What Is an Ally?
On Monday, ScientistMother wrote a post addressed to DrugMonkey regarding talking about the challenges of balancing work and parenthood as a male.
You asked why you were brought into the conversation? Because you’ve said you are an ally. You have stated on your blog that you believe that gender equality in science is a good thing. Yet you rarely talk about some of the balancing issues or the parental issues. I have the link up that shows you think its important. Yet outside of that post originally done 2 years ago, you don’t talk about fatherhood or balancing fatherhood and partnerhood with science.
You need to write about balancing your life with your science as you said yourself the The father/PI who is seriously concerned about gender equity in science will go out of his way to exhibit his status.
She went on to clarify in the comments that she understands that he may have good reasons for not wanting to blog about his work/life balance, but that someone male (and preferably several someones) needs to do this and that he, having blogged about the issue in general before, would be a reasonable choice to help lead the way. I’m very happy for the clarification, because the last thing I want to do is argue with ScientistMother. In addition to liking her, it wouldn’t be fair.
The reason it wouldn’t be fair is that her exchange with DrugMonkey crystallized about two years worth of observations for me. ScientistMother doesn’t deserve to have all that pointed at her for what is just the latest in a very long line of posts I’ve seen that demonstrate that we in the blogosphere very rarely seem to understand what an ally is.
I’m not really sure how it happened. Allies in the culture wars aren’t appreciably different than military or political allies, but somehow, the meaning of the word has changed online. We’ve gone from “In everyday English usage, allies are people, groups, or nations that have joined together in an association for mutual benefit or to achieve some common purpose, whether or not explicit agreement has been worked out between them” to the assumption that the act of alliance comes with specific obligations and that people are “bad allies” or not allies at all if particular things are done or left undone.
This isn’t true, of course. There is nothing about an alliance that requires that one of the parties give up its sovereignty, or there would be many fewer alliances. Alliance is not allegiance. We do not set aside our own concerns and our own marginalization because we care about someone else’s. We don’t let someone else set the terms of our participation in the public sphere, simply because they call us allies, without going through the tricky act of negotiation. We don’t give up our autonomy as allies any more than we would, by giving aid that isn’t wanted or needed, usurp the autonomy of those we aim to help.
Student groups and others who are working to recruit allies understand this. They talk about the behavior of “ideal allies,” presenting aspirational goals and actions that can be adopted by allies. They recognize that learning will need to occur, and continue to occur, throughout the experience of being an ally, saying, “Ask lots of questions and talk honestly about what you do know, what you don’t know, and what you’d like to learn.” They don’t expect perfection, and they don’t demand monolithic behavior.
It’s quite possible the rest of us could learn something valuable from the pros on this one.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 at 10:13 pm and is filed under Stephanie Zvan. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.