Guest Post: Who’s the Captain of the Ally-Ship?

by Kate Kelly

I have had several conversations that conform to the following script of late and I wanted to write to male allies regarding this familiar narrative.

Male ally: Says or does something sexist

Feminist: “That was sexist.”

Male ally: “How dare you attack me! I’m not the enemy. Can’t you see?? I’m on your side. Cut me some slack.”

Feminist: Sighs. “Sure, but UGHhhhhhhh, get a grip on reality. That WAS sexist.”

Male Ally: “You are being so rude. You are the reason lots of men eschew this conversation at all. You sure don’t know how to make allies!”

Dear male ally,

In my continuing journey to become an ally to others I have learned a about what helps and hurts in supporting a community you are not a part of. Many of these lessons I have learned from young Mormon feminists. I still have miles and miles and MILES to go in becoming a better ally myself, and you can rest assured that I will take every word I write below to heart in my own work to be an ally to communities of color, my LGTBQIA brothers and sisters, people with varying abilities, those in poverty and all other communities I stand in solidarity with. Some of the lessons I am trying to learn apply to what I’d love to see from male allies.

The word ally itself means someone who has chosen to join in a fight or struggle. On some level they realize that becoming an ally and fighting alongside you is mutually beneficial. This may be that they see that discrimination negatively affects us all. But, also for the simple reason that feminists are on the right side of history, and allies want to get off the wrong side… more quickly than others in society who are dragging their feet.

One thing I’ve learned about allies is that they do not get to pick what makes them a good ally. Often in conversations with men when they say something offensive (mostly on the internet), they counter any ‘pushback’ to their sexist remarks with “I’m not the enemy! Give me a break, because I’m on your side.” As if this claim to allyship is an excuse for bad behavior. Now, I know from my own experience in trying (and often failing) to be an ally that it hurts when someone in the group you think you are allied with calls you out. Sure, you’re not the enemy in the sense that you’re a modern Willburn Boggs trying to exterminate all feminists… but, there is no single person who is the enemy in patriarchy. The enemy is a collection of millions of people supporting an unequal structure by saying or doing small, individual sexist things. So, if you are saying or doing small, individual sexist things, you are indeed part of the problem.

It can feel like feminist rage is misdirected at you. Sometimes it might be. Sometimes women might just erroneously see you personally as one of the enemy. If the enemy were MEN, you would be. But, like I said, in the end the enemy is not MEN. It is an institutionalized system that puts men above women called: patriarchy. Men aren’t patriarchy. Patriarchy is made up of men and women who support an unequal system. But, it can be confusing because while not all men are in power (and oppressing women), most of those in power are men. Thus, this confusing system can definitely contribute to misguided and vicious attacks on men who are potential allies. If you feel unfairly targeted, this may be why.

Again, if you make a mistake (and say something sexist, for example) these public lashings by feminists can hurt. They can be so frustrating that you just want to throw your hands up and shout “well if THIS is how feminists act, I’m outta here.” But, it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t get to choose what makes you a good ally. Women are fighting their struggle with or without you. You choosing to be on the right side of history is not a benevolent act, it’s an act of self-preservation. Don’t presume you’ll be rewarded for common decency.

In any type of struggle, there are certain expectations of allies. We have a common adversary (so to speak) and so we fight together. Countries, corporations, communities alike. Sometimes we have unlikely allies and our common cause is the only thing that brings us together. But, if a so-called ally does something that damages us, we drop them-“With friends like this, who needs enemies” -style.

In foreign relations, countries come together and later those alliances may break. You can only trust an ally who supports you unequivocally in battle, so if a country does something against your national interests, that alliance is broken. After traitorous behavior you don’t get to say, “But, don’t you see… I’m not the real enemy??” That does not work. A true ally does not get to choose the standard for acceptable behavior, and declare they get special leniency if they mess up (that would be a bully, not an ally). Of course, there are ways to smooth diplomatic ties after a fiasco, but that typically involves a formal apology and massaging of the relationship on both sides.

And so it is with male allies. As much as it pains me to say, and as much as it is difficult to hear: the struggle against sexism will continue without you. You are not doing us any grand favors by fighting by our side. Again, this is a matter of common decency. You are merely assuring that you are on the right side of history.

Don’t get me wrong. We want you with us. We need allies. You are ahead of the pack! No struggle that involves a vast power imbalance, like the one again patriarchy, can be won without allies. And, I KNOW THIS SOUNDS HARSH but, it is not my job to make sure you feel welcome, secure and valuable. You already have a lifetime of positive reinforcement of your worth from the system we are trying to topple.

Is one person getting after you particularly doggedly or saying really rude things? Keep in mind that one woman yelling at you in ALL CAPS on the internet does not represent all of feminism or even all of Mormon feminism. But, as an ally, try to look for reasons to listen to what she is saying instead of reasons to discount what she is saying.

Women, especially Mormon women, have done a lot of really tough emotional work to loosen the shackles of patriarchy on our psyches. This typically takes many years and many, many tears to get through. Women have no obligation to do that emotional labor for you. You have to do it for yourself.

  • Talk to your male friends and those you interact with who are not on-board with equality already.
  • Approach conversations with women with an open mind, ready to be wrong if you turn out to be.
  • Keep in mind that THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. It never will be. Ask yourself: who is at the center stage? Who came up with this idea I have/ am so vigorously advocating (a man?)? Why am I trying to insert my idea/opinion/pain/relevancy into this space?
  • Vigorously engage women as your peers, but defer to them as the experts of their own experience.

Don’t retreat and throw your hands up when a feminists lashes out at you. That is a manifestation of male privilege.

After I was excommunicated an exceptionally well-connected Mormon man reached out to me and expressed his condolences for the violent way I had been treated, even though, he said he was, “agnostic about female ordination.”  I replied:

 Thanks for your kind words and continued support. It really does mean a lot. But, with all due respect, I think you should keep in mind that as a man you have the luxury of being “agnostic about female ordination.” Your male privilege affords you an arm’s length position it does not afford us.

