Home > rant > What male allies should *really* be doing

What male allies should *really* be doing

October 10, 2014

Chris Wiggins was kind enough to forward me this article on a recent panel discussion of “Male Allies of Women” at the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration, which is a big deal conference for women in tech.

Panelists included Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer, Google’s SVP of Search Alan Eustace, GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving, and Intuit CTO Tayloe Stansbury. The advice was stale and trite and included things like “speak up,” “lean in,” and “get excited about your ideas like men do.”

Yes, I said GoDaddy.

Yes, I said GoDaddy.

By far the best part was the audience response – I wish I’d been there just for that part.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 7.13.05 AM

There was a Bingo game on the phrases that were anticipated:



What male allies should really be doing, step 1

Here’s the thing. If you haven’t seen this video of gamer Anita Sarkeesian speaking at the Feminist Frequency conference (hat tip Josh Vekhter), go take a look. It’s a fantastic and articulate diatribe against sexism and misogyny, and it ends with a super reasonable request of the men in the audience and in the world:

Trust women who say they experience sexism.

What’s amazing to me is how hard this is to hear for men in my life. When I repeated this to a couple of them, they actually said that I didn’t experience the stuff that I had. It was kind of nuts, and I had to point out to them that they were failing on the most basic level.

Yes, it requires empathy, and observation, and yes it sucks, because once you start seeing it you will be disappointed in the world. Tough shit, it’s reality.

What male allies should really be doing, step 2

Once men start trusting the women they love and admire and work with, then the next thing they can do is start acting on that knowledge.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been the target of sexism in front of other men and somehow it’s my job to confront it and deal with it. Men, step the fuck up and, when you see sexism happening, once you can manage that, defend the target and put a stop to it. Speak up and defend your friend, or your wife, or your daughter, or your colleague. Thanks.

Categories: rant
  1. rob
    October 10, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Isn’t Anita Sarkeesian’s video about anti-feminist hate, a troubling and (for me) baffling aspect of sexism, but a specific form of sexism that may be distinct from more common sexisms? Drawing attention to anti-feminists might distract from more common and less obvious daily sexism.


  2. griznog
    October 10, 2014 at 7:53 am

    I wanted to contribute something here, but couldn’t think of a thing to write that wouldn’t show up on that damn bingo card. With any luck I’ll end up living up to your expectations more often than I fail, but change is hard even when you recognize the need and want it really bad.


  3. October 10, 2014 at 10:36 am

    I’ve been following the news on this conference. I’m actually pretty surprised that these “allies” didn’t get some kind of training from their handlers to not say really stupid things — at least I assume they didn’t. This outcome is better, though, because it exposes them all as being completely clueless on the issue.

    That said, I’m learning to be less clueless too.

    I had never heard the “I’m related to a woman” comment before in this context (or maybe in any context). Is it supposed to be funny or imply some special empathy? It takes the “some of my best friends are (fill in the blank)” to a whole new level.


    • October 10, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      Maybe just basic marketing, on the theory that all publicity is good publicity? if they did an ok job on the panel, would anyone care or flag it? As it was executed, though, it has great features for viral internet propagation. Also, since they all sucked, no one really stands out as a particular villain, so low cost to the individuals and the firms they represent.


      • October 10, 2014 at 12:05 pm

        Actually Microsoft’s Satya Nadella sucked big time. He let his innermost biases out when he wasn’t prepped properly for a question about women asking for raises. He said some stupid thing that women should not ask for raises and they should be happy with the increased karma.


  4. cat
    October 10, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Should there be a Step between 1 and 2 where you ask if they want your help and what form it should take? I wouldn’t want my support to put them in situation they don’t want to be in.


  5. math
    October 10, 2014 at 10:57 am

    You are awesome for writing this. Thank you!


  6. alex
    October 10, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    I’m curious to hear about what were some of the (I’m sure many) ways you’ve experienced sexism, for example the instances when the guys in your life said you didn’t. I believe you; I just want for me to be more aware of ways (perhaps these were not so obvious ways?) sexism can occur. But if it’s too personal and you don’t want to share, that’s okay. Take care,


  7. Ted
    October 10, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    This is further evidence that you can tell right off the bat who isn’t a real ally. Trying to see a woman as their equal is just so unnatural for them that they will inevitably seem disingenuous no matter how hard they try to fake it.


