You guys: On the gender of feminism

Let’s face it, over the years feminism has not always played well with others. Whether it has been a shocking lack of inclusion (for instance, fat politics) and intersectionality (ahem, Beyonce, lesbians, trans* people, et al) or as simple as alienating those who would be our friends, feminism can be an identity that is sometimes hard to wear. And I haven’t even mentioned the anti-feminists and feminist-haters of the world.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining or excusing the ways that feminism — dominated and essentially defined by a middle-class, white, cisgender privileged leadership — fails to address the lived realities of so many people. For a movement that is at its core about fighting for equality for all people and an end to oppression, mainstream feminism’s failures are writ large (and often). Certainly, there are folks out there who do work toward an inclusive movement — I like to think I’m one of them — but the problems within our movement are hard to ignore.

Maybe this is why I get such heartburn when I see headlines like this: I’m a male feminist. No, seriously:

I’m not particularly militant, nor do I have a chip on my shoulder (I hope), but I get my share of weird reactions nonetheless. See, not only am I feminist, I’m a male feminist. People aren’t always sure what to do with that.

“You’re a man. Isn’t that a contradiction?”

“Wait, are men allowed to be feminists?”

“Are you even a man at all?”

As far as I know, men are absolutely allowed to be feminists. And when I declare that I’m a feminist, I should explain what that word means to me.

It always bugs me when I see the term “male feminist.” At first my irritation is because I think it’s redundant to say “[blank] feminist.” But then I check my privilege and get mad that the feminism movement has such an identity and inclusivity problem that we have to identify what kind of feminist we are (i.e. black feminist, male feminist, trans feminist, etc.). Sigh.

Making it worse, is that the men who identify as feminists are considered such anomalies that they feel a need to defend it. Actually, maybe that’s just the norm for any feminist. How many times have you heard, “I believe in equal rights for women, but I would never call myself a feminist.” Meanwhile, some feminists feel such a need to make our movement more hospitable to men that we see time-wasting campaigns like “brochoice.” (And I’m not even going to get into the men who try to co-opt feminism, ala Hugo Schwyzer.)

On the one hand, is this really a good use or our time? Do we really need to worry about making male allies feel cozy? I don’t ask for or expect people of color to make space for me as an ally. I don’t ask lesbians, gays, or transgender people to make it easier for me to participate in their movements for equality. That’s not their job. It’s my job as an ally. And if I feel uncomfortable within different movements, that is because of my own privilege, not because they don’t put out a fresh welcome mat for me.

As a female feminist, I can’t help but think about how many spaces I feel uncomfortable in (on a daily basis) because of patriarchy and rape culture. How much do I have to organize my day, what I wear, whether or not I smile, based on the social rules and conventions of a society locked in a sexist paradigm that sees women as less than men? The very gender binary of “men” and “women” is rooted in perpetuating gender roles, stereotypes, and institutionalized forms of oppression and power. We label them as “opposites” on a continuum of what it means to be a so-called man and so-called woman. But all of that is just a paradigm to keep us locked in patriarchal systems of oppression!

I’ve already spent most of my career carving out a space for my own work and being. I’ve spent countless hours rallying for the very basic rights of autonomy over my own body that men take for granted. I don’t have time to make this movement easy for men. I definitely welcome them to share the space we’ve created. I welcome them as allies and as stakeholders in a very important movement of change.

The other reason why I get irritated about the whole “male feminist” thing is because I know and work with so many feminists who happen to be guys. Seriously! The logo for The Sin City Siren was created by the very feminist Alex Raffi of Imagine Marketing. The Slut Riot video “Now Say My Name” was shot and edited by Pop Goes the Icon founder PJ Perez, a feminist if I ever met one. Remember that book I’m writing? Every person who is reading pages right now and helping me turn it into a published product — dudes. The majority of people who have contributed to SCS campaigns during the past six-and-half years? Guys. And this is not some kind of SCS phenomena. It’s a reality of the feminist movement.

Ready or not, there are feminists who are men. I don’t think they need some kind of fancy banner or gender-specific campaign to welcome them, either. They’re here. They’re feminist. Get used to it.

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