Wednesday, June 19, 2019

On Political Allies. In Housecleaning

A recent UK Guardian article, about even liberal and progressive men not sharing housework fairly, has a bizarre headline*:

Want to be a male ally? Start by cleaning the house.
It's bizarre, because it suggests that doing one's fair share of housecleaning is a way of being a political (?) ally, but to whom?  The class of women?  One's own female partner?

That headline is like asking the readers to go  around several blocks and then to come into the (messy) house through the backdoor, while the front door (the simple explanation) is wide open and the shortest way in: 

Sharing paid and unpaid work equally** is what fairness in a relationship requires.

Okay.  So I am a curmudgeony goddess who has trouble accepting some of the jargon on both the right and left political extremes.  This particular example is about the meaning of the term "ally" on the political left***.

It's not the same as the dictionary definition about alliances between nations or people, such as this one, even though it initially might look the same:

a person, group, or nation that is associated with another or others for some common cause or purpose: Canada and the United States were allies in World War II.
The difference is that the Guardian headline asks the reader (presumably a man) if he wants to be a male ally.  In other words, it's closer to the following definition:

Rather, it's closer to this one:

2 : one that is associated with another as a helper : a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity, or struggle a political ally ... —often now used specifically of a person who is not a member of a marginalized or mistreated group but who expresses or gives support to that group

Bolds are mine.

The two bolded sections explain why I disliked the Guardian headline:  The male partner should not be viewed as a "helper" of the female partner when it comes to housecleaning or child-care or other chores.  The male partner, in this context,  is not someone outside the "marginalized or mistreated" group ( of women, here, or just his own female partner?) who is just expected to give support.   He is inside the group "partnership" with his female partner, and his role is not that of a helper, but of an equal participant.

I wonder if that's clear...

*  Since most headlines are not written by the authors of the articles, this  headline probably wasn't picked by Moira Donegan who wrote the article (which is worth reading, as is this one on house cleaning).

** Absent health problems etc.  Note that there are different ways of sharing work and household chores fairly, but when both partners work equal hours, it's not fair to expect only one of them to take care of all unpaid work as well.

***  The list of the duties of a political ally can be psychologically very onerous.  There are good reasons for making sure that the eager allies won't just take over and get the whole movement centered on their wants, needs, and desires, which makes those lists understandable.

Still, I am not sure that the allyship-concept in politics is ultimately a productive one (in terms of gaining many supporters in various fights for justice) because it signals that different demographic groups really are like different countries, and unless potential allies can prove otherwise,  they are assumed to be citizens of an enemy country (from the angle of the oppressed group).