Allan Johnson
1946 - 2018
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Noted sociologist and novelist Allan G. Johnson, an influential figure in the profeminist men's movement and the broader progressive movements for social justice, died on December 24 at his home in Canton, Connecticut, surrounded by family and friends. He was 71. Author both of nonfiction books and novels, his work coupled keen analysis with engaging, accessible writing in books addressing gender, race, and class. Best known among them are The Gender Knot, and Privilege, Power, and Difference. "Allan was passionately committed to ending men's violence against women, which is how I was initially drawn to his work, and to him," said the author and cultural critic, Jackson Katz. "He made a major contribution to our theoretical and practical understanding of how men-especially white men-can and should play a role in the struggles for gender, racial and economic justice." Paula Rothenberg, editor of Race, Class, and Gender in the United States said by unraveling society's patriarchal legacy, The Gender Knot was "one of the best, most readable, and most comprehensive accounts of patriarchy that is available in print." Born on January 26, 1946, the son of Valdemar Nels Johnson of Sequim, Wash., and Alice Griswold Johnson of Newburyport, Mass., Allan lived in Washington, D.C. until he was six, when his family moved to Oslo, Norway for two years, where his father was posted with the U.S. Navy. Upon returning to the U.S., the family settled in Andover, Massachusetts. Johnson began writing while in high school at Philips Andover Academy, graduating with prizes in poetry and short fiction in 1964. He earned his B.A. in Sociology and English at Dartmouth College, and a Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Michigan. His dissertation focused on women's roles in Mexico City, where he lived for eight months. It was while he was a professor of sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, that he began a lifelong commitment to understanding the fundamental nature of social life and systems of oppression and privilege, including how and why systems of privilege are created and maintained by society. The issue that first drew him to these problems was men's violence against women. In the late 1970s, he began volunteering at the Rape Crisis Service in Hartford, Conn. He developed an undergraduate course on the sociology of gender to explore the structure and culture of patriarchal systems and male privilege. A consultant with the National Center for the Prevention of Rape, he served on the board of the Connecticut Coalition against Domestic Violence, as well as testifying before the state judiciary committee on laws to protect the rights of sexual assault victims. His first book, Social Statistics without Tears, was published in 1976. After leaving Wesleyan, he wrote his next book, Human Arrangements: An Introduction to Sociology. During this time he also rediscovered his love of fiction, writing short stories and working for a brief time in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, with the American novelist, poet, and editor, Leonard Wallace Robinson. Returning to the U.S., he joined the faculty at Hartford College for Women where he taught sociology and women's studies. During this period, he wrote his most important nonfiction works, including The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy; The Forest and the Trees: Sociology as Life, Practice, and Promise; The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology; and Privilege, Power, and Difference. In 1995, he began speaking and conducting trainings around the country addressing topics of race and gender, initially on behalf of diversity consulting firms in corporate settings. Following publication of The Gender Knot, he shifted his focus to presentations and workshops at colleges, universities, and non-educational settings. He also blogged regularly at His first novel, The First Thing and the Last, was published in 2010 after meeting with considerable resistance from mainstream publishers because of its realistic portrayal of domestic violence. Publishers Weekly recognized it as a notable debut work of fiction, and Oprah Magazine listed it as one of ten "Great Reads" in April, 2010. Nothing Left to Lose, his second novel, was published the following year and revolved around an American family in crisis during the Vietnam War. Not from Here was his last book, a memoir published in 2015 that explored the meaning of being white in North America. In addition to his writing, Allan was an avid swimmer and musician. He continued to swim a mile a day at a local pool until just before his death, and passed his love for swimming on to his children and grandchildren. He studied jazz piano as an adult and his house was always filled with music. Allan is survived by his beloved life partner, Nora Jamieson, a healer, writer, and gatherer of women with whom he shared his life for 37 years; his sister, Annalee Johnson of Newburyport, Mass.; his brother, Dudley Paul Johnson of Alberta, Canada; his children, Paul Johnson of Arlington, Mass. (Karla MacDonald), and Emily Johnson of Los Angeles, Calif.; his niece, Petra Jamieson Gillette of Alstead, NH, and four grandchildren, Andrew, Fiona, Oscar and Simon. He also is survived by his beloved dog Roxie. "He was a man of integrity and depth of soul," Nora said of him, "who carried and wrote of suffering, creating exquisite beauty that pierced the heart. More than anything, Allan wanted to walk the path of a real human being." Following a home funeral and family-led graveside service, Johnson was buried in the North Canton Cemetery on December 29. A memorial gathering to honor his life is being planned for a later date. For updates on details please subscribe to Individuals wishing to make a contribution in his memory can do so by donating to WorldTrust (

