We’ve all met at least a few of them: Self-proclaimed allies that claim to be here for us, but expect trophies for doing the absolute bare minimum. These “allies” manifest themselves in the form of self-proclaimed male feminists, white feminists and LGBTQ+ “allies”, among other groups.
When a man retweets a tweet about sexism, but does it because he knows the women who follow him will think he’s a good person, and not because sexism is inherently awful, he’s not actually being an ally. It’s the same thing as the “nice guy” trope: When a man does something nice for a woman but expects something in return, it’s not actually a nice act. It’s a bribe. It’s almost worse when a man does it under the guise of fighting for women’s rights, because he’s disenfranchising the very group he’s claiming to help. There’s even a hashtag for self-proclaimed male feminists who mansplain: #ThingsFeministMenHaveSaidToMe.
When white feminists make a point of telling Black women how “unique” and “spunky” their Afros are, they aren’t celebrating women of color the way they think they are. They’re making a spectacle of their natural hair, and making it into something unnatural. It’s disheartening that I still have to say this, but it’s also not a compliment to touch a Black woman’s hair without her consent. Don’t do it. Aside from the fact that it’s incredibly odd and invasive to just put your hands on someone else’s head without asking them, it’s also extremely ‘othering’ and a huge microaggression. Racism always sucks, but it cuts a bit deeper when it comes from women who claim to be here for women, who just aren’t here for all women.
When straight people who claim to be LGBTQ+ allies ask weird, invasive, personal questions of their queer friends that they’d never imagine asking their straight friends, they aren’t being allies. Being comfortable with someone else’s sexuality doesn’t give you the right to make them uncomfortable. Some allies feel the need to prove that they’re comfortable with their queer friends’ orientations by trying so hard to not be offensive that they actually start being offensive. Ashley Mardell makes a related point in a spoken-word poem called We Get It, You’re Gay.
“It eludes me. You miss how dehumanizing that could be.”
She mentions a time when she was walking with her girlfriend, holding hands, and a random bystander started applauding them. Surely the bystander was trying to show their support, but by clapping for a same-sex couple that’s literally just existing, they made a spectacle of them. You would never applaud a straight couple for just walking around, so why would you for a queer couple?
In an era where it’s trendy to be socially aware, “allies” are out in full swing. Just look at Pepsi and Kendall Jenner. All of this is not to say that we’re ungrateful. Allies are loved and they are necessary. Please be an ally to your friends and family members less privileged than you. All we ask is that you do it in the right ways and for the right reasons. Listen to us. Give us platforms to speak. Don’t silence us, don’t speak for us, and never act like that Gender Studies class you took your freshman year of college trumps our lived experiences.