Why I’m a Male Feminist (And Why Our Movement Needs More of Us)

“Feminist” is a polarizing word.  You’ll generally see it used in one of two ways: as self-identification by people who consider themselves feminists, and as a pejorative by people who do not.

It’s a word with an ugly connotation in many people’s minds, not unlike the word “atheist”; people hear the “-ist” suffix and infer an ideology that seeks feminine supremacy rather than gender equality, just as many see atheism as a rebellious denial of God rather than an affirmative acceptance of a godless universe.

To be sure, there are differing opinions among those who consider themselves feminists regarding what it means to be a feminist. There are disagreements about its implications regarding sexuality, marriage, reproductive rights, and parenting. There are disputes about what reforms are needed in modernized Western societies compared to developing nations.  There are debates about who gets to call themselves feminists, particularly about whether this label can apply to men.

Can men be feminists?

I call myself a feminist because I agree with the movement’s most basic tenet: women are people. I feel that throughout human history and in the status quo today, women have been and are either (a) regarded as lesser beings than men, or (b) propped up on a pedestal from which they are not permitted to descend, and often paradoxically both at the same time. I see this as wrong and would like to do my part to correct it.

As such, supporting fair treatment across gender lines means proactively questioning and reforming the way we (both men and women) think about women. For this reason I will use the word “feminist” and not try to make up some new, gender-neutral term for supporting gender equality.

Hoping that I don't sound like this.

I know that there are hardcore feminists out there who object to men calling themselves feminists. I understand their reasons for feeling that way (for example, men presumptuously thinking they can speak on behalf of feminism, men dominating discussions on feminism, and then there’s this guy).

I still feel that I should use the label, as it helps to make feminism less taboo, less scary to people who claim they oppose feminism without understanding what it means. An increase in the number of visible male feminists (or “pro-feminists” or “allies” if you prefer) will increase dialogue among men about their treatment of women, and increase the number of men who stop to think “Y’know, maybe I am being sexist without realizing it. I should reexamine my attitudes about gender roles.”

Being visible among skeptics, or Wearing it proudly

At the SSA conference last month, I chose to wear my bright green “THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE” t-shirt, bought years ago from a fundraiser for a battered women’s shelter.

I don't always wear t-shirts with slogans on them, but when I do I support equal treatment of women.

I’ll admit that I knew I wasn’t going out on a limb with this: I knew that there were many feminists among the population of young atheists and agnostics. It got positive reactions from feminist atheist bloggers Jen McCreight and Greta Christina, and it turned out there were even a few other male feminists there as well.

In proclaiming myself as a feminist, just as happened when I proclaimed myself an atheist, I am bound to make both friends (not all of whom I’d like to call “friend”) and enemies (some of whom I have no quarrel with) based solely on the label.

Case in point: one of the Marxist activists present at the conference seemed to assume I’d be sympathetic to her group’s ideology based on my self-identification as a feminist. I was not.

I’m not aware of any animosity toward me regarding the shirt (I’ve experienced such from male acquaintances in the past), but I have to wonder if it frightened anyone away. I would certainly hope not.

The bottom line

I will echo the sentiments of atheists who have found the AAFHSS community to have a detectable sexism problem, if based solely on what I’ve read in the blogosphere (I personally heard no such comments at the SSA conference).  I do suspect, however, that many groups and social movements have the same problem, if not a more deeply embedded one; the difference is that there are outspoken feminists in the secular movement who recognize sexism when it rears its ugly head and call people out on it.

I also will ask that any men who feel threatened by feminism take a serious second look at their attitudes toward women.  Are you afraid of becoming a second class citizen, or are you afraid of losing special privileges you’ve become accustomed to?  Are you afraid that values associated with your gender will someday no longer be the default?

I won’t tell other skeptics and freethinkers that they should get behind a particular ideology, but I will ask them to consider what they do believe about sex and gender and examine the evidence on which they base their views (even feminists should do this – any idea worth believing is worth scrutinizing).  You may find that you hold biases you weren’t aware of.

  • http://www.joy-mari.com Joy-Mari

    Why do you use ‘male feminist’ in the title?

    • Matt Foss

      Sorry to take so long to respond to this comment – I apparently wasn’t receiving notifications.

      I used the word “male” preceding “feminist” because I feel that many people perceive feminism as somehow being anti-male. I wanted the post to get the attention of people who have that misconception.

      You raise a good point by bringing this up. Saying I’m a “male feminist” is a bit like saying I’m a “straight LGBTQI ally” – I really ought to be able to say that I support equality for a marginalized group without having to clarify that I’m not part of it.

  • http://www.joy-mari.com Joy-Mari

    Why do you use ‘male feminist’ in the title?

  • Chana Messinger

    Love love love. Thanks for posting!

     - Chana

  • Chana Messinger

    Love love love. Thanks for posting!

