Can Men Be Feminists?

There’s an ongoing ‘Can Men Be Feminists?’ debate on Twitter, and my goodness, has that escalated quickly. I almost joined the discussion when it started, but had a pretty good idea how it would pan out, so I kept out for a while, but with people being misunderstood and misrepresented left, right, and centre, now’s as good a time as any for a post with some points to consider on the subject.

Although inspired by the recent discussion (prompted by writer Matt Haig) and subsequent fall out, the problems of which are expertly pointed out by Andrew Eaton-Lewis here —

— my post is not directed at anyone in particular, but at all who might be interested, and I don’t claim to speak for or represent anyone but myself. Matt, if you find yourself here, I’d like you to know that I wholeheartedly support your writing about how toxic masculinity harms men, but I agree with the points in Andrew’s blog about how the discussion surrounding it was handled.

So, can men be feminists? In theory, yes, though perhaps a better description might be ‘feminist allies’. And if you’re a man who wants to be a feminist ally, you must first listen to and learn from women, because how ever much sympathy you may have for feminist issues, you do not have the lived experience of misogyny and the patriarchy.

Seek to understand, but don’t pretend to know.

Feminism’s aim is equality by way of raising up women. It is not the job of feminism to address how men suffer because of the patriarchy, that is a separate issue. Feminism does not exclude men, but neither does it take on their issues. Feminism is first and foremost about freeing women from oppression.

If you want to be a good ally, your starting point is the support of women and their goals. If the knock-on effect of any societal changes helps men too, then that’s good. But a feminist ally helps women first. If you can only support women when it benefits men, we’re not on the same page.

For women to achieve true equality, a certain amount of male privilege may be lost. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of promoting one particular group’s rise to equality, then call yourself an equalist, a ‘personist’, an anti-misogynist, or anything you want, but don’t pretend to have feminist ideals.

Toxic masculinity hurts everyone, but it hurts women most of all. Men hurt by it need to address it in their own way, not by trying to appropriate feminism. Men can be kind, smart, considerate, non-misogynistic, and suffering in their own way, but still get it wrong. Going on the attack is not the way to move forward. Learn from women. Listen to them. If we say you’ve said/done something sexist, seek to understand why. It will make you a better ally.

When I was in my teens, the male bass player in my first band introduced me to feminism. Martin never preached, or tried to tell me I was living my life wrong, he just gently pointed out that feminists weren’t the jackbooted man-haters portrayed by the media, that women had options other than being eye-candy and could make political points with their music if they wanted to, but equally didn’t have to. In other words, to be a feminist is for a woman to live her life by her own informed choices.

Martin was a sweet boy, with an equally sweet mother who let us rehearse noisily in her house and fed us before gigs. He also had an amazing feminist girlfriend who was strong and beautiful, wore miniskirts, and shaved the sides of her head. Martin wore glasses and played a Rickenbacker bass with a plectrum so thin we called it The Rizla. He was a local rockstar who photocopied his own gig flyers. He read interesting books and went on political rallies. He was kind and sensitive, and not afraid to show emotion or cry. In other words he was a real man. Because real men come in all shapes, sizes, and persuasions, as do real women.

Never let anyone tell you you’re not a ‘real man’ because you don’t objectify women and get into fights. Real men need to stand together against toxic masculinity. And when you do, real women will stand beside you supporting you and urging you on, just as some of you have stood beside us urging us to become our best selves.