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Ask a Raging Feminist: Is the male feminist real or simply a unicorn?

There’s a misconception that feminism is only for women, when in fact it’s a philosophy that benefits everyone. Yet once it comes to men, there has sometimes been some contention over their role in feminism. Can real male feminists exist, or are they simply a mythical creature? We asked a handful of Raging Feminist women to weigh in.

Is the male feminist real or simply a unicorn?

I am highly suspicious of any man who doesn’t call himself a feminist. Listen guys, either you want equal rights for women, or you don’t understand what feminism means. The end.” — Maria Mora

The male feminist is complex. I have written a bit about it before. The way I view it now is that cis men can support feminism, work in solidarity and try their best to use their own privileges to create spaces that are safer for non-men. I think sometimes due to the fact that feminism, although it has been around forever, has now become more mainstream — even arguably trendy — it is a slippery slope with the identity of this unicorn, the ‘feminist male.’ I actually find more men who claim or do align with feminism than not in 2015, and so I think it is more about how they do it. Do they do it by speaking over women? Do they forget their privilege? Do they do it to fit in? Do their actions align with their words? Do they do it to hook up? I think these questions are essential to even starting this discussion. Since feminism has been stigmatized for so long, is it fair that men get to jump in now when it is ‘cool’? Do they deserve extra praise? I don’t think so, but maybe I am wrong. I think men can do a lot for feminism. The first thing I would say is for them to use their spaces and privilege to lift up and bring in voices at the margins. Lastly, to never identify themselves as an ally to a group — let that group identify you. If you’re a rad dude supporting women in the right ways, we will know.” — Nashwa Khan

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I know a couple of male feminists who I think are genuine and not in it for the cookies. These dudes don’t talk about being feminists unless the situation calls for it and they need to leverage that power to make a situation better for women. They don’t take up space, or rather, they try not to, knowing that they will fail (because everyone does), and when they do, they don’t deny that they did something wrong; they take responsibility for it and don’t shirk the responsibility or blame others. Like other people who are trying to be good co-conspirators, they listen more than they talk, but they also understand and practice strategic uses of power.” — Chanel Dubofsky

Men can be feminists, not least of all because I am not the arbitrator of who gets to join Feminist Club. A man who drapes himself with the ‘I am a feminist’ placard needs to know that he must sit down, he must shut up. Women-identifying feminists do not need male voices popping up in their causes, marches, platforms or bake sales, shouting over them and trying to define what is or isn’t oppression, freedom or agency. Male feminists are welcome to share and speak and be a part of our activism and change, but they need to enter the fray with the knowledge that listening and quietly supporting is, in this case, the most powerful tool in fighting for equality.” — Lyndsay Kirkham

Male feminists: I live with one I married and three I helped to grow. But the real yes isn’t about [if] male feminists exist; the real yes is why we all have to believe in the necessity of men as feminists. I have been stunned as a parent by ‘boys like trucks’ or a ‘fear the teen boys’ attitude or ‘I can’t risk a male babysitter for my girls’ line by my (feminist) friends. You have to both raise and nurture expectations and stretch your thinking as a parent to foster feminist men’s development. What’s not a unicorn is the work it takes to make examination of values integral to raising families, in as many ways as you can think of (who does the dishes? Do you ask sons and daughters to do the same or different chores? etc.).” — Sarah Buttenwieser

Without people of all genders and none being feminists, the cause itself is doomed. Feminism is a politics, not an identity. Cookies and head pats are irrelevant. The real reward of feminist thought is clarity, and the real reward of feminist action is the hope of justice being done. To see if a man is a feminist, don’t listen to his words, but watch his actions. If he consistently risks his own social capital and safety in a feminist cause, particularly among men and at his own behest, he is a feminist.” — Margaret Corvid

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I think they can exist, but heterosexual male feminists are a little bit like a unicorn in my experience. A lot of hetero men say they are feminists and love to split the bill on dates and such, but when it really comes down to it, I’ve found that a lot of men don’t really get why I am outraged and incensed at the patriarchy and rape culture and how unequal everything really is for women despite all of our progress and how I see it around us all the time. And ultimately I’ve been told by a lot of men that I am just oversensitive and jealous of pretty women, which is only 25% true.” — Mayim Bialik

Of course. But do men often misuse the label in order to try to dominate women’s activist, journalistic or academic spaces and/or to get laid? Sadly, also often yes. Here’s the thing: The men I know who do the most effective work for gender justice also happen to be the ones who don’t look for cookies because of it — they just do the damn work without ego investment and without trying to score (points, or [adulation], or ass) off of it. They regularly give credit to the women who helped them understand the issues, who laid the ground they walk on and who are more directly affected by gender-based inequities and injustices. They support and amplify women’s voices without being asked to. They don’t take credit for women’s intellectual or practical work. And they don’t screw women over socially either. I wish I could say that for all the men I know who call themselves feminists; I can’t. I’m speaking of a much smaller group of men. Lastly, can I finally say how exhausting it is to support eager young men who want to get involved with feminism, who do have some smarts and talent, only to find that within a year or two (while they’re still wet behind the ears, haven’t done much at all yet, and have SO much more to learn and become) they are lavished with national acclaim and all sorts of major professional opportunities that are still denied to women who are smarter, more dedicated, more effective, more impactful and more intersectional, who have been doing the work for 10 or 20 years longer? So. Freaking. Exhausting. I’ve seen it so many times.” — Jennifer Pozner

Lots of men claim to be male feminists but still demand a lot of difficult emotional labor from their female friends and the women they date. If a man truly wants to be feminist, he should get his emotional house in order so that he doesn’t treat his relationships with women like free therapy.

“Also, you can’t be a male feminist if you’ve said to a sexual partner, ‘I just don’t like condoms.’ No one likes condoms, but you’re wearing one because I said so.” — Ali Barthwell

Male feminists definitely exist, but they can fall into the trap of being super mansplainy about feminism or changing the tone of the discussion in unhelpful ways.

“That said, here’s a tip for men who want to align themselves with feminism: If you want to be a feminist ally, you need to be willing to listen more than you speak.” — Seraphina Ferraro

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