The seed for why I am a male feminist was sown after I penned an essay in philosophy & worldviews class on the subject. We were free to tackle any of the philosophical-worldview subjects we had been introduced to that semester, so I chose feminism. I selected feminism because it was a field that I had little prior engagement in; so why not take the opportunity to learn something new? That essay laid the foundation for further exploration and investigation. Taking this new interest outside of the college classroom I was pleasantly surprised by the richness of feminist literature and feminist philosophy. I also learned of feminist theologians of whom shared their insights on topics relevant, specifically the relationship between feminism and theology. The more I engaged the literature, the more I found myself identifying with much of what they were saying, and I shall mention a few of these in this essay.
Nonetheless, before we get to the reasons why I’ve come to identify as a male feminist, I want to clarify one or two important points. Firstly, I believe that men can be feminists, as I argued before. Second, as a male feminist, I do not believe that women are any better than men, or that women are superior to them in any way. Similarly, I also don’t believe that men are better than, or superior to, women. Nor do I believe that men and women are the same. I am also not a male feminist because it is the “in thing” to be nowadays. Nor does being a male feminist necessitate that I ought to agree and adopt the positions and views of all feminists which, I’d think, is impossible because feminists themselves don’t agree across the board on all topics. Rather, I am a male feminist because I am compassionate towards human beings which, unsurprisingly, includes both men and women. I believe that feminism seeks after gender equality, and not female superiority.
More specifically, however, perhaps one of the major reasons I’ve become a male feminist is because of our culture’s perpetual objectification of the female body that sees women as merely the sum of their body parts. Feminist scholars and writers have brought much needed attention to this issue, and have thus published much valuable literature on it (1). Speaking for myself (and from my own experiences), I am quite appalled at the objectification of women that I’ve experienced in fellow male company. The assumption made by other men is that because I am a man myself, within a group of men, I must somehow find entertainment in such humor. As much as one attempts to keep good, respectful company, every now and again he’ll come across men who snidely comment about some female, usually in close proximity, and make perverted jokes about her breasts and her other body parts. Though I’ve encountered that numerous times, objectification can also be more subtle though it is just the same over. I nonetheless feel offended for the woman being objectified simply because she is more than her body parts, a fact missed by the men in the situation. This is not to say that men, or women, shouldn’t appreciate an attractive person, whether that person be attractive physically and/or within. However, when appreciating another’s beauty we ought to exercise respect, and see the other person holistically as a full human being and not merely the sum of his or her body parts. She shouldn’t become a joke shared around a group of men.
Of course, the objectification of the female body is compounded by greed. Businesses, observing how this helps sell their products & services, continue to promote such an advertising model that only continues the cycle of society’s degraded view of women. Sadly, this process has resulted in many women self-objectifying themselves. In order for them to be desirable, and ultimately lovable, they must dress, act, and look a certain way. Men aren’t exempt from this either, as popular culture objectifies them too which has also led to men experiencing body image issues (2), an issue that hasn’t been missed or neglected by feminist scholars either (3). The problem is that the overwhelming majority of women and girls just cannot measure up to this ideal standard that popular culture puts on them. This is not to mention that the depictions of the “ideal” women in these advertisements, commercials, magazines, and media are nearly always digitally altered. Their blemishes have been concealed, the face reshaped, the cellulite removed, and lighting and angles masterfully edited using software. At the end of this editing process not even the person in the photo looks like the person in the photo, and it is no wonder why it is impossible for anybody to reach such a standard of beauty. It is also no surprise then why so many women experience insecurity, self-objectification, depression, eating disorders, and sexual dysfunction as a result of such imagery (4).
I appreciate that feminism thus speaks to the subconscious ideal that popular culture has given men on what a “beautiful” woman ought to look like. Not only can women not meet this standard, but men are fed these images that they too internalize. It is no wonder then why so many men so openly objectify women and see them little more than body parts and objects.
