The Time Traveler: Hugh Ellis

‘Confront your fellow man when (or better, before) he does wrong to women and children’ is not easy advice to follow, but we must do it.

In my first two columns on ‘advice to men’ I talked about how we should learn to control our anger and resolve conflicts peacefully, looking for win-win solutions. I explained why should question society’s assumptions about what it means to be a man. In the last of the series, I argue that these steps are meaningless if we don’t go out into the world and challenge our fellow men and educate our boys.

Being an ‘ally’ to women is little use if we just keep it in our heads and don’t take our allyship out into the wider community.

We all know that there are guys out there who will not easily take advice from women, but will consider the guidance of their fellow men.

It will often be an unpleasant and possibly dangerous task. But it must be done. As long as women are not safe and comfortable in our communities, we men should not hide behind undue concern about our safety and comfort either.

To be honest, I have often not done well in these matters.

I’ve failed to confront men in my personal life until it was too late; I’ve been silent when I should have spoken up; sometimes my activism was inappropriate. But I think the lessons I have learned might be valuable, so let me lay them out here.

First, understand that your activism does not have to include grand gestures. Attending a disruptive protest or knocking out the neighborhood creep are noble things, but they also carry their risks, and not every man has to do them. Starting a discussion group, speaking at a high school, writing a song, all these may be equally valuable.

Second, don’t do it alone. Unless you really want to. I’ve found that, more often than not, it helps to get two of three men together, possibly some women as well if they feel up to it and want to assist. Doing it alone will mean there’s no one to help you when you get cold feet, or face the inevitable burnout.

Third, you don’t have to be the perfect man. In fact, it would be better if you weren’t. I myself avoided getting involved in activism concerning gender-based discrimination for years, because I felt so complicit in all this stuff. I thought I’d be a hypocrite. But you don’t have to be ‘as pure as the driven snow’. You’re not a hypocrite for trying to be better, and helping others be better at the same time.

Fourth, remember to ‘be the change you want to see’. Sure, historical progress has not always been peaceful. But generally, if at all you can, don’t protest violence by doing more violence. I used to think that a slap in the face was the only language a potentially violent or discriminatory man would understand. Now I understand that much can be accomplished simply by talking reason. And if reason is not listened to, by simply cutting said gentleman out of your life. And letting him know why.

Finally, just do something. Anything. Well, almost anything. My experience is, the more you wait, the less likely you are to do it. You lose the fire in the belly. You slip back into your comfort zone. So, do something immediately after reading this. Put something into action. Speak to someone. Send a text or an email. Get the wheels moving.

Okay, that’s it, for now, for my ‘men’s ministry’ in these columns. I’m sure you all will be calling me ‘Reverend’ soon, laughing-out-loud. Let’s get out there, guys. Let’s be better.

Hugh Ellis is a Namibian citizen and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication of the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow Hugh’s blog at