  8. Ted
    October 10, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    If this keeps up, this is also turing straight, white men into a stereotype (as mentioned in the article above: http://readwrite.com/2014/10/09/technology-sexism-male-allies-grace-hopper-celebration).


  9. Henry
    October 11, 2014 at 1:08 am

    Checked out the linked video, then saw this

    Annita’s talk is mostly about her experiences subsequent to embarking on her campaign, Tropes vs Women in video games – all of them really sad and repugnant. The above links to a woman’s perspective on women in the gaming industry and is a bit more hopeful.

    As a black person, I can relate to much of what Annita (and Cathy’s) points about ignorance, or outright denial, of disadvantage, systemic discrimination and hate. White people often just don’t even know that they are in some way complicit in its perpetuation.


    • October 11, 2014 at 7:48 pm

      I’ve seen plenty of misogyny from black people as well. And don’t get me started on misogyny in the Muslim world.


  10. AC
    October 11, 2014 at 11:18 am

    At least women in computer science are having these conversations with men. I have yet to see an open discussion of this sort in mathematics, possibly because a lot of top mathematicians wouldn’t be able to handle being laughed out of the room for their backwards views on women.


    • October 12, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Most conferences for professional mathematicians include some type of collaboration with the Association for Women in Mathematics (https://sites.google.com/site/awmmath/) and there are certainly, at least, *conversations* of this type going on in professional mathematics….


      • AC
        October 12, 2014 at 1:21 pm

        I’ve been to some of these AWM meetings and, in public, everyone always sidesteps the real difficulties faced by women in mathematics (less mentorship, less community support, less encouragement, less respect). Occasionally, these conversations happen in private.

        The other difference between AWM and Grace Hopper is that Grace Hopper invited men to the conference this year while AWM seems to try to work around men and not invite them to the conversation. But we aren’t going to make a real change unless we’re comfortable having these discussions openly with men.


        • October 12, 2014 at 5:11 pm

          Yes, agreed. I was a bit discouraged by AWM (long ago) and I quit being involved since, as a man, I felt either alienated (one of “them”) or simply ignored. (Not all the fault of AWM, of course …. sexism in math is fairly deep — but then not as overt as my wife’s experience in Accounting.)

          There have been some interesting “public” conversations on women in math, including a very practical conversation about encouraging women in the work force in small practical ways — see Terry Tao’s blog about bringing small children to conferences: http://terrytao.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/matilde-lalin-attending-conferences-with-small-children/

          I note that the JMM this year is providing some (rudimentary) access to childcare. Many professional women in the early stages of their careers will feel more welcome at conferences if young mothers are visible and clearly welcome.


        • AC
          October 12, 2014 at 5:18 pm

          Although I am always happy to see popular math blogs addressing difficulties that female mathematicians face, I am disappointed that the main public discussions mathematicians have on this issue center around childcare at conferences and the availability of lactation rooms.


  11. Otter
    October 11, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    Phil Ochs — Love me, I’m a liberal


    • October 12, 2014 at 12:27 pm

      Thanks, Otter. ROTFLMAO.


  12. October 12, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    I think Anita Sarkeesian’s video is very helpful and insightful. It certainly makes clear that there are very serious issues here that must be addressed and confronted.

    But I found the Bingo card a bit frustrating — I think the main message of the Bingo card is that any guy who speaks up on this is going to say something silly.

    There were mixed messages here: “Men, step the fuck up … and speak up …” but, ha ha, we have a Bingo game we are playing while you do so and we are going to laugh at you when you do speak out.


    • AC
      October 12, 2014 at 1:24 pm

      The message the Bingo card sends is that women are not going to settle for empty platitudes.


    • Kaisa
      October 13, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      I’ve suggested to a few people with this concern that they just read the appropriate Bingo board beforehand and see if their prospective comments were already covered. If so, think about why you were going to say that thing and why it is on that Bingo card, so predictable that it was, well, predicted. Are you falling into a common logical mistake? Have you not thought very deeply about this? How can you reexamine your argument?

      If your prospective comment was, “Some of my best friends are (this category!)!” think about what you really wanted to say. Are you simply defending your lazy thought processes, or are you trying to express your real caring about your friends? If you’re trying to express your real caring, do you really want to be defending racial or gender disparities in pay? Ok, you don’t want to defend these disparities, and you aren’t just interested in being lazy and using your friend to cover your ass. Why did you feel the desire to say the comment then? Maybe because someone mentioned that sexism/racism are problems and you felt personally attacked as a white male. Is that justified? Sexism and racism are often structural problems that we are all complicit in to some extent. It’s not about your white male-ness, it’s about pay structures, education, sentencing laws, mortgage availability, childcare, etc. Be analytical.

