This article is written by our male ally and volunteer Syukrie Sulaiman.
The Importance of Allyship
The term “allyship” is increasingly becoming the buzzword within several areas of society. However, what does allyship really mean in the current day and age? How can one actively practise allyship in their life?
Allyship is defined as supporting marginalised or under-represented groups and advocating for them against discrimination and unconscious biases. It is a striving to do-the-right-thing; one not born out of guilt or wanting more recognition, but a common responsibility we have to one another.
Allyship is for everyone. Anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity and especially gender can be an ally to anyone. It is important to acknowledge that, in society, women undoubtedly face greater discrimination as compared to men. However, it is incorrect to assume that gender inequality only affects women. Men do face discrimination too. The unconscious expectations of what masculinity entails, and the latter reaction to it by others; shape the way men are treated in society. Being an ally, as such, is not only about ending discrimination against women but also against men too.
We must acknowledge and, more importantly, have conversations about the harmful effects of discrimination and biases we have about each gender. This ultimately creates a healthier embrace of equity towards achieving gender equality. All of us play a part in cultivating this spirit of allyship.
Impact of Gender Roles and Stereotypes
But exactly what does an ally do? What do we “combat”? Gender stereotypes shape our interactions with others. Stereotypes are generalised assumptions about a person. They mainly arise from societal expectations and cultural norms. These, as such, shape our perception of what it means to be and influence what we expect from a particular gender.
Stereotypes can have negative impacts on one’s perception of self and their relationship with others. Spouses not considering hitting their significant other as violence. Assumptions that certain subjects in schools are “only reserved for boys” dissuade girls from pursuing careers in STEM. This is further amplified by parental expectations which discourage them even further. These just show how harmful and limiting societal expectations are towards girls.
Breaking the Norm
If you think about it, the same can be said for boys. There is an unhealthy tendency to associate “the male identity” with STEM. Boys are expected to romantically pursue interests and careers in this field. But what about the rest of us who do not possess this “love”? I am a budding male social worker with three sisters who are working or studying in STEM-related fields. Social work is definitely expected to be a more female-dominated profession.
Can you imagine the judgements or awkward stares? The same can be said for my sisters being in a more male-dominated field. It is absurd to be judged simply because we chose to pursue our passion? There is a greater fear, if things remain unchanged, one can only imagine the ways my sisters would be treated by others in such a field.
Luckily, I have been blessed by a support system which allows us to challenge such norms. Our parents have always been supportive of our interests, choosing not to subjugate our passions to stereotypical gender norms. They, of course, are not perfect. There have been many moments where they might have unknowingly judged us. But what has been most helpful in such situations, is their openness to having conversations about such stereotypes.
Practising Allyship through Conversations
Interestingly, it is here that I have come to realise the answer to exactly how to practise allyship. Conversation.
For such conversations to happen, allies have to ensure that individuals have to feel safe. This can be done by extending your support to those experiencing discrimination; helping create a sense of community and belonging. This allows people, especially men – who were often told or expected not to share vulnerable feelings and be strong – to open up and share their struggles. An ally’s role is to facilitate this conversation to ensure that everyone is heard.
This steers men away from unhealthy forms of masculinity, into more caring and positive forms of masculinity. This fosters personal growth while empowering them, to use their privilege as males, to support women experiencing discrimination. In turn, this creates a ripple effect of more male allies and women feeling less isolated in male-dominant fields.
Being an ally is a continuous process of reflection, self-awareness and self-accountability. One should be open to learning about the impacts of biases, discrimination and stereotypes on others. This can be achieved through several means: listening to others’ experiences and perspectives, attending talks and workshops, and reading articles on gender equality. These can strengthen your foundation of being an ally and support you in knowing how to appropriately challenge biases and amplify your voice for those who need it.
Tips for Having Conversations on Gender Equality
- Just do it! Often, we fear starting conversations because we do not want to be cancelled, seen as insensitive, or even ‘spoil-market’ by the ones around us. That, however, should discourage us from having conversations at all. Find one or two friends or family members you think you can discuss this topic with and have a go!
- Reserve judgement – acknowledge that everyone has their own perceptions and views. When one feels that their perceptions and views are being ‘attacked’ or judged, they become defensive, and the conversation will not be as productive.
- It is okay to challenge assumptions and views but do so out of curiosity, rather than making others feel what they think is wrong. This provides some food for thought or alternative perspectives that diversifies worldviews.
- Use more ‘What’ or ‘How’ questions instead of ‘Why’ to explore why others think the way they do. ‘Why’ questions may seem too interrogative and if others do not feel safe in the conversation, then it makes them feel provoked.
- Remember that having a conversation is an exchange of views to evoke deeper reflection on the topic of discussion. It is not a contest to prove a point or who is right. Having such conversations should seek to help others come out with their own conclusions after hearing everyone else’s points and continue the discussion with others to diversify their perspectives.
Ayyala, R. S., & Coley, B. D. (2022). “Promoting gender equity and inclusion through allyship”. Pediatric Radiology, 52(7), 1202-1206.
Ipsos., & United Women Singapore. (2021) “The STEM Gender Gap: Perceptions of girls towards STEM fields and careers”.
Warren, M. A., Bordoloi, S., & Warren, M. T. (2021). “Good for the goose and good for the gander: Examining positive psychological benefits of male allyship for men and women”. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 22(4), 723–731.
Stewart, R., Wright, B., Smith, L., Roberts, S., & Russell, N. (2021). “Gendered stereotypes and norms: A systematic review of interventions designed to shift attitudes and behaviour”. Heliyon, 7(4), e06660.
Ipsos., & United Women Singapore. (2019) “Challenge The Apathy: Shedding Light on Domestic Abuse In Singapore”.