The Problem With Male Feminists


I was once at a party, in college, where upon hearing someone identify themselves as a male feminist, a woman replied “There are no Quislings in the gender wars!”

The moral of this story is that people have a lot of feelings when they are in liberal arts school. And that Quisling is a great term, and one which should really be used more often. But also, that is, perhaps, not quite entirely fair. At least, it’s not fair if you think that men and women are really just people trying to work together, and not actively trying to destroy one another. I like to think of the relationship between men and women as not quite comparable to the one between Mothra and Godzilla.

But, in spite of that, male feminists do tend to rub some women the wrong way. Which seems odd, because they’re obviously trying! They are making an effort to be friendly about women’s issues!

I suppose we’re often initially skeptical of male feminists because, in general, people like causes that benefit them, personally. The ways feminism benefits men are slightly less obvious than than the way it benefits women. Frankly, if I was told that it was perfectly okay to think that members of the opposite sex were only there to have sex with me and bake me meals, I can see why that might be an appealing worldview.

Fortunately, people are capable of sympathizing with people who are unlike themselves, unless they are sociopaths. That is generally how we progress towards a kinder society. Men are certainly allowed to take an interest and care about women’s issues.

Especially because many of those issues – the big issues, like the wage gap, not the nit-picky issues like whether or not Brazilian bikini waxes are awesome – are issues that affect people, not just women. As a man, if you are a two income family, even if you are traditionally minded, it would be beneficial to you if your wife did not make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes (because then your family would be making more money, and, I don’t know, you can buy a new TV to watch tough man shows on. Shows about barbequing exotic animals). Likewise, it’s probably preferable to have a spouse who has the freedom to pursue a career she wants, and is made happy by that, than one whose stifled ambitions mean that she’s sitting around the house popping mother’s little helper. Those are ways feminism is helpful to men, and I think most men probably realize that those are good things. They are good things for people.

Most men probably see that, and if men who do say they support feminist causes, I think that’s great. Yay. Yay benefiting people.

But when I sit down with someone who identifies as a male feminist, I find I cringe a little bit.

Not because I feel that you’re not allowed to take interest in the issues of people different from yourself. I really do believe that the way we, as a society, benefit by that is not getting turned into pillars of salt. Not being able to sympathize with other people is kind of monstrous.

However, I think some women are upset by male feminists because interacting with them makes them want to scream “you can’t tell me anything about being a woman I don’t already know!” Well, maybe, but there are a lot of things going on with women who are not me personally that I am unaware of. Maybe a man interested in their dilemmas does know more about them than I do (if a man had recently returned from working with the Peacekeepers in Sudan, I would have no problem believing that he knew more about the difficulties faced by women in that region than I do).

However, when I interact with some male feminists, I do get the uncomfortable sense that they fetishizing female victimhood.

Only because they keep telling me, endlessly, about ways women are victimized. By society. Not by them. Not by them, at all.

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    • Lex_Discipulus

      You are just as bad when it comes to talking about the opposite sex. A bigger tv? Grilling animals? Wow. stereotype much? You are basically acting like the asshole men who refuse to think women deserve any sort of equality.

      When a guy friend of mine tells me how much it sucks that there is gender gaps and a bit of “oppression” as you claim they are not doing so to be condescending. They are doing so because they usually see that it is something that upsets me or it is relevant to the discussion at hand.

      At no point in my life has some man come up to me and said, out of the blue, “Oh it is so sad to see women not getting equal pay.” In fact it comes up after I bitch about it. And they are responding in a manner that shows the sympathize with my viewpoint and agree with me.

      I am curious. Did this man with the puppy-eyes just bring up this topic out of the blue? Or was it prompted by your discussion?

      Dont you think we have enough people ACTUALLY being sexist to that we dont need to pick fights with people who are supposed to be allies? Christ. Grow up.

      • Ara

        I’m pretty confident that the mentions of big televisions and grilling animals were meant to be ironic. Calm down.

      • Lex_Discipulus

        Except she really didnt make any of this an “ironic” post. She talked about how men are faking an interest in the feminist movement.

        Which is extraordinarily rude. Since she is making broad sweeping generalizations about all men, without even giving anyone the benefit of the doubt.