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Published in Hartford Courant on Jan. 7, 2018.
Memories & Condolences
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23 entries
January 1, 2020
Allan, I think of you often and I am so blessed to have known you. Nora you writings about your grief of losing Allan are so difficult to read, but at the same so enlightening and real of what we all will at some point have go through. My heat and l love are with always. Blessings
Liz Davis
May 4, 2018
I knew Allan from our time together in swimming at Westminister School Pool in Simsbury. I enjoyed by brief time (about 3-4 years). I did not know Allan as a noted Sociologist. We were friends and generally talked about nonsence and enjoyed each other. Allan was a good person who enjoyed swimming as I did and I miss our conversations.
Martin Joseph Carroll
February 26, 2018
I went to Allan's blog to see if he had posted an essay, regarding the most recent gun massacre so that we could post on the Agency's Facebook page to continue to bring awareness to those we serve. I was so taken aback when realized he gone over. He will be missed by me and so many others. However the work and his words he gave to us will continue his work to end violence against women, as well as a guide to learn how to swim in this thing we call patriarchy. Love you much, rest peacefully
Liz Davis
February 23, 2018
After yet another incident of gun violence recently here in the US, I went to Allan's blog to see if he had posted another insightful essay, one that would help remind me that there are sane and thoughtful people in this world, and I was shocked to see the word "was" and soon realized he recently passed away. I gasped and shouted "no!," and I was even more saddened to learn that he died due to cancer, something I just experienced with a family member which taught me how heartbreaking and cruel life can be. I am just a random person who never knew Allan, but his books and writings, particularly the Gender Knot which I discovered in the past few years, changed my life. His gentle nature, empathy, and gift for explaining things in plain, everyday language finally got through to me and helped me find my humanity as a human being. His writings helped me understand concepts of systems of oppression, privilege, and how deeply I had internalized misogyny and self hatred over my 30 some years on this planet. It was revolutionary. I hardly have the words to explain how radically my world shifted and my mind expanded. And I know I am not the only one. I am so tenderly sad that he is gone. Just in the past few years, many of the concepts he has written about and been an advocate for have entered the greater public consciousness, and more people than ever before are starting to "get it." Perhaps we are on a precipice, perhaps a sea change is coming. Am I am heartbroken that he will miss it. May his words live forever and continue to touch countless lives.
January 17, 2018
I was so sorry to learn of Allan Johnson's passing. I am a professor of sociology and an associate dean. I was introduced to his book, The Forest and the Trees, when I started teaching Intro to Sociology many years ago. Despite my PhD in sociology and my previous years of teaching, his book changed how I think about the discipline, how I teach my courses, and how I work as an administrator. I cannot thank Allan enough for the contributions he made to the field of sociology, me personally, and to so many students. Although I never met him, I will greatly miss his presence in this world.
Nancy Mezey
January 13, 2018
Perhaps it would be inspiring to tell you the extent of the impact Dr. Johnson's lectures and writing have had on my life, but it would be embarrassing to talk about myself that much in this forum. Although I never met Dr. Johnson in person, I've considered him an important teacher of mine since first reading The Gender Knot 18 years ago. I share his quotations and recommend his books. I was thrilled that he'd been putting out books so rapidly in recent years.

Dr. Johnson's memoir Not From Here was a significant contributing factor in my choice to move to Minnesota in 2017. I emailed him in November, when I realized that he'd supplied, yet again, an important influence on my path. It was the first time he didn't acknowledge one of my grateful emails, and I was sad. Now I understand that he must have been engaged in the dying process when I sent it. What a shock.

I hope one day to see that I am like Dr. Johnson, not only relentless in observing my own biases but also tirelessly devoted to work that calls me. Dr. Johnson is a hero of mine because of his unwavering devotion. He wanted people, including himself, to •understand•. In this very desire, he was a feminist, because he was choosing understanding over action. He used his male privilege to bring feminist values to our world.

