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May 31, 2006

Men can be feminists

Can men be feminists?, asks Aspazia of Mad Melancholic Feminista.

Hell, yes! If you live by feminist principles, work for feminist goals, and identify yourself as a feminist when it really counts, then you are a feminist. (Update: Let me stress that male feminism isn't just some remote theoretical possibility, it's a fact that I observe daily. Granted, I probably know more feminists than the average American, but even so...)

Obviously, there is a big difference between standing in solidarity with an oppressed group and being a member of that group. However, I don't know many male feminists or feminist allies who are unclear on that distinction.

Some men who support the feminist movement hesitate to call themselves "feminist" for fear of being presumptuous. I admire their hesitation. It bespeaks respect for women and what used to be called "the women's movement." However, I don't think that much reticence is called for.

Sure, some guys who call themselves feminists are poseurs or opportunists--but that's just a commentary on the prevalence of fakes and users, not on the possibility of sincere male feminism.

It takes a lot of courage for a guy to self-identify as a feminist outside his women's studies class. A man who's willing to tell his drinking buddies that he's a feminist is taking a risk. He's putting a little of his privilege on the line when it counts. That's a choice that commands respect.

Some feminists argue that men don't deserve "extra credit" for doing the right thing. I don't consider it extra credit to acknowledge the distinctive obstacles that men in our society have to overcome in order to get right with feminism.

Any guy who's willing to stand up and be counted as a feminist deserves to march under our banner.

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Comments

Interesting...I don't think I've even asked myself that question since my undergrad days (which ended 20 years ago this month). I just take for granted that men can be feminists, and I've considered myself one for pretty much my whole adult life. I don't think I've ever been "called" on it by someone who found it objectionable, either.

It does open up a really interesting semantic question, insofar as there are few terms like "feminism" that can encompass both a movement's core participants and its fellow travelers. Straight people can be supportive of GLBT activism and can even participate in it, but they're not "gayists" as a result. (And I don't think I'd want them to be...not the most attractive word, is it?)

I am a feminist man. It is the signal most important moral issue confronting us since racism is being (agonizinlgy slowly) shown the door. Sexism and incarcertion are black marks on America. Whe should all fight them.

While I understand and have some sympathy with those who hesitate to answer this question the way you do, I think a serious cost of the "men can't be feminists" line of thinking is that it further suggests that feminism is something strange or radical, rather than just a (sometimes radical) application of common sense, decency, and equality. We'd never have a conversation about whether white people can be anti-racists, because the moral decency and requirement of anti-racism are more often than not simply assumed. At its core, I don't take feminism to be anything more than anti-sexism. There's no reason any decent person, male or female, shouldn't identify as feminist.

I've been around feminists socially and professionally all my adult life and I've never experienced this controversy outside the blogosphere.

I think anyone who wishes to press for a society which frees people to determine their own roles and arrangements as far as practicable
might find "feminist" a tad restrictive a definition.
Not to be ungracious.

What's restrictive about it?

A " male feminist " won't be trusted by men or women. True.

"Obviously, there is a big difference between standing in solidarity with an oppressed group and being a member of that group. However, I don't know many male feminists or feminist allies who are unclear on that distinction."

This is interesting. I think you just helped me clarify this a bit more in my mind. It is clear that members of the oppressed group are often NOT feminists. I know far too many women whose politics and world view frightens me more than the average white, straight guy.

So, I guess what this suggests is that feminism is not tied up with being a member of an oppressed group. That is, membership in an oppressed group is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition.

Some men who support the feminist movement hesitate to call themselves "feminist" for fear of being presumptuous. I admire their hesitation. It bespeaks respect for women and what used to be called "the women's movement." However, I don't think that much reticence is called for.

I may be generalizing from Chris Clarke's explanation, but it's possible that these men are just afraid of a fringe and largely nonexistent separatist contingent. Personally I stopped wondering about it when I realized feminism doesn't necessarily entail anti-porn hysteria.

It takes a lot of courage for a guy to self-identify as a feminist outside his women's studies class. A man who's willing to tell his drinking buddies that he's a feminist is taking a risk. He's putting a little of his privilege on the line when it counts. That's a choice that commands respect.

Honestly, I'm not entirely sure about this. What you say is a bit reminiscent of Ampersand's point in the male privilege checklist that men are practically given gold stars for things like knowing a bit about cooking. I know I certainly don't see it as putting something on the line, any more than I see it as putting something on the line when I oppose racism and American imperialism and support public education and a social safety net.

