How To Be A Male Feminist - Joe Stevenson (artwork by Olga Perelman)

How To Be a Male Feminist

A Guide For Men Who Don't Already Know

Dear men,

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 12 months or so, you will have heard all about #MeToo, Time’s Up, and the fall of Harvey Weinstein; in short, you’ll know women in film and TV have been having a shit time.

The reality of the situation, however, is far greater than just what’s happening in the Hollywood hills: misogyny has been making life hell for women for a long, long time – you just might not have noticed.

Or maybe you have, and you disagree with how women are treated in the workplace, or think that catcalling is disgusting behaviour, and hope for more for your sister/mother/cousin/aunt. That’s great, but why are you still reluctant to say you’re a feminist?

The Word on Everybody’s Lips

The reason is probably a common one. Unfortunately, ‘feminism’ has joined the likes of ‘moist’, ‘yolk’ and ‘curd’ on various lists of uncomfortable-to-say words, but that needn’t be the case. Yes, you can be a male feminist and not seek the destruction of your own sex – masculinity and championing women’s rights aren’t mutually exclusive, after all.

What follows is meant as a gentle push towards saying those life-changing words that’ll help you to keep up with the wave of progress, all whilst showing the women in your life that you believe more in equality than in ‘dirty’ words: I am a feminist.

How to be a male feminist:

Realise What Feminism is About

First off, let’s get rid of the elephant in the room – it’s not welcome here. If you think that feminism means some sort of female dominance over men, then I’m sorry to say you’ve been convinced by a smear campaign dating back to the rise of the suffragettes.

In an effort to undermine the march for equality, propaganda cartoons were produced showing ugly women attacking men and seeking the destruction of males. That’s definitely not the case, and said propaganda was harmful to both sides, insinuating that men couldn’t look after the children or the home without his subservient wife. Nobody wins by believing this bullshit.

Let’s cut to the chase: feminism isn’t about attacking men. Yes, there are a minority of internet personalities who are known for saying they want men dead, but they’re not feminists: they’re extremists giving the movement a bad name in order to achieve their own ends.

Hang on, I can hear a question coming from a smug face at the back: “But if feminism is about equality between the sexes, why isn’t it called equalism?” Oh, I’m getting to that. The reason it’s called feminism all comes down to the fact that in society (whether you want to accept it or not), the male voice is dominant and a kind of ‘default’. Hence why it’s the voice of women which must be heard to balance the scales and create equality.

How To Be A Male Feminist - Joe Stevenson (artwork by Olga Perelman)
Artwork: Olga Perelman

Check Your Privilege…

Honestly, that was the hardest bit. You know what feminism means now, and you can start to expand your thinking – which is where privilege comes in.

Privilege is a term you’ve likely heard in various places on the internet, and you’re probably sick of hearing about it too. But believe me when I say it’s absolutely crucial you understand what privilege is if you’re to become a male feminist.

As men, we have a certain advantage in society – that advantage being the very definition of privilege – and recognising how society has given us a leg up will immediately provide some perspective. Here are some instantly recognisable privileges we enjoy:

  1. You walked home last night without worrying
  2. No one’s ever told you swearing in public isn’t very ‘gentleman-like’
  3. Your personal grooming slipped whilst backpacking and nobody cared
  4. Your emotions aren’t invalidated because it’s a certain time of the month

Did any of those sound familiar? Meanwhile, women can feel vulnerable walking home in the dark (they’re even encouraged to take pepper spray and rape alarms, rather than men be told not to do anything wrong), they’re judged for ‘un-ladylike’ behaviour, and people still somehow expect smooth legs when traversing the jungles of Borneo. And as for periods affecting emotions, what’s Donald Trump’s excuse? Exactly.

How To Be A Male Feminist - Joe Stevenson (artwork by Olga Perelman)
Artwork: Olga Perelman

…Then Check Your Behaviour

If you’ve followed the above advice, you’re already making great progress; now to put it all into action: The easiest way to do this is to think back to your childhood and to being told to think before you speak – these are some wise words to live by.

For example, before you make that joke about rape or sending a woman back into the kitchen, consider if it’s really that funny (spoiler alert: it’s not). You can be funny and interesting without selling your female friends down the river. If you’re about to interrupt a woman speaking in a group because you’ve got something to say, think about it first, hold it in, and listen. Trust me, you’ll get your turn to speak.

It’s not just thinking before you speak, either; you need to think before you do as well. Is that hug lingering too long? Did you get consent to touch her in the first place? Is she uncomfortable? Consider the effect of your actions first and you’ll find yourself acting confidently in social situations. And if you’re this far into the article, I’d hope you’re not going to hit me with the whole “oh my god you can’t even touch people now”. You’ve never been allowed to touch people without their consent: now someone’s just laying it out for you, and there are more men now willing to step in when a woman looks uncomfortable (top tip: be one of them instead).

How To Be A Male Feminist - Joe Stevenson (artwork by Olga Perelman)
Artwork: Olga Perelman

Recognise That You’re Not Under Attack

Let’s get to a bit of a sore point which is so important to get across: nobody is attacking you personally. Feminism isn’t about saying “Richard from London, you are a misogynist because you got that accounting job instead of Charlotte” – everybody knows you’re not a monster (unless you are, in which case, you are under attack).

Feminism is about challenging society’s predilections towards men to create a more equal and fair place for us all to live; you suffer under toxic masculinity and gender-skewed stereotypes too.

Ask Questions

I know that this article is far from a comprehensive guide to becoming a male feminist – there’s so much more to learn and understand than I can possibly write about in 1000 words or less. But that doesn’t mean your curiosity should end here.

Go out and ask questions about feminism and intersectionality. Ask your female relatives, talk to your friends; Google things, browse Reddit, or hit up YouTube – there are so many points of views and resources on offer, and all the answers to your questions can be found by asking people and listening (that’s the really important bit).

Don’t worry: I don’t expect you to be able to say you’re a male feminist after reading this one article. What I do hope for, however, is that next time you see something that challenges the idea of equality, a little voice in your head will say “that’s not right” – that’s the first step to becoming part of a progressive future.

Original artwork created by Olga Perelman for YEOJA Mag