Can men be feminists?

// 24 April 2008

Cath Elliott is pondering this question on Comment Is Free today.

Can men ever really be feminists, or should pro-feminist men be consigned to the sidelines, welcome allies in the struggle for gender equality, but disqualified from full membership by dint of their unasked for but nonetheless privileged position as fully paid up members of the male fraternity?

I’m not going to comment on what I think, because I really want to know what YOU think. Go forth and debate!

Comments From You

Mark Kuramoto-Headey // Posted 24 April 2008 at 12:27 pm

A female fried once told me that I was the most radical feminist she knew.

Don’t know whether that is true or now, but I certainly some radical views any women I’ve met. So, if I’m excluded, should they be also? If they’re included yet I’m excluded, is that logical?

Don’t know. I can see the argument for women only. However, as any improvement in the current situation can only happen if men are “on board”, I wonder if excluding us is the best way forward?

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 24 April 2008 at 12:41 pm

Oh joy, another post on Comment is Free about women/feminism. You think that people commenting on the Guardian would be a little bit more progressive, but it’s just the same shit that comes from the Daily Mail (hell – I have seen comments that are *more* progressive and positive on the Daily Mail website than I have on the Guardian!)

Every post that mentions women – the same regular commenters descend with their war cry “What about the menz!!!” alongside “Women lie about rape – all the time!” and “Women don’t deserve equal pay because they have the babies.”

Of course, there are some very valuble comments from people have managed to think a little bit or have some concept of what privilige is. But overall, it is still thoroughly depressing.

On if men can be feminists…I say yes, absolutely. You just have to be able to recognise your privilige and do a lot more listening than talking.

It’s like asking if you can be anti-racist. Aboslutely. But only if I, as a white woman, make the effort to listen to men and women of colour and recognise that my privilige can blind me to their griviences. (You would think that feminists in particular would be able to understand this since we understand the privilige of men so well, but the whole Amanda M/Brownfemipower debacle – still going over on Feministe in particular – has proven that this is not always the case).

I’m probably going to go and look at that Comment is Free article anyway – I’m masochistic like that.

E-Visible Woman // Posted 24 April 2008 at 12:51 pm

I thought the article was really good!

I have been told by men that I don’t understand my own oppression or how the world works, and that I’m not a ‘real’ feminist like them, because they’ve read all the books whereas I’ve just plain lived through it.

I want the support of men in the fight for women’s emancipation, but I would sometimes rather men call themselves ‘pro-feminist’ than ‘feminist’. This is because though men often think that they ‘get it’, they don’t, and behave in misogynist or oppressive ways whilst calling themselves feminists.

I think feminism needs to be a movement by and for women. We need men’s support, but men don’t get to decide what feminism’s priorities should be, or anything like that.

Here is a great article by a pro-feminist man about respecting women only space:

It’s important to remember that being uncomfortable with men using the term ‘feminist’ is NOT an attack.

A couple of quotes from Feministe’s ‘Being a Feminist Boyfriend’ thread that I think apply quite nicely here…

“I think this is the hardest thing is this: REMEMBER IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU. If she’s ranting about some sexist injustice, it’s only natural to feel defensive, but try to let that go. She’s not mad at you. And you, as a feminist, can and should be angry too, even if that anger won’t be as visceral as it is for her.”


“And my last suggestion is the hardest for me to articulate. Figure out your own privilege, and accept that you unfairly benefit from societal systems. If you don’t have a handle on your own privilege, everything your girlfriend (or any feminist) points out will feel like a personal attack, which will make you defensive, which will transform the discussion into argument which you are trying to ‘win.'”

Samara Ginsberg // Posted 24 April 2008 at 1:09 pm

Though men often think that they ‘get it’, they don’t, and behave in misogynist or oppressive ways whilst calling themselves feminists

Ooooh, I am *SO* with you on this. I know a man who thinks he is just sooooo progressive and liberal and feminist, and yet regularly comes out with stuff like, “Women can’t control their emotions” “Women can’t read maps” “Women have no sense of direction” “Women can’t compartmentalise their feelings and so they are crappy in the workplace because the fact that their boyfriend didn’t kiss them goodbye this morning will make them blub over their spreadsheets and not concentrate” “Men and women are *different* y’know, studies have shown that blah blah emotional blah blah crappy spatial awareness blah blah blah”

Sometimes I want to punch this particular man…but then again, I couldn’t possibly be held responsible for doing so because it would all be the fault of my uncontrollable emotions now wouldn’t it…

Samara Ginsberg // Posted 24 April 2008 at 1:35 pm

Now that I’ve made one comment I’ve decided to come out of the woodwork and say what I think on the topic (and I have to say, making it to four hours before caving and deciding to rant after all is pretty good going I reckon)!

