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Hey GUYS… Psst, yes you, GUYS, I’m speaking to YOU. Although the vast majority of my articles I’m speaking to other women, this article is a bit of a change-up. Today, I’m speaking to all you wonderful men who want to learn how to be better allies and support the strong women in their lives.

Strong Women = Strong Society

When women have the freedom and support to thrive, we end up rocking the world. Strong links can be made between gender equality and more stable, peaceful, and prosperous societies. Which makes sense. Women do makeup half of our species population, and thus half of the human potential.

Countries which have the highest gender parity in their workforce do significantly better economically than countries with higher inequality in their workforce, as women contribute to both the production and consumption of goods and services. Companies that have more women in executive leadership roles are more profitable, and tend to have lower rates of harassment in their work culture.

And it’s pretty common sense, but when women are happy and thriving, their relationships and family lives are more successful and joyous.

And when it comes down to it, it’s simple. Women are human beings, just like you. We have the same dreams, ambitions, and aspirations to follow our passions and make our mark on the world. And humans are a social and communal species; we succeed best when we work together.

Why Strong Women Need Allies

Because social change takes all of us. And it starts with those closest to us.

For a very long time, issues like gender inequality and gender violence were considered to be “women’s issues” because women most often were considered the primary victims in such situations. (And it makes sense that those on the short end of the stick would be the ones most highly motivated to change the status quo.)

But as Jackson Katz bluntly and enigmatically asserted in his 2012 TEDx Talk, these are men’s issues too. And moreover, Katz states, ..[P]art of the paradigm shift that has to happen is not just understanding these issues as men’s issues, but they are also leadership issues for men…”.

There are numerous ways men can take leadership roles as allies for strong women through modeling respect and advocating for women, especially in contexts where women have little presence.

Today, we’ll talk about some ways you can support strong women and be an ally. It all starts with you (cue: Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”) and the women in your everyday life: mothers, wives/girlfriends, daughters, sisters, cousins, friends, colleagues, grandmothers, aunts, acquaintances, and community members. Help support and empower the women in your life. Not only will they genuinely and truly appreciate it, but the ripple effect will make a better world for ourselves and our children.

 

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The Playbook: Top 10 Ways Men Can Support Strong Women

 

1. Support Her Dreams + Ambitions

Strong women dream big and bring all the grit needed to get there. But we know we don’t get there alone. We often have a whole support system behind us.

There’s a line between supportive women that goes, “for every strong woman, there’s a group of other strong women behind her editing her important email drafts when they get 5 minutes.”

But it doesn’t just have to be other strong women. We welcome men to support us.

It could be expressing your support by showing interest and validating our goals, ambitions, and our capabilities; helping us craft our plans to make them a reality; offering support in your skill areas; offering networking opportunities when you know someone else who can help; and offering emotional support on the tougher days.

 

2. Listen To, Believe, + Trust Women.

Guys, this one is HUGE.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture which often dismisses women’s statements and opinions; where little girls are praised for being quiet and lady-like, and little boys are praised for being assertive and loud. Women feel as insulted as you would if your verbal contributions were treated as optional or filler noise. Even on very important matters, like our health.

[Medical research has shown that doctors take pain reports from women less seriously, and treat pain in women less aggressively than male patients; and that women are more likely to be misdiagnosed (for years) because symptoms in women can differ from those of men, even with the same medical condition, yet women’s symptoms are more likely to be dismissed or mistakenly classified as psychosomatic if they don’t mimic the symptoms doctors see in men.]

This is particularly true on matters of gender violence, where the victims (many, but not all, women) are often greeted with skepticism or blamed for the interaction. Many women state the reason they did not report harassment or assault is that they didn’t think they would be believed, or that they would be blamed for it. And yet, a leading study demonstrates that false reports make up only 5.8% of reported allegations, but FBI statistics show that 97% of rapists never spend a day in jail. (FYI: When false allegations occur, they usually fall into one of these 4 categories.) And if you’re wondering why you never see harassment happen, it’s because perpetrators often do it strategically when others aren’t around and that men often don’t know what harassment looks like.