If you think to yourself after a particularly tough conflict, “Well, fine. I don’t need this crazy b*tch as much as she needs me (*throw hands up in air with exasperation*). I give up.” THAT is privilege. RIGHT THERE! You can choose to walk away from sexism. It does not negatively affect your life, your health, your emotional well-being, your standing in the community, your financial status, and your relationship with your children the way it does for me. YOU CAN WALK AWAY THIS CONVERSATION. I cannot. I hope that you can see why that is so infuriating.

Maybe it’s true that we feminists just don’t know how to make allies. Maybe I’m just like a stray dog who doesn’t know which humans to trust so it snarls its teeth at everyone. (So, I guess technically I am calling myself a b*tch.) It is definitely true… SO true that we feminists need added amounts of patience, long-suffering, and compassion. There is more room for tolerance and forgiveness. Definitely. But, we are angry. And we have EVERY RIGHT to be angry. In fact, there is something really, really disturbing about NOT being angry when you realize the huge brunt of the systematic discrimination you have faced your entire life because you are a girl. Seriously though, how can anyone NOT be incensed about that?

Maybe the only mistake you made is making a suggestion about how you see things could be “more productive,” “better executed,” or “more efficient.” You may think “SHEESH, I was just trying to help.” While you may be well-meaning, you need to reexamine the way in which your “suggestions” or ideas are presented. It is very, very easy for a man to dip into the “mansplaining” territory when talking to women, even if it is unintentional. Are any of these phrases involved in your communication: ‘you should’? ‘it would be better if’? ‘you gals need to _____’? ‘you need more of x….y….z’? ‘I have x…y…z solution to your problem’? If so, re-think your approach. Instead of coming up with your own brilliant plan for ending sexism (and pushing it on women), why not just ask how you can be helpful and how the women you interact with want to be supported?

In my struggle to openly embrace male allies, it’s hard to know what is an honest mistake and what is just plain lethargy and unwillingness do work necessary to learn about sexism. It’s probably almost always a combination of the two. We could look the other way and excuse your sexist comment or action and preemptively forgive you because you ‘mean well’ saying, “bless his heart, he grew up in patriarchy too.”

But, do you want that?

Everyone wants the benefit of the doubt. But, do you want peers and colleagues in the struggle to have to say how dreadful you are, but cover it over with your supposed good intentions? I never want anyone to have to say that about me. Please recall that, yes, we have a common cause, but it is essential that you do the work to overcome privilege rather than insisting that I overlook your privilege.

So, who gets to captain the ally-ship? We do. If we say what you’re doing is bad, or wrong, or offensive, take us seriously. Consider women the experts in this field. Accept the fact that you will never, ever be an expert on the female experience. Never. No matter how many supportive comments or ‘likes’ you make on feminist blogs. No matter how many times you say to other men, “Hey, dude that’s sexist… knock it off.” No matter how much you self-correct your language and pronouns. You still have more to learn. You are an ally. This ship is not yours to navigate.

We are genuinely happy to have you along for the journey. Our intention is absolutely NOT to have you beat yourself up over mistakes. EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES. Just be open, teachable and strive for an extra does of humility. Know that this ship set sail with or without you, but we want you to be onboard. Embrace the journey, and take a breather if there are bumps on the way. This work is difficult, but you can rest assured that in the end you will find yourself on the right side of history.


Kate Kelly is an advocate and activist. She has a JD from American University Washington College of Law, the only law school in the world founded by, and for, women. In 2013 she founded a group called Ordain Women to advocate for gender equality in the Church. She was excommunicated in June 2014 for speaking out against the fundamental exclusion of women, but she continues her passionate advocacy for gender justice.


  1. Hi Kate, I always enjoy your writings and it is very sad to hear that in addition to all the troubles feminists and other activists go through, they also have to deal with people who sometimes fail at their commitment to the cause they have chosen to support. I am not sure if this is human tendency of being inconsistent or simply trying to get credit from both sides….or a combination of the two.

    My only concern with ”we (the feminists) get to navigate our ship” statement is that no one is elected to speak and represent other people on anything. No other woman can speak for me, even if she is a well educated woman with a similar experience. Feminism is about all women having a voice and face in front of their governments, societies and institutions. I want support and fairness but not replacement in this process.

    I personally can speak up with confidence only about my personal experience (which is limited). When I stand against violence against women or other phenomenon that I have not experienced (yet at least), I do so because I can see that often structural mechanisms and human behavior combine to reinforce such horrible phenomena. My support and work to this cause should not be devalued just because I have not been abused yet.

    In addition, the human experience has a lot of commonality among people; I do not need to have children to care for their well-being and how wars, lack of education, lack of health care and abuse affects their lives everywhere in the world; I do not need to be married to understand the importance of partnership and families and so forth. In fact,when we sympathize and support people that have gone through something we have not gone yet, these are the experiences that truly teach us what it means to be human and connected to one’s community and world.

    My concern is that when we start telling people that ‘you cannot be a navigator of this ship because you are not a woman and so and so’ we are defining and strictly limiting words as “women”, “feminists”, “ally” etc. From my experience in reading feminists blogs, I have noticed that I don’t always agree with the feminist mainstream thinking but I consider myself a feminists because I believe that women are marginalized and taken advantage of in many situations and cultures. I do not expect and pray for other feminists to invite me into a special ceremony to be an official feminists. I think this journey is personal and if it is sincere and honest, nobody matters.

    There should be room for every one’s analysis on the topic, thoughts and proposed solutions. Otherwise, we are doing exactly what the church does when defining ‘womanhood’ – a happy (usually american face) married face surrounded by many children that she has raised by sacrificing everything else in life with a husband who is the sperm donor, the provider and an authority at some level in the church.

    Unity in thinking among feminists is not necessary in order to be effective, successful or true in our advocacy; otherwise, we are adopting the techniques of exclusion of a system that we are trying to update and change and we are speaking only from our egos and not from our hearts.

    Just my thoughts on the topic. Thank you for a thought provoking blog post.

    • EFH… I think we probably agree. The main point I was trying to get across is that if a woman (any woman) is telling you that she finds actions/comments hurtful/offensive/problematic she deserves to be listened to & taken seriously. No matter who she is.

    • Well said, EFH.


      blockquote>…you don’t get to choose what makes you a good ally.

