I spend a lot of time thinking about parties.
Not only do I love parties, but a big part of my work is encouraging sex-positive party culture on college campuses.
And while I love to party, I have to remember something: Parties can be profoundly dangerous places, especially for women.
So it leaves me wondering this: Aside from the environmental changes we can make to ensure party culture is more sex positive, in what ways can men act as allies to women at parties, particularly as we look to prevent sexual violence?
Whether you’re in the club or at a house party or a school-sponsored dance, men have a responsibility to act in solidarity with women to ensure that parties are fun and safe for everyone.
When it comes to party environments, though, that’s not exactly simple to accomplish.
After all, attempting to be a good ally to women can quickly devolve into some paternalistic “white knighting” that can easily recreate the very systems of power and marginalization and oppression that we’re looking to undermine.
And as I sat down to write this piece, it ended up being a lot more difficult than I thought. Every idea I came up with for how to be a good ally at parties seemed to easily devolve into paternalistic ugliness.
So I reached out to my community!
And once again, I was reminded about how this work must be done in cooperation.
8 Ways Men Can be Allies to Women at Parties
In turn, the following list is reflective of my community: friends, acquaintances, other bloggers, family members.
While some ideas are my own, many, even ones not directly attributed, are reflective of the powerful community in which I am fortunate to be grounded in my work to prevent sexual violence on college campuses.
1. Don’t Be ‘That Guy’
Arguably the most important thing that a man can do to act in solidarity with women in party atmospheres is to make sure you aren’t being the one to make others uncomfortable (at best) or to act predatorily (at worst).
What I often say is that men who openly espouse feminist ideals and who know how to “talk the talk” of solidarity are sometimes the most dangerous to women.
After all, those of us who can drop some bell hooks or speak to the performative nature of gender roles have the potential to gain trust and to exploit that trust to manipulate, assault, or otherwise hurt women.
In short, if we want to be allies, we have the most responsibility to buck our social conditioning of what it means to be a man.
We have the responsibility to consider the impacts of our actions on the women around us, even if we are not intending to make them uncomfortable.
In the words of my friend Jen, “If you comment on a person’s appearance, be aware it could be unwanted attention and make her uncomfortable (especially in alone situations or when it turns into harassment). Don’t jump to calling her pet names (sweetheart, babe) or to making requests of her (smile for me, etc).”
In short, don’t be that guy – the guy who actively is hitting on everyone, who is ogling women’s bodies, who’s enabling other men to prey on women, who is performing traditional, toxic masculinity.
2. Don’t Be Paternalistic
One of the trickiest aspects of attempting to ally oneself to women as a man in any context is avoiding paternalism – acting on behalf of women as if we know better than them – but it’s particularly tough to avoid in party environments.
After all, parties tend to be loud, busy, complicated, and people are there for a variety of reasons.
Thus, we might see a woman on the dance floor who has someone grinding up on her. Even if she has a look on her face that we interpret as discomfort, it’s hard to know how to proceed.
After all, maybe that is how her face looks when she’s really into something! Or maybe she is uncomfortable, but doesn’t want help from a stranger. Or maybe she is uncomfortable and wants help, but not from a male-identified person. Or maybe she’s getting ready to handle it herself.
The key here is not to assume we can “save the day” and to be respectful and defer to women when possible.
If you have a relationship with the women in question, a simple check-in can go a long way: “Hey! How you doing? Wanna get a drink with me?”
If you don’t know the person in question, sometimes even making eye contact and giving a concerned look can allow her to signal whether she might want your help.
From there, perhaps the best way to proceed is to engage the guy who’s acting inappropriately.
Talk to him, distract him, and if she’s uncomfortable, she can move along. Doing so helps share the agency, allowing her to still make a decision about how things should go forward.
Perhaps, though, the best way to be an ally is, as my bestie Becca put it, to consider “how you position yourself in a room/situation. Sometimes removing yourself from a room/situation altogether can be a form of allyship in itself.”
In a party environment, sometimes the best thing we can do to avoid paternalism is to be aware of the space we are occupying in parties and consider how we’re interacting with women and act accordingly, which may mean removing ourselves from a situation.
After all, offering a woman a ride home (even with good intentions) could be the most threatening thing she’s experienced all night.
Lastly, recognize that when you try to be an ally, sometimes you’re going to screw up and totally “white knight” the situation.
If that happens, apologize where necessary and try to learn from that experience.