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Men Calling Themselves “Feminist”

I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other night who reads this blog, and she suggested an interesting topic:

Men who identify as feminists, but generally won't call themselves "feminist" to people they meet.

Well, I can imagine a few scenarios, specific men, so let's talk about them and unpack them.  But before I do that, let me add a point: all the reasons that anyone might not want to identify as a feminist also apply to men.  For instance, in our society, "the 'f' word" is a pretty bad word to begin with, no matter who's using it.  So just to head off anyone who might note that I haven't included a number of examples of reasons why people would not identify as feminist, what I've written below is me trying to find reasons why men specifically would not want to identify as feminist.

1.  Dudes Aren't Supposed to be Feminist

Men aren't supposed to be feminists.  In the popular consciousness, men aren't feminists.  Women are feminists.  Gay men might be feminists.  But straight men?  Of course not!  So there's a lot of disincentives for feminist men to identify as feminist to people they've just met, especially men.  A lot of misogynist men will have never met someone who would call themselves a feminist, whatever their gender, and in a lot of social situations, it's not worth the risk of provoking a confrontation.

I think as well, particularly for feminist men who might be new to the movement, and less secure in their identity as a feminist, and less used to the attacks that feminists generally get and feminist men specifically get, it can be very disconcerting for the slurs that can come.  It's not particularly fun to have your sexual orientation questioned, and it's usually not germane to a discussion about feminism.

2.  A lot of "Liberal" and "Progressive" People Aren't Feminist

Shocking, I know.  The issue is, you can be in what you might think would be a safe space for liberal and/or progressive politics.  You're with a bunch of people who have similar thoughts on politics and policies, and you say, "Hey, I'm a feminist."  The room goes quiet.  Feminists are something else, and they're not always welcome in progressive movements.

History is replete with examples such as this.  The abolition movement split over including women.  Progressive/liberal organizations, such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), did not include "women's issues" as a priority when they were formed.

3.  Sometimes Feminists are Suspicious of Feminist Men and Rightly So

I've written about this before, in the context of messing up other feminists' stuff.  Male feminists can sometimes have a tendency to want to focus on their issues and what they think is interesting within the context of a mixed gender feminist group.  That's not always a good thing, because sometimes male feminists, either unknowingly or intentionally (because they aren't feminist) try to subvert the goals of a feminist group.  So a lot of feminists are frequently on guard for this.  No one wants a "nice guy" coming in to their group whose only goal is to score, make some rhetorical point agains the group to feel good about himself, or just coming in to justify to himself his own misogynist views.

4.  They Aren't Feminists

Ultimately, well, they just might not be a feminist.  If you're a feminist and you know a male feminist who will only tell you that he's a feminist, and not anyone else, well, he probably isn't a feminist.  He might be one of the guys I described in section three above.  I think, particularly as a male feminist, and as a male feminist who I like to call a "majority man," (white, cis, hetero, middle class), which are among the harder types of men for feminism to reach, we have a responsibility to self-identify as feminists to act as an example for other men who might be afraid to identify too.  I don't wish to overstate the matter, but being a "secret" feminist is a disservice to a movement that needs more vocal men talking to other men about feminism.