     - Chana

  • John P

    If you aren’t familiar, many of the feminist movement’s leaders, especially in the 1960s and 70s, actually -were- pushing a female domination philosophy. The rank and file misinterpreted it as being an advocacy of female achievement.
    The actual movement, at the top, consisted (for example) not of demanding that the government allow them to have abortions if they were so moved, but of demanding that the government -pay- for their abortions. They also demanded that the government pay for contraceptives.
    Further, the very idea of achievement was to be distorted, because what was demanded was not the ability to -take- entrance examinations they had previously been denied, but to be graded according to different (lower) standards entirely. Much in the same way that advocates of racial quotas (I put everyone who favors “affirmative action” policies into this category) claim that the “representation” in any given group should reflect society at large, so to do feminist leaders. They consider it proof of sexism when significantly fewer than half of all firefighters are women, or heart surgeons, or CEOs.

    I’m not threatened by the prospect of working for a woman (I do now), nor of having a female surgeon operate on my heart, or what have you. MY sole demand is that they actually measure up to the -men- in the same field. And I consider my enemy anyone who supposes that they should be granted equal respect, or authority, or salary for that matter, if they are unable to measure up in -ability-.

    The comparison you are making is false, because the correct movement to compare to is not atheism but environmentalism.

    Most self-described environmentalists have pollution as their primary concern. -This is not reflective of those who lead the movement-. Those who lead the movement are against production -as such-, and actually prefer the idea of returning to a more primitive mode of existence. They uphold the Amazonian savage tribes as the model for society, as opposed to New York City.

    • http://honesttogodless.blogspot.com Matt Foss

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, John.  I encourage whoever “liked” your response to share his/her thoughts as well.

      Yes, I know that there are self-proclaimed feminists who do have the goal of female supremacy.  They appear to be a minority opinion and don’t represent all feminists – as I said, not all feminists are in agreement on everything.  Perhaps a better comparison of its connotation to that of the word “atheist” would be stating, “There exist some atheists who wish to criminalize all religious beliefs, but they do not represent the entire movement.”

      The radical feminist leaders from 40-50 years ago also do not represent feminism today, just as the Weather Underground does not represent all people who care about the environment (to use your preferred comparison).  Pointing out aspects of the movement’s history has little relevance to my post about being a feminist in the 21st century.

      Furthermore, I’m curious as to who you’re even referring to when you talk of this push to lower standards in academia for women.  Name some names.  How prominent were these activists you speak of?  Who’s arguing for such things today?  Which leaders, exactly, are promoting this seemingly straw-man notion that the tendency of some professions to consist of mostly men is the result of deliberate sexism?

  • John P

    If you aren’t familiar, many of the feminist movement’s leaders, especially in the 1960s and 70s, actually -were- pushing a female domination philosophy. The rank and file misinterpreted it as being an advocacy of female achievement.
    The actual movement, at the top, consisted (for example) not of demanding that the government allow them to have abortions if they were so moved, but of demanding that the government -pay- for their abortions. They also demanded that the government pay for contraceptives.
    Further, the very idea of achievement was to be distorted, because what was demanded was not the ability to -take- entrance examinations they had previously been denied, but to be graded according to different (lower) standards entirely. Much in the same way that advocates of racial quotas (I put everyone who favors “affirmative action” policies into this category) claim that the “representation” in any given group should reflect society at large, so to do feminist leaders. They consider it proof of sexism when significantly fewer than half of all firefighters are women, or heart surgeons, or CEOs.

    I’m not threatened by the prospect of working for a woman (I do now), nor of having a female surgeon operate on my heart, or what have you. MY sole demand is that they actually measure up to the -men- in the same field. And I consider my enemy anyone who supposes that they should be granted equal respect, or authority, or salary for that matter, if they are unable to measure up in -ability-.

    The comparison you are making is false, because the correct movement to compare to is not atheism but environmentalism.

    Most self-described environmentalists have pollution as their primary concern. -This is not reflective of those who lead the movement-. Those who lead the movement are against production -as such-, and actually prefer the idea of returning to a more primitive mode of existence. They uphold the Amazonian savage tribes as the model for society, as opposed to New York City.

    • http://honesttogodless.blogspot.com Matt Foss

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, John.  I encourage whoever “liked” your response to share his/her thoughts as well.

      Yes, I know that there are self-proclaimed feminists who do have the goal of female supremacy.  They appear to be a minority opinion and don’t represent all feminists – as I said, not all feminists are in agreement on everything.  Perhaps a better comparison of its connotation to that of the word “atheist” would be stating, “There exist some atheists who wish to criminalize all religious beliefs, but they do not represent the entire movement.”

      The radical feminist leaders from 40-50 years ago also do not represent feminism today, just as the Weather Underground does not represent all people who care about the environment (to use your preferred comparison).  Pointing out aspects of the movement’s history has little relevance to my post about being a feminist in the 21st century.

      Furthermore, I’m curious as to who you’re even referring to when you talk of this push to lower standards in academia for women.  Name some names.  How prominent were these activists you speak of?  Who’s arguing for such things today?  Which leaders, exactly, are promoting this seemingly straw-man notion that the tendency of some professions to consist of mostly men is the result of deliberate sexism?