      Who does? I don’t want other women to take it upon themselves to be the claimed owners of feminism nor the arbiters of feminist titles. (X = ally ; Y = not ally)

      I fundamentally disagree with the notion that a “any women deserves…to be taken seriously” just because she says something. If we want true equality, we recognize this certainly is not true for men. (Didn’t this post explicitly discount the man’s contentions about being an ally that shouldn’t be maligned?) Special privilege and extra accommodation isn’t equality and I’d argue it is (or can cause) the opposite.

      We are listened to when we speak clearly, persuasively, logically, and coherently. We have to earn the “right” to be taken seriously just as men do.

  2. “Consider women the experts in this field. Accept the fact that you will never, ever be an expert on the female experience.”

    I certainly don’t want to threadjack if this is going to be a followup post, but at some point is someone going to address the issue of non-feminist women, who are indeed experts on their own female experience, but happen to not agree with Mofeminists on some things?

    • Women who seek to uphold patriarchy do so because they get positive reinforcement and approval from their oppressors for doing so. It’s very Stockholm syndrome – ish. It’s a lot like the abused woman who protects her husband from the police. The only women who truly oppose feminism don’t understand it or are too afraid to embrace empowerment.

      • “The only women who truly oppose feminism don’t understand it or are too afraid to embrace empowerment.”

        I think Naismith proves this statement false.

      • This may make you feel better about throwing a lot of women overboard, but it is not true. I joined the church as a dues-paying member of NOW, because I was disillusioned with some of what feminism taught and I was attracted by the LDS view of equal partnership in marriage. I have taken classes in women’s studies, and I sit on the board of a women’s organization that regularly works with feminist groups on issues of common interest (human trafficking, Women’s Equality Day, etc.). I have read the seminal feminist texts. I just don’t agree with much of today’s feminism, at least as it is practiced where I live.

        I live in an area where there are few members, most of my friends and colleagues are non-members and I do not see their lives as being So Much Better. I feel that the church teachings on gender equality have greatly enhanced my life and empowered my daughters.

        I do not deny the reality of other women’s lives, including women who have been hurt by the abuses of priesthood holders. There are some real issues and pain. But please do not deny my reality.

      • Naismith, I always appreciate your comments because you challenge a lot of the commonly held beliefs of Feminism, especially Mormon feminism. What is the point of discussion if we are just going to be echo chambers for each other? Sometimes I end up agreeing with you, sometimes not. Either way, the challenge helps me clarify my own thinking. So thank you!

  3. I have long believed that the “Do unto others…” platitude should be rephrased “Do unto others as THEY WOULD HAVE YOU DO UNTO THEM.” Very often I do NOT want to be treated as others may have “done unto them.” Treat me the way that I find acceptible, not as YOU want to be treated. I have had to repeat this to my abusive family often as my misogynistic siblings think the brutal way I was too frequently “spanked” was no big deal and undeserving of being called “abuse”. Only I was on the receiving end; only I get to define it.

    I have also considered this when pondering politically correct terms for, say, ethnic minorities. I have never clued into WHY the term “Oriental” is offensive (to me it sounds pretty!) but since I am not Asian I dont get to determine what Asians should or should not want to be called. I use the terms Asian, Native American, African American, etc., whether or not in someone else’s opinion it is “right” or convenient because it is a FACT that this is what other people find acceptible and I want to be their respectful friend and ally.

    Men are not women. They dont get to decide what is acceptible to us. Even if they dont understand or approve of it, they simply have to accept what we determine as acceptible as A FACT. Our standards exist whether you like them or not. You cant just ignore or disagree with them as you see fit and expect us not to feel disrespected or even betrayed. In short, it is what it is. “Do unto women as THEY would have you do unto them.”

  4. I, as a woman, a feminist but an ex-Mormon, take great care in my comments to my still-Mormon sisters. I don’t tell them how to feel (at least I hope I don’t), and I don’t pretend to understand the full extent of their experience and their pain. I have, however, had my own heartache associated with patriarchy both in and outside of the church. Thank you, Kate, for stating it boldly.

    Many of the male allies I’ve had contact with have totally understood this. Others step in and do “the man thing.” To them I say, “Do not hijack my experience and pretend you know anything about it.” Love this post.

  5. I won’t be branded an ally for saying this, but let me explain what irks even a liberal/progressive guy like me about this sort of feminism: it amounts to one group claiming victim status for itself while labeling all individuals in the other group as abusers, then claiming the exclusive right to develop their own terminology, concepts, and crimes (both spoken crimes and thought crimes), as well as the exclusive right to be judge, jury, and executioner in pointing the finger of blame at members of the other group.

    Apply that same outlandish mindset to any other facet of life and these feminists would be crying “tyranny”. And that’s what is so off-putting about this version of feminism: it doesn’t sound like a call for equality; it comes off as claiming the right to be tyrannical.

  6. A question that comes to mind… can one remain loyal to the cause of Feminism yet seperate ones self from the interpretation of feminism that is put forth by Kate Kelley? The answer, I believe, is yes.

  7. There seem to be two major forms of Mo-Feminism. There are those who believe that everyone can be feminists, working for the cause to help everyone overcome the Patriarchal society we live in, and there are those who believe only women (with an unspoken definition of “real” women) are allowed and anyone else had better sit down and be quiet unless they’re agreeing.

    We’ve seen this kind of post 2-3 times a year on FMH (almost always with a second post, by a man, whole-heartedly agreeing, without irony), and I think it’s the top reason why it’s been a “rough time” the past year. I’ll be very saddened if the same happens to Exponent.

    People just don’t like to be kicked every few months because of who or what they are and the opinions they hold. It’s discouraging to be hit by those you consider to be fighting the same fight simply because you aren’t enough. We have enough that pulls us apart, separates us into nice little categories that are easily dismissed.

      • Yep, in my view as well. Trouble is, if no one would stand for a post stating how women “SHOULD be” feminists, why make it different telling men? Yes, some men can benefit from instruction, but so could some women. Clumping a group together, blurring individuals into something easier to categorize, is what feminism is fighting against.

    • People just don’t like to be kicked every few months because of who or what they are and the opinions they hold.

      See, a real male feminist would stop for a moment and realize that people just don’t like to be kicked EVERY SINGLE DAY because of who or what they are and the opinions they hold.

      Which is what happens to women–especially women who have the temerity to want gender equality.

