"I love women so much I married one" goes the joke, and I've always considered myself a feminist simply because I think gender equality is a no-brainer. But a conversation with a friend a little while ago made me question that - can men really call themselves feminists?
What do you mean by feminism?
This seems like a good place to start. A simple definition says it is:
The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
A more detailed answer would include specifics like universal suffrage (voting), reproductive rights like access to contraception and abortions, gender equality at work and protection from violence and abuse.
How can I not agree with all these things? So that makes me think that duh, obviously I'm a feminist.
I think you'll find it's more complicated than that
But the more I read up about this, the more contradictory opinions I found. For example this article states:
People of all genders can be feminists if they’re willing to do the work to dismantle patriarchal oppression
I am, by anyone's definition, the very model of the patriarchy: white, male, affluent and heterosexual. I benefit from just about every privilege that society has to offer, but I'm not actively trying to oppress anyone. I think it's criminal that less than 10% of company boardrooms are staffed by women and that even with a female Prime Minister we still only have a 30% female cabinet.
My business is 50% female owned, which sounds great but there are only two of us, so I shouldn't be patting myself too hard on the back. I've never stopped my wife from accessing contraception or subjected her to domestic violence, but surely all men should be able to say the same thing - I don't want a medal. And I don't do my fair share of the housework, but I don't think that's got anything to do with sexism.
Can I call myself a feminist?
I make every effort to treat all women as absolute equals, and I criticise friends who make overtly sexist comments (just as I criticise friends who are racist or homophobic) but it seems that isn't enough.
That same article continues:
It’s not a man’s place to label themselves as a feminist since at its core, feminism is for gaining equality for women. A woman you are close to can assign that label to you, but you have to earn it!
WTF? There's no way we're going to have gender equality if only women can label which men get the special badges.
Luckily some people disagree. areyouafeminist.com gave me this lovely rosette when I completed their online test. Granted, it was a pretty simple test comprising two questions.
But as a part of the patriarchy I do things all the time that aren't feminist like watch movies that don't pass the Bechdel Test, hold doors open for women, or occasionally find myself looking at a particularly fine pair of breasts.
- Do I believe that women are in any way inferior to men? No.
- Do I believe that gender is social construct? Yes, and I realise that it's not binary.
- Do I believe that men and women are fundamentally different? Yes, I can draw you a picture if you like.
But I can't truly know what it's like to be a woman, oppressed by the patriarchy.
Walking the walk
So I started looking for ways to be a more active feminist day-to-day. xojane have a list of 35 practical steps that men can take to support feminism.
Some are straightforward:
- #1 Do 50% or more of the housework (I still don't think this has anything to do with sexism in my case)
- #4 Give women space (as in make it clear you're not following them along a street at night, not outer space)
- #14 Make sure that honesty and respect guide your romantic and sexual relationships with women (weirdly specific, how about in all relationships?)
Others really made me think:
- #19 Pay attention to the sex of experts and key figures presenting information to you in the media
- #20 Ensure that some of your heroes and role models are women (I've added photos of some of my female heroes to this post)
- #30 Inject feminism into your daily conversations with other men (this is going to be a challenge)
And then there's the last one:
#35. Self-identify as a feminist
And so finally: I am a feminist.
Can you name all nine of my female heroes and role models pictured in this post? There's a prize for the first correct answer!
In ten days we're leaving the UK for new adventures in Spain...Read more
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