Male allies don’t understand the challenges women face

I originally wrote this post three months (or so) ago, prompted by the furor about women-only screening of Wonder Woman. The original post got lost in the great website disaster and I hadn’t planned to rewrite it because I thought it was no longer relevant, but with the whole mess the world is in, I think my points still stand, so I will make them again.

My husband is a progressive man. He helps around the house, he is great with the kids, he supports me in my career and he is all-round what I would call an enlightened man. He is definitely an ally to the feminist cause, although he would never describe himself as such. Which makes it all the more hurtful and frustrating when he comes out with a remark that shows me how little he really understands about the challenges women face.

I recently had a lengthy debate with him over wage equality. Hubby wholeheartedly agrees that men and women should be paid the same wages if they are doing the same job. That is great. But at the same time he disputes that in today’s society there is still such a thing as wage inequality. ‘Isn’t it illegal to pay someone less because they are a woman?’ he asks naively. As if the law ever made a difference in those situations. People can always find sham reasons not to pay women an equal wage.

Hubby also cannot understand that I find it difficult to accept that he is “allowed” to walk home from the train station (a 30 minute walk) in the dark, but he insists on me taking a taxi. He doesn’t see anything wrong with that. He doesn’t get angry or upset that it is less safe for a woman to walk home in the dark than it is for a man. It’s just the way it is – I, as a woman, just have to take precautions. It doesn’t enter his mind to be outraged that women are preyed on. And if I do insist on walking home, and God forbid something DID happen, I know he would blame me. ‘You should have taken a taxi as I suggested,’ he would say, not realising the victim blaming he would engage in. Sure, he would be angry at the man who assaulted me, but he would first and foremost tell me I could have prevented it. As if an assault couldn’t also happen on my way from the train station to the taxi stand or even on my own driveway. Women are never safe, no matter how many precautions we take.

My husband also doesn’t understand the challenges women face in the workplace (apart from the wage equality issues mentioned above). He doesn’t understand how hard I have to work to be taken seriously in a field I am qualified in. How I have to back up all my statements with reams of research and sources whereas my male colleague can sprout any nonsense and people take his word for it. Hubby also didn’t know that mansplaining was a thing until recently; even after he tried to explain my own field of work to me. His male privilege gives him the God-given right to opine on anything and be taken seriously, whereas I have to back up every statement with sources.

Male allies are great, and very important. I am not trying to put my husband – or anyone like him – down. But it is time for male allies to stop wading into this problem, sleeves rolled up, ready to fix the situation, without stopping for a moment and listening to women tell them what our challenges are. It’s great to see men rally round and standing up for women, as it were, but it’s not going to help us unless these male allies sit down and understand what really needs to change.

So, male allies: if you are really serious about making changes, about making the world a safer place for women, then put aside your preconceived ideas and be willing to learn.

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