When my husband and I got married, we decided the rings we would wear every day ought to reflect the deepest of our shared commitments: the idea that we would both contribute equally, to our relationship and to the world. That’s why if you look inside my wedding ring, you’ll find a simple engraving: “50/50.”
And over the years, I think we’ve honored that commitment to equality. To me, “equality” means giving everyone an equal opportunity to contribute, to speak out, to make change. That’s why the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, #EachforEqual, really resonates with me. As the IWD website puts it: “Equality is not a women’s issue”—it’s everyone’s issue. We can’t rise unless we rise together.
When it comes to building a gender-equal world, women can’t do it alone. Men like my husband have a huge role to play in understanding what needs to be done and taking the right actions in support of equality. Equality depends on collective action. That’s how movements grow, and it’s how progress happens.
Today, we salute the brave women around the world who have dedicated their lives—and in some cases even sacrificed their lives—to the fight for gender equality. We also celebrate our allies: men committed to equality who stand behind and beside us, in public and in private, using their voices to amplify more marginalized ones. (In other words: men who speak with women, not for them.)
How to be a good ally
A quick Google search turns up dozens of great guides to allyship: there’s this one, by the writer Amélie Lamont; this one, from Teen Vogue; this one, from GLAAD; and pages and pages of others. They inspired me to make a list of my own. If you’re a man wondering how you can better show up for the women in your life, here are some things you can do every day to push for balance and parity in your offices and communities—no matter who you are or where you live.
For me, relationships are the key to understanding. That means:
- Treat your female colleagues with respect—when they’re in the room, and also when they’re not. (In science and academia, for instance, there’s a movement afoot to end “manels”—all-male panels at conferences and meetings.)
- Listen to learn. On a related note: Believe women when they tell you about their experiences.
- Don’t make assumptions about what you think women need. Instead, ask them.
- Mentor and champion women at every opportunity.
- Build friendships with women.
- Speak up when something isn’t right.
Let’s build momentum for change
One of the things I love most about being around young people through my work is that they’re constantly branding themselves on their own terms: ditching labels, eschewing gender stereotypes, sometimes even defining themselves by not defining themselves. (Isn’t that empowering?) The more diversity we have, the better our world is. The more people we connect with, the better we are at connecting. Diverse perspectives move humanity forward. We need to bring more people to the table—full stop. Why? Because the more you understand the people you share the world with, the more unity you create.
And everyone has a role to play in movements for equality. Brave revolutionaries band together and shout from the rooftops. Allies back them up, building bridges and creating coalitions. What’s key to remember: no one does it alone. I owe thanks to the many allies who have helped me over the years. And I’m committed to be an ally, too. For example: as a cisgender woman, I am committed to building relationships and working in solidarity with my transgender, intersex, and gender-fluid friends, colleagues, and neighbors.
And I know I won’t always get it right. Nobody does. But when I make mistakes, I try not to get defensive. Instead, I apologize; then, I go right back to listening and learning. In my own relationship, my husband will sometimes ask, “Did I get it wrong?” I respond: “Keep asking, keep listening, keep finding ways to be supportive—even when that means not talking and letting women lead.” I think that is great all-up advice for all of us who seek to be allies. “Solidarity” means recognizing we as individuals aren’t the center of the world. It also means recognizing that we are all the center of the world—and we’re there together.
In 2015, the extraordinary writer Roxane Gay interviewed the equally extraordinary writer Ta-Nehisi Coates about his (then new) book Between the World and Me. “How can allies best serve as allies?” Gay asked. “What is an ally? Are they needed?” Coates answered:
I think it’s probably terribly important to listen. It’s terribly important to try to become more knowledgeable. It’s important to not expect that acquiring of that knowledge…to be a pleasant experience or to proceed along just lines. They certainly don’t proceed that way for black people. It’s going to be painful. Finally I think one has to even abandon the phrase “ally” and understand that you are not helping someone in a particular struggle; the fight is yours.
The fight is yours. The fight is ours. Let’s fight it together.