not every feminist is white, middle class, cis-gendered or able-bodied and, although I believe in the solidarity of sisterhood, there are intersections that must be acknowledged and awarded their rightful space. I'm a white, cis-gendered and able-bodied woman. I can't speak personally on the racialized, transphobic, able-ist sexism that many women face all around the world. Just like male allies need to listen to women, many feminists must also 'check their privilege' in order to allow every woman the right to her own voice. It's about respect.

4. LISTEN

Think of yourself as feminist storm troopers. You may be silent, as the oppressed need to be the vocal ones on this one, but you're large in number and you increase the fire power of the movement. Plus, even though we're taking the reins it is kind of nice to have the back up.

5. Create more allies

A great way to be a good ally is to create more allies and if you're in a position of privilege then it's likely that your peers will be too. You can create more allies by discussing your feminist politics with those around you and challenging opinions in a delicate manner.

6. Grass-roots change can start with little ones

If you have children, teach them about sexism, racism or ableism before they encounter it. This might sound like a difficult topic but we don't give kids enough credit. Look at it this way: you'd teach them to 'be nice to other people', right? Teaching kids about oppression is just being more specific. You're altering the narrative before they get taught the current, normalised, one.

7. Educate others

If you hear somebody making a sexist joke, posting something on the internet, or you notice an air of misogyny in something in the media, speak up. Perhaps privately have a word with somebody or ask them if they've ever considered a different view point. These are the small battles that you can fight on a daily basis.

8. Educate yourself

Read up! Twitter is great for learning about feminism, modern feminism and the current affairs of gender inequality. A good ally is an ally in the know and it pays to escape from ignorance.

9. No need to shout about it...

You're an ally to feminism, to people of colour, to the trans community. Want a lollipop? Shouting about being an ally is like giving to charity so you can brag to people about it. You're doing what you're supposed to do. You shouldn't expect thanks (even though, often, I'm touched by and thankful for my close allies and friends) and you definitely shouldn't expect a free pass to be sexist just because you've tweeted to #everydaysexism in the past.

So those are my nine answers to the question, 'How can I be a good ally?' But I have undoubtedly been influenced by my experiences and the feminists and allies around me, and there are definitely more than nine.

Some of these points may confuse you. That's because it IS confusing. It's hard to navigate how to be a good ally. My advice is to figure it out quietly, to ask if you get stuck and to always remain open.

When you try to help and get things wrong, when you're feeling like you 'can't win', just remember that it's a lot harder being oppressed purely by the virtue of being a woman, being transgender, a person of colour or a member of any other oppressed group than it is to be an ally.