But we don’t even need to talk about the big issues here. We hear it in casual conversation every day; someone dismissing or questioning something a woman said, without the same skepticism if the statement was made by a man. And that makes women less likely to even want to say anything.  (My favorite theatrical manifestation of this is Susan Glaspel’s play Trifles where two men are trying to solve a murder completely ignoring and dismissing their wives’ conversations as “trivial woman talk” — meanwhile the ladies solve the murder.)

What strong women are asking is for you to listen to us, believe us, and trust us. If you respect us, then you should trust our intuition, experiences, and decisions. Stop thinking about how to respond; instead, develop deeper listening skills, and be empathetic to what women tell you, even if it makes you feel defensive. Accept that women experience the world differently and but understanding those differences will make your perception of the world richer. (And *gasp* we might learn a thing or two about each other!)

Now this doesn’t mean swallow every word someone says to you because she is a woman. Humans do funny things with the truth, and life is best approached with a healthy sense of skepticism. But the next time you find yourself wondering if the woman you are talking to is making up a story or exaggerating, ask yourself: if a man you trusted told you the same thing, would you be questioning him too?

3. Amplify

Numerous studies demonstrate women are more likely to be interrupted, talked over, talked down to, or have their ideas mis-credited to male counterparts.

Amplify women's voicesNo more. Not when you’re around! Take a cue from the women of the Obama White House: Amplify!

If you see a woman being interrupted, speak up and say, “Hey, I’m not sure if Jane finished making her point and I’d like to hear more of what she has to say.”

If you see that a woman made a suggestion that was ignored, only for a guy in the group to suggest the same exact idea a little later to much fanfare, make sure the idea isn’t mis-credited. “Hey, Tom, that’s a good idea. I believe Mercedes brought that up earlier. Mercedes, what did you say about this before?”

In a group meeting, make it a point to ask anyone (women and men) who didn’t yet contribute if they have anything to add. “Amy, John, Rochelle, is there anything you wanted to add or bring up?”

And if women have knowledge and/or experience in certain areas, trust them on that. Please don’t explain to us the basic information on a subject we already know tons about. Especially if you wouldn’t do that same to a male colleague or friend in the same situation.

4. Mentor + Sponsor Women

Both men and women benefit from mentoring, but particularly for women, mentoring can have a significantly profound effect on the success of their careers.

And sponsoring women can even have a bigger effect.

As one report notes: “Good sponsors can supercharge a woman’s career by providing her with access to essential networks, bringing her achievements to the attention of senior-level executives, and recommending her for key assignments,” said Ilene H. Lang, President & CEO of Catalyst. “Effective sponsors also provide career coaching and guidance that enable protégés to make broader and more strategic contributions to their organizations.”

Consider mentoring and sponsoring female colleagues at your work, or join a mentor/coach/sponsor network and ensure that a fair portion of your clients are women.

This also means including women at social gatherings, meetings, and outings where a lot of this mentoring, sponsorship, and networking happen on and off the clock.

In a December 2017 Facebook post, Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook and author of Lean In), wrote in part: “Four years ago, I wrote in Lean In that 64 percent of senior male managers were afraid to be alone with a female colleague, in part because of fears of being accused of sexual harassment. The problem with this is that mentoring almost always occurs in one-on-one settings. … Doing right by women in the workplace does not just mean treating them with respect. It also means not isolating or ignoring them – and making access equal. Whether that means you take all your direct reports out to dinner or none of them, the key is to give men and women equal opportunities to succeed. This is a critical moment to remind ourselves how important this is. So much good is happening to fix workplaces right now. Let’s make sure it does not have the unintended consequence of holding women back.”

5. Offer Opportunities: Allow Women to Make Their Own Decisions + Support Them.

According to the Center for American Progress, only 25% of women serve in executive and senior-level roles, 20% percent serve in board seat roles, and 6 percent serve in a CEO spot of companies in the S&P 500.

