Ally? Supporter? What’s the best thing we can be?

I started thinking about this post after our class conversation on what it means to be a feminist. We got all sorts of responses about who is a feminist, or why some of us aren’t feminists, etc. I think we’ve become obsessed with these labels that we often forget about the real things we can do to actually be a feminist. In a comment I made in a previous post, I said that I didn’t label myself a feminist because I think that term comes with a sense of activism that I haven’t really embraced. So in thinking about this, I asked myself: what does it really mean to be a feminist? Or an ally? Or a supporter of any cause?

Oftentimes we see the “Ally” sticker on some doors around our dorms. But I don’t actually have the slightest clue of what that may mean. I didn’t go through some training that equipped me with the knowledge to do something to help someone should they be in need of an ally. Does being an ally just mean that I support LGBTQ rights? I certainly am in favor of same-sex marriage because I’m in favor of equality for all human beings (I think everyone deserves to be treated with decency, right?). But does that make me an ally?

Similarly, what does it mean for me to be a supporter of women’s rights? I treat my friends with the dignity and respect they deserve (at least I hope I do) but am I really doing anything to change things? What have I actually done that’s contributed to the rights of women? I know that simply treating women (and men) with dignity and respect is a step forward because it moves away from the explicit prejudice that existed against marginalized groups of people in the past, but is that the requirement for being a supporter/ally/etc.?

Like I wrote earlier, we’ve become obsessed with labeling ourselves these things because it seems to be right thing to do, or it’s because we have a need to be “PC.” I know this post has more questions than answers, but that’s only because I’m still questioning my role in all of these things. If we really want to move forward, what must I do? I’m also not suggesting that being an ally or supporter is the thing we have to strive for. They are by no means perfectly neat terms that we should all aspire to be. But I do think they might be a start to help us achieve greater things. What those greater things are is problematic and again, I don’t have an answer.

Is my next step to hit the streets and rally and protest in favor of women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrant’s rights, etc? Would that earn me the “coveted” role of an ally/supporter/feminist? I’m not actually sure how to move forward or what role, if any, I have to play in these movements. I do know one thing: labeling myself something and actually doing nothing to help a person’s cause is not what I want to do. So maybe you can help?

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2 thoughts on “Ally? Supporter? What’s the best thing we can be?

  1. I was with a cousin a couple days ago and he said something derogatory about women. A couple of months ago, I would have let it slip. Not this time though. I called him out on it and he said “Oh my God! You’re a feminist.” The rest of the night was spent talking about how I am an -ist and it was treated like I had contracted a terrible disease.

    But the thing is these were people I have known for decades. When it comes down to it, they would be feminist. My cousin accepted that what he had said was unnecessarily rude. They don’t want the label because it might come with a personal policing of all those things we consume (in TV, music,social media, supposed jokes etc) and a label comes with being aware continuously of the world around. It comes with too much thinking. Until I labelled myself and decided to be proactive about feminism, I probably participated in those conversations. But then I took on the label, I learned about feminism and feminist theory, and now everything in the world is uncomfortable and I don’t want to participate in the things I was okay with.

    I don’t know if that helps. But that has been my journey so far. Of course I still have to work against the world’s assumption of feminists being man-haters. I have become that friend who “can’t take a joke”. But seriously if those have been our jokes, I don’t think I like Becky of two years ago.

  2. I don’t quite have time to write about this at length right now, so I hope to revisit this post later to comment again, because link between the ally thread with the feminism thread will take me a few lines, at least. I want to share something I read a few months ago over at Black Girl Dangerous because I’ve recommended it to other students several times during the past semester. The author, Mia McKenzie, refuses the word ally in its current context and lays it out very plainly: being an ally is not an identity and it is not about you, it is about showing up every day (in so many ways) to support others. This is where the feminism conversation thread might diverge but that will hopefully fuel another comment…

    Here’s my favorite paragraph:

    “Ally” cannot be a label that someone stamps onto you–or, god forbid, that you stamp on to yourself—so you can then go around claiming it as some kind of identity. It’s not an identity. It’s a practice. It’s an active thing that must be done over and over again, in the largest and smallest ways, every day.

    Here’s a link to the full article:

    http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2013/09/no-more-allies/

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