Beware the Male Feminist

How allies often undermine the very movement they claim to support

Femme Fatale

Recently, Saturday Night Live produced a skit called “Girl at a Bar” where a woman sitting alone at a bar is repeatedly approached by self-proclaimed feminist men—“not gross guys trying to hit on you or anything”—who make it clear, through their pussyhats and their feminist T-shirts, that they are not one of those “skeazy guys” at a bar. However, after successfully convincing the woman of their feminist credentials, these men use the opportunity make a sexual advance. And when she gently rebuffs their advances, these men become angry, calling her a “bitch” and complaining that “it’s not fair.”

This is the “woke misogynist” that Nona Willis Aronowitz wrote about. This is the self-proclaimed feminist man who proudly attends the Women’s March and reads Judith Butler and casually throws around terms like “gender performativity,” but who also harasses, talks over, belittles, and sexually assaults women.

This is the man who prides himself on his progressive politics, who puts anti-Trump and Support Orlando filters on his Facebook profile pictures, but who then calls Tomi Lahren a “useless bimbo” and “whore” on the Occupy Democrats Facebook page.

This is my male coworker at UN Watch who was a loud feminist and well-versed in complex feminist literature—but who complained that he should be the one giving the speech about women’s rights to the United Nations, not me, because “if a man is giving a speech about gender equality, then more people will pay attention.”

This is the self-proclaimed male feminist who wrote an incredibly popular article in the New York Times about sexual harassment on Wall Street, and who proposed that the way to end gender inequality in the workplace is for “men of status” such as “hedge fund founders” to speak about women with respect—failing to realize that, by designating men as the protectors of women, he is only further reinforcing patriarchal norms.

This is the man who uses his feminist credentials as a shield to defend himself against women’s claims that he harassed or assaulted them—because how could he, a feminist, possibly participate in the oppression of women? After all, he is not like those other men. He voted for Hillary Clinton, attended a workshop on consent, wrote an op-ed about women’s rights—how could he possibly perpetuate systemic violence against women?

What these male feminists fail to realize is that, as men, they will always be oppressors. No matter how many feminist marches they attend or how much feminist literature they read, they are not exempt from perpetuating the subordination of women. Their support of the women’s movement does not erase the fact that they, on an individual level, are capable of harassing, assaulting, or silencing women—nor that, on a structural level, they continue to benefit from a system that establishes male dominance at the expense of women. And even though male allies may genuinely feel guilty, they will continue to benefit from male privilege. The patriarchy does not offer special exceptions for men with good intentions. Men, as a class, are culpable for misogyny, and male allies are no different and no less capable of demeaning women through their words, actions, and complicit silence.

Therefore, when male allies attempt to distance themselves from the culture of male supremacy, they fail to acknowledge the structural privileges at work and how they benefit from the current system. Male allies often undermine the very movement they claim to support because they fail to acknowledge the role that they themselves play in perpetuating female subordination.

This is not to say that men can never be feminists—rather, that feminism should not cater to men. All too often, however, feminism is bastardized in such a way to make it more palatable to men—for example, when Emma Watson called upon the importance of including men in feminism through HeForShe, or when Sophie Trudeau used International Women’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate boys and men.

Feminism does not need men. This simple statement alone will, no doubt, spark cries of misandry and male genocide. After all, in a world that caters exclusively to men, it is revolutionary to claim a space or a movement where men are not considered integral.

On the contrary, feminism is a radical and revolutionary movement that will upheave the status quo and remove men as the monopolizers of power. In general, people don’t like to lose power, especially when they’ve had it for so long. Feminism is not supposed to be palatable to men; it is supposed to be threatening.

As for those men who are not threatened by the idea of losing power, who are genuinely committed to social justice—they understand that allyship is not a badge they can proudly wear and hide behind, but rather a difficult task they must undertake everyday. They understand that allyship entails consciously ceding space to marginalized communities, listening to women’s voices, and willingly giving up the power that they and their ancestors have enjoyed for centuries.

I have faith that some men can, in time, become helpful—never integral—allies to women in their fight for liberation. But until then, beware the male feminist.

Nian Hu ’18 is a government concentrator in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.

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