On October 6, 2018, Jack Greenman presented a breakout session called “Male Allyship in the Gender Parity Movement” at Statera’s National Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. StateraArts is proud to publish an expanded text version of his session below.
Male Allyship in the Gender Parity Movement
BY JACK GREENMAN
In March of 2018, an anonymous proposal for a breakout session was received by StateraArts from “a white guy that wants to be part of the solution”:
“Lead Presenter Name
Also, not me
Proposed Session Title (You may change later)
How to talk to people who don't get it... but want to.
anyone and everyone
Proposed Session Description (Please limit to 250 words or less)
I realize that this might not be helpful, or that you might have already done this, or have it on your agenda. This is something I would find helpful. I am not the appropriate person to lead such a workshop, but I think someone should… at some point. How do we talk to those around us that want to support but don’t know how, or, the how they know, is not helpful? I believe that we all need support and that we have people around us that want to be that support, but sometimes they just don't know how. When my friends joined in black lives matter, and the #metoo movements, I noticed that as a white man I wanted to help but didn’t know where I fit in that process, or if I even had a place. Also, I was afraid to ask for fear that my ignorance would offend. I believe that there are allies that don’t know how to help, are afraid to ask, or simply have a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s at stake. I know this is not your mission focus, and this is not a real proposal submission, but rather an idea for the future. I don’t have any of the answers but would love to be part of the solution… even it means, “just sit and listen”.
Presenter or Presenting Group Bio
Just a white guy that wants to be part of the solution”
Shortly after receiving this proposal, the Statera leadership team reached out to ask if I would be willing to lead a session on “Male Allyship” this fall in Milwaukee. (Full disclosure: I’m married to Statera’s Director of Operations, Sarah Greenman, so the “reaching out” happened at the breakfast table). Although I was moved by the proposal, I was reluctant. I shared the “white guy’s” caution, trepidation, and well… fear that the effort would surface my own unconscious biases and that I would end up offending everyone and looking like an asshole.
I said I would think about it.
In the weeks and months that followed, revelations of male sexual abuse and harassment continued to emerge as a result of the #metoo and #timesup movements. The conversation became simultaneously more urgent and even more difficult for me to fathom. I delayed giving Statera an answer. I think I was waiting to see if someone else would propose a session on male allyship and take me off the hook.
It didn’t happen.
Finally, my partner (who had been very patient) was setting the schedule for the conference and needed an answer. She told me that the Statera team really just wanted to get some people in the room and start this conversation. With the bar of success set embarrassingly low, I reluctantly said, “Yes.”
I’m now deeply grateful to the anonymous “white guy” for articulating the need for a conversation about male allyship. I’m also grateful to Sarah Greenman, Melinda Pfundstein, and Shelly Gaza for patiently pressing me to lead it. My perspective on allyship and my position in this movement has changed forever. I now see this work as crucial to the healing of our culture.
Prior to presenting at Stateracon III, I considered myself a feminist and an ally in the movement for gender parity. But the painstaking process of overcoming my reluctance to talk about it is a perfect illustration of how far men have to go in this work. Active resistance of the status quo and a real conversation about what is required of us as men to do this work is very rare. And the current social climate in which women have appropriately broken their silence and begun to express their justifiable anger over centuries of abuse and dehumanization at the hands of men seems, at best, a difficult moment to begin this practice.
But what I found in Milwaukee is a deep sense of how vital a conversation this is - especially in this moment of our history. For the men in the room, there was a clear identification with the fear experienced by the “white guy” who proposed the session and a keen sense of wanting some tools for effective allyship. From the women and TGNC folks in the room, there was a need to find space for the conversation and for some strategies for talking with their partners and coworkers. Many also told personal stories about arguments, relationship difficulties and trauma-inducing incidents that were deep challenges to communication. Building bridges to each other is desirable. But the landscape of the gender divide is a difficult one to navigate. Suffice it to say, we have a lot of work to do.