Hiring and promotion practices can play a big role in the lack of female leadership. Often, women find themselves left out of consideration for promotions or key assignments because their supervisors assume (consciously or subconsciously) that the women will not want to (or be able to) balance the demands of family or a pregnancy with increased work demands. (What a lot of women refer to as being “mommy-tracked”.)

These assumptions go back to the antiquated notions that women will be the primary family caregiver. But it’s 2018 and the fact is you have no idea if that is true about any particular woman, or what other support systems she has set up in her life.

Worried that she’ll miss important meetings due to having to stay home when the kid is sick? Ever think that the child’s father, a trusted friend/family member, or a babysitter might do that instead? (Also, do you ever ask yourself the same question when promoting a man who just became a new dad?)

Instead of assuming a female colleague wouldn’t want or be able to handle the job responsibilities with her personal life responsibilities, offer women the assignments, positions and promotions they deserve and allow them to decide if accepting the promotion or assignment is right for them.

6. Support Gender Equality Initiatives

As we talked about above, gender equality produces more stable, peaceful, and prosperous societies. And, yanno, women are people who deserve fundamental human rights.

Support gender equality initiativesYet in 2018, women are still paid 20% less than men over their lifetime and only a quarter of executive and senior level roles are held by women, our healthcare decisions are still being legislated by state and federal governments (often without our guidance), maternal mortality is significantly higher in the US than other developed nations, gender violence is still a huge problem, and although women make up slightly more than half of the US population, less than 20% of Congress members are women, and it was only in the last 10 years that a woman becoming president seems feasible.

Men can be great allies in the movement towards gender equality. Your voice holds weight with society, sometimes in places and ways when ours doesn’t. Please use your voice. Learn about gender equality issues, research and support gender equality initiatives in your community, workplace, state, and federally (or suggest some if none exist). Be a leader in this movement and the women in your life will truly appreciate knowing you have their back.

By the way, feminism is simply defined as “the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” If you agree with that, thank you for being a feminist. (No man-hating, I promise.)

 

7. Be an Upstander Against Sexism

If you haven’t seen Jackson Katz’s 2012 TEDx Talk on this topic, do it now. I’ll wait.

Although all men are not responsible for the violent and offensive actions of any individual man, all men are responsible for helping change the toxic elements in male culture that create the environments that allow harassment, abuse, and gender violence to thrive (not just against women, but against other men and children too.) Your silence, laughing along, willful ignorance, or minimizing bad behavior from other men makes you complicit.

Women are not asking you to protect us, we are asking you to stop protecting other men. We are asking you to stand up for us … to other men.

When another guy makes a sexist comment or joke, even if women aren’t around to hear it, tell him that it’s a shitty thing to say.

When another guy keeps pestering a girl after she’s told him no (to a drink, a date, sex, whatever), tell him to cut it out and leave her alone.

When a guy demeans another guy by likening to a girl (“you fight like a girl”, “you’re a p*ssy”, boys don’t cry”, etc.), challenge him on his statement. My favorite technique is in a clear level voice, I ask why he has such a problem with women, or what fight like a girl means to him, or why is it wrong for boys to cry. Make them explain themselves. If they try to wriggle out of an answer with mumbles or “you know”, I simply state, “No, I don’t know/understand. Please explain.” And to each response, I follow with “and why do you think that?” asking them to explain their logic further. This tends to work like a charm, putting the guy who made the sexist or demeaning remark in the awkward situation of having to explain and defend something he knows sounds ridiculous. Men who speak or act in violent and/or offensive ways are much less likely do so when the social culture and especially their friends, family, and colleagues shame them for it.

8. Bring Your Whole Best Self

Ok, guys, I’m just gonna get real here. The image that society feeds you that the ideal masculine man is some stoic “tough guy” that only feels happiness and anger is BULLSHIT. Emotions are not a “feminine” thing; emotions are a human thing.