      View the bingo card as a handy way to deepen the conversation. It’s got all the first-order comments that everyone who doesn’t really want to deal with the problem will come up with. Go on to make second-order mistakes 🙂 They are far more interesting.


      • October 13, 2014 at 4:41 pm

        The posting was about “what-male-allies-should-be-really-doing,” and not about let’s blame white males and white males only for all the ills of the world. It is lazy thinking to throw in unrelated issues about racism and mortgages. Perhaps we should start by discussing FGM so commonly practiced in the non-white-male world, but that would be considered lazy as well, as it does not address the issue at hand. What we should be discussing is how we (all of us) can help rectify the situation with respect to pay and respect for our female colleagues.


        • Kaisa
          October 13, 2014 at 8:12 pm

          1) How am I blaming white males for anything? I am replying to Ken Smith, who is discussing what a guy should do when speaking up. I did bring race into it, because there are also bingo cards out there for race and the discussion is analogous. Why have you made this about white males? The suggestion applies to men, women, and trans people of every color. We can all be lazy.

          2) It’s not at all lazy to throw in consideration of economics. One of my primary feminist motivators is economic. I hate getting worse rates for my loans, worse pay for my work, worse health care premiums in a lot of places. And why is race not allowed? Am I not allowed to have a color that intersects with these issues?

          If you reread my comment, I claim that it is about how any one of us, regardless of penile status or skin color, can more deeply discuss the situation with respect to pay and treatment of women. I challenge you to find otherwise.

          Many bingo cards, for your pleasure: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhenry/sets/72157612897466679/


        • October 13, 2014 at 8:45 pm

          “Why did you feel the desire to say the comment then? Maybe because someone mentioned that sexism/racism are problems and you felt personally attacked as a ***white male***. Is that justified? Sexism and racism are often structural problems that we are all complicit in to some extent. It’s not about your ***white male-ness***,”


        • October 13, 2014 at 9:50 pm

          Enough guys.


  13. October 12, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Totally. It’s a weird and disheartening experience to be in a group of co-workers and watch them completely ignore the female co-worker when she says something. A part of my mind can’t understand how that’s even possible.

    I discovered early that being too overt in trying to re-direct their attention creates defensive, even hostile, behavior. I’ve had the best luck pretending I didn’t hear, or didn’t understand, and asking her to repeat or elaborate her points. Asking followup questions forces the guys to listen, and it can be quite amusing (in a sad and pathetic way) to see their reactions.


  14. AC
    October 13, 2014 at 9:01 am

    If you want to see the kind of conversations that were happening at Grace Hopper happen in mathematics, write to Maria Klauwe and tell her we need her expertise. I wrote this email to her and she responded IMMEDIATELY and said she would discuss the issue with several heads of prominent math socieites.

    Dear Maria,

    Thank you so much for sparking a national conversation about the difficulties women in computing face by hosting the Male Allies panel at Grace Hopper. It’s rare to see such a frank public discussion:


    I am writing to ask if you have any tips about how female mathematicians might be able to start a similar conversation. Right now, the only public discussions mathematicians have about the difficulties female mathematicians face center around childcare at conferences and the availability of lactation rooms:


    As you can see, the public conversation about women in mathematics is several steps behind the kind of conversations that were happening at Grace Hopper, where everything from mentorship to asking for raises was discussed.

    There is also a conversation about this on Terry Tao’s blog:



  15. d
    October 18, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    When I step up to defend someone against sexism, I am being sexist because I assume they cant defend themselves or am trying to keep them from learning how to defend themselves. If I dont speak up to defend someone I am leaving them defenseless. The problem about confronting sexism as a man is that feminists have been not quite clear about the point at which helping a female colleague or friend in the face of sexism as a man itself transforms into sexism.


    • October 18, 2014 at 7:26 pm

      Wow what a convenient excuse to do nothing.


    • October 18, 2014 at 7:31 pm

      d: Do you ever step up to defend a male colleague or friend? If so, do the same for a female colleague or friend. It’s that simple.


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