I tried to live by the ‘101 rules of being a male feminist ally’
Tube flirting, rap music and pictures of scantily-clad women were all banned
by Bobby Palmer
I never thought I’d call myself a feminist. It always seemed like a try-hard word for a man, mainly because the one guy in school who called himself one only used the title to get with girls.
The thing is, men who go all feminist open themselves up to getting mocked. I’ve had it happen to me – when I went as far as to say women might have a hard time shaving, I was called a “cuck” and a “white knight” in the comments by the raging MGTOW community. I felt thoroughly put in my place, and decided maybe I should lay off the women’s interest writing.
Then I stumbled upon a list which explained in great detail how one could be a feminist ally. Writer Michael Urbina had been lambasted by the internet for his rules – and reading through them, I could see why.
But were they really as intense as they sounded? Could a regular guy adapt to being a male feminist ally in 101 easy steps? I decided to find out.
In doing so I had already fulfilled the first of the 101 rules.
Rule 1: Recognize your privileges, especially your male privilege
Rule 13: Be comfortable with being uncomfortable
Stepping out of my comfort zone was a given here – there was a lot I was going to have to change if I was going to really be an ally. Granted, I was safe on rule 5 because I’ve never catcalled in my life, but I was definitely guilty of rule 37, listening to musicians and artists who degrade women in their music and lyrics. Out with the Kanye it was, then.
I’d also have to adhere to rule 12: enjoying popular culture with many grains of salt. Do you know how many times a woman gets comically punched in the face by a man in Suicide Squad? Four. Would I have even really noticed if I’d gone to see the film another week? I’m not so sure.
Of course, some of the stuff on the list was laughable. I didn’t feel like it was completely necessary to cover my bedroom walls in protest posters, and neither did I feel like reading a bunch of feminist kids’ books “out of curiosity.” By the time I got to “buying all my books at local, independent booksellers,” I was starting to wonder if Mike had just really struggled to round the list up to 101.
Then there were the obvious rules: monitor your use of words, learn the correct terminology, listen to your female colleagues – you know the drill. Men talk a lot, and me more than most. The first time I did get to flex my feminist muscles, in fact, was when a male colleague talked over a female colleague to explain something she was saying.
I swiftly called him out for “mansplaining,” and sat back in my chair with a smug grin. Unless, of course, I’d made it worse by trying to be the hero. Had I undermined her by saying what I’d said? If a man explains mansplaining to another man is he just as much of a mansplainer?
I started to realise this was going to be harder than I thought.
Rule 30: Don’t just talk the talk. Walk your talk
I’d jumped in at the deep end with the idea that being a “mally” basically meant shouting at the men around me for not respecting women. I was wrong. While rule 68 will tell you we have to “hold other men accountable,” there’s a lot more to it than that.
Being an ally doesn’t mean hating men. It means redefining your masculinity entirely – and that includes, as rule 35 says, actually strengthening your relationships with other men. Feeling encouraged, I tapped my buddy on the shoulder and told him I cherished him as both a friend and a colleague. He told me to fuck off, and put his headphones back on.
I laughed about it again later that night, walking home alone in the dark on a quiet street. The woman I almost bumped into wasn’t laughing, though – in fact, she looked scared. After all, I’d been bowling towards here through the dark in a matter which wasn’t exactly unthreatening.
It’s literally the ninth rule on the list – walk on the other side of the street when a woman is walking towards you at night. We live in a society where most women feel genuinely unsafe walking home, and I was here more or less knocking her out of the way without a care in the world.
That’s when I realised this silly, sprawling list I’d been sent wasn’t really that stupid at all. I have it easy in everyday life, I realised – the least I could do was learn to cross the road.
Rule 42: Claim the feminist label
I’d been reading feminist blogs. I’d been looking at feminist news sites. But had I really, truly, claimed the feminist label? It was time to take rule 94 to heart and embrace my feminist pride. I decided to invest in a “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt – if it’s good enough for Benedict Cumberbatch and Ed Milliband, it’s good enough for me.
The looks I received wearing it in public were mixed: most men seemed to look confused as to why I’d choose to wear that, while women tended to be split into either the impressed camp or the “he’s clearly only wearing that to impress people” camp. The latter was probably more true.
When the afternoon came around, I was faced with the daunting task of chairing a meeting, which I decided to do with all the new-age knowledge of a woke af feminist boss. Rule 14 is one of the simplest – “listen” – but it turns out it’s one of the hardest to enact in the workplace scenario.
Trying to ensure men and women get their voices heard equally in a boardroom is as difficult as it sounds, and everyone seemed to be more pissed off than grateful every time I stopped the meeting to tell one of the men in the room he was speaking too much.