        Those kinds of sweeping gnerealizations are called steriotypes. And we are supposed to be agaisnt that.

      • Cori

        She wasn’t talking about “all” men, but specific men who act this way.

      • Lex_Discipulus

        Sorry. She did place them in 2 categories: The ones that say they are not feminists And the ones who claim to be, but they really arent. They actually fetishize victimhood.

        “However, when I interact with some male feminists, I do get the uncomfortable sense that they fetishizing female victimhood.”

        Apparently none of them actually MEAN it when they sympathize with women.

        How can you say that? That awful. It is also a horrible false dichotomy. I agree that SOME men MIGHT have that logic, but the vast VAST majority dont think that way.

      • taylor

        Well said

      • Jennifer Wright

        Huh. I think that’s why I said “some” male feminists.

      • Benjamin Ross Hoffman

        The title just says “the problem with male feminists,” and you don’t add “some” to the phrase until the end of the first page. So it’s understandable that some readers were confused.

        I think this is related to the “cookie” thing. No, it oughtn’t be a sign of unusual virtue to treat others decently. But when a man repeatedly hears the generalization that “men do [bad behavior X],” that implies an expectation that he, personally, is likely to do X. So it should be understandable that men who don’t do X would hope for some acknowledgment that they have behaved differently than expected, in a good way.

        That doesn’t mean that a cookie is deserved or that anyone else is obligated to give a cookie, of course. I just think that the desire to get a cookie for decent behavior is quite common in human beings, even if it’s not always a reasonable thing to demand, and it’s not just something that self-proclaimed feminist men want.

      • Cori

        Yeah, but all it would take is reading the article to clear up that confusion. If they’re just reading the title and then taking up issue in the comments, I’m not sure I can continue this sentence without saying something insulting (to them, not you).

      • Zaron

        Reading the article makes no difference.

      • sbdy

        Was there any reason other than it’s generally good to include weasel words for future cop outs? No.

      • Lex_Discipulus

        Sorry. She did place them in 2 categories: The ones that say they are not feminists And the ones who claim to be, but they really arent. They actually fetishize victimhood.

        “However, when I interact with some male feminists, I do get the uncomfortable sense that they fetishizing female victimhood.”

        Apparently none of them actually MEAN it when they sympathize with women.

        How can you say that? That awful. It is also a horrible false dichotomy. I agree that SOME men MIGHT have that logic, but the vast VAST majority dont think that way.

    • jamiepeck

      My boyfriend is a male feminist and he hates Clinton AND Thatcher! That is because he views feminism as part of an overarching radical critique of society, one that has little to do with shorter term goals like careerism. (Although he certainly doesn’t support discrimination in the workplace.) It also addresses our country’s place in the world at large. Therefore, playing a key part in wars of empire (as Clinton does) or dismantling the social safety net (as Thatcher did) necessarily trumps the fact that they are women. I really should just make him write something about this.

      Also, he has never told me how to feel or to stop trying, so that is nice! He wants me to have the awesome career that I want. Even if he wants society to abolish “careers” as we currently understand them in the longterm.

    • Rose D.

      My husband is a feminist. Kinda. He simply believes that woman are better and smarter than men, and when women get into positions of power, it isn’t a “good for her” moment, it is simply the world made right. It is a wonderful thing to live with him.

      • Lo

        That’s as inaccurate and unfeminist as believing that men are better and smarter than women.

    • Lo

      We must have vastly different definitions of feminism. To me, feminist = someone who acknowledges the equal rights of men and women. It’s not being friendly or generous or heroic; it’s just realising that that’s the way it is.

      Lecturing a woman on what it’s like to be a woman is not feminism; it’s being a twit. You’re giving genuine feminists who are men nowhere to go. Don’t insult them for supporting equality; it does neither sex any favours.

      • KW

        To you doesn’t matter to anyone other than you. The reality of the situation is that feminism for the last twenty years has worked to systematically discriminate against boy’s education and ability to engage in sports, feminists have routinely lied and published reports for “dramatic effect” at great cost to boy’s, young men and men(I wonder how many young men where driven into suicide because of feminists professors using the now discredited 1 in 3 statistic to demonize and dehumanize their male students?). Feminist lawyers associated with the NOW are on record for writing books as to coach women in filing fake DV complaints to get a better hand in marriage. Feminists have lied for God knows how long about lesbian DV and the fact that men are victims of DV about as often as women.