The idea of exclusion makes me extremely uncomfortable and I don’t see what can be gained from it. You don’t have to suffer injustice to be able to see that that injustice is wrong. For example, I’ve never suffered a major human rights violation, but it doesn’t stop me being a member of Amnesty International. Male feminists kick ass just as much as female ones, possibly even more so because they are actively choosing to reject a system that generally benefits them, and I think that they should be able to wear their “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirts with pride.

All of my male friends are feminists, although now I come to think of it, I’m not sure how many of them would actually label themselves as such. But then again, I know lots of women who subscribe to feminist ideologies but don’t call themselves feminists.

Daiju // Posted 24 April 2008 at 1:37 pm

I’m struggling with this question too, though I get confused by what full membership would mean and how we define feminist/feminism. I definitely think the fact that men are men precludes certain capacities. There’s a satirical article from The Onion in which a man becomes the head of a global feminist movement and is able to close the wage gap, end sexual harassment, and basically bring about “sex equality”. I think it even mentions women’s empowerment, which is obviously absurd since it comes about through a man’s actions. So in terms of what capacities men can fill as feminists, I definitely think there’s a limitation. Feminism isn’t just politics and social activism – policies aren’t the only thing at work. To me one of the cornerstones is empowerment, but empowerment can’t be given. Conditions might be made more favorable for individuals and groups to empower themselves, but if men give women power, that isn’t empowerment – it’s a benevolent patriarchy.

At the same time, I’m a bit conflicted because some things might tread a thin line between “men bestowing power” and what is just plain ethical. Does it undermine feminism if men partake in decisions concerning choice like Roe v. Wade? If the decision has to do with a woman’s body and choice, should men even be able to help maintain the right to choice (through votes or maybe even advocacy)? I think in the final push toward sex equality, perhaps men should completely move to the sidelines, but people like Ann Coulter make me wonder: if a sizable number of women advocate women’s disempowerment, doesn’t maintaining a lower order of women’s empowerment (i.e. basic political rights like, um, voting) justify the involvement of some (i.e. sane and progressive) men? Or should the means of women’s empowerment be consistently independent of male influence to truly be women’s empowerment?

I’m still thinking about this. Until I figure it out in a way that I’m satisfied, I’m going to stick with what I consider to be at least a lower order of ethical actions and continue with whatever feminist edification and activism I can. I know I’m definitely limited and excluded from leading a global feminist movement, but thankfully, I have no aspirations toward that. And if it comes down to just a question of labels (can a man be called a feminist?), then I would give up any feminist label so long as I can still get pissed off about and condemn things that are wrong and advocate what is right.

mia // Posted 24 April 2008 at 2:41 pm

Its not a club. Its a mind set. Can a man have a feminist mindset? Yes.

Leigh Woosey // Posted 24 April 2008 at 2:46 pm

So I’m berated for being a sissy or queer, ignored, told to shut up and stop ruining the atmosphere, overlooked for promotion, lose male friends or contacts and am threatened in pubs for voicing feminist opinions and I am “fully paid up members of the male fraternity” HOW exactly?

What about gay men, who suffer ostracism from patriarchal society? Or disabled men or pacifists or poets none of whom are typically welcomed into the ‘Male Fraternity’?

Men become feminists because they recognise, perhaps from their own experience of being marginal or witnessing the exclusion of others, that gender injustice is wrong. They do not become feminists, nor should be prevented from being so, because of their cisgender or birth gender- over which they have no control. They become feminists because they believe in feminism.

Alex T // Posted 24 April 2008 at 3:26 pm

Men are feminists (not male feminists, or pro-feminists) in the same way that women are actors (not actresses), police officers (not policewomen) and managers (not manageresses). We have been saying for decades that it is what we do (i.e. your job), not what we are (women) that determines our title, why is this suddenly different if applied to male feminists? We contradict our own thinking if we say that men can’t be feminists. It’s the same as saying women can’t be prime minsisters. If you say you are a feminist, then you are one.

Sure, a lot of self-proclaimed male feminists ‘get it wrong’ sometimes, but so do a lot of female ones. Why look to their gender to find the cause of those mistakes? That is nothing but sexism.

E-Visible Woman // Posted 24 April 2008 at 3:47 pm

“Sure, a lot of self-proclaimed male feminists ‘get it wrong’ sometimes, but so do a lot of female ones. Why look to their gender to find the cause of those mistakes? That is nothing but sexism.”

It’s not because they are men, but because of the way that men are socialised in the patriarchy. Recognising the differences between the social conditioning of men and women is not sexism. It’s feminism.

“It’s the same as saying women can’t be prime minsisters. If you say you are a feminist, then you are one.”

Even when you make a sexist joke? Even when you won’t take no for an answer from your girlfriend?

Recognising the difficulties that men have empathising with women when they have been placed in a position of privilege by the patriarchy is not sexism, and it is certainly not comparable to saying that women can’t be prime minister.

