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Feminspire | April 21, 2014

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The Man, the Myth, the Legend: Deconstructing the “Feminist Man”

The Man, the Myth, the Legend: Deconstructing the “Feminist Man”

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. I’d love to hear your take on this.

Written by Chelsea J. Leibow
Follow her blog, Chelsea Twentysomething

  • Dannypan

    The problem isn’t feminism but “pseudo-feminists”; the hyper extreme misandrists which, unfortunately, are more outspoken then your average feminist.

    Because of these pseudo-feminists, people think a feminist is a man-hating “dyke” who just wants to have hairy legs and wear no bra. I know women who don’t consider themselves feminists purely because of this image that feminists have and it’s a shame.

    I’m male and I consider myself feminist. We’re all equals, the end. I try to disassociate myself with traditional gender roles and just accept people as they are, not what genitals they have. I don’t and won’t ever understand the struggles women have but I know women and men are the same and the fight for true equality continues and ladies, I’m on your side.

    • Aimée

      to be honest, i don’t shave, i don’t wear a bra, and i think the idea that women must do both of these things is actually is a part of patriarchy and beauty standards. but i’m certainly not a man hater in the slightest. sometimes i worry that i am just living up to the “hairy legged feminist” stereotype though and that discredits me and my views, but really, it shouldn’t, and anyone who would see a person choosing not to do these things and immediately labelling them with a stigmatised tar brush is pretty ignorant anyway.

    • Chelsea J. Leibow

      You’re right that there are radfems out there who believe in full-throttle misandry, but I would hope that this site (and many, many others…Jezebel, xoJane, Feministing, etc.) would show you that the “average feminist” IS outspoken and accounted for. Radfems are such a small percentage of the group as a whole, albeit an extreme percentage which is why they get all the hype. But hey! Hi! Hello! Bonjor! Equality-based feminists do exist. And we are active within the community. It would take the Average Joe .2 seconds to do an internet search on what the definition of “feminism” is to see that it’s not a man-hating factory for bitter lesbians. People gotta educate themselves. It’s the only way to eradicate superfluous stereotypes.

  • jay jay

    i think it’s all about self-identification. it seems to me that ‘profeminists’ and ‘feminists’ and others who identify by other feminist-y titles are (for the most part) fighting for the same cause regardless of sex/gender/whatever, and that’s more important than what label you wear.

  • David

    I think of myself as a feminist, but am equally happy to describe myself as a pro-feminist. It seems crazy that a term describing a belief that all people should be treated equally has come to be viewed as an insult. I can understand the views of those who feel there should be an alternative term for a man who holds feminist views and I’ve read some very convincing arguments to this effect. It can be a thorny issue, which is why I’m happy to remain flexible in terms of putting a label on my beliefs.

  • Mztress Isis

    Why not call them “feminist allies?”

  • Jeff

    Feminist man here! I wrote about this very issue before:

    I don’t really care for the argument to be honest. You call me whatever you want to call me — that doesn’t really affect how I identify myself or how I’m part of the movement. But if a feminist really doesn’t want me, a het, cis man not to call himself feminist, “recovering chauvinist” works just as well.

  • Théo

    I’m happy to have read this post. Even more since I was a bit scared at first that it would be one more to say that men cannot really be feminists.

    I’m a feminist man. I identify as one. It’s one of my most important fights in politics. It affects my whole life.

    I think there is also a resistance due to some general idea that feminists are extremists. For instance, some days ago, some man started to talk politics with me (essentially he talked, I listened). After describing the struggles of women at work and all the prejudices they had to fight against. After showing by a long conversation that he was truly (in my definition) feminist (at least pro-feminist like you said because he was sharing the views but was not an activist like myself), he attacked the extremism of feminists and environmentalists (I’m both but he didn’t know). I was really stunned by the obvious contradiction in his speech.

