The Problem With Some Male Feminists

I would like to share with everyone one of my all-time favorite articles: “On Doing The Emotional Work of Being a Male Feminist.” In this article, Mychal Denzel Smith draws on his experiences as a male feminist. One of his main arguments is that the emotional work that’s involved with being a male feminist is difficult but crucial. He states:

Because after the dust has settled, the reproductive rights have been won, the pay is equal, and there’s equal representation in Congress, the mission is only half complete if sexism still dominates our social spaces. You can say the structural stuff is more important, but it’s the everyday stuff that reinforces the structural stuff that adds up to a clusterfuck of mind-numbing oppression. And so many of us are guilty of allowing ourselves to perpetuate it without ever taking a moment to see the damage we’re doing.

My favorite part of the article, however, is his discussion of what being a male feminist means to him. He states that he deliberately identifies as a feminist to be held accountable–both by himself and others. He explains that this means,

I want you to check me on my shit.

Smith argues that the term “feminism” is “seductive” in that it can make some men feel special or different from/better than other men. Some men even use the term simply to get laid. However, Smith sees the term as something that holds him accountable for his beliefs and actions, and something that challenges him to continue to do more to subvert sexism and the patriarchy, despite his male privilege. He says:

The danger lies in believing that being a male feminist makes you special. The hard work is in understanding that you can still be as fucked up as the next dude, but then having the courage to say “I need to change” and actually going about changing.

I like this article so much simply because I’ve had many experiences with men who identify as feminists or explicitly state that they support women’s causes, are progressive, or know a lot of strong women, but who certainly do not want anyone to check them on their shit. Their verbally established feminist identities or alliances with women’s causes or strong women act as a shield to make them untouchable to any form of gender-related criticism. And I’m not sure what to do about these men. Smith’s article makes me hopeful that some men understand that all men must always continue to work hard, including themselves. Also, it reminds me that women must hold themselves accountable as well, and reminds me to be sure I’m consistently checking my shit.



3 thoughts on “The Problem With Some Male Feminists

  1. Hi Mariah, thanks for bringing this article to the blog. It is refreshing to see male feminism especially a male feminist who is so open to criticism and cooperation. Speaking of male feminism and in relation to our small world, Anna Seward published an interesting piece on the Men’s Project yesterday on AC Voice.
    Not only is the article itself interesting but the comments section contains an interesting dialogue about male feminism on Amherst College campus.

  2. “Smith argues that the term “feminism” is “seductive” in that it can make some men feel special or different from/better than other men.”

    This is an interesting line. I’ve had many debates with my friends (men and women) about the complexities of feminism. Echoing what Prof. Parham said in class: yes, I do subscribe to the basic notion of feminism that women should have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. But I don’t identify as a feminist because I’m not entirely convinced that “equality” should be our goal. Like Prof. Parham said, feminism is important but it seems to be part of a broader issue about human rights in general.

    But to go back to your line. Many of my male friends who label themselves as feminist place themselves on this pedestal and act as if they’re so much better than all the other men on campus simply because they identify themselves as feminist. It’s as if a simple label makes us better people. It doesn’t. Part of the reason I’m also not a feminist is because I think feminism calls for activism. It’s not that I don’t want to be an activist; it’s that I haven’t been one. So to call my self a feminist at this point seems almost hypocritical.

    Thanks for blogging about this issue!

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