Northern Jess // Posted 24 April 2008 at 4:20 pm

Just a comment on Jennifer’Ruth’s comment on the Daily Mail website- I have spent the last month trying to get a comment on there (usually This Is Not News in capital letters, but there you go) and whilst I have seen approx two comments that are not either classist(sorry if this is not a word), sexist, rascist or uninformed the fact is that the Daily Mail edits its comments to tow the Daily Mail line. The Guardian does the same (as presumably does this website, which I have just discovered- excellent work!), so whilst the Guardian’s ‘comment is free’ often has reactionary pompous sounding questions, this is because this is the line the newspaper is looking for for its readers, to be reactionary and pompous. Whilst the Daily Mail is looking for its readers to be… The sad fact is that the Daily Mail is the best selling newspaper in Britain.

Juliet // Posted 24 April 2008 at 4:42 pm

Men definitely can be feminists. Anyone who opposes sexism either in thought or action (preferably both!) is a feminist. Men who are truly feminists will not try to take over or tell women what they should feel, or disregard their experiences as women. They will be conscious of their inherently privileged position as men and will accept that there will be times when they will not ‘get it’, but stay supportive nevertheless. Men who do not behave like this are not feminists, whatever they might say.

And as Daiju comments above, what about the large number of women, women like Ann Coulter, who are not at all feminist and continually advocate women’s disempowerment? That is a big problem too.

J. K. Gayle // Posted 24 April 2008 at 4:44 pm

Can free white people be abolitionists in a society of black-race-based slavery?

Can mothers’ sons, wives’ husbands, and daughters’ fathers be activists against the dominating patriarchy?

Can men be feminists?

Daiju // Posted 24 April 2008 at 4:47 pm

Although I’m inclined to agree with statements like “it’s what we do, not what we are”, there are some things that are just inescapable when you recognize gender. If a man is walking six feet behind a woman at night when no one else is around, it really doesn’t matter how much of a feminist or how marginalized that man is – that situation presents us with a gendered relationship between the man and the woman in which I would perceive a possible threat. If it was a woman walking six feet behind, it still might be a little weird, but that gendered narrative of stalker/perpetrator-victim isn’t there. We all know sex makes a difference even though we feel it shouldn’t have to. But the reality is that society is gendered and we can’t completely ignore gender if we want to challenge it. Again, a political position like prime minister is different from say the hypothetical position of being the leader of a global women’s/feminist movement, particularly if the women’s movement is in part about women’s empowerment.

I do agree that men are marginalized by many of the same gendered narratives, and women’s liberation is not independent from men’s. I definitely feel like I live in a society ruled by hegemonic masculinity and I don’t like it, not only because it negatively affects women, but because it negatively affects men too. But the effects of that hegemonic masculinity are different for men and for women and we need to recognize that. I don’t believe men should be excluded from feminism as if it were some kind of club, but we can’t be blind to gender. Just think of examples in which interactions between a woman and another woman are benign or assholish, while the same interactions between a woman and a man have sexist or patriarchal overtones (or undertones, whatever they’re called).

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 24 April 2008 at 4:47 pm

Northern Lass –

You are right – I have no respect for the Daily Mail. However,

I do feel that the comments on the Guardian are extremely close in tone to those on the Daily Mail. If it is true that the Guardian is monitoring its comments as heavily as the Daily Mail to “tow the Guardian line”, one has to wonder why they would want their voice to include things like this:

billplasterer – “If you mean “equality of the sexes”, it already exists. The two sexes are equal. They couldn’t be otherwise.”

SukieBapswent – “What’s wrong with being sexy?”

AndronicusComnenus – “I’m incredibly anti-feminist. I’m very pro-woman though.”

CharlesHenry – “Domestic violence should not be a gender issue. Men are more often the victims of domestic violence than women. Further, most women who make OFFICIAL complaints of domestic violence are the aggressors not the victims.”

Friendofmoderator – “I’d rather be called terrorist – or a nazi.”

These comments are ALL from the post linked above. In fact, about half the comments take this sort of line. Does the Guardian really believe that this sort of thinking is as progressive as the pro-feminist comments? Or are they just trying to stir things up? Either way, I am sure you can see why I find Comment is Free rather depressing.

Leigh Woosey –

That was a fantastic comment. Couldn’t agree more. It is my lack of privilige as a woman that has opened my eyes to the vast amounts of privilige I have elsewhere.

Samara Ginsberg // Posted 24 April 2008 at 4:49 pm

Hi Northern Jess,

Glad to hear you are enjoying the site.

The only comments we don’t approve here are those that are:

1 – Spam

2 – Anti-feminist

3 – Homophobic, racist, classist, anything with the -ist suffix

or 4 – Personal/abusive

Everything else gets published.

Qubit // Posted 24 April 2008 at 4:57 pm

I am very new to feminism so am still forming opinions on a lot of issues and these opinions are likely to change however I believe it is possible for a man to be feminist. I don’t think that means a man (or a woman for that matter) is automatically a feminist it depends on what they believe and how they act. How someone displays their feminism and how much they moan about sexism is also going to vary at what they see as being relevant problems and worth getting into an argument over.