As for drinking buddies, maybe I just happen to have feminist friends, but I think any buddy who thinks less of me for not thinking the Y chromosome is a badge of superiority isn't worth drinking with.

"Any guy who's willing to stand up and be counted as a feminist deserves to march under our banner."

That would appear to exclude guys marching in a crouched position underneath the marching women's skirts. Unless they pop out once in awhile for counting, I guess.

"...identifying as feminists have been either date rapists, mom fetishists, porn addicts, or bear daddies inflicting their frustrated pseudopaternal tendencies on women."

Well, at least I am not nor have ever been a date rapist.

I don't have much use for the word, to be honest. I find it either redundant or inaccurate. The former with regards to how I view the way people should be treated, in general, and the latter when it goes from being a statement of general principles to a more political type thing.

Then again, I don't have much use for most sorts of ideological labels. I have opinions, some are in line with the opinions of some people who call themselves feminists, some... not so much, but its not like there is some easy test of feminist citizenship.

You saddle yourself with all kinds of unwanted baggage when you accept that label, whether you are female or male. For me, its just a problematic and unecessary step. Although I can accept that others might deem it 'necessary'. Its just not for me.

It's the people who make a point of distancing themselves from feminism that I don't trust.

Aspazia, I'm glad you found my comment interesting. I definitely agree that membership in an oppressed group is neither necessary nor sufficient for being a feminist. The only thing I'd add is that the patriarchy oppresses everyone by enforcing arbitrary norms on society.

Some people defend this code on the grounds that it's what they (or all moral people, or everyone like them, or everyone who counts) would do anyway, but that's bullshit. Even if it were true, the system robs every individual of agency by enforcing certain choices and proscribing others.

So, no matter what a macho-man beneficiary of the patriarchy you think are, you're still being robbed by an anti-feminist society--because you didn't fight on an equal playing field, whatever status you have is cheapened. If you care about merit, that should piss you off. In fact, you should be pissed in exactly the same as your average feminist. It should be obvious to you that the world is unfair in unverifiable but undeniable ways that cheapen you in ways you don't quite have the words to express.

What's the banner look like? I think Chris Clarke had a lengthy discussion on this about two months ago. I think the problem is loudmouths like myself stepping in with something prefaced with "Wait a minute, I just gotta say..."

I'd rather be a trainee, or in the infantry, or a supporter.

I would, if asked, describe myself as an ally of feminism, but I wouldn't call myself a feminist. There's just too much homework that I haven't yet done for me to use that badge in good conscience.

I think there's a pretty substantial difference in the number of men men who would be willing to stand up for feminist principles, and those (minus the poseurs) who would openly proclaim "I'm a feminist", simply because the term has become so loaded.

In truth, I doubt this is true only for men; I would hazard that there are quite many women who's actions and self-assessment make them essentially indistingushable from many avowed feminists, but who dislike what they believe to the connotations of the feminist label.

A friend of my working on a Ph. D in Women's Studies actually found this phenomenon to be incredibly prevelant among a self-organized group of female Phish fans called the Phunky Bitches.

The women in the group spent a great deal of time and effort creating woman-friendly spaces both on-line and at Phish concerts, and any casual observer (including my friend, before she joined the group) would consider it to be a "feminist" group.

However, in interviews she conducted for her (still unpublished) thesis, very few of them would actively claim the label "feminist", with quite a number going so far as to say that they didn't like the term.

"So, no matter what a macho-man beneficiary of the patriarchy you think are, you're still being robbed by an anti-feminist society--because you didn't fight on an equal playing field, whatever status you have is cheapened. If you care about merit, that should piss you off."

Sorry, but I think individualist merit is mostly bullshit, its the inverse of collectivist bullshit. I didn't claw my way out of the swamp, I wasn't left on my own as a toddler to fend for myself. Does that mean I feel cheated, that I wasn't allowed to achieve something on my own? Hell no, I'll take what help I can get, it allows me to achieve more.

Life sets limits, the society you live in sets limits. We work with what we have. Some of us have more, sometimes for completely arbitrary reasons. Life isn't fair. But society is also what helps level an impossibly unfair playing field.

