A while back, I was talking to my guy about social justice, rights for marginalized groups, and all that jazz. The usual hot topic between us.
One thing we started to consider is the use of the word "ally." There were a lot of reasons for this, but I'll try to sum it up by saying that he feels using a word like ally makes it easier for supporters of a particular cause to perpetuate an us vs. them dichotomy. Because the word is often used when talking about wars and battles, he thinks that taking that approach to social justice and equal rights puts us in the wrong framework.
I have to say that I've been thinking a lot about it since he said this. The meaning of the word ally is to come together and unite towards a common goal. But I have to admit that it probably became so popular because we often do think about our causes in terms of fights or battles. The fight for equal rights. The battle against ignorant wing-nuts.
If we changed the way we approach the problems, focusing on togetherness, common ground, shared interests, and taking smaller steps, would we be more successful? If we set ourselves up in a way that invited people in, would we be able to reach the people who sympathize with our cause but are turned off by how we deliver our message? Do we need to come from a framework of peace rather than one of war?
This is especially interesting to me after some of the responses (online and off) that I've received for my post last week about the feminist label. I'm just as interested, if not more so, in what people have to say about this.
- At Mon Feb 23, 06:46:00 PM Chally said...
It's telling that we use war metaphors even in our "quest" for justice. I think a part of the issue here is that we're taking on the tools of oppression; there's a stage at which the metaphor loses its usefulness and perpetuates our oppression through divisiveness. I'm having some trouble voicing my thoughts or even getting them together, so I'll say little. I have to say that I find the notion of the ally pretty valuable, and ... hmm, I'm going to have to let my thoughts stew on this, because I keep half-forming and then dismissing them. So I think you've already started to shift the framework :).
- At Sun Mar 01, 01:12:00 PM Feminist Review said...
I do believe "ally" reinforces a distance/difference, and perhaps a dichotomy, though I'm unsure what a suitable alternative may be. Perhaps a rendering of the word in its verb form (as you suggest), instead of its noun form, would be a better framework. Hmmm... looking at a thesaurus: supporter, accomplice, comrade?
- At Sun Mar 01, 01:42:00 PM Ilyka said...
If we changed the way we approach the problems, focusing on togetherness, common ground, shared interests, and taking smaller steps, would we be more successful?
I think so, personally. I think there's a tendency to set the whole thing up as some major undertaking that is soooo harrrrd, and I think the net effect of that is to center the would-be ally at the expense of whoever said ally is trying to ally with.
If we set ourselves up in a way that invited people in, would we be able to reach the people who sympathize with our cause but are turned off by how we deliver our message?
This one I find trickier: Invited people in to what? You know? I think I like a more outward focus, one that's less "you come into our circle" and more "let's share circles." Share, though. Not appropriate.
Do we need to come from a framework of peace rather than one of war?
Ooh, good point. Yeah, the word has some baggage, right? Maybe that's why I've never liked it.
I read someone complain that "ally" is not as a concept commutative, or something like that--that it didn't always go both ways. Well, no, if there's a power imbalance it kinda can't go both ways, at least not all the time, and maybe not even most of it. If that's what you set out for, you wind up with a Nice Guy situation where it's like, "But I listened to your problems and empathized with them from a feminist perspective; now you do for me." It can't be tit-for-tat, but when I think of "ally" in terms of nation states that's the whole point of alliances, to be tit-for-tat.
Hmmm... looking at a thesaurus: supporter, accomplice, comrade?
- At Sun Mar 01, 04:56:00 PM Alderson Warm-Fork said...
Personally, 'ally' seems like a good word to me, but I imagine that's because I think there's a level of aggressiveness (or whatever other word is preferred) that is appropriate and should be emphasised. Building links with people and spreading understanding are vital, but I think there are a lot of people who, insofar as they are privileged by the status quo, won't willingly give it up.
In terms of specific words I like militant, as contrasted with militaristic. Militarism means a willingness to do actual military fighting, with its values of death, authority, hierarchy, obedience, and indiscriminate destruction. Militancy just means a willingness to fight, but potentially without any of those things.
Sorry, I'm rambling. Short answer: a fight is necessary. We shouldn't try to avoid anger or hostility, we should focus on ensuring that they are properly and precisely targetted.
- At Mon Mar 02, 12:59:00 PM frau sally benz said...
I think it's important to remember that there has always been (will always be?) a place for anger to drive action, but the problem is that at a certain point, we end up alienating people who might join the cause. I suppose that's the real problem here, and using the word "ally" is just one part of that larger problem.
As Ilyka said: Share, though. Not appropriate.
That's another aspect of this larger problem. It's a fine line between being allies and appropriating or speaking on behalf of others when they don't want you do.
Even speaking for yourself can sometimes be an issue though. If I look at a problem as a Latina woman, person X looks at it as a white woman, and person Y looks at it as a black woman, some of our goals might be the same, but some might be completely different.
- At Wed Aug 19, 09:15:00 PM Arwyn said...
One of the more fascinating courses I took at my liberal Quaker college was on "Peace Journalism". In it, we discussed the ways that the language of conflict -- especially war and physical conflict -- pervade (invade, one might say) our thinking and our writing. It's made me highly conscious of it since, though I can't always avoid the metaphors of fighting.
I don't think we need to fight: I think we need to work, to labor, to build, to dismantle, to persuade, to dissuade. Doing away with kyriarchy is going to take a lot of work, much of it in conflict with what others are doing, but if we approach it from the point of a "fight" in which there will be "losers" and we hope to "win", I think we've already failed.