Glen Poole explains how the debate surrounding whether men can be feminists “really has nothing to do with your beliefs or your actions.”
The question of whether or not a man can be a feminist is a hot topic again, thanks to young male celebrities like John Legend, Ryan Gosling and John Hamm giving their name to the cause.
As a lapsed feminist myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that feminism is like religion, it has many different denominations and they don’t all agree with each other.
To some people asking if a man can be a feminist is as absurd as asking if a man can be a nun. To others it’s more like asking if a human can be religious. Of course anyone can be religious but you can’t simply join any religious denomination you feel like, because they all have different membership criteria.
Various feminists have tried to enforce different rules of entry to their particular brand of feminism over the decades. My personal favorite was the belief that you had to become a lesbian to be a real feminist because real feminists don’t sleep with the enemy! This belief spread to the pro-feminist men’s movement in the seventies and eighties with some men arguing that the only way to be a male feminist was to stop sleeping with women and become gay. Not surprisingly, some men were much more willing to embrace this particular rule of entry than others.
More recently—and less salaciously—as the political right has become more progressive and feminist, some left-wing feminists have begun to argue that you can’t be a feminist and right wing. The death of Margaret Thatcher this year (the only woman to serve as British Prime Minister) prompted another rematch of the “was she or wasn’t she a feminist icon” debate with no obvious winner.
The difference with the “can men be feminists” debate is that it has nothing to do with your beliefs or your actions and everything to do with whether or not you have balls. Some would say that an absence of testicles is an essential pre-requisite for wanting to become a male feminist, as a former feminist myself I’d have to say balls to that.
One of the key principles of feminism is that women shouldn’t be restricted by what they can or can’t do purely because of their sex; so saying that a man can’t go feminist because of his gonads can seem hypocritical.
Yet feminism isn’t just about theory, it’s also about the lived experience of being a woman and no man can ever tick that box. I have met many men like myself whose lived experience of trying to be a feminist has ultimately led them to become critics of feminism.
We tend to follow a common path. We are attracted to feminism because we believe that all humans are equal and that no-one should be held back in life because of things like their race, their sexuality of their sex.
Some men may turn away from feminism when we discover that there are some feminists who are not focused on sex equality but solely on women’s advancement. The more time we spend living and exploring the fascinating world of sex equality and gender, the more we see the problems and inequalities that men and boys face and find feminism may not be addressing those issues as quickly or directly as we need them to be.
Personally, I don’t mind what kind of genitals a feminist has. What I’m concerned about is whether men and boys issues are being addressed alongside the issues that women and girls face. With or without Ryan Gosling, that’s a job that’s too big for feminism to be left to tackle on its own. What I hope is that feminists and those concerned about the issues men and boys are facing can work together toward those goals.