Can a man be a feminist?
This is one of those questions that doesn’t have a simple yes or no answer. Before explaining, a definition is important: simply put, feminism is promoting the rights of women and fighting for equality regardless of sex or gender.
Another important thing to define is that when talking about “men” in the question? There is an assumption that this is referring to cis-men (meaning your gender identity conforms to the sex you are assigned at birth). The answer will be given as such (to a cis-man).
The first thing to understand? Feminism benefits everyone, regardless of sex or gender.
So the simple answer?
Men can be feminists, and some branches of feminism actively recruit men, such as the ‘He for She’ campaign. Many feminists recognise that in order to combat the social, political, and economic and cultural norms in society and truly “stick it” to the Patriarchy (the domination of society by the wealthy, white, straight male ruling class) we have to work with those already on the inside – namely men. In order to achieve equality feminism needs to work with those able to make changes.
Feminism benefits cis-men too, in that it is trying to get rid of toxic masculinity. This is referring socially constructed attitudes that describe the male gender role within the Patriarchy (sexually aggressive, violent, unemotional, athletic etc…). Feminism is trying to get rid of these damaging, oppressive ideas the Patriarchy forces cis-men to adhere to. Feminism recognises that people have spent hundreds, if not thousands of years adhering to these cultural norms that are continuously damaging our society. Feminism is called “feminism” because it is actively seeking gender equality based on the inequality currently experienced by women but in fact, through elimination of the problems above benefits everyone regardless of sex or gender.
Feminism needs to be a safe space. Women who identify as feminists don’t always hate men (contrary to popular opinion) but many women feminists (cis or trans women) do need somewhere away from men for whatever reason, to campaign for equality as a movement for women and about women. Some women have gone through truly awful things at the hands of men, and for this reason do not want men to be involved in feminism. And it is important to respect that. If a woman has been abused, sexually assaulted, or victimised at the hands of men then they would perhaps not be so willing to allow men into their “feminist” movement.
In these cases, rather than saying “not all men”… and launching into a defence of you personally, listen to concerns, take them on board, and think of ways to challenge your own privilege rather than trying to defend men as a whole. If you do the “not all men” line? You’re part of the problem. If a person has spent any portion of their life being gas-lighted, manipulated, assaulted or abused, they’re going to automatically be wary of cis-men and this is understandable.
SO CAN CIS-MEN BE FEMINISTS?
The complicated answer is Yes But.
Yes cis-men can be feminists but they have to earn it, and keep earning it. You will, as a cis-man never experience sexism. You may witness it and have loved ones who suffer from it, but you will never experience it personally.
Rather than trying to claim a label and deciding what you would like to call yourself, the real proof of whether women would label you a feminist, or perhaps more accurately a feminist ally, is how you act. Are you acting responsibly? Are you checking your actions? Are you listening? Are you calling out sexism when you see it? Are you providing safe spaces for those who don’t identify as cis-men? The best thing for men to do in feminist spaces is to take the passenger seat on this ride, and listen to concerns but be ready to offer assistance when it is required. Hold men (and this includes yourself) accountable for the current situation, what you and other men have done to women, and think about what you can do to help.
Stop worrying about the label, and take action...