So You Want to Be a Good Dude: A Primer on Reading the Room

So You Want to Be a Good Dude: A Primer on Reading the Room

By Arabelle Sicardi
Illustration by Tara Jacoby


If you’re reading this, you are probably a man curious about how to be a better ally to the women in your life — congratulations and thank you! Acknowledging the disparity of treatment between genders is the first step to helping change it. (By no means is it enough and actively being an ally requires more than lip service or a themed profile photo supporting any particular movement.) It means decentering yourself from your everyday experience and asking yourself: is anyone missing from the room? Am I doing the best I can to support the people I’m around? And if you’re around mostly men, can you examine what might be the cause?

I work in beauty and fashion which are both industries filled with women, but both industries are owned and led primarily by white men over the age of 40. The conglomerates that own most of the companies are all run by men and some of them have zero women in executive leadership positions — even for brands that target women exclusively! Nail polish? Tampons? Drugstore cosmetics? The boardrooms that manage these products are comprised of dudes. The personal care industry has some of the better representation of women in leadership across the board but it isn’t even 30 percent when all’s said and done. Women’s opinions are valued far less than the space we take up. This is rich, considering women are also proven to buy more products than anyone else. That’s a fact I’m sure you could personally support if you compared your bathroom storage to those of the women you know. So women buy more and have more of a market influence, but we can’t rule industries targeted at ourselves.

Men get the lion’s share of venture capital funding every year as well. 98% of venture capital funding goes to men so even if women wanted to start their own brands with structural support, we’d be out of luck. Not only are women not allowed in many of the executive boardrooms in companies around the world, we’re also not afforded equal opportunity to build our own.

You as an individual can’t fix the gender gap across an industry and certainly not across the world. But you can address it in your daily life, which will make a tangible difference to the women in your world, and the impact spirals out in ways you can’t even account for. You don’t have to be ashamed of your privilege — I’m not asking you to grovel, or even apologize (it’s not like you chose to be a dude) — you do have to acknowledge it and try to figure out situations in which you can use your position to help the women in the room (and especially those outside of it who couldn’t get in the door). This doesn’t mean speak for us. It does mean helping make a space in which we can speak for ourselves.

We deserve to be in politics, in business, in education, certainly in beauty but really in all industries – just as much as you. Just because there are fewer women in positions of power does not mean women are less capable. It means not enough people believed women to be capable of proving themselves. When you have a chance to highlight the work of a woman, you need to do it. Don’t operate on the premise “if a woman was better at this job, she’d be doing It.” I challenge you to operate on the premise no woman has had the chance to or been respected enough to be noticed for her work.

You don’t need to be a boss to invest in the women around you. Being a great friend is support, too. If a woman you know is working on a project you can offer to help research (which is different than mansplaining, which, believe me, you probably do but the women who love you are too polite to point out), buy them coffee while they work, or even just share their work with other people you know.  If you’re doing a creative project, actively search for co-conspirators that aren’t like you! Ask for feedback from women and stay humble when we trust you enough to be honest with you. Don’t treat compassion as chivalry and don’t frame your kindness as being a savior or a transaction that will earn you favors or love. It’s just being a good human. Women don’t need rescue. We simply need support.

Being a good ally doesn’t require you to ever say you’re a good ally. Quite honestly, who says they’re a good anything unless it’s in defense of something pointed out? If you’re a good guy you don’t need an audience. You’re going to do compassionate things not because you’ll be congratulated but because you know even the smallest act of solace is going to make the world a bit better off. Women are used to daily acts of sexist remarks, we’re used to being disbelieved, we’re used to being seen as too emotional, we’re used to not having anyone on our side but other women. If you want to be a good ally the biggest lesson you need to learn is that this journey is not about you. It is about the women you’re concerned for: it is about holding space for women to hold our own.

Arabelle Sicardi is a beauty and fashion writer whose work focuses on beauty and power. They’ve written for Teen Vogue, Elle and more. Sometimes they’re a woman! And sometimes they’re just mostly Cheetos.

In honor of International Women's Day, we are sharing the perspectives of six different women who have written about the five tenets of IWD's #PressforProgress initiative. As part of this project, Bonobos will be donating $5,000 to a charity of the writer's choice. In this case, we'll be donating to the TransWomen of Color Collective, which works to create safe spaces for transgender and gender-non-conforming people while working to educate, empower, and celebrate their community.