I wouldn’t like to define who and who isn’t a feminist, it seems like a complex question with different opinions held by different subsections of feminism. I would say from what I have observed that radical feminists and sex positive feminists would disagree on the definition and possibly not define each other as feminists.

When doing a course on Physics in society at undergrad level we were briefly taught about some ‘feminist’ critics of physics which I and most of the other women on the course found somewhere between offensive and amusing. The idea to paraphrase was that physics is a male science and inherently violent, hence the bashing particles into each other etc. Had it been developed by women it would have been softer and nicer and more female friendly. It then went on to say (I think) that physics should be made female friendly. I would say this opinion was anti-feminist as it makes strong gender stereotypes of both men and women, as well as being just ill informed. However the theory itself seemed to be proposed by people who would consider themselves feminist and that my attitude as anti-feminist.

I think trying to say whether an individual is feminist is a hard thing, it will always be possible to think of examples of both men and women who claim to be feminist but express views that someone else feels is sexist however I don’t think that makes it possible to say a whole group of people united by nothing but gender can’t be feminist.

Renee // Posted 24 April 2008 at 5:58 pm

Interesting question and one I am trying to answer. As a feminist and a mother of two sons I am attempting to raise feminist men. It is an uphill battle as everything in society encourages them to assert male privilege. I believe there are very rare instances when one comes across a man that is truly dedicated to feminist ideals. It is far easier to given in to patriarchal impulses because they have a history of being beneficial.

Cara // Posted 24 April 2008 at 6:02 pm

Jennifer-Ruth, I find CiF extremely depressing, too.

IMO the Guardian *thinks* it is being liberal by not censoring posts disagreeing with its political views.

In reality, it needs some proper moderation. Actual debate is drowned out by a load of mouth-breathing sexually inadequate morons writing stuff that just does not, in any way, contribute to the debate…as you say, the stuff like “well once women have kids they get lazy at work, no wonder they don’t get promoted and have unequal pay! The PCgonemadinnnit people want to give totally unqualified women board jobs by sacking poor innocent men” *yep these morons don’t know that that would constitute postive discrimination which is *illegal*!* oh and we want to bang up any man accused of rape on the woman’s say-so, too!

I don’t get it. Do so many people out there really hold these views? Or are there a lot of bored Mail readers out there with too much time on their hands?

Sighs. Yeah. I don’t bother commenting on CiF any more, and rarely read.

I complained to the Guardian, but have had no response.

Kim // Posted 24 April 2008 at 7:43 pm


I can see why being a feminist mother must be difficult, but it will be such a beneficial start for your sons. As easy as it would be for them to take “reserved” places in the patriarchy, all the males I know who had strong female role models (grandmother, mother, sisters, teachers, friends, anyone) just know that equality is how it should be. They’re the way they are because they grew up respecting the opinions of both men and women around them.

E-Visible Woman // Posted 24 April 2008 at 9:19 pm

So as not to fill up your comments page, I have been prattling on about this on my blog, if anyone really wants to see any more of my opinion.

And there’s still so much more I could say!


Thanks, F-Word and Samara, for giving us space to talk about this away from the awful Comment is Free!

Roy // Posted 24 April 2008 at 9:19 pm

Personally, I do think that men can be feminists, and if asked, it’s how I identify, but I can also very much understand that there are women for whom that’s problematic, and that they prefer men identify as pro-feminist.

My general feeling is that the label is less important than the work, and if it helps make someone more comfortable working with me to have me identify as pro-feminist for whatever reason, I’m happy to do so around that person. Given that my society places more emphasis on making sure that men are comfortable in most situations, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to take such a small step to try to make people that I consider myself an ally to more comfortable. Just as I don’t think it’s unreasonable, in the example above, to expect a guy not to walk so closely behind a woman walking by herself at night. Even if we agree that in an ideal world such things might not be necessary, we don’t live in an ideal world, and concessions have to be made.

And, yeah, I definitely think that I’ll screw up sometimes. Shoot, I screw up all the time. I don’t think it’s our ability to be perfect that makes us feminist or pro-feminst vs. not, I think it’s how we respond to our screwups that is the measure of our feminism.

Loos // Posted 24 April 2008 at 9:47 pm

First off, I’d like to point out that the question at the centre of this debate has a hint of authority that feminism is usually free from. Feminism, unlike some other political stances, does not have a “party headquarters”. There is, thankfully, no authority on what is or is not feminism, and I believe that it is not the business of any individual to tell another individual what is or is not feminism. See also; Qubit’s post where ze notices that radical and sex-positive feminists would disagree on definitions.