Allyship Definitions and Goals
Let’s start by defining what we’re really talking about when we say, “allyship”:
“Allyship begins when a person of privilege seeks to support a marginalized individual or group. It is a practice of unlearning and re-learning and is a life-long process of building relationships based on trust, consistency and accountability with marginalized individuals or groups. Allyship is not an identity, nor is it self-defined. Our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with. Because of this, it is important to be considerate in how we frame and present the work that we do. (i.e., we are showing support for…, we are showing our commitment to ending [a system of oppression] by…, we are using our privilege…).” (1)
Embedded in this definition of allyship is an emphasis on doing: practicing, unlearning, re-learning, building, supporting, committing, ending, using privilege.
Additional action-based re-framings include: “currently operating in solidarity with…, showing up for in the following ways…, shutting up and listening, educating yourself, accepting feedback and criticism about how your allyship is causing more harm than good”. (2)
Effective allyship is not an identity – it is action based.
This is critical to our understanding of effective allyship. We take actions, not the credit. If we seek credit for what we do, we can simply advance the oppression we say we’re fighting.
As theatre artists, this is a familiar and a freeing perspective. Basic acting theory tells us that we need to play particular actions, not the emotion or the state-of being in a scene. When we do this consistently, we communicate the story effectively and place our own focus in the moment of now and onto our immediate surroundings. This allows the audience to label the character we’re playing based on the actions they observe (i.e. “he’s being manipulative”, “she’s being a jerk” etc.). As actors, we relinquish responsibility for the character label and focus on what we’re doing.
This is exactly the approach we want to take when we work as allies. We take actions in alliance with women and they have the choice whether or not to apply the label of “ally” to those actions. Of course, even if the label is not applied, effective allies continue to take action if we are serious about the ultimate goal of allyship and collective liberation.
So, what is ultimate the goal of working as an ally? What is advanced when men work with women in an effective way? Nothing less than true colleagueship and mutual liberation from a culture of domination. In their book “A Male/Female Continuum: Paths to Colleagueship”, Bill Page, Carol Pierce, and David Wagner articulate the anatomy of a deeply personal journey toward these goals.
“Men [are] on a journey
1) from the need to control women through the use of violence and sexual exploitation, to sexual harassment, to discrimination and courtesy,
2) into a transition where at first they experience anger for having to change, then accept that there is much to learn about expanding the dimensions of being male,
3) and on into colleagueship where how tasks are accomplished is as important as the task itself.
The journey for women [differs]. They move, as *subordinates,
1) from the use of violent retaliation, focused on both themselves and men, and psychological punishment, to the manipulation and deference of ladies who graciously accept specific roles as proper,
2) into a transition where the anger that surfaces propels them to seek less confining ways, bringing them to the conclusion that it is not always others who limit them, but their own learned behaviors,
3) and into colleagueship where the mutuality of empowerment is valued.
*Subordinates start the process of change when the pain and burden of subordinance become intolerable. Those with power over others – the dominants [predominantly men] – see no reason to change. Subordination is always confining, and when it is based on gender, race, culture, sexual orientation, class, age, or being differently abled, it is particularly loathsome. Rejection of subordination gives women the power to move first and to create the needed momentum to move women and men along the continuum. The tension of some women moving along this continuum far beyond specific men forces those men to look at themselves in new ways.” (3)
The challenges of the transitions in the journey articulated above are considerable. However, the benefits of a conscious journey to colleagueship and mutual liberation are many. In the personal and relational sphere, benefits include more intimate and loving relationships, advancing pay equity, more productive working relationships between the genders, and lives saved and reclaimed. On the societal level, benefits include collective liberation, dismantling of the patriarchy and white supremacy, intersectional unity, the transformation of our society from one obsessed with domination to one based on love and mutual respect. Throughout history, women have always “moved first and generated momentum” for this journey. For men, working as allies helps us to also move forward as we walk in solidarity with women, advancing their efforts.
Obstacles to Allyship and Ways Around Them
What stands in the way of this work for men? Simply, the status quo: a patriarchal society in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and control of property. (4)
But if men hold most of the power, how is this an impediment? Because when men behave in a certain way (acting as agents of the status quo) they receive the benefits of power. But when they step out of those mandated behaviors, they are threatened. This is the “man box” and is a primary way in which our patriarchal system maintains itself – by numbing the natural responsiveness and deep emotional lives of men and boys so that they work to obtain society’s benefits in compensation for the loss of their humanity.