      It’s discouraging to be hit by those you consider to be fighting the same fight simply because you aren’t enough.

      Maybe now you know why so many LDS women want the priesthood.

      Your comment? It was sexist.

      And maybe if you can react to being told that you’ve just been sexist without getting your feelings hurt, you might manage to be a feminist ally yet.

  8. Dear Kate, I’ve taken a day to gather my thoughts about this post. They’re still not as well formed as I’d like, but here they are in no particular order:

    I’m thinking of Emilycc’s feminist body of Christ essay right now. It’s good to have posts like this that push on our comfort zones.

    Your words make me feel humble about being an ally to people not like me.

    The conversation you started with isn’t familiar to me; I’ve never had one like it. Probably because I’ve never said to someone in a real live conversation, “that was sexist.” At least not that bluntly. I don’t doubt conversations like that happen, though.

    I think Naismith has a very valid point that not all women are feminists. And, feminism is a spectrum. There are quite a number of feminists who are more conservative than me, and some less conservative. You say consider women the experts in this field, but which women??? I know a few men who are more feminist than some women friends I have.

    You wrote, “instead of coming up with your own brilliant plan for ending sexism (and pushing it on women), why not just ask how you can be helpful and how the women you interact with want to be supported?” I don’t disagree, but if a man came up with a plan to end sexism that actually worked, it would be OK by me. I’d be thrilled. I’d be annoyed if he tried to push anything at all on me, but it wouldn’t work anyway because I won’t be pushed around, so his effort would be ridiculous. I can’t think of a possible scenario of a man coming up with a plan for ending sexism and pushing it on women, but maybe I have a limited imagination.

    Your metaphor of the ship of feminism setting sail with or without “you” doesn’t work for me. I didn’t like Elder Ballard’s ship metaphor in Oct 2014 General Conference, either. But if there is a ship I think it needs everyone on board because we are all in this together. Just like patriarchy is neither men nor women but both (and it is FALSE), I think feminism is neither men nor women, but both (and it is TRUTH). And there aren’t enough of us who believe that to “other” anybody.

    • Thank you! I feel as if Kate’s post essentially tries to duplicate with women, the very things she believes men do which are sexist. Which, in itself is sexist…and super hypocritical. Your comment here does an excellent job at calling Kate out on her b.s.
      And yes, calling it b.s. is a bit strong, but I think it is justified.

      • Well, I wouldn’t call it B.S. Divisive maybe, but I respect what Kate has done to found OW too much to easily dismiss her writing. Putting up my profile at OW was very cathartic for me, and I’ll always be grateful for that opportunity. I get how frustrating it must be to have a man say something sexist and expect to be let off the hook by saying “I’m not the enemy,” but I see the process of change in this church as too fragile to bear much of this kind of writing. I think as feminists we have to show extra forbearance, changing people one at a time, a little at a time. It’s not fair, but I think it will work.

      • “too fragile to bear much of this kind of writing”?? I disagree. I think we need this kind of straight-talk… straight away. There is no reason to coddle allies of any kind into allyship. In fact, I have personally benefited a great deal from writing like this that is unabashed. That is why I find the ship analogy is apt. It’s going to happen with or without allies, but the time to get “on board” is now… not in a baby-steps way. In a big way.

    • “Just like patriarchy is neither men nor women but both (and it is FALSE), I think feminism is neither men nor women, but both (and it is TRUTH).”

      This is a really valuable perspective. If patriarchy hurts both women and men, then feminism helps both women and men. Are they allowed equal ownership of both things? The women and men that staunchly defend patriarchy, the women and men that support feminism? Or can men only support feminism to the degree that patriarchy hurts women?

      I agree that sometimes men’s voices can seem too loud in a women’s discussion, but women are not the only victims of an abusive patriarchy. I suppose that with no elected “Presidentess” of feminism, we may have many captains who wish to steer the ship in different directions. Or perhaps there are different ships, all headed to Eradicate Patriarchy Island…..

      • I also love this: “Just like patriarchy is neither men nor women but both (and it is FALSE), I think feminism is neither men nor women, but both (and it is TRUTH).” I think that safe spaces deserve to be kept safe, and that those with a power disadvantage deserve to be the ones doing the speaking (and those in power should be the ones listening) but in terms of the broader discussion, I think everybody’s input is valuable. We’re not going to get our rough edges bumped off if we don’t rub up against some tough stuff and engage in some difficult and painful conversations, on all sides.

  9. So..if a woman says something to a man, no matter how cruel or hurtful, essentially she is in the right and should be listened to.
    However, if a man says something, however kind and well intentioned, if a female didnt like it, the man is bad.
    That is a double standard based on gender. Ie. Sexism. It is also hypocritical. This entire article is sexist. Just like a man has no idea what it is like to be a woman (and shouldn’t pretend as if he does) women have no idea what it is like to be a man, and should not pretend as if they do (as Kate Kelly does here).

    If women are ordained (as I hope they will be), it will radically and fundamentally change the lives and experiences of men in the church. Because of that, men are right to be interested in having opinions on this issue. When men are told by feminists, ‘sit down, shut up and listen to women talk about all the bad things men do, othereise you are a misogynist’, it makes it hard for them to want you in power. Why would I fight for someone to have power over me, when they insist on telling me that, because I have a penis, my voice is less important than theirs? Why would I fight for someone to be in power who refuses to actually understand my perspective, Instead of telling me that they do, when they obviously don’t?

    • Whoa, let’s stick to what Kate actually said. She didn’t say it’s OK for women to be mean and for men to be doormats. She said men should defer to women on how to define and defend feminism. That is a debatable point, so let’s debate that point and not debate things she didn’t actually say.

    • My viewpoint, obviously:

      So..if a woman says something to a man, no matter how cruel or hurtful, essentially she is in the right No, not necessarily.

      and should be listened to. Yes.

      Empathy and allowing [fudgesicles] respecting a woman’s unique experience and viewpoint, and acknowledging her very real feelings, is not the same is believing that she is therefore always and completely “right.” Several respectful interactions between women in this comment thread are excellent demonstrations of that.

    • Just can’t leave the strawman, of strawfeminist in this icase, at home? No one said thatfeminists can be as mean as they want to allies, but if that us all the reflection and thought that you came up with after reading the post, it might be good to read it a few more times.