I believe that Dr. Johnson's fame will grow over time, as the world becomes more and more ready to receive the understanding he brought to us.
Kenna J. Josephene
January 11, 2018
I am heartbroken over the news of Allan's passing. I stumbled across the first edition of _The Gender Knot_ while browsing the shelves at a Barnes and Noble years and years ago. I was already working in the rape crisis movement as an educator and crisis advocate, and I was intrigued by the book description and thought it might be useful for my work. I could not put the book down, and I underlined more of the book than I left un-underlined. It crystalized and gave words to so much of what I had been confronting in my work in the movement. I went on to pursue a PhD in sociology, and I am now an Associate Professor. I have cited Allan in everything that I have ever published, and I have assigned at least one chapter or essay from Allan in every class I have ever taught. I was lucky to have the chance to meet Allan at conferences and at public events on a few occasions, once even getting the chance to pick him up from the train station in Durham, NC, and get some time with him one-to-one. He was gracious, thoughtful, and deeply in touch with his humanity in my interactions with him. The impact he has had -- and will continue to have -- on me, my work, my students, and the broader movements for justice of which he was a part simply cannot be overstated. I offer my sincere condolences to his family and loved ones, and I offer my utmost gratitude for his example, his clarity of insight, and his commitment to resisting inequality wherever it is instituted.
Matthew Ezzell
January 9, 2018
Please accept my sincere condolences. Prof. Johnson's sociology class was an opening experience which helped setting my path. From him I learnt to see the world in different lights. My deepest gratitude for his generosity and wisdom. May his beautiful soul rest in peace.
Hiroko Tsuboi-Friedman
January 8, 2018
I met Allan at a conference on teaching about inequality, many years ago, at NC State University. Each of us attended the other's session. I was already familiar with Allan's work and it was wonderful to talk with him at that event. I also invited him to speak about sexism at UNC Chapel Hill, several years ago, and spent time talking with him and my partner (we're both sociologists) about the world and what we could do to work for the good. At that event Allan spoke to about 300 people, mostly undergraduates. I remember thinking: Anyone who came to this event with skepticism has left here as a feminist! I could feel the transformation taking place in the room.

I have used Allan's books in courses on sociology of gender (and other inequalities) for years, all to great effect. In December, undergraduates read his chapter on "Where do we go from here?", and I read their reflection papers on the reading. All 36 of them wrote that the chapter gave them hope, that it solidified their commitment to making small and large changes in themselves and their surroundings, and that it was a perfect way to end the semester.

Allan Johnson was a true ally and he will be missed. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to spend some time with him--and his readings will be shared with so many in the future.

Sherryl Kleinman
January 8, 2018
So sorry to hear about Allan's passing. He was a good man (and a gifted thinker and writer) who cared about making a difference in the world. I feel proud to have been his editor on Privilege, Power and Difference but, honestly, all I did was sign him and he basically did the rest. He was that strong as an author. He will be much missed.

