Men can’t be feminists: a reader dissents

May 2, 2008 at 9:26 am | Posted in Feminisms | 3 Comments

Is it too strong to proclaim that men can’t be feminists? A commenter suggests it might:

Can’t is rather a strong proclamation in this context, don’t you think? It would make more sense to say “Most men who claim to be feminists are not” or “I have not yet met a self-proclaimed male feminist who actually is one.”

After all, if you can judge that men aren’t feminists based on their behavior, doesn’t it follow that a different behavior would mean they could be feminists?

I don’t want to deign to call myself a feminist here on your blog, since I don’t want to get in a semantics battle over the word feminist. I, too, cringe (whether the speaker is male or female) when I hear people say “I’m a feminist, but…” And I don’t think feminism is a club you should seek membership in, but neither is it a club from which you should exclude people. It isn’t a club at all.

The one thing I will agree with is that men should cheer women from the sidelines and focus on modeling nonsexist behavior and attitudes for other men. I was vexed, for example, when men insisted at one of my college’s Take Back the Night marches that they be allowed to speak, too. The leaders of the event said it’d be okay as long as the men speaking were survivors themselves. Did it end up that way? No. The men who spoke at that event basically said the equivalent of “Be careful out there. If you get raped, it’s at least partially your fault” instead of “I was raped too.”

Just as I wouldn’t want white Americans leading an antiracist movement full of people of color, I can understand why women feminists wouldn’t want men being too outspoken and bossy within an antisexism movement. On the other hand, I would never entertain the notion that white Americans cannot be antiracist the way some feminists have tried to say that men cannot be feminists.

I agree with much of what’s written here, but I would also contend that the rationale for this post wasn’t based solely on the behaviour of some men; it was also based on our deficit of experience.

All the pro-feminist posts on this blog are drawn in some way from the opinions of other women, the experiences of other women. However good our intentions are, however balanced and nuanced we are when contributing to debates, however hard we might try to quote from the book of ‘right-on!’, it remains the case that we simply don’t have the experience of living in a patriarchal world. When we lack that experience we also lack authenticity. To that end, men would be much better off as enthusiastic but also deferent supporters.

That said, if a man were to call himself a feminist, I wouldn’t turn around and say “no you’re not”; I’d be more likely to salute him for even giving a shit. Only a fool would turn down a helping hand.


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  1. I have rather borrowed your two posts on this in order to write my own thoughts: have a gander, if you can rouse yourself from the coma we all want to lapse into after last night.

  2. […] on this topic. Following my earlier contention that men can’t be feminists and the subsequent rebuttal from a passing commenter, David Semple, whose blog is never anything less than a cradle of […]

  3. […] Politics Can men be feminists? This is the question posed by no few authors recently (1, 2, 3, 4). The articles with which I am mostly closely concerning myself are links three and four in the […]

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