ETA: Before anyone responds, I want to be clear that this is not a request for reassurance or cookies or any of that. I’m an adult, fully capable of buying or making my own damn cookies. Thanks.
A week or so back, a group working to end violence against women named me as one of sixteen male role models helping to fight violence against women. In an unrelated situation a few days later, someone on Facebook told me she would no longer support my work, and that I might claim to be an ally, but I’m not.
I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I don’t think I’ve ever claimed to be an Ally. I don’t think it’s my place to proclaim myself an ally to women, or to victims of sexual violence, or to the LGBTQ community, and so on.
It was a little odd having these two things occur so close together, and there was a bit of cognitive dissonance for a little while, like I was Schrödinger‘s Ally or something.
I’ll be honest, this whole Ally thing confuses me a little. As shorthand for “this is a person who seems to be trying to understand and support me,” it makes sense. But it feels like we’ve turned it into the ultimate cookie, or a badge to flash around to prove you’re one of the Good Guys. Or maybe a badge-shaped cookie, I don’t know.
So you end up with people trying to deflect criticism by flashing their cookie badge. “Don’t you realize I’m your Ally? It says so right here in white frosting!” Or they turn it into a flounce, throwing their cookie on the ground and declaring, “You have lost a Valuable Ally this day!”
What a waste of a cookie…
(As I’m writing this, I’m starting to like the idea of Schrödinger‘s Ally as shorthand for that person who seems to say the right things, but you’re not sure whether they genuinely support you or if they’re only in it for the cookies. That’s a bit of a tangent though, so I’ll save it for later.)
I can understand that when you’re in a marginalized group fighting for dignity and equality and survival, it’s vital to know who your allies are and who you can trust to have your back. And the term is useful shorthand for articles like “How to be a good male ally” and such.
The whole concept still feels weird to me. Maybe it’s the idea that “ally” is a noun. A concrete, black-and-white thing you either are or aren’t, which gets back to my point about people simultaneously calling me an ally and not an ally…
Dissonance resolved: they’re both right, of course.
Because, linguistics aside, ally isn’t a noun; it’s a verb. It’s action. A process. It’s listening and learning to do better. It’s learning to offer support in ways that are helpful. It’s learning that it’s not all about you.
That gets to the heart of a lot of my discomfort. The moment you stand up and wave your cookie-badge and declare yourself An Ally, it becomes about you. Which not only misses the point, it turns 180 degrees and jumps to hyperspeed to get as far from the point as possible.
And on that note, I’m gonna go see if we have any cookies…