  10. “You already have a lifetime of positive reinforcement of your worth from the system we are trying to topple.”

    Wtf?!? No!
    This is exactly what happens when someone thinks they know what it is like to be a gender they are not. They get it, not just a little wrong, but way way wrong.

    Just like men don’t know what it is like to be a woman, women have zero clue what it is like to be a man. Yet, feminists demand that, not only do they know what it is like to be a man, they actually know better than men themselves do. And if men dare respond to feminists telling them what it is like to be a man, then he must be a misogynist! Hatred of women is the only explanation for why a man wouldn’t want a woman to tell him why she knows what it is like to be a man better than he does.

    I did NOT have a life time of positive reinforcement, not even close!
    My whole life as a mormon was filled with guilt and shame, because of the crime of being a human with sexual desires. I went through years of deep, deep depression because I felt unworthy and horrible, because I have a normal human sex drive. The fact that I was allowed to bless the sacrament sure didn’t help..if anything, it made it worse, because I felt so ashamed and unworthy.

    • Christopher, understand that privilege is a measure of one group’s relative advantage compared to another group IN THE AGGREGATE. You may not have had a lifetime of positive reinforcement, but men in the Church (again IN THE AGGREGATE) have. Discussing specific individual circumstances in a conversation about privilege is not productive, nor appropriate.

  11. Feminism is no longer a progressive or liberal movement. In fact, in many ways. It is very, very conservative.
    That Sarah Palin and Taylor Swift are feminists, while PJ Harvey and Bjork reject feminism tells you as much.

    For most of my life, I had considered myself a feminist. Even raised by conservative parents (I’m now a registered socialist) I never questioned that men and women are equal. I’ve always believed in ‘Ordain Women’, over a decade before it was a movement.

    However, feminism, despite its dictionary definition of gender equality, in practice, is about female supremecy. This post could not be a better illustration of that.

    Feminism, like this post, tells men ‘sit down, shut up and let us explain all your thoughts, motivations and feelings to you. If you respond in any way that I dislike, regardless of your intentions, you are a misogynist’.

    That is not gender equality, that is female supremecy. That tells men ‘we do not see you as fully human’.
    Having rejected feminism, as I have this past year, I’ve come to feel more passionately about true gender equality than ever in my life. I even made a website

    And yes, I am very well aware that these comments make me seem, (at least to some), like an ignorant mansplainer or even a misogynist.
    That is exactly why I speak up. To try and break the taboo of men talking about gender issues and how they impact us as well. Feminism claims to have men’s issues already covered, but they most certainly do not.

    So, while I fully support the idea that women should be ordained, I refuse to consider myself an ally of a movement so toxic and abusive that it doesn’t recognize how sexist and destructive this post is.
    I left Mormonism to get away from controlling, manipulative people/groups/movements, so I’m sure as hell not going to embrace something so similar in approach, even if its goals are noble.

    Like you say, the movement will go on without people like me (since I know I’m not alone in feeling this way), but until it recognizes that men are fully human, it will limp along, making enemies where it could make allies.

    • I think you reveal too much in your example there, Christopher. When you say that women tell men to sit down and shut up, then telling men what their thoughts, motivations, and feelings are…that’s the point! This isn’t about you. Feminism is about the lived experience of women.

      My guess is that if you have approached feminist allyship with this type of perception, that women can sense that you aren’t concerned with understand their experiences, and how you can be a meaningful ally, but instead are concerned with your own feelings and validation during the process.

  12. I’ve seen it written that (contemporary) feminism is like the patriarchy in lipstick. This post is one of the best examples of that.
    This is exactly the same sort of, deeply dogmatic, ‘unless you keep all of our rules, 100%, regardless of your good intentions, then you are a bad person’ that I expect to hear (and cringe about) over the pulpit at General Conference.
    The level of…dogma and narrowmindedness that Kate expresses here feels like what Elder Packer would say, if he were part of the Ordain Women movement.
    For that reason, although I hope women DO receive ordination(and I think eventually they will), it makes me nervous that women like Kate would rise through the ranks and be another Elder Packer, teaching ‘My way or the highway’ and ‘I’m always right and your always wrong’, as she does here.

    • Femily, I’m going to have to call straw-man argument on this comment. Let me quote from the last paragraph, in case you didn’t get that far in the OP:

      “We are genuinely happy to have you along for the journey. Our intention is absolutely NOT to have you beat yourself up over mistakes. EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES. Just be open, teachable and strive for an extra does of humility. Know that this ship set sail with or without you, but we want you to be onboard. Embrace the journey, and take a breather if there are bumps on the way. This work is difficult, but you can rest assured that in the end you will find yourself on the right side of history.”

      I never said anything even remotely akin to calling anyone a “bad person.” I even put “everyone makes mistakes” in ALL CAPS to emphasize that allies shouldn’t have to, again to quote myself, “beat yourself up over mistakes.”

  13. Kate, every woman in this church owes you a debt of gratitude for your work with OW. So do the men, for that matter. You are a force of nature. I am personally grateful to have met you. I appreciate your willingness and ability to speak to difficult issues. And thanks for the time you took to compose this post. I can feel your pain and frustration and I think it’s all valid. This post seems like it is directed at specific people and it may have been better to use it in that way, rather than using Exponent as a platform to vent. I don’t see your plea to men as being much more than a rant. And rants don’t bring about change.

    I agree that many men fall on their faces when attempting to be feminist allies. Yet, you lost me somewhere along the line because this post is written with a condescending voice. Your tendency throughout the post to suggest you speak for “feminists” instead of for yourself and a for few others who share your specific view put me off too. I know we’re all tired of hearing “change your tone” where conversations around feminism are concerned. We’re angry and it’s appropriate anger. But I can’t ignore the fact that in most situations “the medium is the message.” The message I found in this post was not one of respectful consideration, or acknowledgment of the many. The message seems to be that you’re angry with a few and this feminist boat only has room for a very select few who want to join you there. I’m not sure even I (a woman) would be allowed anywhere near the helm. I don’t know what else to say, but if you really are open to feedback, this comment is what I have to offer. The good and the bad.