        Add in feminists pushing to gut equal protection within the law for men, male access to public services, restraining orders and medical help. Right now feminists are pushing hard to get most funding for male heart disease gutted in favor of heart disease suffered by 70+ year old women(even though heart disease is a major killer of men 30+). Feminists have stood against laws helping men who are victims of Paternity fraud, feminists have stood against any program or initiative to help boy’s(that doesn’t involve in deconstructing masculinity). Feminists go ballistic at the notion of shared parenting. Also feminists fought tooth an nail to defend a “Womans right to rape little boy’s”.

        Feminism is defined by the actions of feminists, through that definition feminism is nothing more then a female supremacist hate movement. Look at what feminists who ‘aren’t like that” glorify: SCUM manifesto, Mary Daly(taught that males should be reduced to 10% of the population and used as slave labor in female only gender studies classes), Andrea Dworkin and other blatantly hateful bigots.

        Let’s look at the feminist favorite Mary Daly, here was a human being that decided to stop teaching and retire then allow a singe male into her “girls only” gender studies class. And feminism is not a hate movement?

      • Atomique Chic

        Wow. What it like on your planet?

      • I Ate A Mexican Sandwich

        Planet Reality? Pretty good, I’ve been there a lot myself. ;)

      • Vicki

        Mary Daly? Andrea Dworkin? Valerie Solanas? I’m in my mid thirties and all of the things you are complaining about happened before I was even born. Unless you punched this post into cards and fed them into a computer connected to the ARPANET this post is absolutely absurd. Where are you people even hearing this stuff? Is it Rush Limbaugh? Did you find a box of your father’s old Playboys and read the articles?

      • sbdy

        Sorry, that’s called egalitarianism.

      • Rodney

        I thought I was a feminist but I guess I’m just another asshole. As you say, no place to go with that.

    • MR

      For me the goal is economic democracy. Gender economic equality is subset of this.

    • kj

      My man makes me guacamole on demand and thinks it’s sexy when I pick up the tab. That’s feminist enough for me.

    • Greg Allan

      “fetishizing female victimhood”

      All feminists do this regardless of their own sex.

      • Fed_Up18

        Because you say so. Thank you for exemplifying the problem.

    • h0tr0d

      The pay gap has been discredited so many times, it’s incredible to still hear about it. I have a wife and a daughter, but i also know that when hours worked, college education, experience the gap disappears. Feminist or not, please educate yourself.

      • Atomique Chic

        Oh gosh, your personal assertion certainly trumps years worth of peer reviewed studies.

      • h0tr0d

        My personal assertion is based on decades of studies. All of them finding the same thing, the pay gap is a myth. Sorry to burst your gravy train.

      • Fed_Up18

        Oh, my yes, I totally believe this. Absolutely (BTW. we know which group uses the term “gravy train.” BUSTED).

      • h0tr0d

        Hopefully you have the ability to educate yourself. I suspect you wont bother.

      • Fed_Up18

        I have educated myself – that’s your problem.

      • RNeil

        It’s true that most of the studies done on earnings gap are flawed, in that most of them use too broad, overarching categories. For example, a study may show that males with med school education tend to earn more than their female counterparts. However, the data is so broad and general that it ignores important details. Such as, many more males become surgeons than females, and as such earn much greater incomes for it. I would be happy to engage with anyone who can provide a recent and clear-cut case of a woman denied equal pay in a situation where she had equal education, experience, and performance history with her male counterpart(s).

    • Peter Majda

      I liked this article – though it did give me pause because I’m a self-identified feminist, and I’m a man…The author does bring up great points in the condescending white male liberal guilt that goes into a lot of what male feminists do (after reading the article, i found some things I was guilty of myself).

      But I do have to say that any social movement like the feminist movement, gay rights, Civil Rights, etc. benefits when those who aren’t intimately affected are involved – the gay rights movement for example is great with its LGBT activists, but we need the support of our straight allies to make any changes.

