Self-proclaimed feminist Ryan Gosling, image from says.com
Right now, perhaps at this very second, men all over the world are declaring themselves feminists; from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to Australia’s shock jock radio loud-mouth Alan Jones. While these examples are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum (given Justin Trudeau is an actual feminist, whereas Alan Jones is absolutely not a feminist but chooses to use the label anyway) these public declarations of feminist allegiance have re-ignited the discussion; can men be feminists?
This is a dividing question, and not one with a simple answer. Originally, feminism was a movement created for women by women. Today, feminism simply means equality. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (actor from 10 Things I Hate About You and Don Jon) gave his take on feminism, as passed down to him from his mother. “To me it just means that your gender doesn’t have to define who you are. That you can be whatever you want to be, whoever you want to be, regardless of your gender.” This is a definition we can totally get behind.
Men like Joseph Gordon-Levitt are great examples of feminists who are allies to the gender equality cause. But sometimes the combination of men with feminism can be quite tricky to navigate, so I’m going to try and break it down by addressing these issues one by one.
5 Stereotypes of Male Feminists to Avoid:
- Men who call themselves feminists merely for self-gain.
As feminism grows in popularity within mainstream society, many people, including men, are now identifying as feminists. But there’s a difference between really believing in a movement and simply jumping on the bandwagon because it’ll add to your credibility or reputation. #AllMen benefit from male privilege in some way, identifying as a male feminist does not expel you from that group. And simply adopting the label does not override any misogynistic things you have said or done in the past. For example when Mia Freedman asked Alan Jones on Q&A last week if he is a feminist and he responded with “I hope so! I certainly believe in gender equality”, it does not dismiss his long history of misogynistic language towards women, including his sexist criticism of Julia Gillard. Sorry Alan, but calling yourself a feminist doesn’t erase the time you said “women are destroying the joint”. It’s pretty transparent when someone’s motives behind adopting this label are not sincere. Similar to the self-proclaimed “nice guy” – if he really is that nice, would he actually have to try so hard to convince everyone?
Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls, Gif from tumblr.com
- Men who dominate feminist discussion.
This is a tough one, because it often involves men who are genuinely committed to the fight for gender equality, but just need to learn to listen every now and then. It’s great when men acknowledge their privilege and want to create change. But why not use that privilege to give women a platform to speak? Comedian Aziz Ansari, says it best; “I learn by asking people stuff.” In recent years, Ansari has woven gender issues into his shows, basically so that get people start talking about the different gendered experiences men and women face.
In an interview with Cosmo, Ansari described a part of his stand up show which really laid these different experiences out there. He told the audience to ‘“raise your hand if you’re a woman and you’ve been followed,” and all those women raised their hand.’ He then asked folks to ‘”clap if you’re a dude and you’re surprised that that many women raised their hand when I asked that question.” And a lot of dudes clapped. “Personally, I didn’t realize it; I only just now started to become aware of how big a problem a lot of this stuff is.” Ansari chose to include this routine in his show, when he found out just how many of his close female friends had been followed by strangers. ‘I just started asking more people about it and realized it’s a pretty crazy, widespread thing, and it’s insane that that many women have to go through that and have to worry about that. I started talking about it onstage, and asking people for their stories and experiences.’
This is a great example of how to work with women on the issues which hold them back, and it always starts with listening to their experiences. When men choose to dominate spaces specifically designed to give women a voice, they end up once again making it all about men.
Justin Trudeau is another example of someone actively using his privilege as a (white) male to bring more women and other minority people to the front. He is not just speaking about feminism and what we can do to progress it; he is doing it. And he is giving women a platform to do the same. Feminism is not attempting to silence all men, it is attempting to project the voices of all women.
The Canadian Cabinet 2015, 50% female, image from sarahbessey.com
- Men who are praised more highly than women for identifying as feminist.
Identifying as a male feminist is great (if it is genuine) and that should be recognised. But the same goes for female feminists. They should be met with the same level of approval and respect. When a man is widely and publicly praised for calling himself a feminist, whilst thousands of women are ridiculed for using the same label, it suggests that the opinions and ideas of a man are more worthy of respect than that of a woman, which counteracts the entire message of feminism. Justin Trudeau, recently stated, at the United Nations in New York, that he is going to keep saying loud and clearly that [he is] a feminist until it is met with a shrug”. It should not be out of the ordinary for a politician to align themselves with a movement that is striving for gender equality and the political advancement of women, even if said politician is a man. Why should it take a man identifying as feminist for the label to gain credibility?
Just to be clear; this is not another word for male feminists. It’s actually quite the opposite. According to Urban Dictionary Meninism is “a mockery of feminism and proves that we can’t request equality without white men making everything about themselves”. Steer clear of your local meninist, gals.
Our idol Leslie Knope, Gif from buzzfeed.com
- Men who completely distance themselves from the movement altogether.
The feminist movement is a complex one, and I understand the reluctance of some men to include themselves in it. But by perceiving it simply as “women’s issues” and distancing themselves from the idea altogether is only feeding the problem. Gender equality benefits everyone. Saying that this movement is simply not for you as your gender is not affected is, to put it bluntly, a cop out. Aligning yourself with feminism strengthens it. Listening to women makes their voices louder. And contributing to the conversation (when appropriate) advances it.
Feminist is more than just a word, it is a way of life. If you are not committed to the fight for gender equality you have not earned the right to use the label. It’s not a passing fad, it’s here to stay. It’s great that more and more people are identifying as feminist but it’s values and ideas have to be practiced, not just spoken. The goal of Feminism is not for everyone to identify as feminist, it is for everyone to have equal opportunities, equal rights and equal voices.
So, summing up, here is an example of a good male feminist:
Justin Trudeau, image from mashable.com
And here is an example of a bad male feminist:
Alan Jones, Image from The Herald Sun
Maddy regularly writes for Rosie, and is passionate about music, history, art and gender equality.