Tag Archives: ally

Being an ally – do they know it’s Christmastime at all?

I think we all want to feel like we’re good and valuable people. Unfortunately around allyship this can mean being moved to do entirely unhelpful things. Ostensibly we rock up as allies because we want to help, but often what we do instead is put ourselves centre stage instead. It can also result in treating the people who need to be ‘saved’ like they’re inferior, and genuinely need us to save them.

If this is an unfamiliar concept, I invite you to listen carefully to what’s going on in this song (or read the subtitles) – how inaccurate and patronising it is, and how it centres the idea of rescue and doesn’t talk about international debt, exploitation of resources or the legacy of colonialism, for example.

I could spend a whole blog post deconstructing this song line by line because there’s so much that’s wrong with it.

It doesn’t really work if you’re showing up because you want a pat on the back. Being the guy that women reassure is a good guy. Being the white person who is affirmed by black people as not being the problem. Being the straight person the gays think is ok… there’s nothing weird about wanting praise and affirmation, it’s just this is a really unhelpful way to go about it. The result is putting pressure on people to stroke your ego, rather than doing anything to solve the problems they face.

Good allyship looks like talking about how we change things and flagging up issues in systems that cause oppression. It looks like educating people who are like you so as to spare the people you are supporting from having to keep doing that. Which may look like explaining about pronouns, or why it isn’t cool to touch other people’s hair without permission, or that catcalling isn’t a compliment, and so forth. Sharing content from people who are affected by an issue, and undertaking to learn from them about the issue is all good work to be doing.

It’s important to avoid speaking for people or over people – the balance can be delicate around avoiding this, while educating people like you. Care and attention are required. It is vital not to patronise the people you are supposed to be helping. Discretion is also important – if being an ally involves sharing the private details of people you’re supposedly helping, you aren’t much of an ally. I’ve seen this one done, and it’s very much about centering the ‘activist’. Again, there are balances to strike here, because stories can be educational, and talking about what you’re doing can be a good way of getting others engaged with an issue. But, keep a close eye on who and what is centre stage, and what the story is for. If you’re telling stories about how you go round heroically saving disabled people… you are the problem not the solution.

One of the most useful things a person can do is look at their own involvement in things that exclude, or are unfair and unjust. That tends to be uncomfortable. It means looking at your own complicity, and at how you might benefit indirectly from privilege. But, this is key to levelling the playing field. Wanting to ride in, the glorious knight on horseback here to save the day is part of the normal desires many of us have to feel special, powerful and important. But when we do that, we only empower ourselves.

It’s not your job to feed the world. Better to stop doing the things that contribute to hunger in the first place.

Pride – being an ally

It’s Pride month, and you might be a straight person who would like to be an ally and support your queer friends. This is not an exhaustive or definitive list, just some things to think about.

Don’t centre yourself – if this is about looking good, or cool or wanting to go to events you aren’t really helping much. 

Don’t police the language queer people use to talk about themselves, and don’t demand that queer spaces be adapted to make you feel more comfortable. Amplify your queer friends. Put your pronouns on your social media profile, if you feel comfortable doing that. Listen, and learn. Building insight and understanding is a really meaningful thing to do.

Don’t treat LGBTQA folk like we’re all one thing. We are not a coherent entity with a single set of opinions, feelings and needs by which we are all tidily defined. We don’t all agree with each other about all kinds of things. What you’ve picked up from one queer friend, or one queer celebrity you follow on Twitter isn’t the whole story. Don’t assume you know enough to speak for people – because no one does. Not everyone who is (by my reckoning) queer would be comfortable with me using the word ‘queer’ to describe all queer people because not everyone identifies this way. But, it’s my blog, I’m using my preferred term and I’m not going to spend the whole time flagging up the language complexities. It’s ok that we don’t all agree about everything. Diversity is good.

Don’t buy Pride merch from corporations. It’s just commercial exploitation. Putting a rainbow on something is pretty flimsy support, and does very little to support LGBTQA people. If you want to spend money on having cool gay things during June, then look for the independent creative folk who are making Pride stuff because they are queer creators. Supporting them is a much more meaningful use of your money, and will do all kinds of good.

Don’t lose sight of what Pride is about. It’s not a celebration, not really. It’s an assertion of presence from a marginalised group that is subject to abuse, and in some places, at real risk of death, injury or imprisonment. Pride started as a riot, and continues as a protest. It’s about people coming together to support each other, and raise awareness. It isn’t just a party. It isn’t about the corporations who want to co-opt it because they reckon they can cash in on the gay pound, the lesbian dollar… It should not exist to comfort the comfortable.

There are of course invariably people who respond to Pride by wanting Straight Pride. If you want to take on any work as an ally, this is a good one to go after, especially if you catch people you know expressing this idea. Straight people don’t need Pride events because they are not at any risk as a consequence of experiencing hetrosexual desire and love for people of the opposite sex. Pride in no way makes it unsafe to be straight. There is no shift towards a world in which the currently dominant majority will suddenly find it has the love that dares not speak its name. That’s not what this is about. More rights for everyone does not mean that the people with the most advantages have something taken away from them. 

