Can a Man be a Feminist?
With all the sexual assault allegations flooding Hollywood, many celebrities are speaking up as self-proclaimed feminists. What’s more intriguing is that many of these self-proclaimed feminists are men. At first, I was excited about this news. The word feminist in itself is incredibly taboo and often misunderstood. As a result, it is common for people, especially men, to detach themselves from it. If the definition of feminism is simply the idea of political, economic, and social equality of men and women, why shouldn’t men be able to identify as feminists? Wouldn’t you be eager to see men fighting for women’s rights and gender equality?
I thought so until I came across an article by Bisi Alimi, a Nigerian gay rights activist and public speaker, who states why he believes that men cannot be feminists. He explains that men cannot fully comprehend the experience of womanhood, so they shouldn’t label themselves as a feminist. While men may genuinely believe that women should be treated equal to men, they should not be so quick to identify with and insert themselves into a community that is meant to be a safe space from their very existence. They should instead focus on being an active pro-feminist ally and proving themselves by challenging their own male privilege and holding other men accountable. This article provided me with new insight and reminded me not to let men off the hook so easily.
Now, this shouldn’t discourage men from learning about feminism and getting involved. While the reasons why women need feminism are more obvious and pressing, (gender wage gaps, reproductive rights, rape culture) men can benefit from feminism, too. Intersectional feminism is a more modern version of feminism that acknowledges the various levels of oppression based on race, class, gender, religion and sexual orientation. If we consider things on a spectrum like this, we can talk about why men need feminism. Men, too, are affected by gender roles; they are encouraged to be aggressive and are often not taught how to recognize and cope with their feelings. This leaves men emotionally stunted and can lead to mental health issues, which are rarely recognized in men, especially men of color. Toxic masculinity prevents all genders from living their best life.
Feminism does not mean that women are superior, is does not mean that women hate men, and it does not mean that femininity is bad. It is simply and strictly the fight for gender equality, and it is a fight that benefits everyone. While it is great for men to be passionate about feminism, they should remember to practice being an ally before being quick to label themselves as a feminist. They should focus on making their communities a safer place for their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters. Perhaps at some point, a man can stand up and say, “I am a feminist” without taking away from the work women are doing. The best thing to do is start by checking your own male privilege.