The Gender Equality Movement

All inclusive gender equality, not one-sided hypocrisy

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Can Men Be Feminists?

Posted by Curt on Wednesday, 7 July 2010

This might seem like a silly question; at least it did seem so to me.  In the past I always thought that of course men can be feminists, what exactly excludes men from being feminists?  Even I thought of myself as a feminist at one point.  Of course, Finally Feminism 101 is bound to be full of surprises for those not wholly familiar with feminism:

“However, [while there are men who are comfortable with calling themselves feminist and feminists who embrace them] there are also men and women who are ideologically uncomfortable with men calling themselves feminists, because it seems to be a co-option of movements built by and for women. These groups express a preference for the terms pro-feminist or feminist allies when speaking of men who support and advocate feminism.”

Shocking, no?  It might be if you know little else about feminism.  From my experience, a number of people who do not know very much about the nuances of feminism often envision it as simply a movement for gender equality and thus will claim the label casually or at least support it without very much thought.  Indeed, that was exactly my case until I came head-to-head with this sentiment some four of five years ago and realized that it ran much deeper than any notion of “regular” vs. “radical” feminists (not to mention the fallacy in dividing feminists in such a manner).

Ideologically, it makes sense.  Feminism is a movement by women, for women.  Like it or not, this is beyond dispute and while feminism may mean something more to a number of feminists, this is ultimately what it boils down to.  Thus for a man to join feminists and call himself a feminist, too?  Given the gendered power structures and how those feed into the perpetuation of patriarchy, a male labeling himself as feminist would seem to co-opt the movement in the eyes of many feminists because, as the structure of power is in his favor, his joining this movement will appear to give it more legitimacy not because it’s right per se, but because a man is there.  And if that happened, what exactly did the movement accomplish?

It seems totally out of whack to me.  Not only does it play on the assumption that men have it all good and don’t need empowerment, as I’ve spoken so much about, but it assumes that women and men are not interconnected to such an extent that you cannot address just one gender; you have to address both.  I’ve written about that too.  Both genders are so interconnected that you cannot look at one without looking at the other, and you have to do it in a way that is balanced; one which does not assume that the ways men are hurt by current state of affairs are not as bad as the ways women are hurt.  In this sense, men and women should both be joining arms in the struggle for the empowerment of women (as well as men), and ultimately gender equality itself.

If only.

Finally Feminism 101 goes onto note that:

“The debate over the terms is an undercurrent of controversy rather than an enormously divisive issue in the broad women’s movement.”

This strikes me as even more worrying than if it were an enormously divisive issue.  Any movement for the empowerment of just one gender but not the other is going to leave that other gender in the dust.  It’s an issue I can’t emphasize enough.  Women have a vested interest in men’s right just as men have a vested interest in women’s rights.  Even if the dynamics of any situation does change based solely on one’s gender, the interconnectedness never will.  You cannot view women in isolation of men, just as you cannot view men in isolation of women.

So to answer the question I put in the title, of course I think men can be feminists.  Given the current state of feminism today and the existence of female feminists who would ostracize a man who would dare call himself a feminist, I can see why a man would be uncomfortable with assuming the label and perhaps why he might prefer calling himself a “feminist ally”.  However, I think it’s all bunk – the interconnectedness of the genders needs to be emphasized and I do think that any male feminist should challenge a female feminist who would take issue with his labeling himself a feminist.  However (based on what I’ve seen from some feminists on this issue), many feminists who wouldn’t agree with that, such as Tigtog, the founder of Finally Feminism 101, do not agree:

“Your responses seem to be presuming that this issue is a major one for most feminists. It isn’t, but this doesn’t mean that the minority who do feel strongly that men shouldn’t call themselves feminists are therefore ripe for marginalisation.

It seems to me that any man who is challenged on calling himself a feminist rather than using the term ‘”feminist ally”, and who is not happy to step back to using the term ‘ally’ for that interaction – those are the men who are giving all male feminists a bad name.

Allies who insist on appropriating the language and rhetoric of the group they are supporting over the objections of that group are not really allies, they’re just riding a bandwagon for their own purposes instead of supporting the group.”