Mark Greene perfectly captures the consequences of this dynamic in his article, “Men’s Anger and the Brutal Contradictions of Masculinity”:
“By training our sons into foregoing authentic relational connection and expression, what some call living in the man box, our culture blocks them from the trial and error process of growing crucial relational capacities, even as it simultaneously coaches them to police and bully other men to conform.
At a time when boys should be expressing and constructing their identities in more diverse, grounded, and authentic ways, they are brutally conditioned to suppress authentic expression and instead cleave closely to the expression of male privilege as identity. And so men brag about hook up sex and ghosting women, seeking to bond via the uniformly degrading and contemptuous narratives of locker room talk.
The result is far too many men who are bullied and shamed into being half anti-women and half anti-self, suppressing the authentic expression of who they are, even as they compete to parade their male privilege. The impact, of women’s steady progress toward equality, on these men’s anti-woman side cannot be underestimated. Because women’s empowerment is antithetical to how the man box constructs manhood, too many men are now fighting to overturn the progress women have made.” (5)
How do we get out of this trap?
We need to recognize what is required of us as men and we need to find approaches to the problem that allow for process, imperfection, discomfort, and practice. If we aspire to work with women as allies, this is crucial work for us to do.
1) Educate Yourself
A first step is to educate ourselves about these issues. In preparing for my talk in Milwaukee I came across a wealth of material on this subject that I was previously unaware of. Much of it appears in the end notes below. But there is so much more. Begin with where your interest lies and check it out.
2) Develop Emotional Capacity
We need to develop emotional capacity, literacy, and fluency. This is an ongoing process and will manifest differently for almost everyone. Steps may include:
developing a personal reflective practice that allows space for change and for emotion to find expression (mindfulness meditation, journaling, yoga, bearing witness)
finding other men with whom to begin this conversation, and actively developing our own emotional capacities that have previously been “wrongly gendered as [female], including empathy, play, compassion, collaboration, connection, and that greatest of human challenges, bridging across difference.” (6)
This will not be easy. It’s taken us centuries to build the culture we live in. It will take generations to fully dismantle it. But simply starting has immediate effects and, as more and more men join this work, we begin to build our own momentum and start to act in ways that truly support the advancement of gender parity and our own liberation from gender roles.
Strategies for Talking with your Partner
How do we start a conversation about this with the opposite gender? What is helpful and what is not?
It’s helpful to remember that this is a counter-culture conversation and that, by interrogating the mechanisms of the patriarchy, we are engaged in a moment of radical activism that requires care and awareness to navigate. We have very little support for this kind of conversation in a culture that frames moments of interaction in terms of winners and losers. We must be intentional about the kind of conversation we want to have surrounding issues of gender and allyship and so need to productively seek to be in dialogue about these subjects. Defining the difference between discussion, debate, and dialogue will clarify what I mean:
“The overarching goal of Dialogue is to create common understanding, through listening to other perspectives and seeking points of connection and gaining clarity about feelings and thoughts. This contrasts sharply with Debate, which is at its core an oppositional process – the goal is to prove the other person wrong, and to make your voice be heard the loudest. Debate frequently leads to close-mindedness and confirmation of our own opinions and biases. […] When we can approach a situation with the skills of Dialogue, we enter a conversation more open, and the results frequently include greater understanding and connection from both sides.” (7)
Practicing the skills of dialogue can be helpful in conversations around this topic. Specifically, these skills manifest as listening without judgement (with a view to understand), honoring silence rather than avoiding it, looking for shared solutions, discovering collective meaning instead of searching for flaws in logic – and many more. The basic goal of dialogue is to broaden our perspective and build the relationship – an essential skill for allies.
However, there may be times when feelings or current events are too hot to actually approach the topic of gender inequity. In these instances, it may be helpful to practice the skills of dialogue around less high-stakes topics. The more you practice the skills of “dialoguing” rather than simply discussing (information) or debating (gaining advantage) the stronger these skills will be when they are called upon to hold this important, but sometimes charged subject matter.
Developing resilience and compassion will also be crucial skill for anyone who wants to work as an ally. There will be moments when allies will hear sharp criticism of our efforts from women and others. There may also be times that women will express their anger with us precisely because we have opened ourselves to their expression. We need to prepare ourselves to receive this expression with grace and compassion and not allow it to land in the reactivity of our conditioning.