    • Melody, no we don’t owe Kate anything. Speak for yourself only. I, for one, am disgusted by this whole thing and the angry feminist crap served fresh daily.

      • Well said, Mimi – I shouldn’t speak for anyone but myself. I am grateful for Kate’s work. It doesn’t mean I agree with her or with “angry feminist crap” in general. Having said that, I think my comment was well balanced. And honest.

    • In fact…. there was an entire Sunstone panel this summer on why the tone argument is complete and utter crap with me, Tresa Brown Edmunds, Margaret Toscano, Janice Allred, Nancy Ross and Holly Welker Session 336 entitled: #YESALLWOMEN, #ORDAINWOMEN, #WELLBEHAVEDWOMEN: MAKING HISTORY AND CHALLENGING PATRIARCHY IN THE DIGITAL AGE, which was informally titled “Why the tone argument is complete and utter crap.”

      Click on the link below and search for 336 to listen to the session.

      • Kate, Thanks so much for linking to this. I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise. The session was great and helped me see where everyone’s coming from when they’re demanding good behavior from male allies.

    • Another great session at Sunstone was a workshop by Mike Stevens who demonstrated how most of us hear tone very differently when the same message is being delivered by a woman rather than a man. Neutral content delivered in neutral tones by a woman is still perceived as hostile and aggressive– or as both Mimi & Melody put it “angry”– because she’s not complying with societal expectations of being “nice” “deferential” or polite.

  14. My feelings about ally bullcrap — as someone who is an ally in this particular world — can be encapsulated by that one expression: “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”

    I was listening to Gina Colvin’s most recent episodes on A Thoughtful Faith on Dialoguing as Women of Color. One thing that came out strongly was this idea that effective knowledge/understanding/empathy for ally-ship requires suffering. An ally often can’t really step into the shoes of the oppressed (if only by virtue that you can always just “walk away”), but there are milder things that can happen to at least get someone a step of the way there.

    Being challenged in a space dedicated to the marginalized is the smallest price an ally can pay on this front. It is the barest simulation of what it is like to live as an oppressed person — but again, they can easily just decide to “walk away.” And that’s why it certainly does present a fork in the road to the ally — they can say, “Hey, I’m out of here, forget this crap,” or they can *sit* with the discomfort, striving to live with it.

    The former is privilege. The latter is a glimpse of what it means to live as an oppressed person everyday.

    So to call out allies is to give them that opportunity to make that choice. Anything less would be a disservice.

    I get the idea that one catches more flies with honey than with vinegar. I get the fear that by being insufficiently patient, being insufficiently nice, being insufficiently polite and accommodating, one might “chase away” people who might have been on the cusp of being allies.

    But you know…here I actually think that the value of allies (especially allies who already “get it”) is when we can use our privilege to be more patient, more accommodating, more “translating” etc., for a longer duration.

    Whenever I’m in a discussion as an oppressed person (e.g., as black, as gay, etc.,), I know and feel that the nice, patient posture is too draining, too debilitating. Am I really, really debating [insert basic aspect of my humanity] — and forcing myself to smile while doing it? But when I’m in a discussion as a privileged ally (e.g., as male, as someone of socioeconomic comfort), I have a buffer because it’s not as personal. So my privilege gives me a choice — the same privilege can be used for dismiss (e.g,. when people say, “Whoa, why can’t you look at this rationally/be less emotional?” because to them, it’s just intellectual and not personal) can be used to sustain (because for me, I have a buffer, I can “translate” without just wanting to bang my head into the wall.)

    I think another issue is space. Maybe I’m not seeing it the same as others, but I see places like fmh as supposed to be safe spaces. That’s why I have little sympathy for folks getting eviscerated there. It’s hard enough dealing with trolls and griefers and whatnot everywhere on the internet, everywhere in life, etc., so how DARE someone who calls himself an “ally” or an ally-on-the-cusp come into a safe space and say, “Well, if you just said things nicer…” or “if you just were more willing to teach me…” I already read comments like those from Ally or from Frank Pellett that express this sense that it sounds uncomfortable or even downright tyrannical. But here’s the point — these are spaces painstakingly carved out as safe. The crucial difference to me is that oppressed people have to carve out tiny spaces as safe. Privileged people get *the entire rest of the world*, so while we are guests in the safe spaces, the least we can do is be on our absolute best behavior.

    • “But here’s the point — these are spaces painstakingly carved out as safe. The crucial difference to me is that oppressed people have to carve out tiny spaces as safe.”

      The problem comes when a small group decides that the space isn’t big enough for everyone who wants in. You shove them out, marginalize them, put them “in their place”, even when they had helped carve out the space. It’s baffling to me that a group that talks about “big tent” Mormonism can’t handle “big tent” feminism.

      • What typically happens is really that someone will point out, “Hey, this sort of behavior is not OK here.” Rather than being “shoved out,” the person has the choice to change their behavior or not.

        The crucial thing is that the space is not for the ally, but for the marginalized. The allies support the marginalized.

        I think that a concept like “big tent Mormonism” (while admirable) is pretty fraught.

      • “Big Tent” feminism has no obligation to tolerate misbehavior, comments that make women uncomfortable, mansplaining, sexual harassment… or any other myriad of actions that might cause a feminist to say: “stop doing that, it’s sexist.”

      • Again, completely agree with you. The problem is that you limit it to men, assuming all of them do this at one time or another. However, this doesn’t apply to you. If a feminist woman speaks up, as they have done with this post, saying “stop doing that, it’s sexist”, your obligation seems to be to minimize, belittle, and dismiss, rather than discuss.

        Also, feminists tend not to be “insisting that [you] overlook [our] privilege”, but that you not assume what privilege we have. Some, no matter what their gender, cannot simply “walk away” even if we wanted to.

    • Thank you, Andrew S. This is exactly it. When I showed up to a meeting this summer to be an ally to LDS women of color, and someone told me that she had been hurt by white Mormon feminists like me, I stopped, and I listened. I asked clarifying questions. I wanted to hear more, and I found out that there were elements of my privilege previously unexamined. The best way for me to be an ally was for me to stop, to listen, to educate myself, and to let someone explain how the privileged group–the group to which I belong–had hurt them. And then, after hearing everything there was to say, vow to do better, to listen more, and to be less hasty in the future. Same goes for when I have been in groups of LDS LGBTQI folks. My job there is not to tell them they’re doing everything wrong, but it is to listen to them as an ally, to ask how they need support, and to use my privilege in my own circles to celebrate their cause.