I think this is ridiculous.  First off, if a group of feminists are more destructive to the aim of the movement as a whole, it is damn well proper that they be marginalized.  That they aren’t and are accepted suggests a broad acknowledgement of these views without a rebuke, which I think is outright dangerous because, again, such a movement would not lead toward gender equality or anything resembling a just or equal society.

Second, what exactly is wrong with a person taking issue with it rather than accepting it and using the word choice?  Confronting this issue head on as it arises rather than bitterly submitting to it is what should be done; it certainly is doing so for his own purposes, but again, why should his purposes not be in line with those female feminists who take issue with it?  Why should it not be?  Maybe it sounds a bit nutty for me to say, but the struggle for female empowerment is just as much his as it is her’s, as is the case vise versa.  Feminists so often claim that women’s rights are human rights, which goes along with the notion that we’re all in this together – why wouldn’t those individuals who counter that be marginalized, and why shouldn’t they be challenged by male feminists?

That these men give male feminists a “bad name” strikes me as completely unfair, one-sided, and childish, and I wouldn’t even call myself a feminist under any condition.  It can see how they come to form this position, but it stands so against anything I advocate that I just can’t sympathize with it.  It just strikes me as the poison of putting so much emphasis in one’s identity rather than one’s ideals – you eventually get so used into thinking in such a manner that it almost feels like a male vs. female war, and that any man challenging a woman is a one up for “men” and only “men” rather than for the goals of the movement as a whole.  It’s a totally absurd way of thinking.

If feminists ever wonder why men are reluctant to embrace feminism, this is it right here.  It has nothing to do with men hating women or men wanting to retain their privileges; it has everything to do with men feeling as if they do not have a place.  This is why I make the claim that a more inclusive brand of feminism would be so much larger and more balanced.  I might not claim myself a feminist, but if that ever happened, it would do wonders for gender equality and it would be right in line with what I advocate for.

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5 Responses to “Can Men Be Feminists?”

  1. Cessen said

    I would note that this is also sort of a double-bind, because I’ve also seen many women feminists complaining about men not using the term “feminist” to describe themselves, because they feel that men avoiding the label further stigmatizes the movement.

    So you have some feminist saying, “You better not!”, and you have others say, “You better!”

    Which women should you listen to? Hooray.

    Btw, great blog. I’ll be following it.

    • Curt said

      Good point. Most of the feminists I’ve been reading from lately prefer to use the term “male ally” when referring to male feminists but will accept men who call themselves feminist with no protest simply for political expediency. I haven’t read much from those who insist on men calling themselves feminists.

  2. This is too silly and parochial to even comment on. Arguing about the name given to someone who pretty much agrees with your philosophy? Really? How petty. You really should be paying more attention to the anti-feminist blogs and youtube videos out there that are doing real damage, make blogs and videos crushing their bogus, hateful arguments. It seems like there is more opposition to feminism than support, which I don’t understand because patriarchy is harmful to everyone in society and feminism benefits people as it is about equality. I enjoy reading anti-feminist blogs because of how ridiculously stupid, biased, and ill-informed they are. The “masculist” movement is basically just irrational pro-sexism from republican men who desperately want to prevent social change to keep themselves from losing power and being EQUAL with all women, races, gays, and other groups that are disenfranchised.

    • Damien said

      I disagree. I agree with the blogger though how can i support Feminism? Whats wrong with it you may ask? Its in the name for goodness sake! it is not “equal”. It is not petty to say whats on your mind. Its not petty to question something that needs questioning. Its about time this was taken seriously. Quite frankly i find your reply to be “petty”

  3. Damien said

    Hi there it took a little work finding this blog. I am glad i have found it now though and would like to support it. I have been told time and time again that Feminism is a movement advocating for the equal rights of both genders. However my experience of feminism is far different in some cases. Can Feminism be an equal rights movement for both men and women?No it cannot be an equal rights movement for sexes. Why not you may ask? Well first and foremost its in the name! Names are VERY important and in many cases define what you stand for. I believe that Gender Equality Movement ie GEM is the natural next step in the fight against gender inequality. Strong men and women should be working together. They should be combining their strengths and voices to have a fair go for everyone and with a name like GEM there is NO confusion as to what you are standing for. You might say this is irrelevant. But the idea would never have come around if it was not in fact very relevant.

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