In any social justice movement, allies are seemingly our biggest necessity, but they are also often our most difficult relationships. It is not easy to occupy the position of "ally" and I sympathize with anyone who is seriously committed to a cause yet is finding it difficult to navigate their privileged position. That said, I must admit I do not always make it easy for men who are feminist allies. I often assume that they cannot possibly understand feminism without living life as a woman. Sometimes this is just me projecting my own insecurities, but often I am presented with proof that said men do not truly grasp the roots of my feminism, roots which are quite visceral and, I'm sorry to say, often based in physical fears.
Many straight men who say they want to "get it" really just seem to want to "get it" for the sole purpose of seeming sensitive enough that more women will want to date them. I grow frustrated with these self-declared "nice guys" who do not seem to have made much effort to learn about the realities of women's lives before trying to fit themselves into those lives. They seem just like the White people who declare themselves to be allies of non-White people yet expect every Black/Latino/Chinese person to explain to them what it is like to inhabit said identity. I wish such people would take advantage of the public library and read some books instead of expecting others to educate them for free. The library is free...but if I'm gonna work for you I'm expecting health insurance, you know what I mean?
All this aside, I've realized that some of what I want men to know may not be in the books they have read. I will give the benefit of the doubt to some men who have attempted to educate themselves and yet still don't know what I want from them. So, I have generously listed a few things I would like everyone who really means to be a "Nice Guy" to consider before he interacts with me...and especially before he decides to discuss feminism with me.
For me, a large part of being a woman is coming to terms with vulnerability to sexual assault. For example: in the past year, several of my female friends and acquaintances have confided to me about their rapes at the hands of fellow college students. Although I was not the victim, the brutal details of these rapes have lodged in my memories and my nightmares. I cannot shake the thoughts of the blood, the sadism, the blackouts, the insensitive police questions, the betrayals by supposed "friends." In addition, I am haunted by the stories other friends tell me of being molested as children, of being raped by boyfriends, husbands, and fathers.
None of these stories end with the trial or conviction of a rapist. Most of them were never officially reported. I know who some of these men are and, until recently, I had to inhabit the same tiny college campus with some of them. I know where criminals walk free, and every time I realize this, I feel almost unimaginable anger. I don't like the way this makes me feel. I try yoga and meditation and talking to trusted confidants, and still I remain so angry.
I find that my anger often manifests against all perceived "straight males." I know that this is unfair to people I do not know. Yet, nothing makes me angrier than a man imploring feminists to not "judge all guys." I see this plea from male commenters on feminist blogs and I even hear it from otherwise "nice guys" whom I engage in conversation. Yet, rarely do these men seem involved in anti-rape activities. I sense this is because those with a record of anti-rape activism need not worry about being harshly judged by most feminists. Their actions speak for themselves and so they need not declare themselves the "Nice Guys."
Thus, I suggest that all "Nice Guys" who really want to be friends to women (for our sakes and not just their own) assess their roles in the system of sexual violence. If a man wants me to trust him, he needs to have taken the time to know the basic reality that many women experience. I need to see him holding other men accountable when they perpetuate sexism. I would like to hear what books or periodicals he has been reading in order to learn more about experiences different from his own. I would like him to stop assuming that my attitudes on men come from a movement--that I have been "brainwashed." He should consider instead that my attitudes might have been shaped by a very real and scary reality which I encounter all too often.
Even after I explain all of this, I know the complainers will sometimes continue whine that I am holding them accountable for "other men." At this point, I observe that they really don't seem that different from those "other" men and, at that point, we usually stop talking. This is awesome because at that point I stop donating my intellectual resources to freeloaders. I tell them, "Hey, you know, I work in a bookstore, and if you want to come buy a book about feminism, I will sell it to you. That would be fine with me because I would finally be getting paid to educate you and I could justify the indignity as a drawback of the service profession." Strangely, they never seem to follow up on the offer.