Also, (here’s me being awkward) although I was assigned the male sex before birth, if asked, I would not class myself as “male”, and I feel wonderfully uncomfortable when expected to do so.*

For me, feminism is the one place where I can remove myself from the gaze of patriarchy, wherein I can stop being male, and start being my true, human self. For me, feminism is not the movement to furnish women with the same rights and privileges men have, feminism is the action to liberate all human beings from any form, but specifically patriarchal oppression.

(‘fore I carry on, I can see how the language I’ve used could be interpreted as me believing that men under stronger attack from patriarchy than women are. Needless to say, I don’t believe that.)

If I was told that due to the genetic accident that occurred before I was born, I was unable to be a feminist, I wouldn’t be all too happy. I don’t believe anyone has the right to tell me what I am, or am not.

And if you understood any of that, well played.

*For clarification, I would not class myself as any sex or gender.

Hazel // Posted 24 April 2008 at 9:59 pm

I’ll join the the Comment is Free is awful team – I have not been able to read Comment is Free for several months now. It is a horrible and mean place and I decided I just didn’t need to be there. The atmosphere pervades the whole Guardian website like an evil miasma and a once daily read has been removed from my bookmarks.

On-topic: can men be feminists? Yes, I am married to one.

Lara The Second // Posted 24 April 2008 at 11:27 pm

I think men can be feminists, just like, for example, white people can be anti-racist.

As long as one recognises that applying the label to their self is not the only action they have to take, and becomes aware of their privilege and respectful of others’ experiences, it works.

Lara The Second // Posted 24 April 2008 at 11:30 pm

And I forgot to add – I hate, hate, HATE, comment is free.

The comments are appalling and depressing and make me wonder if things will ever change.

Louise // Posted 24 April 2008 at 11:58 pm

I had a chat to a friend of mine (a man) who says he is a feminist, about exactly this. He was actually quite angry that I suggested that men couldn’t be. Then I found out a while later that he had pressured an ex-girlfriend into having an abortion. And to this day, he still doesn’t view that as inappropriate behaviour.

A while back I read something, written by a pro-feminist man, and he said that he didn’t call himself a feminist because it wasn’t for him to decide. Women make mistakes too, of course, but I still think that maybe he has a point.

I don’t see it as being the same as being anti-racist. Men can absolutely be anti-sexist, or anti-mysogynistic, but feminist? I’m not sure.

J. K. Gayle // Posted 25 April 2008 at 1:13 am

I like what Elizabeth Cady Stanton said (and here’s a long quote, then a short one, and then something she did):

“Man cannot speak for us—because he has been educated to believe that we differ from him so materially, that he cannot judge of our thoughts, feelings and opinions by his own. Man cannot speak for us—because he has been educated to believe that we differ from him so materially, that he cannot judge of our thoughts, feelings and opinions by his own. Moral beings can only judge of others by themselves—the moment they give a different nature to any of their own kind they utterly fail. The drunkard was hopelessly lost until it was discovered that he was governed by the same laws of mind as the sober man. Then with what magic power, by kindness and love, was he raised from the slough of despond and placed rejoicing on high land. Let a man once settle the question that woman does not think and feel like himself and he may as well undertake to judge of the amount of intellect and sensation of any of the animal creation as of woman’s nature. He can know but little with certainty, and that but by observation.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”

She also encouraged sixty-eight women and thirty-two men to sign the Declaration of Sentiments.

figleaf // Posted 25 April 2008 at 6:59 am

It’s funny, I’d still get the total willies claiming I’m a feminist, for mostly the reasons articulated above. On the other hand, after reading Shulamith Firestone’s Dialectics of Sex I have no problem at all saying I’m a *radical* feminist. Where radical feminism means three things: first, that gender oppression is the original oppression upon which all other oppression is based; that the goal of radical feminism is not just equality of social, economic, and political *access* (a la Liberal Feminism) but equality of social, economic, political, and relationship *power;* and that gender (which is distinct from biological sex or orientation) is socially constructed based on egregiously obsolete and oppressive patterns that either need to be reconstructed along egalitarian lines or else dismantled and discarded.

As to whether men can be feminists, if it’s a club then I can’t be a member. If it’s a mind-set then I can. It’s not up to me, though, to decide whether it’s a club.

As to *why* men would want to be feminists, in any other context but anti-feminism/patriarchy the privileges of masculinity (very real, and of highly constructed significance) would amount to humiliation in any other context. Therefore even if women weren’t interested, critically conscious men would want out. That the cost of maintaining such humiliations is the maintenance of even more egregious humiliations of women means that even if women somehow didn’t mind critically conscious men would want out even more.

Therefore when we talk about “feminist allies” we need to be talking about men who don’t just sit on the sidelines or “do what we can to help tha liddle ladies out cuz they’re so oppressed.” We need to be talking about men who can *ask* for help getting out as well as *offer* it. Because that’s what *allies* do — make common cause for a shared objective that neither could necessarily pull off on their own.