      At Sunstone this past year, I was on the Mormon feminist track, yet I observed that every comment session was male dominated, usually by proclaimed male allies. They shut women in the audience out of the discussion. Women are trained a young age to speak less when men are around, even in online discussions. Really, if you’re an ally and not part of the oppressed, we need you, but we need you to listen. And when you inadvertently step in it, like we all do, we need you to seek understanding, to listen, and to try to be better.

  15. Thank you for this post, Kate. I go back and forth about the position of allies. I see the hurt some of my friends who are male allies have felt when they feel attacked and don’t want to alienate anyone, but I’ve heard (and experienced) many stories like the scenario you started with.

    I’m never sure of the best way to deal with these behaviors (especially in a public forum). Call them out publicly? Talk to them in private? I have seen and heard stories of male allies get downright hostile when being called out and harass the woman in private while maintaining a public demeanor of decorum. I would love to hear from male allies the best way they can be reminded of their privilege in a way that doesn’t make them feel dismissed or belittled.

    No one likes to be told they’re getting it wrong. Are there universals to ways we can soften the blow?

    • EmilyCC, you’re the greatest ever & I really respect you (attempt to soften the blow)… but, WHY should women bear the burden of making things easier on men ESPECIALLY if what they are doing/saying/projecting is sexist?? Your comment smacks of Mormon female conditioning. WE should make it easier on THEM. WHY be aggressive when you can be PASSIVE?? WE should support their sense of self-importance, at all cost.

      #notourjob #buckup

      Will it drive some men away? Probably. But, they will be on the wrong side of history. Is it worth it… to insist on having your EGO CARESSED???

      • Proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

        Aggressive vs. passive is a false dichotomy here. There are lots of ways to diplomatically disagree with others, and it’s not just “Mormon female conditioning” that says so. That was unkind.

      • Passive vs aggressive is absolutely a relevant dichotomy here. Check out this thread from your own archives:

        the concern is not alienating men! Not making the menz feel bad! There’s all this praise for a poem expressing quiet anger! That’s the model you should pursue!

        Except that the poem expressing “quiet anger” was written over 50 years after a woman got so pissed off that she was willing to be arrested–and her arrest sparked riots.

        You’re not willing to pay the required cost for women’s equality, and you shame any woman who is as “unkind.”

      • Emily U- Calling a spade a spade is not “unkind”, it is necessary. I agree with Kate that it’s a classic example of female Mormon conditioning …CLASSIC… and your “politeness is next to Godliness” type comment that followed– even more so! We need to reexamine the ways in which our patriarchal upbringing colors our communication, even now.

      • Kate, no need to massage my ego here.

        I think you’re oversimplifying my comment. In this area, my style has very little to do with Mormon woman conditioning and is based primarily through experience building nonprofit organizations within and outside of Mormonism by using volunteer labor. You can’t tell a volunteer what they’re doing wrong without careful thought if you want to keep them. Sometimes, it’s worth loosing them. Most of the time it’s not, and I believe this is applicable to a movement as well.

        Being dismissive without consideration on how to educate means many allies will walk away. I think it’s foolish to say that they’re simply a casualty and should have bucked up because what we’re doing is right. It’s exhausting and feels unfair, but I believe it’s a price worth paying for a leader.

      • Emily CC, I was saying that with sincerity, but if YOU feel there is “no need to massage my ego” then I don’t get why you feel male allies need/merit that?

        I can agree with a call for civility on both sides. No need to be intentionally antagonistic, for sure.

        But, that needs to be balanced with a desperate need for direct communication, and that is something Mormon women, including myself, struggle with.

    • “I would love to hear from male allies the best way they can be reminded of their privilege in a way that doesn’t make them feel dismissed or belittled.”

      EmilyCC, I think that’s a great question. I know that if I were unwittingly being racist, it would be easier for me to learn and change and grow if someone were able to point out my mistakes in a compassionate and civil way.

      Kate, I respect your approach to these issues. I have no doubt that your approach inspires and moves forward many Mormon feminists. But surely there’s a place for productive and respectful discussions on the issue that EmilyCC raised, that of not dismissing and belittling those who are unwittingly making mistakes? I have no doubt that people with those concerns also have an important role to play in moving forward Mormon feminism. If there’s not currently space for people to ask the question Emily asked without being accused of “Mormon female conditioning,” then I think it’s time to make some space for them.

  16. Kate,

    As an interested observer who wishes you well, perhaps a step back to consider the big picture is in order. In the comments it seems a number of people who support your overall cause have taken issue with the tone of the original article. It seems you are doubling down. I fear you are not only going to alienate potential allies, but your supporters as well. You have moved the conversation forward. Don’t sink the ship!

    • Really? Another “tone comment?” In a MoFem space? I am not shocked anymore, but in the spirit of this post, that’s not okay. If the words are true, and you only argument is that it wasn’t said in a nice enough way, then toughen up or go play some where else.

  17. This post does not address intetsectionality (black lesbians, transgendered Mormons, the intersexed). In places it seems to go along with the dual gender binary. some transgendered people may wonder if they are allies or can claim to be part of the group (what is the definition of “woman”)? A recent feminist retreat in Michigan generated controversy because leaders had to be “born as women.” I happen to believe that homophobia is directly related to misogyny. I guess I want to be part of a radical movement that would include many categories among the captains of the ship in part because I’m not sure I completely agree with the categories themselves (glbtq, women, color, etc). Some feel that they are allies everywhere never allowed to captain any ship because they just dont fit anywhere or feel excluded all over the place except their own little boat with just them and a handful of others. But as an effeminate gay man I consider myself an ally. But given that I think patriarchy is related to homophobia I would also have no problem with Kate Kelly captaining our glbtq ship.

    • Matthew, I appreciate your comment & agree that homophobia is directly related to misogyny in many ways.

      I also feel the need to embrace the identify others give themselves.