Still, I did shut down a male colleague for saying “ew” when we were talking about periods, so swings and roundabouts.
Rule 63: Defy traditional male stereotypes
What makes a “male feminist”? Even the label has a level of dominance in it – as if feminism is just that bit more noble if it’s coming from a male.
No, from what I’d gathered it was as much about shedding your own gender as it was respecting other peoples’. Men have expectations thrust upon them just as much as women, so it was time to do rule 39 justice and “redefine my masculinity in a pro-feminist way.”
I mean, I didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. Me and my housemate put on some girly tunes and did facepacks, with cucumbers and everything. It was something I’d always wanted to do, but had rejected due to its overtly feminine connotations. You know what? My face felt fabulous afterwards.
Sadly, I didn’t quite achieve rule 19 – letting myself cry and be emotional. The scene in Never Been Kissed in which Drew Barrymore gets stood up and egged before prom might have had my housemate in tears, but it just didn’t stimulate my tear ducts in the way I was told it would.
That said, it’s not like I haven’t done it before. I cried when I watched Brokeback Mountain, and not just a little bit: I’m talking huge, ugly sobs. It might not be manly to admit that, but luckily being a mally means being manly isn’t a massive concern.
Rule 72: Speak as if a woman is always listening
Being manly is still important to most men. It is to me – otherwise I wouldn’t keep buying bottles of Scotch and pretending I genuinely enjoy drinking it. There’s a level of shame in rejecting things which aren’t classically masculine, and the label of feminism is just one of those things. After all, James Bond was never that into women’s rights.
In the interest of embracing the label, I decided to broadcast my newfound malliance to my Facebook friends. For a minute, there was nothing – then, the first “Haha” rolled in. A couple of “Wows” later, I realised what was happening: everyone thought I was joking.
Perhaps that’s where we’re at, then: if a guy names himself a feminist in 2016, his mates will laugh it off as just a bit of banter.
I returned home that night, perplexed about the ease with which the world had laughed off my declaration. With the flat to myself and rule 50 yet to be conquered, I settled down to watch “Hot Girls Wanted,” an acclaimed feminist documentary which looks into the truth about young women in the porn industry.
It was not a feel-good film. I went to bed ashamed.
Rule 90: Travel to unfamiliar places
Saturday was a bit more fun, but the day posed more problems than I’d had during the week. I’d been invited to a pool party, which you can probably guess is a social minefield for any man attempting not to be a sexist pig.
Across the course of the afternoon, I had to confront many of the rules head-on. Number 6: be conscious of where your eyes wander as a woman walks by. Number 7: stop assuming that random girls like you just because they smile at you and make eye contact. The list goes on.
Of course, ogling women in bikinis isn’t anything new to the average man. Even if I wasn’t doing it here, I’d done it more times in the past than I could count – suddenly, the Michelle Keegan poster I used to have above my bed seemed more shameful than ever.
The next day, feeling guilty, I opted to take some positive action and throw my full force into rule 98: turning magazines that promote sexism and unhealthy body image backwards at my local supermarket. Yet my Sainbury’s Local didn’t seem to have too many.
Was Rita Ora being objectified on the front of Cosmo? Anna Kendrick definitely seemed to have enough clothes on on the front of Marie Claire, while the bloke on the front of Men’s Health was showing a lot more skin.
Pondering the positive step that magazines seemed to have taken in the last few years, I left the shop without changing anything. Then I opened my phone to an FHM story declaring that “USAIN BOLT’S SEXY GIRLFRIEND, KASI BENNETT, HAS MORE CURVES THAN I CAN POSSIBLY HANDLE,” and I realised solving sexism isn’t quite as simple as turning a magazine around in a rack.
Rule 99: Be careful not to burn out
I’d come to the end of my week, and it was time for a bit of sober reflection. There were things I could have done better: I was still yet to take a Women’s Studies class, I hadn’t attended a protest, and you only need to ask my mum to know I broke rule 51 by not taking the time out to give her a call every day.
That said, I’d learnt a lot. The point of being an ally is all about trying to understand the things women go though at the expense of how easy your own life is, and I’d started to do that. There were things I’d been doing and taking for granted my whole life which I’d started to realise weren’t great.
I, like most men, talk over women without knowing it; I barge them out of the way on the street; I objectify them and don’t even catch myself doing it. If being an ally means making the women around me just a bit more comfortable, then I’ll wear the badge with pride.
Or maybe I shouldn’t. Rule 40 is to never seek recognition or affirmation, and it’s fair to say I’ve broken it with aplomb by writing this.
Rest assured, I’ll carry on trying to be an ally. I’ll just stop going on about it.