Performative Allyship

The word ‘Ally’ is thrown around a lot these days.  People may claim they are allies to any one of the marginalized and persecuted groups in America.  Allies to Black Lives Matter.  Allies to the transgendered community who lost 27 to murder last year and 22 so far this year. Allies to women, who are routinely harassed and sexually assaulted in the workplace and out.  Who can’t walk outside without being seen as in a male space, so in some way are intimidated or seen as a sexual object.  There’s a fear in not being nice to a man who is telling you to smile, that you’re pretty, because if you aren’t nice they can react with violence.   If you are pleasant, as we’re trained to be, then it’s somehow an invitation to further molestation up to, and including rape and murder with “but she smiled at me!” used as defense.  This is a no win situation.

Recently in the horror writing community there have been more outing of men who have harassed women at cons and through online mediums.  Tim Miller and Matt Hayward are the latest names to cross my feed, in a string of male names since even before MeToo started. 

Being an ally, loosely defined, is aligning yourself with another, usually from a different group than how you identify yourself, to show support and exercise support in some way.

Performative allyship is buying a BLM t-shirt but not being vocal when you see a black person on the street getting harassed by a cop or anyone else, or even just crossing the street when a black person approaches and telling yourself it’s because of Covid when you’ve done it for years even before there was the coronavirus to allow you the ability to rationalize your racism.  Is wearing that cool “Male Feminist” pink pussy hat and still catcalling, sending pictures of your penis to others.  Or, in a less extreme way, it’s posting about how you didn’t realize how scared women were of men and posing yourself as caring to centralize the conversation around your learning and praise for your allyship, saying you’d never do that, and then messaging a female explicit details of your sex life.

That last one recently happened to me.  I’d been wanting to write my thoughts on allyship for a while, and how I’m done with it.  How it’s so not the right word or the right action.   How I feel it’s another ribbon a good white man can give himself to feel better about benefiting from white supremacy, how a “good person’ of any identity can make themselves feel better by slapping on that sticker, reaffirming there is a line between ‘me’ and ‘them’ but that hey, I tolerate ‘them’ so I’m fine.  Who may post about not understanding how hard it is to be a woman, and gathering together women’s stories, all their emotional labor and excitement that a man wants to realize how bad it is for us, and then turning around and continuing in your ways anyway, wasting all our effort and time. It’s also a way to claim moral superiority over others.  So I don’t want this post to be all about what happened, but I do want to acknowledge it.

An extreme horror writer, in responding to what Tim Miller and Matt Hayward had done, posted on his Facebook that any woman can come to him at a convention if they are harassed.  Many people rallied around about what a good person he is, which, thankfully, didn’t seem like the reason why he posted it.

Other men followed suit posting similar things and affirmations of surprise and solidarity with women.  One of these men and I messaged on occasion, so we talked about it one and one.  Suddenly, I’m getting details of his sexual history in my inbox.  Details I did not invite, ask for, or want.  It took me a while to process this before letting him now that this is the opposite of what he was saying on his public page.  That this is the bullshit women go through all the time. My exact response was:

Btw, that’s another thing women have to put up with a lot and let slide, so I’m not going to let it slide here. For some reason men often just dump their emotional baggage and way TMI on women, I don’t get it, we’re either a punching bag or dumping ground and we’re used to glossing it over because it’s common or from a good guy when really, it’s not a good guy thing to do

I was mild in my response because – what would he do next?  I was upset.  I still am.  This guy started a conversation on how often women get harassed, seemed shocked, then turned around and did it.

He was living solidly in performative allyship.  Saying something, aligning with allyship, but then not actually doing it.  It was just a performance.

I don’t like the term allyship.  It is reinforcing a division.  It is saying that those who benefit the most don’t HAVE to do the work, it’s a choice they make out of the goodness of their heart, not that it’s NECESSARY work on their part to stand by, or in front of their neighbors to ensure they don’t get one more punch at their face, to ensure not one more woman is raped, not one more black man is killed, not one more black child as the statistics about a black male reaching age 25 are staggering, with 1 in 3 expecting to go to prison.

I do not believe people can call themselves an ally, that I can call myself an ally to someone who is subject to inequities.  It should be mine, and your duty to stand alongside each other.  Our obligation as a citizen, as a neighbor, to do as much as we can to help those around us.  Allyship is not a badge to  wear, a title to put on our resume, a way to make ourselves feel superior to other “insert your identity here”.  It is a must.  For my survival.  For our survival.  We must stop seeing it as a choice to make and realize people are going to be more and more critical of people who lay claim to that title of ‘ally’ as allies continue to perpetuate the same damn actions.  Too many people are dying for that bullshit, “I want an Ally ribbon and fancy t-shirt,” mentality to feel without having to act.   Do it so more people can walk outside and breathe and not be afraid.

Stop performing, and start being.

Links to a few items that informed my thinking:

Statement Regarding Matt Hayward

There is no such thing as a white ally

9 reasons why acting for solidarity for racial justice is preferable to allyship

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