As I sit here, a jam filled ice bun in one hand, a question appears in my mind. “Can men be feminists?” I say, ever so softly, as I swirl my wine and look wistfully into the distance. And if not, where do men fit into the feminist movement? As a man am I even in the position to ask that question? As a self-identified feminist and man – at least since the last time I checked – I have encountered many an instance where my proclamations of male feminism have been decried by both men and women alike.
Before we progress we must consider what qualifies someone as a feminist. What minimum requirements are required to attend the University of Gender Equality if you will. In terms of the – much used – dictionary definition of feminism: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” All men that hold and fight for the belief that men and women are equal are feminists. But as you and I know, the world does not operate in definitions; if it did, communism would be a party with balloons and cake and Stalin would be known as a “sound guy”. Stalin and cake aside, if just fitting into a definition doesn’t meet the feminist requirements, what does?
After all, many women will argue that they, as a sex, fought and even sacrificed their lives in order to protect and advance the rights of women and build the feminist movement. The idea that a man can merely decide he’s feminist can appear, well, offensive. I cannot enter a hospital in my Ann Summers nurse outfit and claim to be a bona fide nurse, can I? Surely the same applies to feminism. Turning up to a women’s rights rally with a ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirt doesn’t quite cut it.
However, the idea that in order for someone to call themselves a feminist they must first be a woman is problematic. Does this suggest that you must be born with a vagina to identify as a feminist, or does one just need to experience the difficulties faced by women? Is there a probation period that a transgender woman must go through for a set length of time, experiencing inequality as a result of their sex before she can call herself a feminist? After all, a trans woman will experience far more discrimination than a woman who was assigned female at birth.
One could make the case for male feminism though. It’s not impossible, I promise; but in order to create a persuasive argument that a man can be a feminist he must acknowledge a number of factors. For example, he should be willing to accept that he has a predisposed, systematic advantage over all, yes all, women of the world – other than the Queen of course, but she doesn’t count, she’s reptilian. Much like our dearest reptilian Monarch, me and my fellow men reign above the women of the world. I sit atop of my thrown of male privilege in my silky smooth robe of inequality with my golden staff of patriarchy firmly gripped. I do not wish to reign above women, but I do. I and men alike must accept this to have any claim to the title of ‘feminist’.
No woman wishes to mute men and their opinions. However, in many cases, men’s voices are as out of place as David Cameron in a food bank line. Imagine me, me, dictating to a woman about her reproductive rights. It’s laughable. Identifying as a feminist does not equate to an opinion on women and their own bodies.
Feminism is a women’s movement. For women. Although men benefit from feminism, it does not serve to service the privileged. Women don’t need male supporters, nor do they need male feminists. I’m sure women appreciate a man’s support, but men should not attempt to annex the movement. There is a place for men within the movement, but it is not our place to dominate; we are already proficient in that art.
Imagine it like this my fellow men: it’s a cold Sunday morning and you’re watching your young son playing football for the school team – I promise this is going somewhere. You’re standing at the side line with all the other parents, but in an instant you decide your son is in fact… totally shite. He is your son after all. But you will not languish in disappoint, oh no. In fact you believe you can do a better job than your son. So with one long stride, you run onto the pitch; slide tackle wee Jenny – her dads a dick anyway – nutmeg Johnny and rocket the ball deep into the roof of the net. Although that may be the worst metaphor in recent human history, this is what it looks like when a man attempts to take possession of feminism. Maybe we belong on the side lines with a supportive voice, but only that; even if you do think you can do feminism better than some women.
So where does this leave me, a male feminist? Unfortunately I cannot answer that question, for I am a mere man; it is not my place to decide. However, one cannot expect women to have a conference complete with doughnuts and coffee in order to decide whether a man can or not be a feminist. It’s a question that elicits numerous responses from numerous different women. But I cannot stop myself questioning the importance of it all. Identifying as a feminist won’t make me a more effective supporter of women’s rights, nor will it make any of my opinions more or less valid. Whether or not a man identifies as a feminist, or even if he has the right to do so, their support far outweighs the importance of a single word.
So I, Andrew Wilson, remain a male feminist. I think. Maybe. Kinda.