Finally, while it’s nice that we men might want to bootstrap ourselves out of patriarchy, and even make common cause, why would women want to make common cause with men? Good question and not necessarily an obvious answer since the modern feminist movement’s been doing pretty well for itself for pushing 38 years now. My strong feeling is that while women can continue to make good progress on your own, there’s going to be some point where the marginal cost of recruiting subsets of men will be lower than the marginal cost of soldiering on alone. That point will arrive because after… pushing 38 years of not much progress on our own a sufficiently large subset of men will become right sick and tired of the status quo and therefore ready to head for the exits. It isn’t now, nor I suspect should it ever be the “role” of women to lead men out (imagine how patronizing the reverse would sound) but it *is* appropriate to cooperate to help *light* those exits. Sooner or later that point will be reached. I happen to think some of us are ready now.

I’m not sure enough are though. And whether anyone else wants to call me a feminist, or call what I’m working for “feminism,” my goal is to find ways to get the message across to men that we have far, far, far more to fear, and loathe, and to have been injured by anti-feminism/patriarchy than we’ve ever been, ever, by feminism. And therefore complaints about feminism aren’t just missing the point, they’re counterproductive.

So that’s my take on it anyway. Doesn’t make me a feminist, necessarily. But it does make me care very much an ally against a common foe, and very invested in feminism’s outcomes.


Michelle // Posted 25 April 2008 at 10:26 am

Can men be feminist? Yes, although I prefer to use the term ‘pro-feminist’.

I suppose that comes from my belief in women-only space and that feminist theory/politics should be derived from women. Men can then support that theory/politics, take part in campaigns, and should be welcome in spaces where they can be educated/informed on feminist issues.

Although, there does also need to be room for discussing and envisioning new versions of masculinity and (pro-feminist) male intervention in that could be invaluable. Otherwise, if all feminist theory/politics was the product of women, it would just require women to change, but feminism is about men changing too, so they need to be active in that.

Anne Onne // Posted 25 April 2008 at 11:13 am

I think it depends on how you define ‘feminist’. Just like you can be an LGBTQ ally or a POC ally if you work hard to look at your privilege, and value the voices and experiences of the people actually being oppressed, working with them to create equality, so it is possible to be a man and listen to women’s experiences and not sideline their opinions and believe they deserve equality.

For some people, the definition of ‘feminist’ doesn’t include allies, only women. For others, it does. Currently, I don’t have a problem personally with the definition including men, but I understand why others prefer to call them feminist allies.

What’s most important is that they (the pro-feminist men), can work on educating men in the way feminist women can’t reach. Also, it’s mainly up to them to demand improvements on ‘The Patriarchy hurts men, too’ front, and teach men to do it, too, rather than expecting women feminists to spend their time on men’s problems. We have so many issues surrounding women of every colour and creed to be focusing on, we don’t have the time or energy to deal with the issues that affect men, who should, as the ones with the societal power, be willing to do a little for themselves.

We as women feminists would need the help of men to move things forward a lot. Just like we can’t eliminate racism whilst it’s only seen as a thing people of colour need think about, or homophobia and transphobia as something only concerninf them, these problems won’t change. The biggest change will come when we can get more of the privileged to examine their privileges, and explain to the people like them what this is really about. Unfortunately, many privileged people (whether because they are white, heterosexual or male) will not sit nicely and listen to the experiences of the oppressed. They tend to feel put upon, like the minority is trying to usurp them, or is preaching, or angry, and their anger makes them uncomfortable. These are the feelings of privilege. But another person of the privileged group may be able to explain things from a similar perspective, without being accused of having the scary minority agenda. Men can reach other men when it’s just them socialising, can defend women in the times when they are most laughed at (ie when there are none present), can hopefully change some men’s preconceptions about feminism, by appealing to their most selfish of instincts- the ‘will it hurt me’ fear the privileged have.

Sometimes people learn by being confronted with their bigotry, sometimes they learn slowly. The more teachers out there to spread the message, the better. Naturally, only those who actually enjoy having their blood boil as they slowly explain theory to someone who doesn’t get it need do this, if they wish. There will always be plenty of things to do if you don’t like pitching in by explaining to trolls, or rela life explaining. But for those who do, there is a real use for these skills. And we need men to do this, too. We need feminist men them to carry on a parallel, intertwined fight to us feminist women, supporting our cause, whilst not expecting us to spend our time on men’s issues.

There’s always a place for good allies in any movement, if they’re willing to accept that their needs are secondary. :D

Anne Onne // Posted 25 April 2008 at 12:42 pm

I just wanted to add that I agree that owning the label ‘feminist’ (or refusing it, sometimes on very good grounds) doesn’t dfine whether you really are feminist what you do. I think it’s vital for all feminists, all activists against all oppressions, to recognise their imperfections, and that life is not divided into ‘before I chose that label, and after’ , but a constant journey on which one must make the effort to improve, to reexamine their privileges, the constant effort to try and listen to the marginalised, to stand up for those who need it, and be aware that we are not perfect. It is easy for men who consider themselves pro-feminist to fall bakc into patriarchical patterns, just as it is easy for white heterosexual feminists to take part in the marginalisation of their WOC allies, or LGBTQ allies.

