make your space more inclusive
This Saturday, I took a quick day trip to New Orleans, to participate on a panel discussion at the Dad 2.0 Summit called "Building a Constructive Dialog After #MeToo." (Note: I'm not sure that "after" is the word I would use, since I don't think the feminist movement of #MeToo is over, but I certainly appreciate that the conversation continues). It was a great talk, spanning everything from gender bias to sexual assault, but one of my favourite moments happened when the room opened up to questions.
One gentleman in the audience raised his hand and asked, "I definitely want to be a part of the feminist discussion, but it can be hard to figure out when to to say something, when to amplify other voices, and when to shut up and listen. I don't want to do or say the wrong thing. Can you help?"
We took turns responding to his earnest question, but my favourite answer came from panelist Mike Reynolds, who thought quietly to himself for a moment, and then responded:
"I don't know how to answer that specifically for your situation, but I do know this: I read somewhere online that we men don't need to be given a space in feminism, we just need to take our individual spaces and make them feminist. And I think about that whenever I'm posting or creating something."
This is it, friends. This is what it means to be an ally: not waiting for permission to speak or, God forbid, claiming yourself as an expert in the experience of certain folks if you're not, but it does mean being aware of how you and your work is perceived, and being mindful that you and your words are clear in you values of equality and equal opportunity for all. It's really brilliant.
And as with everything else, this is also what it means to be an ally to all underrepresented people. Think about it:
We don't need to be given a space in anti-racism, we just need to take our individual spaces and make them anti-racist.
We don't need to be given a space in the Muslim/Christian/Jewish/Hindu communities, we just need to take our individual spaces and make them welcoming to Muslim/Christian/Jewish/Hindu folks.
It works for everything. We just need to take our spaces and make them more inclusive.
For example, in your homes, in your online spaces, in your schools, in your workplaces and in your places of worship: have you made it clear that all are welcome? More than simply giving your values lip service, are you living your values and showing them through your friendships and how you parent? Are you (kindly, but firmly) shutting down conversations that happen around you that are counter to your integrity?
Clearly, merely "taking our spaces and making them more inclusive" actually sounds easier than it might actually be in practice. And the truth is, you may get shot down. You may even lose friends. But this is what quiet activism is all about -- it's living your values, not simply professing them. It's the risk we all have to take if we're trying to make the world a better place.
Even if it gets a little uncomfortable doing so.