The idea that men can’t be feminists is simply a misunderstanding of feminism. Feminism is a belief system based around gender equality and doesn’t have gender specific requirements. That said, specific groups don’t necessarily share this belief, and generally, a man will always be part of the “out-group” (AKA men). Thus, it is perhaps best to consider oneself a pro-feminist ally, as this avoids having to deal with the complications of appropriating the title “feminist” as a man.
Can Men Be Feminists?
With that in mind, some will argue that to be a “true” feminist one must be a woman. In this school of thought the best a man can be to feminism is a strong ally.
Semantics aside, being a “pro-feminist” and “anti-sexist” man means “checking your privilege” and attempting to be a good “ally” to the feminist movement. To truly understand the debate it helps to clarify a few terms and brush up on the history of feminist philosophy.
- Feminism is the belief that genders are equal.
- Sexism is the belief that one gender is greater than or less than the other.
FACT: The one thing (almost) everyone agrees on is being cool and respectful to all genders, races, and religions, regardless of your own. When you support someone else’s movement, you are “an ally”. If you want to use the label “feminist”, then you should do some research and learn exactly what that means (not just historically, but to do different people today). (See 10 Essential Feminist Texts That Everyone Should Read, or at least watch in the video below).A Social History of Feminist Literature – Part 1.
In-Group and Out-Group – Feminist Allies Versus Feminists Members
In the social sciences the concepts of “in-group” and “out-group” are vital.
- An “in-group” is a group you are a part of.
- An “out-group” is a group you aren’t part of.
Women are part of the “in-group” female. Men are part of the “in-group” male. Each is the other’s out-group.
Equal, Not Same
Given the genetic differences between men and women, on a level of gender, men who identify as male can never be “exactly the same” as women who identify as female. Men and women are “different but equal” and not “identical”.
Given the history of the world (in which women have historically been oppressed), it creates a fundamental problem (but not barrier) in regards to a man labeling themselves as “feminist” without any other qualifiers.
TIP: Want to stop reading and start embracing feminism. Make life easy and call yourself a “pro-feminist” and “anti-sexist” male “ally” of women and the feminist movement (or just “an ally of the feminist movement”, or “any ally of feminism”). Now you don’t have to appropriate the term “feminist” before even knowing who Mary Wollstonecraft is, or what The Yellow Wallpaper or women’s suffrage are.
TIP: Rule #1 to being a good pro-feminist – don’t try to assert your views over the woman who is talking when discussing feminist theory. (i.e. respect).
Embracing Feminist Theory as a Man, and the Reality of Living in a Patriarchal Society that Historically Has Oppressed Women
Feminism, feminist theory, feminist philosophy, feminist thinking by any name, and generally all related anti-sexist pro-female ideologies are just that, ideologies.
There is no perfect guidebook or rule-set laying out the proper role of men. In fact, there is little agreement as to what degree men can participate in feminism, or tout feminist theory, without actually being sexist. See Men and feminism.
Although anyone can be a feminist and anti-sexist (as an activist or philosophically), there are two minor points of contention with men being feminists, both having to do with gender and “privilege”. As part of the in-group male, I don’t personally feel either point stops men from being feminists, but some may, and with this in mind both these points should be considered.
- The reason feminism arose was a response to the oppression of women under a patriarchal society (a male driven society). This creates an unavoidably paradoxical position for men on one level as they can’t fully remove themselves from their position of privilege. See that view by the National Organization for Men Against Sexisim explained here.
- Also, when we are talking about being active in a movement, it isn’t really appropriate for a member of an “out-group” to lead the “in-group”. Generally, a movement about women needs women as leaders, a movement like Black Lives Matter need black leaders. Those who aren’t part of a group by nature, but want to support a group are “allies”. This is explained well in the video below.
Do Feminists Hate Men and Femininity?
The idea that feminists hate men, or don’t want women to be feminine, is a matter of misunderstanding. All groups who are oppressed fight oppression through rebellion, this was no different for women during women’s suffrage or women’s liberation.
The suffragettes may have rebelled against the traditional role of women, and different feminists groups have held different beliefs over time (see waves of feminism), but modern feminist theory supports equality and choices for all genders as a general rule (remember people are individuals).
Some feminists see women as an equal, but supporting role, to men. Other feminists see women as greater than men. Some push for modesty, others push for sexual liberation, the way different women and cultures view feminism runs a wide gambit of beliefs.A video about women’s suffrage (from a male point of view, as per the topic of this page). Modern feminism has its roots in the oppression of women.
TIP: Feminism arises from the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment thinkers (a sibling of liberalism one could say). See the history of liberalism.
What is Feminism?
Feminism is a range of ideologies, philosophies, and movements that advocate women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. Feminism began as a reaction to the long and global history of the oppression of women, but it has since grown into a stance against all gender-related oppression.An explanation of the history of western feminism and the waves of feminism.
FACT: Feminism is not the idea that women “are greater than men”. That is sexism.
Feminist Theory Versus Feminist Activism
There are more than two groups of feminists, but to make it simple.
- Feminist theory denotes a belief system.
- Feminist activists advocate on the behalf of gender equality.
Feminist political and social activists campaign in areas such as: “reproductive rights, domestic violence, gay marriage, and workplace issues such as family medical leave, equal pay, and sexual harassment and discrimination. Anytime stereotyping, objectification, infringements of human rights, or gender- or sexuality-based oppression occurs, it’s a feminist issue.”
Men can believe in the idea of equality and be a feminist, and/or actively support movements and be an activist. The distinction is between action and mentality.
What is Equality?
Equality is equal opportunity, status, and rights. It’s largely symbolic and ideological and represents fairness. It does not pretend that everyone is the same or that everyone should be treated the same, it’s a respect for differences with a focus on the fundamental core principle of a free society that “all people are created equal”. Learn more about equality.