      I guess I’d like the author to create a follow up that includes what role (if any) do men play in feminism – which, btw, has a positive effect on men, too – and men would greatly benefit if white male patriarchy would be dismantled –
      Still lots of pause for thought reading this article.

      • Rodney

        Good point. It almost leaves with the feeling, well, I guess I have nothing to say or do about this. Just shrug my shoulders because women can apparently take care of themselves.

    • Jay

      I understand the frustration of someone speaking to you in a condescending way about how your own life is, but…
      I think the use of the word “Feminist” itself is problematic and I’m not comfortable identifying as such. I believe that equality for everyone, whether they share my race, gender, nationality, class, sexuality etc etc is important, if I identify as feminist it’s like saying “the struggle for women’s rights is more important than anyone else’s” .
      Also anyone can show that they are against homophobic or racist discrimination by saying the are “Anti ___ist” without being condescending.
      So maybe if women and men a like started saying “I’m anti genderist” (or something a little cathchier!), the same way anyone can say “I’m anti-racist”, men who really feel that women are their equals could use that term. Just a thought!

      • Jay

        Also I get that Thatcher is an example of a woman who was successful despite a sexist society BUT she did this at the expense of people’s livelihoods, by aligning herself with fascists and supporting racism. If anyone sees this as a good feminist roe model it really is like saying “FUCK EVERYONE ELSE! GIRL POWER! WOOOH!!!

      • Cori

        You’re right, it’s tremendously disappointing that she had these other truly terrible points of view. However, if you look at nearly any person who is a role model in some way, they’re bound to have some bad idea about something else. I think that she is aspirational in not letting anyone stop her because of her gender, but not someone who was perfect or always wise. I love my dad, I admire him and want to be like him in many ways. I can be inspired by his kindness, his generosity & his humility without agreeing with his homophobia.

      • Matthew McVeagh

        She didn’t just have truly terrible points of view, she committed truly terrible ACTIONS. She didn’t just ‘have some bad idea about something else’, she had appalling ideas about almost everything. She wasn’t just not ‘perfect or always wise’, she was *extremely* imperfect and perverse in her thinking. She presided over an appalling time in our history and many feminists have said she did not advance the cause of women, if anything she damaged it and was detrimental to the lives of millions of women in this country and indeed others.

      • Fed_Up18

        Your mansplaining fails when you accept the fact that the word ‘feminism” exemplifies the fact that women do have it worse, across the board. A man telling women that we should focus on “all genders” is said man declaring that “things are now equal & all men’s problems are just as bad as women’s problems.” Lotsa irony, here…

    • He Who Calls Bullsh*t

      Simple: Male feminists, at least the hetero ones, are sleazy, failed men who think they may have found a way to get laid. Hence the patronising and ‘puppy dog face’ described. It’s not rocket science to figure out. They are a breed of predator.

    • keymarcus

      Please try to spell “barbecue” correctly. Just because you see it on signs, menus, bottles of sauce and in some dictionaries and websites doesn’t make it correct. Use the standard accepted version, not the French-inspired “barbeque” which would never make phonetic sense in English. Just saying; also, I don’t really care whether or not you think men can or cannot be feminists. You don’t make the rules. Like in AA, you are a member when you say you are.

      • Cori

        That’s not the only word that doesn’t make phonetic sense in English, we speak a “Mutt” language.

    • cm

      MARGARET THATCHER?? Oh god, do people in America not realise what an awful, heartless politician she was? How could you possibly bring up her name as something to aspire to? Also extremely damaging to the image of potential female political leaders in the UK in general, if you want to look at it from that angle.

      • Atomique Chic

        Definitely. Left wing men often claim smugly that she ‘ruined womens’ chances’. I had to ask if that meant Cameron had ruined all ‘men’s chances’. Fortunately they got the irony.

      • Matthew McVeagh

        Nothing follows from your comment. Thatcher didn’t ruin women’s chances because she was a woman in power, so there is no reason why the male equivalent should be true of Cameron. Also you’ve used an ‘all’ in the case of Cameron but the left-wing men you talk about don’t seem to have done so WRT Thatcher.

