Understanding male allyship with Ozzy Etomi and Temidayo Seriki

TW: This post contains details of rape, sexual assault, and harassment against women.

The battle against sexual and gender-based violence seems to be never-ending in Nigeria, and every day we are reminded of the blatant imbalance of power structures and its detrimental effects for women and children. From what we’ve gathered over the past few weeks of constant news about the assault and killings of women, it’s clear that the idea of consent isn’t one that society deems important enough to teach, and as such, rebuttals and victim-blaming or shaming become the order of the day.

Due to the deeply patriarchal nature of our society, we need all hands on deck to revive the sinking ship, and this includes the allyship of men in positions of power to dismantle rape culture. Not only because making society safer depends on both men and women, but because our society (as proven every day) seems to only value the truth when it’s interpreted through the archetypal male lens, at the expense of those who have been brutally robbed of their agency. Women have always come together to uplift and support each other against acts of injustices, as seen from recent efforts where women rallied behind Seyitan to provide funds for her legal fees against her alleged abuser.

Given this, what has been made even more clear, is the need for the men in our society to step up and become more vocal in counteracting the sexual and gender-based violence epidemic in Nigeria. Lackadaisical attitudes just won’t cut it any longer, as it’s clear that things have to change and it has become everyone’s individual and collective duty to help dismantle rape culture in society.

 

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Doing our fair bit to dismantle misogynistic systems that harm women, last week, we explored exactly how men can be better allies in the battle against sexual and gender-based violence and how to use one’s male privilege to better contribute to society. This week, we’re cranking it up a notch and have spoken directly to advocates of gender equality to establish exactly what allyship looks like, and how we expect men in positions of power (so all men) to use their privilege to be good allies in the fight for equality. We spoke to two members of our community, Temidayo Seriki, founder of the Man Up Initiative, and avid feminist Ozzy Etomi to this effect.

Given their commitment to breaking down set gender-related norms, we believe they would be in the best position to explain what we all need to do more or less of in order to propel the fight. Temidayo Seriki started Man Up Initiative two years ago when he noticed an imbalance in the number of male-orientated development programmes outside the church. With Man Up, he’s taking on the task of challenging men to see beyond their male privilege and adopt a new set of value systems that will make them better men and well-rounded individuals in society.

Men show allyship to each other by enforcing and sustaining what we’ve come to realise, are deeply troubling structures like the ‘bro code’ which they use as a tool to enforce mutual encouragement, complicit silence, and, at best, looking the other way when women speak out on their issues. Given that it’s set up to protect men at every level, and whether or not they are even your friends, it’s important to break down this structure or at least redefine what it means so that it’s not at the expense of other (oftentimes queer) men and women.

To Temidayo, the bro code is incredibly flawed and designed to cover up for inexplicable behaviour when that should not be the case at all. He tells me that the intention for Man Up is to make masculinity what it’s actually intended to be, rather than what it’s presented to be by society.

“I think that more people are catching on that there’s been a problem with the idea of masculinity for a while, and it needs to be addressed. If we, as men, let each other know from the jump that in our friendship group, we don’t condone rape or assault then we create an environment where we’re not excusing foul behaviour.

I am all for personal growth and learning from your actions, but it needs to be ingrained into young men that look there are certain things that shouldn’t even be considered or fathomed, no matter the circumstances”. 

 

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For Ozzy, she’s unwilling to coddle adult men who should know better (and we agree). “We need the ‘boys club’ to be disbanded where men leap to protect other men before anyone else because really they are protecting their own interests,” she tells me via email. “You can be an ally by calling a thing by its name. Not any of this skirting around social issues or using your energy trying to show us you are one of the good guys”. For every man in our patriarchal society, the first step towards any semblance of gender equality is to first realize their own privilege.

“Men know they have privilege. You’d have to be really obtuse to be blind to the privileges you have access to as a man in our society. I think realising your privilege is one thing but knowing how to use it to support marginalised people is another, and refusing to use it in sinister ways when you are able to, that is the real challenge.”

We reached a point in society when complacency became the order of the day, and from young ages, we all upheld deeply sexist ideals; whether it was slut-shaming, allowing rape and assault jokes go unaddressed, or even referring to other men as ‘simps’ when they choose to speak up against women’s issues. There is a lot for us to collectively unlearn, and ignorance will not be excused any longer. Temidayo tells me, “The whole concept of the bro code has flawed accountability for men. One thing we need to do is redefine what the bro code is. We need to change the bro code and reform it as accountability between friends and family”. 

That’s why the efforts of women and allies online cannot be diminished. Social media activism has become a key factor in unearthing a number of sexual and gender-based violence that goes on in our community and promptly shaming it so that these casual attitudes cannot fly under the radar for much longer.

Ozzy is tired of people diminishing our collective efforts online as it only detracts from the conversation, ‘People can be quite dismissive of online advocacy, and while it’s obviously not enough to only support these issues online, I believe a lot of progress we’ve seen in our society has been because people are getting less and less afraid to use their voice. Many times movements have started online and spurred action & changes offline’ she tells me. It’s all great to continue hosting these events and online discussions that ensure people rethink their behaviours and toxic patterns but it’s no good when that material is not exactly reaching who it should.

This is what Man Up is trying to achieve, however, one big challenge Temidayo has faced is that men just aren’t engaging enough. He recounts a tale of an event about consent where only about 3-4 men showed up. “It boils down to what a lot of men think masculinity is; a lot of men feel like they don’t need to express anything and just keep it within themselves” he explains to me.

“Even sometimes when we check social media insights, you find that 65% of the engagement is coming from women. As much as this is good, we want to reach the men. The numbers are low and it’s not good enough. Now we try to focus on promotions and advertising specifically on guys so that we can reach our audience”.

 

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We need to break the cycle of entitlement that we have grown up with. Boys won’t always be boys, when behaving badly becomes the order of the day and what goes ignored today only grow into worse, violent conditions (for women and the LGBT community) in the future. Willful ignorance will no longer be accepted and mansplaining will not be tolerated any longer. Men need to listen to women in their community and learn from their struggles, and also speak to each other to dismantle harmful societal ideals we’ve all had embedded in us.

If at this point, you’re still wondering what male allyship requires, then you should pick up a book and educate yourself as it’s no one’s responsibility to teach you how to be an emphatic human being. Ozzy says:

“The only allyship we need from men is holding fellow men accountable. Men are privy to discussions where women may be absent and another man feels comfortable making sexist jokes or confessing something awful. That is your chance to be a real ally.

We need men to step up and really stand up for women, to press their advantages, wealth, positions, power, and privileges to join the fight to end this endemic. And if they are unable to do that, then they need to stay out of our way”.

In the meantime, Man Up Initiative is now focusing on the young people in Nigeria and working to tackle the problem in our primary and secondary schools in Lagos. They will be developing a life skills programme for young boys where they are taught about consent, accountability, privilege, conflict resolution, and many more topics. He tells me:

“We are looking into is talking to parents as they have a massive part to play in how young boys are brought up. If I am teaching young boys in school how they should behave and act in society and social situations with women, and they are going home and learning the exact opposite from the family dynamics then they’re going to really struggle to learn anything of value”.

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