In conjunction of International Women’s Day, Yue Ting Woo wrote about what ‘allyship’ means (to her as a researcher, her research, and its applications and viewpoints in society).
Through my research on allyship, I have realised that the concept is foreign to many people. Hence, when explaining what “allyship” means, I often default to the general idea – actions (or an identity based on actions) directed towards improving the status or situation of a disadvantaged outgroup.
In actuality, I know that this is an overly simplified definition. In the first place, identity is multi-faceted. We do not belong to just one group nor do we only have one identity. Members of a majority group may belong to a disadvantaged group in other aspects of their life. For example, a working-class man may enjoy the benefits of being a man in a patriarchal society, while at the same time experience challenges and barriers because of his socio-economic status. When we think of identity in this way, the concept of allyship becomes more inclusive – allyship is not the responsibility of a privileged few, nor are the people to whom we become allies necessarily powerless and dependent.
As a researcher, this complexity is something that I have to constantly remind myself to appreciate. Even though my work is on humans and their minds and behaviours, it is easy to see my participants as one-dimensional constructs when they are just numbers or words on a computer screen. The world is just so much easier to understand that way. However, I have realised that doing so neither increases the “objectivity” of my research, nor does it help in capturing the nuances, that are such a core part of human behaviour. At the same time, perhaps ironically, when I am able to accept the complexity of the human identity and behaviour, I also began to see more similarities across seemingly disparate phenomena.
One of my favourite quotes is from Dr Martin Luther King Jr., written while he was in jail for acts of civil disobedience in 1963 – “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Indeed, if we consider the idea that all injustice is rooted in the same uncompassionate belief that the world operates like a zero-sum game, then the eradication of this belief becomes the ultimate goal for the benefit of every person; we can begin to understand that there is really no such thing as “their fight, not mine”.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day as set forth by the United Nations – “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” – very aptly highlights this point. Envisioning gender equality as a necessary step for navigating through the climate crisis conveys the recognition that all injustice is connected. Therefore, our desire for equality and justice cannot be confined to a single group of people or issue.
Such a conception of allyship may seem daunting, but viewed from another angle, can actually be liberating. Because injustice is everywhere, our efforts to combat it start in our everyday lives. It is in the awareness that every one of our decisions, research or otherwise, carries with it our biases and assumptions, and reflecting on what these are. It is in the willingness to unlearn these biases and relearn from new, unfamiliar perspectives. It is in the hope that comes from focusing on how much we can grow, rather than on how much we have to grow.
The fight for equality should be empowering, for everyone.
– Yue Ting, Woo