It’s more than okay to have them, express them, and show empathy to others. It takes a lot of strength to allow yourself to be vulnerable, but that is also where we discover part of what it is to be human.

But instead, our culture encourages you to basically be abrasive dicks towards each other with many male “friendships” amounting to little more than drinking buddies that you exchange insults with and talk really only of the shallow details of life. And it seems to make you guys really lonely and isolated. How many of you have rich, deep friendships with other men? Men you can celebrate with, cry in front of, and tell anything to. How many of you truly have these friendships with women (who you aren’t trying to date or sleep with)? Friendships, these are a human thing too.

As humans, we are multi-dimensional beings who continue to grow and develop throughout our lives. Make conscious efforts to grow in your connection to yourself, your skills, talents, and passions, your intelligence, health and wellness, family/friendship/community connections, emotional intelligence, in your spirituality or humanism, artistic and hobby pursuits, and professional career. Have your own dreams and ambitions that you pursue with passion and dedication. Humans are healthiest and most joyful when we are balanced and free to express our true selves.

How does this help women? In many ways, society also encourages women to hide our whole selves and only show the “acceptable” parts. Strong women know the value in defying this stereotype and being ourselves. But it helps when we have strong men beside us, as friends, family, partners, and colleagues leading by example and encouraging us to continue to shine in our light.

 

9. 50/50 in Relationships + Parenting

Understand here, I am by no means telling anyone how to arrange or conduct their relationships or parenting arrangements.

However, the old model of leaving the vast majority of the relationship and childcare responsibilities to women have contributed greatly to the gender inequality we see today, and is, frankly, pointless.

50/50 in parenting and relationshipsIt kind of baffles me a little when I see on social media posts in which men are being given gold stars and parades for watching their own kids for a few hours while momma goes out for some much-needed margaritas with the girls – and I’m scratching my head like, “But like that’s the father, right? Why is he being praised for something that is generally expected of parents, especially when the mom gets no praise for the same task?” (I mean unless I’m missing it, guys, I’m not seeing many posts from you praising the mommas for staying home to watch your kids when you go out for boys’ night.). Another related example: whenever I ask my mom friends to hang out, most often they check that their partners will be free to watch the kids; but when I ask my dad friends to hang out, they rarely seem to check with their partners before accepting. Or so many times I’ve seen women take on all the planning/scheduling, and maintenance of a relationship leaving little time for other priorities in her life. (This often ends with her getting frustrated and leaving, and him scratching his head wondering what went wrong. To those guys: You weren’t being an adult and pulling your own weight (either physically or emotionally or both), that’s what went wrong.)

It is this kind of thought pattern is what feeds into women getting passed over for promotions and key assignments, or being unable to fully pursue their goals. Because society assumes that women will be too busy with the demands of their personal lives. Please reject this line of thinking and help us construct a new narrative.

Both men and women are full human beings equally capable of contributing to the responsibilities of relationships and parenting. (If you don’t think you are, maybe then opt not to engage in either.).

Help the women that you engage in relationships and parenting with by more evenly dividing the responsibilities. This will allow that special strong woman in your life to more fully be herself, and more fully bring herself to you and your children.

10. Model Respect

In all your words and actions model respect for women. Lead by example.

Some tips and tricks for modeling respect:

  • When you give compliments, be sincere, genuine, and give lots of compliment on traits other than her looks. It’s fine to remind the women in your life that they’re beautiful, pretty, sexy, etc., but we want to be reminded that we’re more than that too. More than being complimented for being pretty, I appreciate being complimented for being capable, strong, courageous, intelligent, kind, creative, or funny. Or connect a look-based compliment with another trait: “I love how your style fits your personality: fierce and badass.” (And if it’s a female colleague, it’s probably safer to just not give aesthetic-based compliments unless you are also a close personal friend.) Model respect for women by always valuing them for more than their appearance.
  • Similarly when complimenting or talking to young girls, reduce the number of statements or questions you ask about how adorable they are, or their clothes or hairstyle. It’s okay to compliment them on these things (and many little girls love their dresses and hair), but have the majority of the compliments, statements, and questions (and certainly the first ones you say) be about non-physical traits. Make statements or ask questions that show you value their intelligence, their talents and skills, their courage, kindness, personality, and opinions. Praise them for being good at art, science, or soccer. Ask them what good books they are reading or what their favorite activity is. Ask them for advice, even if it’s just what color you should paint the living room or what you should make for dinner. (Kids really do have some profound wisdom and are usually pretty honest, sometimes very bluntly so.) Remind young girls and everyone around them that they are valued for so much more than being cute.
  • Avoid calling women by cutesy names like “honey”, “baby”, “dear”, “sweetie”, “darling”, “young lady”, etc., especially in professional or social settings. When you call women by these names you are engaging in a form of infantilizing, using your status to judge them on their attractiveness and reduce them to child-like status who can more easily be ignored and overlooked. [Caveat: obviously in private settings, it’s okay to use these terms with close friends/family members who have given consent.]
  • Particularly in professional settings, be aware of how you introduce female colleagues. It’s sad, but men are often introduced with job titles, degrees, or accolades, whereas women are often introduced with “the elegant”, “the lovely”, “the beautiful”. Notably, a recent study revealed: “At conferences, male doctors are introduced as “Doctor Whoever” 72% of the time; female doctors are introduced using the word “Doctor” only 49% of the time.” Introducing women professionally without using their title, degrees, or accolades subtly implies that their credentials are somehow less than their male colleagues.
  • Practice enthusiastic consent in your sexual encounters. An absence of a “NO” is not good enough; make sure you get a clear “YES”. Be responsive to your partner. If she hesitates, stops responding, stiffens up, avoids eye contact, goes limp, or just doesn’t seem that into it anymore, stop what you are doing and ask her what’s going on.
  • Avoid using misogynistic insults like “bitch”, “slut”, “cunt”, “pussy”, “f*g”, “cuck”, etc. which demean the feminine. Use equal opportunity insults like “asshole”.
  • Challenge traditional gender roles. Wear colors like pink and purple (un-ironically) traditionally left for girls. Engage in hobbies or activities you like, even if some would consider them feminine (like this guy who rocks at knitting). Buy little girls trucks and little boys dolls. Don’t tell girls that science is hard (or a boy’s thing) or tell boys poetry is for pussies. Ask girls to mow the lawn and boys to help with dinner. Show your comfort in being surrounded by strong confident women. Be a role model to all those around you.

BONUS Feature + Support Women in Art + Media

Seek out books, film, TV, and other mediums of art and media, that prominently feature strong female characters.

feature women in art and mediaSeek out books, film, TV, and other mediums of art and media created by women. Seek out female authors, artists, musicians, performers/entertainers, bloggers, podcasters, youtubers, etc.

If you make art or media, feature strong women prominently: as characters, performers, and behind the scenes as writers, directors, producers, etc. (And if you are writing roles for women, please do your research; consult with women. A number of times I see well-meaning male artists portray women in a way that leaves me wondering, “Is that what you think makes a woman strong? Is that what you think women think or want?”)

Support organizations for women in media and art such as the Women’s Media Center, Women in the Arts and Media Coalition, or the Alliance for Women in Media.

 

Have other suggestions for ways men can support strong women?  Comment below or on the SoulFire Tribe – Light It Up Facebook Group!  Share your knowledge and engage with other men + women!  Share this article with a friend and continue the conversation!

Xoxo,

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Stella Autumn

Founder, Women's Empowerment Coach, + Writer/Blogger at SoulFire Tribe
* Queen * Rebel * Unicorn * Coach * Writer * Lawyer * Witch * Geek * Goth/Alt Chick * Poetess * Explorer * Artist * Hippie * Book Dragon * Ladyboss * Quirky, Curious, + Creative * // I empower women invested in personal and professional growth to discover the courage and creativity within themselves to lead happy, balanced, and successful lives defined by their own terms!
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