At our signature annual event this past weekend, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, we focused on how everyone — men, women, and children — can be an ally. An ally is a person of one social identity group who stands up in support of members of another group. He or she is typically a member of a dominant group standing beside member(s) of a group being discriminated against or treated unjustly. It is important for allies to recognize that they do not have the life experience of the members of the group they are supporting, and so can never truly speak on behalf of this group.
The concept of being an ally is also important for individuals who come from the same group that is being discriminated against or treated unjustly. For example, women may not automatically act as allies to other women if they are influenced by the dominant group – men – and align themselves with that power base. Women may need to be reminded to offer support to other women, and to avoid victim-blaming and other negative reactions to women who have experienced trauma.
The term “ally” isn’t a noun. It isn’t an identity, label, or something to claim. Instead, you are an ally when you take action, make a stand, or do something to make a difference by standing up against oppression and marginalization. You become an ally when someone else recognizes you as one.
There are a number of ways that you can be an ally. While it may seem like it requires heroic acts, being an ally largely means stepping up in small ways that can make a big difference. These everyday ally actions do require you to understand the issues facing marginalized groups, and to be willing to be uncomfortable in order to make a difference.
An ally behavior can be to educate yourself about gender-based violence. One way to put this into action is to read and learn about issues affecting others, such as women or the LGBTQIA community. Consider Mark, who sees posts on social media for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. His first thought is “Why is this necessary,” because he isn’t aware that it is a problem. He decides to research the issue, and is surprised to learn how common domestic violence is in his community — and then gets involved with a local organization dedicated to ending gender-based violence (like Blackburn Center). That is how simple it can be to be an ally!
Alternatively, you can engage in ally behavior by challenging stereotypes. For example, if you are at your son’s baseball game and hear a man sitting yelling at the team to “stop throwing like a bunch of girls,” think about what you can do. Just asking this man, “What do you mean by ‘throwing like a bunch of girls’?” may be enough to get him to stop shouting out those demeaning stereotypes at the players.
Being an ally can move you out of your comfort zone. However, it is vital for each of us to commit to these types of actions if we want to see true change in our society. By supporting victims, refusing to laugh at rape jokes, being role models, and using our voices, we can “be the change” that we want to see in our world.
At Blackburn Center, we believe that each of us has the power to be a force for social change. Learn more about ally behaviors and how YOU can be part of the solution on our new ally behaviors page.