Its 'society' that defines the 'rights' we have. When you have a legal right to something, society is bound to ensure you get it, whether you 'merit' it or not. Its a double edged sword though. Sometimes we want more than society deems we should get.

You should always fight for more, for yourself, for your family, those you love, your society, but every scrap you get will be at some elses expense. And they are going to fight just as hard, because they weren't gifted with a perfect existense either.

The real issue is balancing the needs of the society (patriarchy matriarchy... whatever has been foisted on you by your parents) with those of the individual.

We are all oppressed by circumstance and reality. If helping you helps society (and doesn't adversely affect me too much) or helps you achieve something that helps society, I'd say its worth while to do so, because helping society helps us both.

I'd only feel cheated if I felt I wasn't allowed to use what I have, and then I'd fight for the ability to use it.

Yes.

How divisive a question can this be? I checked the comments here and at the Mad Melancholic Feminista blog, and I didn't see a single one arguing the men cannot be feminists. Can someone who holds that position (or who has heard the arguments of someone who holds it) explain to me what definition of "feminist" is used by those who think it's not possible for a man to be one?

Whatever happened to the so-called "Men's movement"? Ya know, the whole "Iron John" and beating drums around the campfire thing? I guess it petered out when they all realized they still made more money and had more power than women.

I'm a feminist, and I like long walks on the beach, short walks on the beach, other beach-related activities, etc. I am actually a nice guy (not a "nice guy"), but I do have a few small quirks, like sleeping next to a porcelain bunny and a fear of russett potatoes. I dabble in alchemy and phrenology, and I have the world's largest collection of sporks. Looking for a lady who can show me how to work my TiVo and is experienced in the taxidermic arts. If you are interested, please press #000.

Whatever happened to the so-called "Men's movement"? Ya know, the whole "Iron John" and beating drums around the campfire thing? I guess it petered out when they all realized they still made more money and had more power than women.

Oh, the MRA movement is still alive and kicking, defending abusive husbands and their likes. Why?

So, no matter what a macho-man beneficiary of the patriarchy you think are, you're still being robbed by an anti-feminist society--because you didn't fight on an equal playing field, whatever status you have is cheapened.

I think it's only true if society in general recognizes that you are getting ahead for a reason other than merit. Observe that the backlash against affirmative action whammies is far stronger than any similar opposition to people who got ahead only because they're white and/or male. When discrimination is hidden, or considered normal, there's no similar cheapening of status.

parse, the contrary position is expressed here, and there are some links too. I don't have a clear answer to your more specific question.

I am a feminist, if the dictionary definition is in any way authoritative. I certainly believe in substantive equality, and try to live that belief. However, if women tell me to get out of the way, well, I'll get out of the way.

It was the right, particularly the religious right that besmirched the term "feminism" and made it unpalatable to ordinary people. Sexist thought was well entrenched at the beginning of the civil rights era, but the right's insane reaction to even the most modest appeals to feminist common sense in the '70s and '80s had Jesus written all over it. It's the old patriarchy all right, but lately it smells, or rather, stinks like christo-reactionary GOP. Who would have thought in say, 1970, that in 2006 even slack-jawed rednecks would object to being called racist, while tarring an electoral opponent with the feminist label is a guaranteed winner every time.

--tarring an electoral opponent with the feminist label is a guaranteed winner every time.--

Please give one example. If it's a " winner every time " that should be really easy to do.

A " male feminist " won't be trusted by men or women. True.

Not true. I'm a trustworthy guy and a feminist. Trustworthiness is a quality I've cultivated mainly by keeping my mouth shut when I want to share something juicy. Also, I ask questions and pay attention to the answers. (I'm also an educated, conventionally attractive, white male so I'm pretty used to people taking me seriously.)

Because of this I think it is effective for people to see me, a straight white businessman, identify as a feminist, especially when they think a feminist is an angry, unshaved dyke. (Not that there's anything wrong with that :) )

A few weeks ago I was at dinner with collegues. We were talking current events and our kids and the discussion turns to the recent gang rape trials. A couple men made jokes about keeping thier daughters inside until 25 or something like that. In an offhand way, I said if you really want to keep your daughters safe, you have to teach you sons not to rape and to stand up to other would-be rapists.

You could see light bulbs going off in thier heads.

It's frustrating that some people need to hear it from someone like me before it is considered, but it would be irresponsible of me to waste that opportunity. People can change. It's up to them to do so, but others can be a catalyst.

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