On “male feminists”
I occasionally update my bio page to reflect whatever I am concerned, or feel strongly, about at the moment. However, one thing which has remained the same for many years now is the following statement: there is no such thing as a male feminist.
Around the time I first wrote that paragraph, I came across this article and broadly agreed with it, but especially so this quote:
Although I believe that men can be pro-feminist and anti-sexist, I do not believe we can be feminists in the strictest sense of the word. Men, in this patriarchal system, cannot remove themselves from their power and privilege in relation to women. To be a feminist one must be a member of the targeted group (i.e a woman) not only as a matter of classification but as having one’s directly-lived experience inform one’s theory.
The quote is attributed to Brian Klocke of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, and it struck me with its utter clarity in the same way that coming across the non-profit Men Can Stop Rape did twenty-odd years ago. Both the quote and the mission/name of the charity strike at the heart of the issue/s: rape will stop happening when men stop doing it; men can never be feminists because they are not women. So men cannot be feminists, but they do have a responsibility to address their predatory and destructive behaviour.
When I was 15, no one was a feminist, not even other girls at my school, yet I wrote some of my GCSE English papers on feminist issues (I recall a deconstruction of depictions of women in the media). Nowadays everyone’s a feminist (or anti-feminist), including men. So I say it again: there is no such thing as a male feminist, and here are a couple of reasons why.
I can think of one self-proclaimed, and actually rather ardent, “male feminist” I knew during my PhD who revealed he had been diagnosed with sexsomnia. In sum, sexsomnia is when you initiate sexual contact whilst asleep. He was embarrassed: he said it was often used as a “defence” in rape cases. I asked him: would you always disclose this diagnosis before going home with a woman? He replied: no. He would be too embarrassed. So in other words, his pride was more important to him than a woman’s bodily integrity. He would rather risk raping a woman in his sleep than being embarrassed by rejection due to his condition. Given that he was about 6′ 4″ and an ex-rugby player, the real threat he poses to women is profound.
Another one, another highly educated “male feminist” PhD, who thinks care workers, who are almost exclusively women, should be forcibly vaccinated because they do the hard work that he is too lazy and disinterested to do. A “male feminist” who, through his remote, authoritative privilege, also violates women’s right to bodily integrity.
And then the countless men – “male feminists” and otherwise – who have insisted that I have no expertise in the subject of my PhD, even though they literally have no expertise at all in it. The “male feminists” who expect me to be good natured in the face of that. The countless sexual assaults, gropes, coercion, and rapes that I, and other women I know, have experienced. The men, “male feminists” and otherwise, who commit these rapes and coercive control and then pretend afterwards that nothing bad happened. The “male feminists” who do nothing about this, other than claiming they wouldn’t dream of doing it.
A young woman I know recently disclosed a sexual assault to me. It is the second she has experienced and she is 21. She said that every single one of her female friends has experienced at least one sexual assault. Given the propensity for younger men in particular to claim to be feminists, who precisely is committing these assaults? How is it that men are capable of condemning the act of rape or sexual assault, but not of noticing themselves committing it?
I know several women married to so-called “male feminists” and each and every one of them still takes up the burden of childcare. Often they are assisted by their employer (if it is a large one) with strong maternity entitlements or good flexible working arrangements. In fact, I think that what is often viewed as enlightened or progressive treatment of mothers by employers actually perpetuates sexism. The mother’s employer effectively takes up the slack from the father, enabling him to avoid his responsibilities. Whilst this might seem like a good thing from the perspective of the mother and her career, it actually just entrenches, facilitates, and enforces paternal absence.
We have reached a hollow place in the history of humanity. There are widespread performances of allegiance to socially inclusive or progressive ideologies such as feminism, or anti-racism, LGBTQ+ rights, environmentalism, etc. Yet who has turned the gaze upon themselves? How do your actions support your profession of a cause? For most of us, they do not. For most of us, the paths we tread are worn by convenience and convention. They are the same paths humans have walked for centuries. It’s just that now they’ve got nice stickers up in the hallway proclaiming that things are other than what they are.