I offer a technique to interrupt our reactivity and to develop compassion in the moment developed by Roshi Joan Halifax of the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, NM. It’s easy to remember, because the acronym is G.R.A.C.E. Roshi Halifax developed it originally as a technique for care givers in a health care environment, but it is easily adapted to moments where we feel the stakes and our emotions rise and where we confront challenges that threaten our identity and ego. It also helps everything slow down. Speed kills in these situations and mindfully slowing down the interaction allows us to stay with it. Briefly, when you are “having a moment” follow the steps of the acronym:
G = Gather your attention (Use your breath, settle the mind, notice physical sensations)
R = Recall your intention (Recall what you aspire to and a previous experience of kindness)
A = Attune (With yourself / With the other. Sensations, emotions, thoughts present?)
C = Consider (What steps are possible next? What might serve this moment?)
E = Engage / End (Share information. Respond to emotions. Take action if appropriate. End the encounter and move on to the next moment.)
So, if you’re like me right now having read all this, you may be thinking something along the lines of, “This all takes a lot of time and energy. I’m already exhausted”. My answer is, “Yes. It does. And yes, I am too. But doesn’t maintaining the status quo also exhaust you? Wouldn’t you rather be exhausted from the work of allyship and, at the end of the day, have more authentic, loving relationships, a deeper sense of belonging in the world, and a less violent, more expressive world to live in?”
My answer is a wholehearted, “Yes”.
(1) From the pdf document, “what is allyship? why can’t I be an ally?”, peernetbc.com, 22 Nov, 2016. PeerNetBC is a non-profit, registered charitable organization in British Columbia that provides resources for peer groups and peer-led initiatives.
(2) McKenzie, Mia, “Black Girl Dangerous on Race, Queerness, Class and Gender”, Oakland: BGD Press Inc., 2014, Kindle ebook file
(3) The continuum is represented in the book with a fold out chart that makes the dynamics of both journeys and their inter-relationships extremely legible. Page, Bill, Pierce, Carol, Wagner, David, “A Male/Female Continuum: Paths to Colleagueship”, Laconia, NH, New Dynamics Publications, 2004
(4) Wikipedia contributors. "Patriarchy." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 Oct. 2018. Web. 14 Oct. 2018.
(5) and 6) Greene, Mark, “Men’s Anger and the Brutal Contradictions of Masculinity”, 12 July 2018
(7) “What is Allyship and Skills for Allyship?”, University of Florida Counseling and Wellness.
“Accomplices, Not Allies”, Indigenous Action Network.
“Allyship and Solidarity Guidelines”, Unsettling America.
“Allyship: Intersectionality and Oppression”, Milan, Kim Katrin, 13 Jan, 2018.
“Guide to Allyship”, Lamont, Amelie.
Baldoni, Justin, “Man Enough Episodes 1-4”, 2018
Cobb, Jelani, “The Feigned Victimhood of Bill Cosby, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas”, New Yorker, 26 Sept.,2018
DiAngelo, Robin, “What Does it Mean to be White: Developing White Racial Literacy”, New York, Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 2012
Green, Mark, “The Little #MeToo Book For Men”, 2018.
Johnson, Brad W., Smith, David G., “Lots of Men Are Gender-Equality Allies in Private. Why Not in Public?”, Harvard Business Review, 13 Oct., 2017.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
For the past 11 years, Jack Greenman served as associate professor of voice and speech and as the Head of Acting at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. As an actor, Jack has performed in over 80 professional productions. Jack also spent seven seasons at the Utah Shakespeare Festival as one of two text and dialect coaches. Additionally, Jack has coached voice and dialects at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Roundhouse Theater in Bethesda, MD, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, and for La Pell in Barcelona.
Before moving to Dallas, Jack spent two years on the faculties of Cornish College of the Arts and Freehold Theatre/Studio in Seattle and 14 years as an Artist-in-Residence at PCPA Theaterfest.
Jack resides in Eastern Oregon with his partner, Sarah Greenman, and their sons. Learn more at www.jackgreenman.com