“Men can be feminists” is the second article in Julie Bindel’s new online column for The Critic, “Feminist fallacies”, which explores modern-day myths about the women’s liberation movement. The first article on “empowerment” can be read here.
Is it just me or have you noticed how feminism has become so popular with men? I don’t mean the guys that knit their own vegan sandals, or who carry babies around in a papoose. I mean your average geezer: the sort who boasts about his anti-sexist credentials by day, only to watch a few hours of violent porn at night.
Feminism is one of the biggest political movements on the planet and the only one that centres women and girls. Today, feminism is more relevant and necessary than ever before, which is why swathes of young women are gravitating towards it as society takes backwards steps to reverse women’s hard-won gains.
So, why are more and more men claiming the feminist label for themselves?
The answer is simple. What passes for feminism now suits men down to the ground: it requires nothing of them, doesn’t challenge them in any way, and offers women neither equality nor liberation — all the while making men look like heroes.
Self-identified male feminists are a parody of themselves
Self-identified male feminists are a parody of themselves. Take the hilarious sketch in the American TV comedy Portlandia: a group of men (including one wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “Well-behaved women seldom make history”) attend an all-male feminist support group. Some lines on what makes these characters feminist include: “I’ve never hired a geisha”, “I’ve been saying to ladies on the street, ‘Are you a doctor’ just so there’s not a feeling that only men can be doctors” and “I don’t even see hair colour”.
Put simply, what is called feminism as practised by men is often just decent manners. This behaviour is the inspiration behind the old joke heard at women’s events everywhere: “Have you heard the one about the male feminist walking into a bar? Because it was set so low.”
Some famous men have even got the virtue-signalling “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt, although you never see them wearing it outside of a photographer’s studio.
If men can be feminists, there is nothing to stop a woman from saying “that’s sexist” and the man responding with, “Well I’m a feminist and I don’t think it is” — thereby ending any debate they wish. For the all-inclusive “male feminist”, the women’s movement is simply about people “of all genders” being nice to each other.
“But”, I hear you say, “this means men can’t do right for doing wrong.” The assumption that it is mean-spirited to tell men they can’t be feminists, because it excludes them from the fight for women’s liberation, is utter nonsense.
We need men to be feminist allies, anti-sexist, and pro-feminist. We do not need men to colonise feminism for their own benefit.
Emma Watson’s 2014 #HeForShe initiative was described as “an invitation for men and people of all genders to stand in solidarity with women to create a bold, visible and united force for gender equality”. Watson’s call to men was less about demanding that they support women in our endeavours to end male violence and oppression of women than it was about her desperate attempt to prove that feminism is not synonymous with man-hating.
Liberal feminism actively fawns over men who do the bare minimum
Feminism will be rendered meaningless if it both placates and includes men. Just look at how Sophie Trudeau used International Women’s Day (IWD) in 2017 as an opportunity to celebrate boys and men. On IWD last year, the Police Service of Northern Ireland called for nominations from female officers of male colleagues who had supported them during their career. Feminist reacted angrily, but there were many men scratching their heads wondering what on earth could be wrong with women praising them for simply doing the right thing.
Liberal feminism not only actively fawns over men who do the bare minimum (and often not even that) but has widened the definition of feminism to include everyone. Men battling to become the best “male feminist” doesn’t help women and makes yet another thing all about men.
If men wish to contribute to creating a decent world, they could start by holding themselves and other men to account for violence against women. They can have honest conversations about how they benefit from rape, and whether they have ever directly harmed a woman themselves. Feminism, if done properly, should make men feel uncomfortable. That is the very point of it.
Rather than make concessions to make men feel more comfortable, let’s pose a direct challenge to those men to come up with ways in which they can support the work we do to end male violence. Because, while men can’t be feminists, they can certainly be feminist allies and we could do with their help — so long as they leave the virtue-signalling t-shirts at home.
Julie Bindel’s latest book, Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation (Constable, Robinson), is out 2 September 2021.
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