Male Feminism Considered

My good friend K. sent me these links yesterday on male feminism. I’m increasingly interested in articulating my thoughts as a male feminist (as opposed to just being one), now that I’ve personally experienced how threatening such an idea is to so many men (see the comment section here).

In The Guardian, Jonathan Freedland argues that men have to be part of the struggle against misogyny.

That there is a battle to be fought is surely beyond doubt. Whether
it’s a prosecuting barrister branding a 13-year-old female victim of
sexual abuse “predatory“, or the ongoing death and rape threats against women
who speak out on social media, all those who care about even basic
notions of fairness or justice can see there is a momentous struggle to
be joined. Yet men hesitate. Register the voices who rise up to object
to these or any of the other instances, constant and ubiquitous, of
sexism and misogyny and they overwhelmingly belong to women.

that’s inevitable. An attack on any group will be felt first and most
keenly by that group: it usually falls to Jews, for example, to sound
the alarm over antisemitism. But that rule is not universal. The backlash against the Home Office’s “Go Home” vans, a hateful scheme now under investigation
by the Advertising Standards Authority, has not been the exclusive
preserve of immigrants, legal or illegal, or the descendants of
immigrants. Even Nigel Farage denounced it.

somehow men leave the heavy lifting against gender bias and gender
hatred to women. The most charitable explanation is that men worry they
cannot speak about this subject authentically, that their perspective is
of less value than a woman’s. Others fret they’ll get it wrong, that
they’ll inadvertently say something that is itself sexist, thereby
revealing that they too don’t “get it” – so it’s safer to say nothing.
The diffidence of the men who took part in last week’s #twittersilence
was striking, several indicating that they were only “sort of” taking

He finishes strong:

That means a change in men, but also perhaps in the struggle itself.
For there is not just a gender gap on this issue. Wary as I am of
pointing it out, there does seem to be a gulf separating the feminist
conversation currently aired loudest in the public sphere and the kind
of monotonous, grinding experience recorded by @EverydaySexism. It is
the culture wars that grab media interest – a run of pop videos featuring topless women; proposed “modesty” wrappings
to hide the covers of lads’ mags; Jane Austen on bank notes; horrors on
Twitter – yet it is the stubborn problems of unequal pay, low
conviction rates for rape, workplace discrimination against mothers and, say, the need for statutory carer’s leave, which probably speak more directly to the lives of women outside the media bubble.

now, though, the challenge is for men to find their place – and to be
welcomed – in a struggle that may be led by the women’s movement but
which is surely a human cause. We’ve tried sitting in silence – and it
hasn’t worked.

 I really like the contrast between the big issues (on which men often speak up) and the “grinding experience” of Everyday Sexism. I tried to get at that in my writing on the subject, emphasizing that while sometimes patriarchy and its effects are overt (Wendy Davis/Texas/etc.), in many ways the covert is just as important to recognize and fight (McDonald’s, “Best Dressed” awards, etc.)

Which brings me to the second piece, from South Africa. The young author explores his growing awareness of sexism and the feminist response to it, and focuses on the question of attraction. How can a man express attraction without being sexist?

The first source of my confusion is chivalry. Part of my village’s
training related to giving women precedence. A woman must have your
seat, you must carry her bags, you must open the door etc. I learned
later that westerners call these teachings “chivalry”. It has occurred
to me that I can’t reject my village’s teachings without also rejecting

The second source of my confusion is physical attraction to women.
While I distaste misogyny, objectification or any other notion that
equates a woman’s value to her looks, I still am attracted to women. In
moments of honesty, I do admit that my attraction to a woman is
influenced by my prejudice on looks. It has then occurred to me that
proclaiming myself a feminist, while still placing some kind of value on
looks, is revolting hypocrisy.

Attraction and chivalry may seem like trivial issues, but they lie at the heart of many male questions about how to be a feminist or how to be an ally. How do you hit on a woman without being a sexist? I see this question asked again and again. It’s good to read a young South African man working through these issues.

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