Serina Beauparlant
January 8, 2018
Hundreds and hundreds of my past students interacted with Allan via video conference after reading his book "The Forest and the Trees." I will miss Allan very much personally, but I am even sadder that my future students won't have the joy, challenge, and stimulation of talking with him. In our Fall '17 video visit, he mentioned his love for Nora, a more personal reflection than was typical in these conversations. Thank you for everything, Allan!
Terence McGinn, University of Michigan Sociology Department
Terence McGinn
January 8, 2018
Allan's death is a huge loss for our world, especially at a time when we need voices like his most acutely. He taught me not only how to understand systems of privilege, but also how to explain them and bring others to join in building a something different. He was s community builder and I feel grateful to have been part of it.
Sarah Margles
January 7, 2018
I am saddened to learn of Allan's passing. He stayed in our home during his work with the Marin Abused Women's Services to end men's violence against women. His presentations and workshops were well received. I enjoyed our conversation over breakfast about his writing and he encouraged me to keep writing. I will miss the passion and clear thinking about social justice and peace that came through his blog. He was an important ally in the struggle. Bill Eichhorn
Bill Eichhorn
January 7, 2018
I'm very saddened to hear of Dr. Johnson's passing. I have used *The Gender Knot* in my feminist classes for many years, and it has had a huge influence on my students. I never had the privilege of meeting him in person, but in our few email communications he was generous and gracious. My condolences to his family and friends as they mourn this kind and gifted man.
Rebecca Whisnant
January 7, 2018
I was the coordinator for the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Professional Development Program (federal grant program) about 8 years ago. We were struggling with how to deliver diversity train the trainer's training for basically an all white educators group, to take back to their state extension educators. My daughter is a director of the Iowa University MSW program and she said she used Allan's Privilege, Power, and Difference when teaching about racism. We decided to give it a shot and call him to see if he'd work with us and he said "Yes!" I still get thanks for the class, many saying it was the most life changing class they've ever experienced. MY daughter was blown away that she was able to work with Allan and able to help create the face-to-face and the on-line-classes for the region. We are so grateful he shared his gifts and many of us are trying to learn and share what he taught us. -Linda Kleinschmit, Hartington, NE
Linda Kleinschmit
January 7, 2018
Allan was a gentle, kind and brilliant truth teller. I had the privilege of working with him on a project at Andover called "Gender Matters" and again when he was the invited speaker at the Jean Baker Miller Institute. His devotion to expanding social justice and his unwavering attention to naming and challenging unearned privilege (male, white, heterosexual, middle class) infused his work . He was an inspirational speaker and teacher. He will continue to inspire and uplift those who find their way to his magnificent, accessible writings.
My love to his family and friends ......and hoping you are finding comfort with each other and in the knowledge that Allan's life was a gift to so many. He made a difference.
judith jordan
January 7, 2018
I am deeply saddened to think the world has lost our important educator and statesman who spoke for the ideals of equality and justice. Allan stayed with us at Olympia Zen Center when he came to do a program at community college and he sat at our breakfast table in composure and elegance with the conviction that he was giving his life to the best work possible. His seminal book, PRIVILEGE, POWER, and DIFFERENCE is required reading at Olympia Zen Center, which we reread every few years in order not to become complacent in the need to remain vigilant. THE GENDER KNOT remains a work that reminds me not to waste my life. While the world is diminished by the loss of Allan's presence, we are fortified by the body of his work that lives on and must stay fresh for us all to be conscious and awake to the insidious nature of our "small contracted prejudices," and to know that with Allan's clear, honest, and truthful words we might stand on higher ground and make a better world for us all. He was and is a great spirit, a great bodhisattva of truth. His name will be placed on our altar and we will offer memorial chanting here in gratitude for his life and his teaching.
Rev. Eido Frances Carney
January 7, 2018
A very great Master Teacher to humanity.

A beloved Citizen.

Please review his critical contributions to increasing literacy for nurturing peace by "Unraveling the Gender Knot" and Allan's additional publications.

I spoke with Dr. Johnson in 2013 by phone and ordered his books autographed by himself. I will go more deeply in sharing his humbly brilliant empowerment and education legacies he leaves the world with.

Thomas M. Clute, MSW
President & CEO, Resource Connections International
Vancouver, Washington
Thomas Clute
January 7, 2018
Allan was an invaluable member of the Endowment for Health extended family. He was a wise and insightful counselor.
Randy Foose
Board Chair
Robert Foose
January 7, 2018
Not only those closest to him, but also educational and social justice communities have suffered a deep loss. More than any other single author, Allan's work has informed and improved my three decades of teaching critical thinking as a university professor. A key contribution: Allan's account of how privilege operates systemically to reproduce social inequalities shifts attention from blaming individuals to recognizing how we all participate by simply following paths of least resistance' hence, we have a personal and collective responsibility to understand and transform structural inequalities. I am forever grateful for what Allan created and the illumination of hard questions it afforded; may his work carry on, be celebrated, and continue to inspire.
V Spike Peterson
January 7, 2018

January 7, 2018
I had quoted him from a book for my thesis and I wanted to look the quote up but couldn't find the book it was in so I wrote him directly and he wrote me back helping me. His willingness to expose patriarchy through the male gaze was revolutionary and opened my eyes. THank You dear Dr. Johnson for defending justice for all.
nancy ivey
January 6, 2018
It is never easy to lose a loved one, I pray you find comfort in Gods promise found at John 6:40 which says that soon we will see all our loved ones again. My deepest condolences to the family.
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