For the month of Elul, I am sharing reflections for teshuva (turning) in preparation for the High Holidays next month. I want to address a list that was circulating on social media last week—101 Everyday Ways for Men to be Allies to Women. It’s a really long list, and as I read through it I realized that what I need from the men in my life right now are relationships. I need vulnerability, honesty and struggle. I went through the list again and picked out the 10 suggestions that seemed most connected to this idea of relationship-building.
First, a confusing piece of humility:
65. Recognize that we don’t define what being an ally entails. Women have that job.
Other suggestions had to do with making space within oneself for vulnerability and deep emotional experiences:
13. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
19. Let yourself cry and be emotional.
100. Develop your own methods of self-care.
Some suggestions had to do with reaching out to other people (in this list, this is framed as reaching out to women, but it can apply more broadly):
46. Strengthen the relationships with the women in your life.
51. Make time in your day to call your mother and catch up with her.
58. Support other people who advocate for gender equality.
Then, another group of suggestions tapped into a possibility of making space in these relationships to learn about the other person’s feelings and experiences:
20. Ask for consent, always.
91. Ask questions (but not too many)!
I hope that “too many questions” is defined only with reference to Nos. 20 and 65—in other words, check for consent to ask questions, and if the person says they don’t want any more questions, stop. There is no universal measure of “too many questions.” Seriously. I love when people ask me questions, and even more so when it’s people I love. Ask away. Check to see where my boundaries are, and respect those boundaries. But otherwise, don’t make up imaginary boundaries of “appropriate” or “too much” that don’t actually exist.
That’s where I think the list could have been even more explicit. More than just being “an ally,” I want the men in my life to be in relationship with me—to be connected, to make lots and lots of space for me to be fully who I am, to ask and ask and ask and want to learn about my experiences and understand my responses. To challenge themselves to be uncomfortable, to have complicated feelings, and to step into our relationship to find ways to express those feelings and explore the discomfort. To find multiple ways of coping with those feelings, including, but not limited to, finding support from me.
Some of my readers may think what I’m describing sounds a lot like a romantic relationship. Others may think it sounds like having a close friend. Really, it’s any and all of the above. In fact, I don’t know how we can build romantic relationships that will be transformative in this way unless we are also engaging in transformative friendships and in deep and challenging relationships with the people we call family (whatever that may mean to us). I’m dreaming about a transformation of our relational lives.
This relationship teshuva need not only apply to men coupled with women. Yes, there are certain ways in which norms of masculinity and femininity combine such that for men to connect with women in this way is both particularly challenging and particularly important. But it’s about more than gender. We all live in a culture that keeps us from connecting with one another. Whether it’s the feeling that we’re asking too many questions or we’re sharing too much information, we have many more lessons in how to erect barriers than how to break them down.
I’m sorry for the times when I didn’t make space for you—for the times when I didn’t see you, listen to you, ask you what you needed to be asked. I’m sorry for the times when I didn’t have the skills or capacity of my own to be uncomfortable and emotional and vulnerable with you. I’m sorry for when I didn’t call you, catch up with you, support you. I’m here now, trying to figure out how to keep connecting. It’s harder than I thought it would be but feels more urgent and important than I’d ever imagined.