    At first, I’m mad at feminists who don’t want men with them. But twice, I was explained some reasons that I understand and will report here.
    In my university, there was once a feminist group who was reserved to women (and “people who were defined as women at birth”). Here, the reason was that this group was also meant to be a discussion group and that women alone could feel freer to talk. In the same spirit one can see non co-educational places in dormitories or in public transportation: at first, we can see it as contradictory to our equality belief but then we can see it helps women to feel (or be) secure.
    Another example is the one of feminist groups in the seventies (when the modern feminist movement was born). They didn’t wanted men with them. They said “The only thing men can do to help us is to keep the children home.” Even if it can seem a bit extremist I think these women were right. They helped create a movement who was aimed to defend women and was principally controlled by women whereas every previous revolutionary movement had been controlled by men. Now, it’s stupid to exclude men but it’s important that women are still the ones who head the movement which is aimed to defend them.

    Also, to answer to the other resistance and the comparison with women, I think it doesn’t work like that. I cannot identify as lesbian but only as pro-LGBT rights activist. I can’t identify as woman but only as feminist. That’s the real comparison to make.

    And about the term pro-feminist, I would only use it to qualify people who share the views but are not activists, like I said earlier. But I want to keep the right to call myself a feminist!

    • Corey Lee Wrenn

      I’m glad for your enthusiasm and support, but I don’t think you have any “right” as a man to define and lay claim to the feminist space. Do you claim the right to identify as a black nationalist as well? (Presuming you are white)

      • Théo

        Sorry but you’re a part of the problem this article is addressing. Why some men don’t like calling themselves feminist? Maybe because some people like you said to them they hadn’t any right to do so.
        My feminism isn’t just support for women rights. I think men have something to earn from women being truly equal: for instance, not having half of intelligent population banned from leading positions.

  • Mish

    My problem with the term “pro-feminist” is that it tends to give men a certain amount of distance from the feminist cause in the same way that the term “ally” often does for straight supporters of LGBT rights. The problem is that once men get segregated into a different label they tend to organize around that and create subsidiary movements which do not always represent the views or interests of feminist women in the best way. Better, in my opinion, to let men use the term feminist and simply make clear that their male privilege should be constantly acknowledged.
    I also would be suspicious of the idea that those men who consider “feminist” an insult would be anymore likely to use the label “pro-feminist.”

  • Michelle Paggi

    “Profeminist” sounds like yet another euphemism that can be used to dance around the issue men have with calling themselves feminists rather than tackling the issue head on. If men are afraid of identifying with the feminist movement, THAT’S what we should be addressing, not coming up with another term that sounds less threatening. I think the best route is to educate people about the feminist movement rather than giving them a cop-out.

  • Corey Lee Wrenn

    Thanks for writing this. Currently, a prominent (male) theorist in the animal rights movement has been berating feminists like myself for insisting that feminism is for women, but men can be (and should be) allies. Calls us misandrist and our position “hate speech”:
    I find this type of behavior especially obnoxious given that the animal rights movement is 80% women, but led almost entirely by men.

  • Robert Trent

    Patriarchy and its interpellation of men & women into fixed roles and allowances for what is and is not acceptable is something that hurts _everyone_.

  • Aman

    If feminism is to succeed in attenuating the grasp of traditional gender roles and the insipid hold it has on constructing the heteronormative lives of every woman AND man, then we must admit the oppression suffered by men too. We are all human beings, placed on the Earth and told to behave within a rigid guideline set by the all consuming conventions our genitalia. “Be a MAN!” They say. “Oh my god, she doesn’t shave her armpits” They squeal. “Why are you wearing a pink shirt?” They ask. Until we admit the falsity of gender, the fluidity of the masculine and the feminine, we will always get caught up in these misandrous questions. If you want equality, then give men the proud title of Feminist, let them raise a glass to Feminism, for, if equality is what you want then we have to stop being divisive and cutting men out of the picture, the bigger picture includes us all.

  • Kevin

    I’m a guy but will never describe myself as a feminist. I don’t like labels; they make me feel restricted.
    I think most of us are all for “equality”, but many of us define equality differently. Would you consider me a feminist if I told you I don’t believe insurance companies should be forced to offer “free” contraception? Would you call me a feminist if I said I believe prostitution should be legalized (and regulated)? Would you say I’m a feminist if I said I’m not attracted to women who don’t shave their legs? Some of you might and some of you might not. Who gets to decide whether I’m a feminist or not anyway?