By simply stating ‘I label myself, therefore I am’, we run the risk of telling ourselves that the label is more important than how we choose to live up to it. It reminds me of the blog post Tobes had about whether there were any feminist deal breakers (pro-life definitely springs to mind!) which would render somebody anti-feminist, even if they chose to say they are feminist. (

Whilst I don’t believe in completely refusing anybody a label they wish to use for themselves (especially since this has been usef to oppress trans people), at the same time, the definition of the label itself defines whether somebody who chooses it really lives up to it. In theory, it’s impossible to be truly anything, since we all make mistakes, it’s about how much we do in practice, to follow the aims of what we claim to do.

So if it’s a man who honestly does examine his privilege, works hard to rectify what he can, owns his mistakes (especially when others have to point them out), and believes that equality is necessary, even though it will rob him of some of the privileges he enjoys, he is actively trying to help the feminist cause.

On the other hand, women who call themselves feminists, but have ideals which are in reality very harmful to the feminist cause and women, deserve to have their ideals very closely scrutinised. I’m not comfortable with telling somebody they’re not a feminist, but saying that individual ideals and opinions are not feminist is another matter. It’s important for all of us, however much feminist-cred we have, to be called on our views.

I hope that’s not too tangential. :)

Lizzie // Posted 25 April 2008 at 3:44 pm

I think that the answer to this question can never be a simple yes/no black/white affirmation/rejection, because of the multifarious aspects involved.

I don’t believe in the exclusion of men from the feminist “network” because:

1. The concept of exclusion could lead to ideas of separatism which would be unattainable for practical reasons and could also:

2. Encourage the very hierarchical view of society that many feminists are attempting to eradicate, in that exclusion of one societal group could lead to suggestions of “you’re not good enough because of your gender/race/sexuality etc., which are attitudes to be discouraged in the attainment of feminist goals.

(Apart from anything, I believe this would be a bad thing for feminists because a privileged place in society almost invariably leads to a blinkered view of that society, in which one would refuse to see the negative aspects or oppression of others, because of the unwillingness to admit privilege and surrender it. In this situation, the work feminism does for other marginalized groups could be lost, as the privileged gained for women could blinker them to the suffering of others – perhaps a cynical view, but one to consider).

However, having said this, I feel slightly uncomfortable reading some of the comments left here by male (pro) feminists, as they can strike one as angry/defensive, rather than considered, in tone.

Leigh’s message, although raising some important points, is defensive, and reads to me as if the “shut up you silly women, if I say I’m a feminist, I am one, because I’m in charge” attitude is emerging slightly.

Similarly, Alex T’s “men are feminists” and “if you say you are, then you are” attitude leaves no option for debate open; it presents itself as factual, rather than opinal.

This is also an uncomfortable point, as I have come across several men (and women) who claim to be feminist and yet fail to behave in what I would understand as a feminist manner.

This raises a further question, in that the defensive attitude of men possibly echoes the instinctive protection of privilege I mentioned earlier. Figleaf raised the interesting point of “humiliation”, and this does indeed need examining. The men who feel defensive at the suggestion of their exclusion from the feminist “network” could be seen as reacting to a sense of humiliation at the rebuttal of their naturalised privilege – whether intended or not. These men, in their consideration of this issue, need to recognise that women are brought up to accept humiliation, to be humble, to act with humility, and therefore the aim of women to escape this position of humility, this position “under” men, should not be seen as an attack upon men who also wish to see women raised to the level of men. Indeed, perhaps these men should consider lowering themselves from the podium of privilege, humbling themselves in order to level the playing field, rather than scolding presumptuous women from wanting marked spaces of female security.

In this I am not arguing against the inclusion of men in the feminist debate. Indeed, because of the issues of separatism and privilege mentioned above I would welcome men into the battle for female emancipation (social, as well as political) and also male emancipation (if you will) from traditional “Masculinist” attitudes – a rapist will not stop because he has been asked to by women, as he does not believe he is doing wrong, the female body is there for his use, and use it he will; a boy, on the other hand, brought up in a world in which “masculinist” attitudes are gone, and male role models are positive reflections on feminist attitudes, CAN be brought up to respect women as minds, rather than mere bodies; therefore we need men to maintain non-masculinist attitudes, without which we cannot achieve equality. But in doing so, men must be aware of their privilege, and must be willing to reconsider the traditional hierarchical attitudes that they are taught to preserve and enjoy. If you wish to join us, do so, but you will not be given a managerial role by way of your sex. Grass-roots means just that. Come “down” to this level, and you may help to change things “with” us, rather than “for” us.

figleaf // Posted 26 April 2008 at 12:19 am

Lizzie said: “Figleaf raised the interesting point of “humiliation”, and this does indeed need examining. The men who feel defensive at the suggestion of their exclusion from the feminist “network” could be seen as reacting to a sense of humiliation at the rebuttal of their naturalised privilege…”

While my point about humiliation was that the privileges of patriarchy are such that, if offered to a group in an egalitarian society would be considered a humiliating step down. And if offered on the condition that that group could “enjoy” such privileges if and only if they agreed to subject other groups to even *greater* humiliation, the group offered the “privilege” wouldn’t just say “no,” they’d say “hell no.” In other words men can support feminism for reasons having nothing to do with altruism, fairness, or common decency. (Though a little more altruism, fairness, and common decency wouldn’t hurt.)

