Men who are feminists. Feminists who are men.
From UN Women’s HeForShe campaign to President Obama calling only on women at one (note: one) press conference to Aziz Ansari going all feminist on David Letterman, mass culture is ready to declare everyday Valentine’s Day for those men who believe in the inherent dignity and equality of women and are willing to work for it.
This is great because feminism needs men to succeed.
But, let’s be honest, there is a dainty line between mansplaining and men advocating for feminism, and sometimes it appears our allied brethren appear to have no idea they are using their male privilege in the very spaces where good women are trying to be rid of it. Further there are good men who want to be good feminists but have questions about how to do so.
The first rule is that any man who wants to be feminist must take it upon himself to learn about the ins and outs of gender-based oppression, and how that negatively impacts women as well as men. A less polite way to say this would be that it’s not a woman’s job to educate you, and it’s certainly not a feminist’s job to drop everything she’s doing to let you know what’s up. The middle-ground would be to say that the phrase “men’s work” sucks and is offensive, but the one thing that can legitimately be added to this category is the responsibility of men to care about and learn about sexism without asking women to serve them education on a platter.
One of the primary truths of any social movement is that those most directly affected should be at the center of leadership, organizing, and power. So if you are a man who is a feminist (yay and thank you), please be mindful that the best people to run feminist spaces and speak to feminist issues are women. This is not asking men to sit back, nor is it asking men to be silent. Au contraire.
Men have a responsibility to take leadership in those spaces where women are not present or have not yet reached a critical mass. Instead of trying to be the darling of the feminist movement, use your male privilege in the spaces where women are not present or underrepresented to insist that more women are brought into leadership teams, or to advocate for the promotion of women. (Hint: Adding one white woman to the otherwise dude-bro panel isn’t going to cut it.) Look at issues like domestic violence and rape and the underrepresentation of women in politics and focus on what men should do differently, not what women should do differently. If the media notices you, great — use that power to draw attention to less-acknowledged women feminist thinkers, writers, and activists who should also be interviewed and given speaking platforms.
Being a true member of a movement means having opinions of your own, and articulating them, but if you find yourself disagreeing with women on how to advance gender equality — seriously, check yourself. Slow down and listen, then listen some more. (For that matter, describing vaginal discharge or how menstruation works is nearly always creepy from cisgender men — things I have seen from self-described feminists who are men — you can leave that to women, okay?) The bottom line is that men who are amazing feminists are amazing listeners and amazingly present. They listen to women and they support the leadership of women in feminist movements. They volunteer as activists and fundraisers and participants without insisting on hogging the limelight or floor.
And here’s a big no-no to get out of the way! Straight cisgender men who use the women’s movement to find a date are frankly disgusting. It’s okay to be a man, a feminist, and someone who likes to get laid. It is not okay to be a man who uses his feminist gatherings as a dating service. Having been on the other side of this multiple times, I can tell you it is, categorically, the worst. There are few things more dispiriting than discovering that the man who appears to value your specific ideas about women’s liberation is actually hoping for a blow job.
Just one of the lovely things (there are so many) the queer liberation movement has brought to feminism is the blurring and complicating of gender identity. This is a good thing; nothing in this post is meant to assert that transgender men or transgender women don’t belong at women’s colleges or within feminist spaces, for example — what makes women’s spaces special is not the insistence on a certain set of anatomy but rather freedom from those who most directly benefit from patriarchal supremacy. Further, men who do not benefit from heterosexual privilege and/or white privilege will relate differently to feminist concepts than men who do.
This is meant to be a dialogue rather than an edict, so please share in the comments what you think makes men amazing feminists. Men and women are welcome and encouraged to contribute!