Female body image, fitness… and joy

A guest blog by Autumn Barlow

In this blog post I want to write about female body image, fitness … and joy. Celebration. Positivity. Love. Support. And laughter.

Twelve weeks ago, I would not have imagined I would be writing that. Indeed, you only have to stray onto the internet to be assailed by a ream of blog posts and articles which warn you about the trials and pitfalls of simply being in possession of a female-presenting body. You will always be too big, too small, too muscular, too rounded, too angular, just too real.

Twelve weeks ago, I decided to join a gym. I had a few reasons; after the death of our dog, I lost all motivation to go walking or cycling, and a history of medicinal steroids for Crohn’s Disease has left my bones thinner than average. The best thing for bone density, I found, was “resistance” training, also known as strength training, also known as … weightlifting. In my case, I chose powerlifting.

I googled. I read article after article that warned me about the terrors I was about to face. The articles told me I was going to be doing A Good Thing but that no one else would understand. I would have strangers warning me to “not get too muscular.” I would have men looking at me in the gym and trying to “mansplain” things to me. I read case studies and facebook posts where women documented their struggles to be taken seriously in the weights room. The negatives were endless; women struggling to eat enough for their training because society was judging them. Women trying to hide their toned arms. Women being used as bad examples to others – the woman who overheard a trainer tell his client not to use the big weights “Or you’ll look like her over there.”

I compiled a mental list of witty comebacks and strode into the gym with a face like a slapped arse. Come on, I snarled. Let’s have it.

Three months later, and I’m still waiting to be able to use those cutting retorts.

There is a website I have been following which talks about the everyday oppressions that many people experience; it discusses issues of race, sex, gender, able-ism and concepts of the “other”. I have read it, daily, for many months.

I recently unfollowed it.

Day after day, to be told that whatever you do – in whatever way you try to understand and be an ally – you will always be, somehow, wrong or privileged or in some way too entitled to ever really understand – that is draining. I ended up feeling like the very fact that I was trying to educate myself on issues was a problem! My desire to understand was a symptom of my education privilege, my intellectual privilege, these walls not of my own making that would forever see me on the other side, the evil oppressor.

When you go looking for wrongs, you can find them very easily. I went into the gym fired up and ready to take on the world because I had been told that the world was out to get me.

I am not dismissing the horrible and negative experiences that many women have had in the gym. And men, too; how terrifying is it for anyone to walk into a place where everything is unfamiliar and the rules are unwritten? No wonder that many people, if they find the courage to step inside, leap straight onto a running machine – they are near the door and they are simple to work out how to use – and they never make it to the sweaty freeweights section in a dark corner. I judge no one on their choices in the gym. Everyone who is there is damn brave.

And I acknowledge the disgusting comments that some women have heard; the well-meaning patronising advice; the sneers; the dismissals; and the abuse. I do.

But that’s not what this post is about. Not today. This post is about my experience … and my profound gratitude to my allies. Those who have tried to be an ally. You have succeeded. Thank you.

I hope that you, too, have people in your life – friends or family or strangers – who have helped you and supported you. It’s not always done overtly or directly. It might be the man in the gym who you don’t know, who chooses to stand at an angle while he does his biceps curls, so that he is not facing you head-on and intimidating you. Did you notice that he did that? It’s a small thing. But an important one. For all the douche-canoes I have heard of, that like to stand behind a woman who is squatting a heavy barbell, there are a dozen men who hold a respectful distance.

These allies, unacknowledged, unthanked. They don’t need a website to tell them that they are never going to understand me. Yet they can support, be respectful, be encouraging. And they do.

This, then, is for my parents. When I told them I had managed to deadlift 50kg after a few months of training, they did not shriek with alarm about how “big” I was going to get. They laughed and said “But that’s more than 100lb! Well done!” This, too, is for my husband. When I told him I was going to start lifting weights, he did not look scared and feel emasculated that I would no longer need him to open jars. He smiled and said, “Have fun!” This, then, is for the fitness instructor who said, “Finally a woman wants to do the weights!” This, then, is for the man in the power-rack before me, who said, “Do you want me to unload my weights or is this your warm-up weight?” His max was my warm-up weight and I appreciated his unforced comment. There was no assumption that I wanted a lighter weight. Small things. But … yes, important ones.

I could have driven myself crazy with the imagined terrors the internet warned me about. The experiences of other women, the online comments, the bad times. And I know I am not immune and some doofus will make a stupid remark at some point.

But hey … I’ve still got those witty come-back lines I need to use, right?


Image credit: http://thorvalkyrie.tumblr.com/post/128129428179/littlemoongoddess-booksomewench