Can men really be feminists? As many famous male figures embrace the term, the question pervades popular discourse and requires serious consideration. Firstly, it is essential to dispel the myth that feminism is solely dedicated to issues of women and in doing so, excludes the issues of men. Feminism should be characterised as a movement which, through addressing the equality of the sexes, will unequivocally benefit society as a whole. Thus, it is clear that males who support a more equal society should align themselves with the movement.
For some, this alignment, or adoption of ‘pro-feminism’ as an ‘ally’ is sufficient, and the most that men can do. The term ‘feminist’ has often been viewed as only applicable to members of the sex, but it is fallacious to assume that a term can only be espoused by a member of that part of society who has direct experience of the discrimination or oppression which it seeks to eliminate. The variation in female experience of discrimination around the world, from Saudi Arabia to Britain, means that the term ‘feminist’ is not limited to those inhibiting realms of similar experience. Men can and should identify as feminists, but they should note the implications of doing so before full commitment.
As a feminist, a man does not automatically eschew his beneficiary role in patriarchal society. In this position of privilege it is important to attempt to understand the intricacies of discrimination faced by women. This understanding should be accompanied by direct action, such as modifying behaviour in heterosexual relationships or challenging the casual sexism of others.
That said, feminism need not be all-encompassing. Each feminist may elect to focus on some issues, but may in others coincide with the norms of society. The emergence of ‘lipstick feminism’ demonstrates this, as it defines the adoption of some traditional notions of femininity as empowering. So while males may call out others on sexist behaviour, they are not consigned to the role of eunuch; they can of course, still see women as attractive and sexual within a consenting environment.
While men both can and should identify as feminists, a remarkable number have chosen to counter this with ‘Meninism’. The online satirists of 21st century feminism focus on the absence of men’s rights in the feminist cause. They overlook the key point that advocates of feminism are not so blinkered that when they motion for less objectification of the female body, they necessarily condone the objectification of the male body. Although the primary focus is on the most oppressed sex, the principle prevails for both sexes. While some issues, such as abortion rights, pertain solely to the female sex, most issues like childcare, rape and domestic violence are applicable to both sexes. Far from excluding men’s rights, feminists bring to light the inequality faced by both sexes.
An argument often invoked by those who deem feminism as irrelevant or apart from men, is that addressing issues such as the wage gap will necessitate the surrender of male privileges. Yet this fails to recognise that when women gain, so do men. Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1970, women in the UK continue to earn on average around 19% less than their male counterparts. Even if monetarily men were to lose out if this were rectified, the societal pressure placed on them as a traditional breadwinner would soon dissipate.
The main potential problem with male feminists is exemplified in the recent media frenzy about famous men embracing the term. Of course, celebrities such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt should be lauded for utilizing their privileged platform to engage with feminism.
However, the newsworthy nature of male feminists is worrying when contrasted with frequent media criticism of ‘outspoken’ female feminists. Men should be feminists without displacing female voices; if the movement is only legitimised by male endorsement, then it is entirely self-defeating.
Image Credit: Hannah Nicklin