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Dear men: how to support women’s rights

This blog  is based on a speech that WPUK co-founder, Kiri Tunks, made at the London Men Supporting Women’s Rights meeting on Saturday 26th October which was organised by Men at Work.

They are organising other meetings around the country. The next one is in Glasgow on 23rd November.

“If you are coming to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Lilla Watson, Aboriginal activist

Thanks to all the women who contributed ideas to this advice.

When women win, everyone wins and society is a better place

The fight for women’s rights demands that society changes to work to suit the needs of people, not capital or systems or things. When women demand things like flexible working or equal pay or limits on working time, then all workers benefit; so do their families; and so does the economy.

Women’s victories improve things for everyone. A couple of historic examples:

  • The Bryant & May Matchwomen’s strike in 1888 (which Louise Raw writes about in Striking a Light) took up the fight for decent pay and better working conditions. Their struggle was the spark for the Dockers strike of 1889. Both struggles led to the birth of the New Unionism and the modern labour movement in the UK.
  • The Cradley Heath Chain Makers strike in 1910 was fought against low pay and exploitative working conditions. After a strike of 10 weeks, they achieved a living wage and established the principle of a national minimum wage.

The success of women’s struggles is a gain for everyone. Their victories benefit us all.

So don’t think of this as a battle you are helping out with.

If you think this isn’t really your battle, and you are only here to be nice, then we don’t want you on the field.

But if you are staying, this is what we think you can do.

Do some work

“My political involvement is on top of running a home and three kids. It’s easier on my own than it was when I had a partner. He did nothing and I had to feed every mouth before I left for a meeting and do the dishes on my return.”

  • Be a parent – childcare is not babysitting and you don’t get brownie points for doing it.
  • Educate yourself. Don’t expect women to do your labour for you.
    • Listen to what we say . Don’t interrupt- even if you think what you have to say is more important than what we are saying. It won’t be.
    • Don’t assume what you say is news to us.
    • Read what we write. Talk about it with other men. Don’t interpret it for women.
    • It’s not all about you. If women are critiquing male behaviour, don’t assume they’re talking about you. Don’t take generalisations personally.
    • And, no, not all men are like that, but too many of you are.
  • Don’t be a hypocrite.
    • Deconstruct your own sexual objectification of, and behaviour towards, women.
  • Work on yourself and your mates.
    • Speak to other men. Raise male consciousness. Ask yourselves questions.

Consciousness raising helped women realise our experiences were shared, universal and structural. As a movement, and for individuals, it gave us the power of naming. It’s time men did the same work.”

You don’t have the be leading man – take a supporting role

  • Step aside. Make space for a woman instead.
  • Support the women you are with
    • Let them take the lead.
    • If they ask for help, share your skills and expertise.
    • Don’t be a knight in shining armour, be a comrade and a friend.
  • Challenge sexism.
    • In others; in structures; in systems.
    • If you are in a position in which you are able to influence policy, use it constructively – ask questions, challenge decisions.
    • Complain if you see somewhere treating women unfairly in their provision of services.
  • Challenge the throw-away comments and behaviour of others.
    • If you are with your mates, don’t let them get away with it.
    • If you are with a woman who has been subjected to sexism or harassment, ask her how she wants to handle it. Respect her decisions and support her in them.
  • Offer practical help
    • Fundraising, driving, donating money, making the tea, sweeping up, running the creche…
  • Tailor your activism to changing men, not women.

Know what you are talking about, know when to shut up and know when to leave.

The world we have doesn’t work because it restricts the power and freedom of too many of us.

Help us spread that power and freedom.

We all have a better world to win.

As Aboriginal activist, Lilla Watson, said:

“If you are coming to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

And if that list is too long, then just settle for cleaning the house and leave women more time on the battlefield.

@kiritunks

26th October 2019

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