I am a male feminist because it also brings to attention the issues that men face too, especially that of toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity refers to the socially-constructed ideas that the masculine gender role is unemotional, violent, and sexually aggressive. Toxic masculinity isn’t an attack on masculinity, or a personal attack on men, but rather a challenge to the way society and popular culture believes a man ought to be. Being a man I have felt the impact the this can have on one’s wellbeing. Failing to deal with emotions, or admit that it is okay for a man to cry, feel shame, hurt, pain, or any emotion associated with weakness, will only lead to more pain in the long run the longer one suppresses his feelings & emotions. In fact, personally speaking, coming to the place of acceptance in which I accept that I am emotional, and that because I am emotional I experience moments of heartache, embarrassment, shame, and fear, has assisted me a great deal in handling my own circumstances and situations. This masculinity that says “men don’t cry,” (or that “Cowboys don’t cry,” as my grandfather once told me), is not only patently false but also profoundly unhealthy.
Finally, I am a male feminist because women, globally, aren’t equal to men. There are a number of statistics supporting this view, for instance, globally women hold just 24% of leadership roles in businesses meaning leadership power is overwhelmingly placed in male hands (women in leadership roles in North America stands at only 22%) (5). Women also represent less than 20% of the United States Congress (6). Sexual violence against women is also dishearteningly high (7). For instance, in the United States a woman is raped every two minutes. Between 9 and 32% of women claim to be victims of sexual abuse and/or assault during their childhood (8), and some 33% of women in Washington State alone have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime (9). Female genital mutilation is also cited as a big factor for why we need feminism, as well as the plight of many millions of women living in the Middle East and Islamic theocracies.
These, among many others issues, are what millions of human beings are experiencing simply because they were born female. Thus, though positive steps have been made, we are still a far distance from achieving gender equality, and I am thus a male feminist because women still suffer by virtue of simply being women. Moreover, I appreciate feminism because it has challenged me personally. It has helped me to look within myself, and thus observe my own biases and prejudices. Part of being a male feminist is about letting feminism work on oneself as it challenges one’s previously held views; it has also taught me to observe patriarchal society and the advantages that it has given to men over women, and how such a scoiety influences those of whom act and dwell within it.
However, being a male feminist I suspect will not be easy, nor is it something that should be taken lightly. It is no secret that many men dislike feminism. Many men think feminism is about rowdy women looking to emasculate men, and make female superiority the norm as revenge for the oppression that men have rendered to women throughout history. It is not therefore unlikely that for the male feminist pressure will be felt from at least some of his male peers. It is not inconceivable that a male feminist might even be ridiculed or ostracized from a peer group. Other men will even question the male feminist’s motives in that he only adopts it because it will assist him in fulfilling an agenda with women.
Be such forces and pressures as they may, I am a male feminist simply because I believe I am morally obligated to adopt the position. I cannot sit idly by while millions of fellow human beings experience systematic oppression simply because of their gender, and that includes both men and women.
We need feminism.
And we need male feminists.
1. Papadaki, E. 2010. Feminist Perspectives on Objectification. Available.
2. Neimark, J. 1994. The Beefcaking of America. Available.
3. Sommers, C. 1995. Who Stole Feminism? p. 264-265; Friend, T. 1994. Yes: Feminist women who like sex. p. 48–56; Wolf, N. 1994. Fire with fire: the new female power and how to use it. p. 225-228.
4. Rooney, E. The Effects of Sexual Objectification on Women’s Mental Health. Available.
5. Medland, D. 2016. Today’s Gender Reality In Statistics, Or Making Leadership Attractive To Women. Available.
6. Eagleton Institution of Politics. Current Numbers. Available.
7. WCSAP. How often does it happen? Available.
8. Douglas, M. & Finkelhor, D. 2005. Childhood Sexual Abuse Fact Sheet. Available.
9. Harborview Medical Center. 2001. Office of Crimes Victims Advocacy. Available.