  18. Kate, thanks so much for this. I’ve read a number of posts this past year on being a good ally, and this is certainly one. However, being of a legalistic and historical mindset, a couple of things stuck out for me that I think will help my in MY journey to better allyhood:

    One: Your definition of “ally” as one who has chosen to join in a fight or struggle. It reinforces to me what others have said, which I’ve understood intellectually. Namely, it’s not about me. Yes, I think I get that, but for some reason, some words and thoughts move us more than others, and this definition struck me. I choose to join my sisters. I say that not to give myself Noble Points, but to underline the fact that I could back out and not participate, and the wolves are not at my door. Thus, trying to make it About Me is silly and pointless. By education and inclination I’m a military historian, so I’ll just imagine how Great Britain would have felt in 1941 if the US had said, for example, “We’re going to help you against Hitler, and we’re going to do it by invading Chile.” I can almost imagine Churchill quoting Kate Kelly: “Allies . . . do not get to pick what makes them a good ally.

    Then you said, “Keep in mind that one woman yelling at you in ALL CAPS on the internet does not represent all of feminism or even all of Mormon feminism. But, as an ally, try to look for reasons to listen to what she is saying instead of reasons to discount what she is saying.” One of the things she’s saying is that it’s not her job to make me comfortable with the way she views things, or to modify her views to meet my expectations. Maybe that’s the main thing she’s trying to get across to me in that moment of emotion. I hope I get it; I’ll try to, and when I get ALL-CAPPED by someone because I put my privileged silver foot in my mouth, I hope I’ll be adult enough to listen, learn, and grow.

    Both of these things are points that I understood on an intellectual and, to some extent, emotional level, from listening to and hearing the voices of women that I love and care about. Your post has helped me really feel them. I value that. Thank you.

  19. This is an important topic in our house as my husband wants to be an ally but feels that some Mofems don’t see him as one or don’t think he does it right.

    One part of the puzzle here is that we don’t always act according to our values. Even though I’m a feminist, I remember cringing when my 10 year old son came back from the orthodontist with hot-pink bands on his braces (fearing he would get teased). I also put back the female Elf on the Shelf because I have 3 sons and thought they would like the more traditional male version better.

    These are a few examples of how I continue to act in traditionally sexist ways despite my best attempts not to. Therefore, I cut my husband and other male-allies some slack because they engage in thoughtful discussion of feminist principles, how we can work toward feminist goals, even though sometimes they say something that is sexist . On the whole, though, they do want to do right by feminism.

    Perhaps the man in your story is the kind of person who doesn’t want to continue improving, he just wants women to change their perception so he can continue acting badly and not be called sexist. For that man, I can see exactly where you’re coming from.

    It’s such a nuanced conversation, but I’m glad that it’s happening, and I appreciate your guest post, Kate!

  20. Kate – Well, I have to say that as a man it’s not super easy to reply on this thread. I see your points, and can see why people are reacting as they are as well. In situations like these, I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, because we — those who are reading, those who are writing — are the ones who care, and we’re all in a swirl of pain. And frankly, we’re all a little dented. It’s even more acute for you with everything you’ve been through. If I were sitting together with you right now, I would just want to quietly listen and say nothing, just listening, and let your experience wash over me.

    Personally, I can only relay my own personal experience and hope it adds to the conversation. I consider myself a feminist ally. My worldview changed while I was at BYU in the early 90s. When I first started getting exposure to feminist perspectives and ideas, they were so new that I honestly just didn’t “get it.” The messages resonated with me, and I knew what I was hearing was right, but it was just so tricky: absorbing the ideas, understand them in context, internalizing them, and then reconciling them against the only culture I really knew. I lacked the perspective, the life experience, even the vocabulary to articulate any side of the argument. When I started taking my own first wobbly steps, it was like learning to walk. I said dumb things. I slipped up. My views were not well articulated, as they weren’t even very clear in my own mind. It took some time to start aligning my new worldview. It was — and honestly it still is — a tough adjustment to stay in that enlightened state and to stay balanced. I have several small strokes during every general conference, and several more during Boyd K Packer’s talk, unless I remember to mute him.

    I also want to simply echo others’ words with my own. I don’t personally feel that my motivations are easily attributed to self preservation, decency, or “being on the right side of history.” Many men — especially the earliest of allies, and myself included — have felt a sense of our own personal separation from patriarchy. We are sickened by the Church’s sexism, and we, too are caught. Some of us leave, some of us passively go inactive, others stay and play the game. It’s a full blown pain cycle. For me, some of the biggest tragedies of today’s Church are that we don’t hear from our wisest women in their own voices. This is a huge and devastating loss. I feel it every time I go to Church — it’s just heartbreaking.

    I guess my point is that we male allies are on a continuum of our own, so it’s hard (for me at least) to be painted with broad strokes. Early allies aren’t always selfishly seeking to be on the right side of history, or simply want to disassociate ourselves from sexism. Like me, many of them are just taking awkward steps, pointed in the right direction, but still super sloppy and without the firm guidance of a feminist college professor that I had. It’s sort of like being the high school valedictorian, and then going to college and realizing, through multiple embarrassing defeats and humiliations, that no, you are no longer the smartest person in their class. It’s hard. But I agree, it’s also wholly unacceptable to let some things stand.

    Certainly there are a lot of men who are trolls, or are, in fact, dog-piling into the feminist campground as they’ve started to see the tables turn and they feel that “it’s about them.” And I can agree with you more strongly on this front. To them I would say: slow down and listen. Listen more. Read comments. Don’t reply. Wait for a day or two, and sit with that. Probe your inner feelings and psychology — what was it, specifically, that triggered your reaction? Read them again, and again, don’t reply. Listen longer and listen better. Your voice may occasionally belong, but your listening, and being changed by what you hear, is what will help on your path to being a quality feminist ally.

    # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #
    “To listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.” — Mark Nepo
    # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

  21. I’ve been going back and forth on this post, and I’m troubled. Just as the American feminists needed Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, *and* Alice Paul, so too do we need all types of contemporary feminists. While we don’t need to all agree on everything, surely it would be best to be allies within this community. Sure, there’s the battle of ally-ship. Then again, there’s also the larger war on sexism. It would be a shame to only focus on the former, while losing sight of the latter.

    • I too have felt troubled by this…I personally am glad that there are a variety of feminist/ally personalites and approaches. We need to welcome and support one another in our unified cause.

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