If you are a man or a men’s group working for gender justice, you are trying to be effective allies, and as Mia Mckenzie and Jamie Utt point out, two of the most important parts of allyship are education and accountability. Moreover, without enough self-education first (and during, and after), accountability usually creates more work for marginalized people, rather than helping them. That is why I am being very intentional about making self-education the first men’s group activity I post about.
Self-education is necessary so that you can be effective, so that you can speak intelligently and respond appropriately, and most importantly, so that you don’t create more work or more problems for the people you are trying to work with or help. It’s worth repeating that self-education is an ongoing process: you never know enough that you get to stop learning. This is especially true for people who receive substantial privilege. As feminist standpoint theory argues, your social location (sex, gender identity, race, class, sexuality, etc.) affects your life experiences, which then affect how you see the world. People like me, who benefit from male privilege, white privilege, cis-gendered privilege, etc. may never experience the kinds of unspoken assumptions, microaggressions, and structural disadvantages that make up the everyday lives of the folks we are trying to support. If you don’t experience a certain form of marginalization, it can be very difficult to get a good understanding of it, so the process of learning about it needs to be constant and ongoing. If you ever think you know enough that you don’t need to listen to someone else, especially someone who directly experiences the forms of oppression you are trying to combat, then you got lost somewhere.
So, here are some ideas and resources for self-education. Read the whole post first, then pick one or two for your group’s next few meetings. There are tons of links embedded. Of course this is a partial list and is influenced by my own social location and personal preferences, but it will get you started.
Read. Good news! You’re already doing this! There are lots of good books, a handful of good blogs, and many other publications out there that specifically focus on men and gender justice work. Of course, to understand the viewpoints of people who experience oppression, you should really read their own blogs. Www.xyonline.net, coordinated by the amazing Michael Flood, is a great resource for finding other articles on specific topics related to men, masculinity, and gender justice, and these topics also occasionally show up in other places, so google is your friend.
Of course, there are things to love and things to critique in all of these resources. I think the important thing is to get a sense of the huge diversity of experiences, and the places of agreement, so that you have a sense of the conversations happening and the experiences of others. Be aware that lots of these blogs are sometimes sarcastic or snarky, and that they are communities that may have their own language and culture. If the blog has one, read the FAQ. Then hang out, read, and educate yourself before commenting.
Watch. Reading isn’t for everyone, and it’s not always the most interesting thing to do at a group meeting. Watching movies or video, however, is a great small-group activity, and you’d be amazed at how much interesting and useful stuff is available on Youtube! Most of those links are short clips, so you can watch a few of them in one meeting and still have time for discussion. If you find one interesting, though, look for more on that topic or more from that person. Whole movies are on Youtube, and sometimes the filmmaker has other clips or interviews posted as well. Again, it isn’t all wonderful, but the point isn’t to take it as gospel; it’s to gather information, learn from other people’s experiences, and become a better ally for it.
Research. Look up and find out things that will help you in your later work, and keep track of this data in a way that makes it useful and available when you need it. This could mean searching the net, making some phonecalls, asking friends, or going to the library. Just make sure that you are doing the research work yourself, not asking or relying on others to do more work for you.
Possible questions include: What other groups are doing similar work, and what can you learn from them? What local resources (women’s centers, faculty at local schools, well-known allies, organizations that may be interested in funding you, etc.) are available? What local organizations might you be able to work with or support? Who may be able to help or support you? Who can you draw inspiration from? What events are already being done in your area, and how can you help?
Discuss. Discussion is one of the most important parts of putting new knowledge into practice, and luckily, you already have a group of interested people available to take part in a conversation! So, have internal discussions among your group, where you can challenge and learn from each other. Watch a youtube video and then discuss it. Pick a book or blog post that you all agree to read, and then discuss it – or, have each person read a different blog post and tell the whole group about it, and then discuss what you all learned. Discuss the major themes, and the similarities and differences in their perspectives.
Or, just talk with each other about things that will help your group take shape and help you individually become better allies. Talk about the reasons for your group existing, the things you think are important, and the things you want to accomplish. Talk about male privilege. Talk about the connections of masculinity, homophobia, sexism, and sexual violence. Talk about your own life experiences around gender and how they influence your lives. Talk about privilege some more, and think about how it works around race, sexuality, class, gender identity, etc. Talk about the world you want to see in the future, and what gender justice means to you. Talk about what you don’t understand, don’t know, or don’t feel comfortable with yet, and maybe someone else can help with that. In my humble opinion, if you haven’t spent a good amount of time thinking and talking about male privilege, masculine socialization, homophobia, intersectionality, your own life experiences around all of these, and how they connect to sexism and gender-based violence, you have some more learning left to do!
What other resources should people read, watch, research, or discuss? What activities has your group done that have helped you learn more? What other foms of self-education work for you? What experiences in your life have you learned the most from? Leave it in the comments and let’s talk!