I recently had a conversation with one of my male classmates in a feminist rhetoric course. We were discussing the broad topic of, you guessed it, “feminism”, and the subject quickly turned to the role men play in the movement. He seemed a little uneasy to pose the question, but finally inquired, “Even if I’m a dude, if I support feminism, can I call myself a feminist too?”
At first, I was struck at how timid the usually unabashed fellow seemed in asking this question. I’ve been aware of the controversy surrounding this question, but to me the answer always seemed obvious. We all know what happens when we assume, though, so I decided to do some research into the matter.
According to the Free Dictionary online, a feminist is “a person who supports feminism.” Alright, that was easy enough. The same source defines “feminism” as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Absent from this definition is a qualifier on the grounds of sex. Granted, if the debate were as simple as referring to a dictionary definition, it would hardly be a debate. Here are a few other points of consideration:
I’ve heard the concern that if we consider men to be feminists, then we’re running counter to the purpose of feminism in the first place. We’d be admitting defeat, in a sense—we’d be implying that we need men to make changes happen. At best, he can be a feminist ally. This is so problematic. This view implies that men are the enemy—indeed the antithesis of feminism—but they’re not. Yes, they’re in a position of privilege, though this is afforded to them incidentally through the institution of patriarchy. However, “man” is not inherently patriarchal. Our very own definition section of this page reinforces my point: “Patriarchy is not synonymous with men. Rather, it is a social system that both men and women participate in. It emphasizes the privileges of men and devalues the role of women. Patriarchy also reinforces the rigid social and cultural constraints on gender and sexuality.” If a man wishes to fight patriarchal oppression, how is he not a feminist?
Additionally, at the heart of feminism is the emphasis on intersectionality—the view that all forms of oppression (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. Indeed, men may not be impacted by certain struggles that women face (sexism), but have men also not been victimized by homophobia, classism, and racism? These “isms” are all unfortunate by-products of patriarchal values—realties of which men, too, have felt the sting. Feminism, essentially, advocates for the erosion of patriarchal oppression in any capacity. If men are also victimized by oppression, how can we justify their exclusion from the battle?
Many, still, are hung up of the notion of difference. How can a man fight for womens’ rights? By that same logic, I’m white; does this mean I can’t fight for black rights? I am heterosexual; can I not fight for gay rights? The problem isn’t difference; actually, the recognition of difference is a huge step in the right direction. While my background as a white woman will differ quite substantially from that of a black man, for instance, we are not so different that we cannot engage in discourse and explain our differences in order to stand united. While we are different, we are not so different that we cannot stand on common ground. As a feminist, it’s my job to advocate for equality for ALL. The only role that difference should play is in recognizing other perspectives. It should not be used a divisive mechanism. I would submit that that is the principle way of propelling feminist rhetoric forward.
Feminist, and everyday superhero Gloria Steinem, nailed it when she stated, “[Feminism] is no simple reform. It really is a revolution. Sex and race, because they are easy, visible differences, have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups, and into the cheap labour on which this system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen, or those earned. We are really talking about humanism.” Humanism is at the core of feminism. A threat to justice somewhere is an affront to justice everywhere. It is our duty to stand together, regardless of demographic, to overcome oppression.
So, to the “dude” in my feminist rhetoric class who asked me if he, too, could be a feminist: in my view, you already are one.