A Man’s Biggest Obstacles to Being an Effective Ally

There is a comic and a discussion that has been making the rounds on the internet, and although it appears to be originally intended to address interactions around race, it is applicable to us as well.¹

Imagine a land where the inhabitants are all either circle-shaped or triangle-shaped. Imagine further that at some point in the history of this land a solid wall was constructed that divided the land in half. The kingdom on one side of the wall – where everyone lives – is primarily residential, while the other is commercial and industrial. Throughout the length of the wall several circle-shaped holes have been drilled, perfectly shaped to allow the circle-shaped people to pass through, but impassible for the triangle-shaped people.

There has been considerable speculation about the origin of the wall and the holes, as the history has been long forgotten over millennia. Most believe they were placed there by God, although the more cynical suspect that circle-shaped ancestors are responsible. Most of the circle folk don’t understand why the others spend so much time complaining about it. Circles can get whatever the triangles need from the other side, right? Those who are willing, anyway. The problem is that many of them aren’t, at least not without some kind of compensation.

Over the years, the triangle shaped folk are finally able to scrape together the resources to drill a triangle-shaped hole so that they can reach the other side of the wall. The triangles can finally procure the needed resources for life without begging or bargaining for others to get them and hand them through the wall! This is great!

Then a circle notices what they’ve done, and starts to scream, “Why are you drilling a hole that I can’t fit through? Why would you do this? I thought you wanted equal access here?” The circle is honestly offended that he cannot use it. “We circles gave you what you needed to make that hole! Why did you make it so we can’t use it?”

A Triangle responds, “Can’t… you… use one of the circle holes?”

“This is inequality!” cries the circle, “You can’t just drill holes that only you get to use!”

“This has been our reality for centuries,” remarks the triangle, “and you’ve only recently lifted a finger to help us change it. Now you’re going to lecture us about oppressing you?”

And on the conversation goes¹…

This illustration brings up an excellent point, however, where the fight against inequality is concerned and it shows us one of the pitfalls that we men must avoid if we are determined to be allies to the women around us. There are more, of course.

I’ll be straight up about the fact that I’ve only been about the cause of women officially as a author for about 2 years. However, in those 2 years I’ve learned a lot from listening to women, and very little from speaking. I’ve learned the most from seeing others’ mistakes and observing how they responded when made aware of them. Many of these mistakes fall into definite categories, I’ve found, so I would like to list them out here for the readers’ benefit.

Working against equality because it hurts him

In the intro story to this post, the circles represent men, and the triangles represent women. Gentlemen, sometimes the efforts women put forth to achieve equality are going to look like they’re directed against us. Shielding our eyes and screaming “MISANDRY!!!” doesn’t help anybody. We men need to come to grips with the fact that equality is not always going to work in our favor, and we need to get over that. Do we trust our sisters in Christ to handle their rights and standing before God with greater grace than has historically been associated with men?

Speaking when he should be listening

We don’t speak for women. Ever.

Let me repeat that. WE DON’T SPEAK FOR WOMEN. EVER.

It is hard to accept sometimes, but we men need to spend three times as long listening to women as we do speaking. In fact, even when we speak to other men about egalitarianism, we really need to take a moment and ask ourselves, “Has a woman said this better than I’m about to?” It’s not that we need to be completely silent, but a greater emphasis needs to be placed on amplifying women’s voices than our own.

Invading women’s spaces as a man

We men have an unfortunate habit of assuming that we are welcome everywhere, and of assuming that wherever we’re invited we are also “centered”. Because we are used to having the world around us tailored to us, the concept of a women’s space where we are not automatically allowed to speak our mind and be heard is foreign to us. So often I see men come stomping into egalitarian or feminist discussion groups expecting to be heard without establishing any sort of trust first. Guys, this needs to stop.

“Offering the Olive Branch” to the privileged

It is important to note that men are privileged, even allies. It’s a fact of life, regardless of how much we check that privilege. We’re members of a privileged class of people. It is therefore presumptuous for us to try to be a bridge between members of our class and members of the class ours is oppressing. Can we prepare fellow men to come to the table in humility with listening ears? Sure. However, the olive branch – the invitation to that table – is not ours to extend to other men. That belongs to women, and if they don’t extend it, it means we have more work to do to prepare those men for the encounter.


¹ I am not confident that I would be able to find the original with any surety, but here is a re-posting of it that shows the needed content.


Steve Neu is the Media Coordinator/Editor and writes as a father of daughters about parenting with equality and liberation in mind. He supports women’s causes from the sidelines, passing the mic to them as often as possible so as not to become a distraction from the cause.
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2 comments to “A Man’s Biggest Obstacles to Being an Effective Ally”

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  1. Ann Jones - October 28, 2017 Reply

    Is it ok for a woman to respond??

    I feel bad for our egalitarian mates. I am reminded to be very careful that I do not lump all men into the patriarchy camp. I know it was hard on my husband when I first started dealing with this. I really think that most American Christians live a more egalitarian way that the recognize, and dress it up in more comp type speech to make it sound more Biblical. I don’t think men today want someone that they have to direct, or won’t contribute much. In some cases I know they still exist. Therefore, we as spouses must remember to not label all men as something they are not.

    My husband realizes that he can not understand a lot of the scars that women have from the frustration of dealing with patriarchicalism. He won’t pretend to get it, but he heard enough from me and others that he has a lot of understanding. One Sunday a couple years back, we were visiting a church for the first (and only) time. In the middle of the sermon, the pastor got off on a tangent, and asked all the men in the church to go to the front pews on one side of the church. He preached the rest of the sermon to them. Of course, it was all about how they were supposed to be in charge. John stayed at my side. When the service was over, he had a long look around the sanctuary, then looked at me with tears in his eyes. “I have never seen more than half of a church just disappear,” he said. Yes, he comes pretty close to getting it.

  2. Steve Neu - November 1, 2017 Reply

    It’s definitely OK for women to comment!
    Yes, certainly we can avoid using labels that we know do not apply, such as “patriarchal” and “sexist”, and trade them in for those that do still apply, such as “privileged” and “still learning”. This is definitely appreciated by us guys!

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