As a movement Feminism hopes to highlight women’s voices and experiences, eradicate gendered oppression, challenge male dominance and privilege, and also confront restrictive and constructed gender norms. It is also important to observe that feminism does not look to demonize men but rather end patriarchal oppression. Men are not the target. Patriarchy is. But is feminism a movement that men can be a part of?
That is a good question and there is debate within feminism over whether or not men can be feminists. Some have argued, for instance, that men cannot be feminists because they do not suffer, and have not suffered, the same oppression as have women. Because they do not suffer in this way men cannot comprehend women’s experiences, and therefore cannot constructively contribute to the feminist movement (1). Others have argued that men cannot be feminists because of the intrinsic differences between the sexes, and that as a result men cannot fully understand women’s issues (2). To some feminists men are seen collectively as members of the class of oppressors of women, and that men cannot identify with feminism because of the inherent privileges that they have been granted (3). As has been observed, however, the problem with these views is that they contradict the values of feminism (4). Excluding men from the feminist movement and reserving it solely as a female project could itself be argued to be sexist. It would suggest that men are incapable of providing any value to the movement simply because they are men.
Alternatively, many feminists would disagree, and would in fact welcome both the efforts and support of men. These feminists would argue that men’s identification with the feminist movement is necessary, and that men should be allowed and encouraged to participate (5). The goal of feminism is to end oppression and achieve social equality for women but if this is to ever take place then men really need to be part of the struggle. After all, if one wishes to achieve change he or she would do well to not alienate almost half of the human race from the cause. Moreover, men are still the one’s who possess the most power which suggests that getting them on onboard is important. According to the US sociologist Kris Macomber men are “members of the dominant group; they have access to social and institutional power that women lack” (6). Feminists could use this to further their agenda. There does, however, seem to be an irony in this fact given that many feminists seem to be seeking the aid of what they are trying to challenge. Nonetheless feminist writer Amy explains that “Men are certainly a welcome part of our community… I think that feminism has always recognized that men are an important part of this movement … over time it became more apparent that we needed men because they were in positions of power and could point out sexism more powerfully than women – at least in a way that would make others listen” (7). Moreover, men are crucial because they assist in raising feminist consciousness and understanding within the male group, a very large audience female feminists very often struggle to reach (8).
Personally, I believe that men can be feminists. But what can the male feminist do to actively show his support? Men should support women in their feminist work while at the same time allowing feminism to work on themselves. This means that they should challenge themselves and other men to end patriarchy. It is not always so easy to allow feminism to work on oneself because men have become accustomed to certain privileges. I agree with Canadian feminist writer Meghan Murphy that men “can have a powerful and important role in feminism by doing that educating and by holding other men accountable for their words and their actions” (9). Men should hold other men accountable over inappropriate comments and names commonly given to women. Men also need to highlight women’s voices and experiences, voices that have often been ignored. Feminism provides women with the space and the opportunity to share their stories, experiences, and perspectives. Men, as male feminists, ought to support and encourage this.
1. Heath, S. 1985. ”Male Feminism” in Critical Exchange. p. 9-15.
2. Beauvoir, S., Borde, C. & Malovany-Chevallier, S. 2011. The Second Sex. p. 15.
3. Ervin Funk, R. “The Power of Naming: Why Men Can’t Be Feminists,” in Feminista!: The Journal of Feminist Construction.
4. Hooks, B. 1984. “Men: Comrades in Struggle,” in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center.
5. Brod, H. 1998. “To Be a Man, or Not to be a Man – That Is the Feminist Question,” in Men Doing Feminism. p. 197-212.
6. Hess, A. 2014. Male Allies Are Important, Except When They’re the Worst. Available.
7. Feminist.com. Available.
8. Chesler, A. 2014. What is a Man’s Role in the Feminist Movement? Available.
9. Murphy, M. 2014. Men’s Role In Feminism Is Both Complex And Simple. Available.