Until very recently, the idea that men couldn’t be feminists had never particularly occurred to me. I first identified as a feminist whilst studying the Suffrage movement at school. We began with the role of John Stuart Mill and I suppose from that moment on I’d never thought to question the idea. Having encountered several blogs recently which express discomfort with men identifying as feminists, preferring titles which emphasise a more sympathy focused role such as ‘feminist allies’ however, I’ve had to reassess. While the arguments put forward interest me a great deal, especially in light of the male-centric start to my feminist education, for the large part I can’t help but disagree.
A number of those writers uncomfortable with the ‘male feminist’ point to those who abuse the title for less than equality minded agendas. Be it in an attempt to steer the debate, inject some ‘strong male leadership’, or simply get laid, I don’t deny these men are sadly out there somewhere, tainting the movement in their own horrible way. Of course there’s no denying the case here; these men aren’t feminists. But that doesn’t have to mean no men are. Or that they never can be.
Though this in no way speaks for the whole movement, I define myself as a feminist because I believe in an absolute equality between the sexes. For this reason a feminism that denies half the population access to the movement, takes on in my eyes the appearance of an exclusive club. A club that strives to attain equality of the sexes whilst simultaneously not letting one through the door. To deny men access to this ‘club’ of feminism is problematic for numerous reasons, not least because this exclusionary mentality makes feminism feel so cliquey. It seems fundamental, that in a fight against our society’s long history of gender discrimination, we reach out to all genders when it comes to involvement, education and voices within the community.
I agree that men will never have the same level of insight into the feminist struggle as they have simply not been the victims of that gendered oppression that sees women oppressed by men. Undoubtedly. However to refuse that men could identify as feminists seems to miss something crucial. For men to become leaders of the feminist movement undeniably would be wrong, for absolute male power and leadership is the exact history feminism looks to transgress. But surely men can and in fact must be of its number to ever achieve real change. To watch from the side lines isn’t enough. Men must fight alongside women in order for the reach of feminism to ever be total and to do so as ‘allies’ just doesn’t seem strong enough. Change must be accomplished by men and women together, as equals, as feminists, for real equality to be achieved.
It’s not a secret that feminism remains controversial. That such an overwhelming number of people can agree in principle with gender equality and with the same token reject the term ‘feminist’ speaks volumes for the isolating effect the movement can sometimes appear to have. Of course this resistance is largely down to its systematic discrediting by misogynistic medias, but at the best of times feminism can also seem to isolate all but a privileged few; those who have read the literature, studied the thinkers, know the history. To cut even more people from a group already so select can surely only be regressive. On even a semantic level, to re-brand men as ‘allies’ becomes an act of alienation, of placing men one step removed and forging a gender barrier between them and the cause which goes against the entire goal of unity. To segregate, to allow one group access to a discourse and deny another, does not seem conducive to an end goal of absolute equality.
In the words of the far more eloquent Helene Cixous; “Phallocentrism is the enemy. Of everyone. Men stand to lose by it, differently but as seriously as women. And it is time to transform. To invent the other history.” To negate the significance of male feminists is to miss the way that a patriarchal society can and does claim male victims along with its female. Patriarchy is the enemy of everyone and in this way I can see no alternative but for men to be welcomed together with women in the fight against it, not as leaders but as comrades. They must become a part of the movement not as allies, not as helpers, but as absolute and in their own way instrumental, equals.