But even if I was talking about a different kind of humiliation, Lizzie, your point about men feeling defensive or excluded is pretty important. Because yeah, when exclusion runs up against privilege the result really does feel a lot like humiliation.

I’m curious if there isn’t *some* way to productively harness that natural human desire to be part of something. From my own first encounters with formal feminism I’m aware of how, um, unwelcomely unproductive one can be no matter how well-intentioned. On the other hand simply sending people over to FinallyFeminism101 isn’t a good answer either because they might wind up at MensNewsDaily (or somewhere else actively anti-feminist) instead. I don’t have a solution but (since I don’t think *anyone* should suffer humiliation, of any kind) I would very much like to be part of one.


Alex T // Posted 26 April 2008 at 11:47 am

Lizzie, I’m a woman, FYI :)

Lizzie // Posted 26 April 2008 at 1:56 pm

Whoops! Sorry Alex.

I just read your first message agan and that’s quite clear! I think final year essay stress is making me hallucinate or something.

My bad.

Will // Posted 9 May 2008 at 11:32 am

I think I’m a bit late in the day for this, but thought it was a really interesting discussion and wanted to contribute. As someone who is male I would always hesitate before applying the term ‘feminist’ to myself, even if I support and understand the feminist critique of existing power structures and the need for male privilege to be dismantled. I think it’s problematic for a man to label himself as such even if he does think like, and support feminist aims and ideals. I think feminism is something that belongs to female bodied people, and arises out of the experience of living in a culture that values the female body as being somehow subservient to that of the male body. How can I as a man really ever appreciate the effect of seeing objectified images of women constantly in the media, portrayals of young women as merely decorative, totally sexualised, intellectually empty vacuums put on the earth for the amusement of rich men (WAGS spring to mind at this point) on the developing mind and identity of a young girl ? I can’t. Nor can I really experience the visceral anger at the injustice of it that exposure to those prevailing cultural norms might produce in a young woman coming to reject them.

My male body gave me access to the privileges of the dominant 50%.

The comment about a woman walking down an alleyway at night being followed by a man was really telling I think. No matter how progressive or ‘feminist’ I feel myself to be, finding myself walking behind a woman in that situation by accident at night would then create a situation where I was an unwitting actor in a much larger gendered game. Even if I really didn’t want to be. My reaction in such a situation would be to turn around or slow down my pace. But this then begs the question am I then being considerate, or am I going along with the weaker scared female idea, or what the hell am I doing ? The last thing I would want to do is intimidate or be seen as a potential attacker. I’m not. But lots of my fellow male bodied people are, it’s an uncomfortable fact progressive men have to deal with.

I think it is worth though looking at the experience of so-called ‘feminine men’. Male power and masculinity are created and preserved through the expulsion of anything seen as ‘feminine’. Take the way supposedly ‘effeminate’ little boys are treated as opposed to tomboys. Whereas tomboys are seen as ‘aping male behaviour’ because to be male is seen as the gold standard of human experience, feminine boys are just viewed as deviant, almost certainly going to be homosexual and subjected to an immense amount of bullying that is often physical, and from adolescence onwards sometimes sexual.

I was just such a feminine boy, and find male spaces impossible to be in. My difference stands out whereas despite being male, I’m much more anonymously myself in female company. When I was being rejected by boys, it was girls who generally came to my aid, and just accepted me.

I still get randomly felt up by supposedly straight men in pubs, threatened, called by the female pronoun, even if I’m out with my female other half. I too shrink at the sight of stereotypically masculine men walking anywhere near me at night.

I think my understanding of feminism comes from this experience. It was something I was interested in from my teens, based on a general feeling that ‘blokes were a bit rubbish’, because my experience of other members of my sex was not that positive. Feminine boys are punished for ‘appearing like girls’, what they experience is rooted in the patriarchy. They are victims of a strictly gendered world, they either do not want to or simply cannot really take advantage of the male privilege.

I see most conventional masculinity as plain stupid. Dumb. A totally unappealing way to live your life. I think we have to recognise that whilst inequality exists in relation to male and female bodies, there also exists very different experiences of living within those bodies, all of which exist in relation to the power structures that sustain male privilege.

To be male bodied and unable to play along with, or sustain the gender myth is to be deviant, and is frequently punished.

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