Women and men at the Women's March 4 Justice in Sydney. (Image: AAP/Dean Lewins)

It must be common for men to look around and simply see angry women everywhere. The Me Too age of accountability is upon us and social change is in the air. There are horrifying statistics about the numbers of women sexually harassed, raped, beaten and killed. Women are organising and marching.

Women are asking all men to be involved in addressing issues of women’s safety and equity; but to some males, this feels like they’re saying “all men are bad”. Hence the pushback with Not All Men, demonstrating a failure to separate the societal from the personal, a failure to recognise privilege and agency, and a failure to see how patriarchal structures and cultures benefit all men — even if as individuals, men may be unsuccessful or suffering.

Although in an ideal world women would have the power to break their chains of oppression alone, in reality the strongest movements have support from all types of humans and in particular the traditional benefactors of oppression. To make change quickly and definitively, we would benefit from male allies. They don’t have to lead, or be the voice or public face of the women’s rights movements. But they need to understand the issues, take responsibility and be part of the solution.

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Men as allies of equal standing

So, how to mobilise the men of Australia? Not as protectors of female “property” who want to beat rapists to a pulp, or who are happy to have a token female on the board, but as actual allies of equal standing?

Let’s have a look at intersectional feminism as a model. Feminism is present in all cultures, but unfortunately the most lauded historical examples are “white”. The US white suffragettes excluded Black women from marching with them, and when they turned up, they segregated them and put them out of the way of the media. This was a mistake (and a human rights abuse) because it failed to see that all types of oppression are intimately bound and layered.

Essentially, to force change, it is important to address all issues of deep structural and systemic discrimination even as you focus on one. Intersectionality suggests that discrimination and disadvantage is different in everyone and is the result of the combination of all social and political identities of a person.

If we consider that the top social group in Australia’s caste system is the straight, cis, rich, white, Christian male, we can also see that many men fall into less privileged groups. By supporting the women’s rights movement, the measures that help women overcome discrimination are also going to assist in overcoming the forms of discrimination that affect men.

If you’re an unemployed man, an Indigenous man, a gay man, or an immigrant man, improving workplace harassment, reforming the judicial and medical systems to recognise experiences beyond that of the “standard human”, increasing access to welfare, and propelling people with lived experience of discrimination to positions of power is all going to benefit you.

So, even if it is appealing to personal gain, it’s crucial that we keep explaining how rights for the majority (51%) of the population will actually benefit men too. Bring them into the fold of intersectionality.

Give them the opportunity

Next step is to involve them. Certainly there are women who’ve been harmed by men, who are not comfortable working with them, and this must be respected. There are also women who seek to completely exclude men from the feminist movement. Sadly, this extends sometimes to gender diverse people, and trans women have been particularly vilified.

But this means that we lose power and momentum because we are divided. It is human nature to become more invested in a project that we have personally worked on. Give men the opportunity to spread information, be ambassadors for other men, run the charity fundraising, sign the letters and petitions, and attend the marches.

Bring the men in your family and workplace and social clubs into the fold and put them to work. Investment brings interest and passion, and a stake in the outcome. It makes men part of the solution to this human rights issue (because women are human too!) and it conveys that more is required from them besides an occasional virtue-signalling tweet.

Don’t expect sudden epiphanies — engaging men (and women) takes time. Research from three countries shows that in nearly all cases, men became aware and active in feminism through a process rather than an acute event.

For all the derision of social media, it is a good forum to regularly share stories of misogyny, statistics on the epidemic of violence against women, and ways to get involved — because the brain remembers and prioritises what it is reminded of. We can make it easier for men to see what women are enduring by delivering the horrific crimes and commentaries directly to them.

The first time someone hears about a woman murdered by her male partner, it’s easy to attribute the tragedy to a lone wolf, a single evil man. The 10th time (and it pains me to say that in Australia this will happen in about March of each year) this story is told, there may be opportunity to think beyond Not All Men, and consider how all men may be able to work on reducing this shameful statistic and awful suffering.

Earning male allies isn’t something we should have to do. It’s not something many women want to do. It isn’t fair that women have to suppress their anger, fear and sadness at the prevalence of misogyny and the damage it has inflicted upon them. But ultimately we must force change, and where there are men prepared to step up and amplify our message, we should harness their energy to redress the inequity that has always favoured the male gender.

Dr Kate Ahmad is a neurologist and activist for women’s rights and climate action. She is a founding member of The 51 Percent.

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