I love men. Truly, I do. There is ample admiration in my life for the many courageous, thoughtful, and sensitive y-chromosomed people that walk among it. As a feminist, I am sometimes privy to the stereotype that I hate all men, a statement that could not be farther from the truth. And even though I’ve spoken to many lovely guys in my life that subscribe to all of the same views that I do in terms of equality between the sexes, there are a percentage of them who hesitate to call themselves feminist. Why is that? Is the name of our movement so intrinsically emasculating that even the most secure of males shy from labeling themselves by it? And moreover, is it even the right word to use when referring to men aligning themselves with our cause?
A 2001 Gallop poll showed that only 20% of American men considered themselves feminist, while 75% did not. The optimist in me wants to rule this skewed statistic to be a bit dated, but a 2009 CBS poll found that 24% of men in the United States thought the term “feminist” was an insult. That same study determined that four in five men refuse to identify themselves as feminist, but that number dropped to two in five after a definition of “feminist” was given. If men aren’t being properly educated about what the movement actually entails and are only going off of a socially stigmatized idea of the movement, how can we expect them to be active within it?
Many feminist scholars, including Harry Brod and bell hooks, think that the “feminist man” is vital and necessary in furthering the feminist cause. Both of these authors seem to be in agreement that identifying as a feminist is the strongest platform a man can take in regards to reaching equality between the genders. But there is resistance on both sides, from men and from women, when it comes to this kind of intersectionality. There are men who believe they cannot call themselves feminist anymore than they can call themselves lesbian, because they believe it is a term that only applies to the disenfranchised group. Being an ally of the minority group is not the same as being a part of the minority group. The worldview and experience of a feminist man is in no way, shape, or form the worldview and experience of a feminist woman. At least, this is one argument. It’s an interesting theory, and one that pushed me to write this article in the first place.
Some feminists believe that men cannot, will not, and should not ever be identified as feminist because they are not women and cannot comprehend the struggle of women as a whole when they are products of a class that keeps us oppressed as a gender. Some of these feminists claim that inherent male privilege blocks them completely from the movement and any terms therein of understanding. I do not comply with these views. I do not think the answer is to push men away or to weed them out of the dialogue. They are products of their environment, much like we are of ours, but we cannot fault them for being born a gender they had no role in choosing. It makes it seem like the burden of our gender inequality is ours alone to carry. If women are the only ones fighting to eradicate sexism, we are limiting ourselves severely and it is very plausible that our struggle will consistently fall on deaf ears.
The common ground between these views maybe lies in the underused term “profeminist”. It is a close proximity term that highlights allegiance to a cause that is not the inherent struggle of a male. This term seems like a very usable alternative to calling our male allies outright feminist, since it pacifies some doubt that men can indeed be true feminists and it assuages the apparent male stigma of being called one. While “feminism” is not a dirty word, “profeminism” seems like a happy medium everyone could get behind.
What do you think? Is “profeminist” the term of feminist-aligning men of the future? Men of the world, don’t hesitate to share your opinions in the comments below.
Written by Chelsea J. Leibow
Follow her blog, Chelsea Twentysomething