#1: You're Probably Not
If you think you're a male feminist, well, you're probably not. Not yet anyways.
Let me explain.
If you're reading this post, remember, I'm writing from the perspective of a male feminist, writing to the newly awakened feminist.
As you're perhaps discovering feminism, I've found one of the more useful metaphors is that of the recovering alcoholic. Perhaps you've had a epiphany, some moment, large or small, where you observed something of the patriarchy, something misogynist, or some chauvinist twit that just make you think, "Gee, I don't like that, and I don't want to be that."
Well, now that you've seen a glimpse, soon you'll see it everywhere. And like the recovering alcoholic who slowly realizes that their personal life was structured around their disease, you might too begin questioning some of the ways your own life has gone.
You see, the difference between the male feminist and the female feminist is that we have a privilege, a privilege of not being subject to a system that subtly or brutally oppresses women. It's a darn great privilege not to have to worry about that. But for women, well it's staring them in their face, unblinking, from the moment they reach a tender age where they experience some discrimination, or violence, or some other manifestation of the system in which we live (so I'm told).
Most women, regardless of how whether or not they self-identify as feminists are the products of feminism. Even a Sarah Palin or Ann Coulter, rabid anti-feminists both, could not have survived and persisted in the world of their mothers or grandmothers, though they might deny it. We know (and perhaps they do too) that their positions in society aren't the same as their forbearers, and that they are breaking a mold in achieving what they have done.
But we men don't have that experience. Feminism is rarely something that lives with us in our everyday lives from a young age. We don't have many self-identifying male feminist role models, and we don't have the kind of experiences that deeply and profoundly affect us at a young age as women do.
So when a man comes to feminism, even with an "Aha!" moment, it's sometimes a slow progression of realization of the system. Maybe you once made sexist jokes and catch yourself now. Maybe you never really liked some of the activities you once did, or some of the TV, movies, books or culture you once consumed. But as this realization slowly creeps up on you, remember, we're not really feminists, not yet anyways -- we're recovering chauvinists, striving to achieve a feminism we hardly know.
So take that with you, as you begin exploring feminism, and be cognizant of our ignorance, of our privilege, and the chauvinism that intentionally or not, we still possess.
I have to admit, I'm not particularly interested in the debate, which seems to spring up in the feminist blogosphere every now and then again, over whether or not men can be feminists, or if we should take on another title, such as "pro-feminist" or "feminist allies." I prefer "recovering chauvinist" myself, but I suspect it's not really a winner for image politics. Heh.
Should men expect to be treated as full members of (broadly speaking) the feminist community once they proclaim their self-identified feminism? Of course not. Feminists have every right to be wary of men purporting to be feminists and joining their community. I would suspect, though my experience is limited, that a lot of male feminists are just a slightly more mature or clever version of "nice guys," trying to get involved in feminism for purposes quite at odds with actual feminism.
But that is, in some ways, the point of this blog and creating a space like this: here's the place where men can talk about male feminism, about masculinities, about gender and the patriarchy. We don't need to subvert feminist safe spaces to engage in these kinds of discussions when we can create our own safe spaces, right here.
What's important to remember is male feminists aren't some sort of exception to the general rule of a patriarchy. We aren't outside the patriarchy. We're part of it, we participate in it and we contribute to it -- we just do so a bit more knowingly. However flip I might be in using the term recovering chauvinist, it's not an inaccurate description. Like a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, we're never "cured" of our addiction. But moreover, unlike a recovering addict, it's not as easy to become "recovering." If an alcoholic stops drinking, or a drug addict stops using, then they can begin the road to recovery. For men, there's no simple binary of ceasing to do a thing and thereby start recovering. Internalized and externalized sexism is not an easy foe to slay -- there's no "off" button to make it go away.
The sad truth of male feminism is that it never "goes away." No one person can conquer the patriarchy, and I would be very suspicious of any man who would claim to have bested the pressures of society and history and be "recovered."
But as to the point of this post: I can't say I really care for these arguments about whether or not men can call themselves feminist. A chauvinist man can no more call himself a feminist than Sarah Palin can. Feminism to me, means accepting certain principles of politics, culture, relationships, at the broadest society down to your own individual level, in a never-finished attempt to master the sexism that the system put in us. If you can give that a shot, any person can be a feminist.