        Thatcher did not ruin ‘all’ women’s chances, but she certainly had a hugely detrimental effect on the lives of many women, as well as men, thru her policies. She didn’t care about the situation of women. Her fight to be taken seriously in politics by men was a lone fight. She wasn’t opening up the field for other women, she couldn’t give a stuff.

        And as it happens Cameron has ruined many men’s, and women’s, chances, thru his policies as well.

      • Matthew McVeagh

        LOL! I didn’t get your comment at all did I. Sorry. I’ll let my reply stand as a testament to the perils of arguing online when you’re tired rather than trying to cover up my error with editing/a deletion. :)

    • Z

      You know, when we have puppy dog eyes and whatnot it’s because we are trying to show something called sympathy, not condescension. I’m black and I appreciate whenever a white friend tries to look at things from my point of view. I don’t snarl and think, “Oh he has no idea what it’s like to be a minority why would he even try to guess.”
      All this post says to the men who read them is that feminists will not appreciate their support and that we might as well say “Oh, you’re a feminist? Well, have fun with that.”

      • Fed_Up18

        I also think the “puppydog eyes” & the “THEY are all out to get you, but NOT ME!” is actually “male guilt” – just like white guilt! – & that they really are as anxious to reassure women as white people are to reassure minorities. & I always want to give a man the same benefit of the doubt that I would like to get as a well-meaning white person – which includes the right to be corrected if I say something stupid. Seriously. People cannot learn, grow & change anything if they keep all their thoughts & feelings to themselves, especially the wrong ones. We’re all in this together!

    • Atomique Chic

      This is a great article. Just please will people stop pretending Margaret Thatcher is some kind of feminist. She had no interest in helping other women.

      • Matthew McVeagh

        Correct, thanks for saying it.

    • Matthew McVeagh

      I have always taken it that feminism means “a women’s movement: a movement FOR women, BY women”. Not simply ‘anti-sexism’ or ‘opposition to oppression of women’. I have noted that some men call themselves feminists, and thought however well-meaning they are they are making a mistake. ‘Pro-feminist’ is as far as I would go, and that being selective i.e. ‘pro some forms of feminism’, not all. (Which is the stance actual feminists take too, i.e. they are not in favour of all forms of feminism.) I note that some (female) feminists have tried to equate feminism with anti-sexism, and I think this is a delusion and possibly a dangerous one sometimes. Feminism is to be pro-women, whether or not this is in the mode of opposing sexism against women. The word itself contains the Latin root for ‘women’, not ‘equality’.

      I will never know what it’s like to be a woman, and will undoubtedly never truly appreciate either the negatives or positives of womanhood. My view is only from the outside. There was a time when I had considerable gender dysphoria: I had feelings of wanting to be a woman and sought to go down the transsexual route, but these drifted away over years and I became more masculine. I still don’t identify with being male and inside I feel sexless but I have come to accept being considered male. I do get irritated tho at how much most other people, of either sex, identify their individuality with their sex. This includes a lot of feminists, inevitably, as well as ‘men’s rights activists’ or masculists or whatever they want to be called. I see the essence of people as being beyond gender and the sex/gender people identify with as a circumstance, rather than a defining quality.

      Anyway I’m sure the author has a point somewhere with her experience of the puppy-dog-eyed condescending fetishising ‘male feminists’… I think I have observed this behaviour and way of speaking at times, and in connection with other causes than women’s as well… nevertheless the article takes a long time to say little and complain about a comparatively small problem. And I note the hugely varied responses from men and women in the comments. Even taking into account the use of ‘some’ male feminists, as opposed to all, I wonder what proportion of the ‘male feminist’ population these faults can really be attributed to. Added to which, as others have said, the fetishising is done by an awful lot of female feminists too, and the article does not give any clue as to how to be a male ally and sympathiser without fault.

      As for Thatcher… well I have already posted enough on that. A historical proof that belonging to a disadvantaged group and getting into power is no guarantee of any improvement in the fortunes of the disadvantaged group.

    • Anon

      You forgot a very relevant point.

      These ‘male feminists’ want in your pants as much as the ‘male a-holes.’ But at least the second group has the will to state their intent rather than beg for it by pretending to be feminist to please a woman to gain brownie points and ‘deserve’ sex.