Saturday, March 6, 2010

What is a "Feminist Ally?"

So twice in the past week I've come across the term "feminist ally." The first was on a feminist blog calling another blogger this term. It didn't stick out to me initially. Then I saw it used in the comments section of a different feminist blog in the context of "feminists and allies must fight against XXX."

This got me thinking...What exactly is a feminist ally? I'm familiar with gay allies. Like GLAAD says, "A straight ally can merely be someone who is supportive and accepts the LGBT person, or a straight ally can be someone who personally advocates for equal rights and fair treatment."

This makes sense to me, and I actually identify as a gay ally (on both parts). One can support the freedom of non-heterosexuality and believe in rights for homosexuals, but not actually particpate in homosexuality. Feminism is not the same. Let's take a look at a similar definition of feminist ally like, for example, "A feminist ally can merely be someone who is supportive and accepts the feminist, or a feminist ally can be someone who personally advocates for equal rights and fair treatment of women."

This doesn't make sense. If you personally advocate for equal rights and fair treatment of women, then you ARE a feminist (like the term or not!). You are not a feminist ally. And if you are supportive and accepting of a feminist, but do NOT advocate for equal rights and fair treatment, then you are merely someone who lets others believe what they want, but you are not actually an ally to the feminist at all.

Basically, "feminist ally," to me sounds like another way to try to make people who are afraid of the word feminist more comfortable with it as a concept, and to perpetuate the FALSE assumption that only women are feminists. A simple Google search of "feminist ally" confirms that there is an immediate connection made between the term feminist ally and males.

Guess what? Men can be and are feminists. These soft and fuzzy cutesy terms, (like feminist ally) used to reinforce false assumptions about feminism and feminists, get us nowhere. It does the movement a whole lot more good if the people who really are feminists embrace the term and denounce the negative spin that has been put on it.

UPDATE, July 2013: I understand that there is a very real and important sect of feminism that feels that identifying as a male feminist is problematic and uses the term "ally" for these people. I, personally, don’t take issue with male identified feminists, because I’ve seen it done right several times. But that is rare. Some men take on the feminist label and appropriate it with the intention to mansplain and talk over women. I’ve often heard that instead of making feminism for men, men should make their spaces (ie the rest of the world) more feminist. I like that.

Ultimately, whatever term you use, it’s much more important to live the values of feminism than to "be a feminist." The first step for participating in ANY movement where you carry a privilege is to STOP TALKING AND LISTEN. Seriously—read, listen, and learn all you can.


  1. Very good article. One of the most depressing experiences I've had recently has been overhearing an extremely intelligent female co-worker saying, perfectly straight-faced, "I'm not a feminist - I believe men and women should be equal". This woman is far from unintelligent - she speaks six languages and has an MA (which she passed with a distinction) in - perhaps most depressingly of all - sociology, with an emphasis on gender studies. Unfortunately thoguh, the word 'feminist' still carries so many unfavourable and erronenous connotaions, even among those who support it in spirit and principle.

  2. the separation of the terms "ally" and "feminist" has nothing to do with softpedaling the term "feminist" to make people like it more, it is an attempt to include men and male allies under the umbrella of feminism without allowing them the privilege of being able to dictate the terms of their emancipation to women who actually have to live it every day.

    very few male allies check their privilege at the door when first embarking down the road of egalitarianism, and it can be hard, VERY hard, to break lifetime habits of being heard first, being acknowledged first, and having more right to have anger heard without it being dismissed as hysteria, hormones, fragility, or some other marginalizing term.

    unfortunately, it has been my experience that the rage some men express at being asked by feminists to call themselves allies is a pretty decent litmus of whether or not they should call themselves either.

  3. There are some additonal complications. Some female feminists will tell antisexist men that they should call themselves feminists when they don't want to (and will tell women that, see Furrygirl's rant)
    Others will tell antisexist men not to call themselves femininsts.

    I am of the opinion that people are better, ultimately, at checking privilege than credit is given for and that nobody can really be excluded based only on their identity.


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