I am squeamish about “feminism”

Or rather, about men calling themselves feminists (yo, sorry for the click-baiting).

Help me out here. Why am I (a bloke) hesitant about men applying the “f” word to themselves? Am I wrong/irrational? If so, why? If I am right, why?

[UPDATE 9th March – please read the comments if you have time – there are some very very interesting and useful points made.]

First, a working definition of feminism , from the awesome bell hooks

Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago. It was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.”

Bell Hooks, Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics

Pro-feminist man” is fine, I think, because it implies that you are on a journey/in a process rather than having ‘arrived.’

Men adopting the actual “feminist” label makes me nervous perhaps because
a) it claims they’ve arrived

b) claims that they know – on a more than intellectual level – what it is like to be on the receiving end of misogyny and patriarchy (of course, lots of men with less privilege than me – who are queer, people of color, etc – have a good inkling of what systemic and pervasive prejudice and discrimination are like!)
c) it’s surely an act of appropriation? (and presumption!)

This debate, btw, came up in the pub last night, and most folks disagreed with me (i.e. thought that men could legitimately use the label to describe themselves/other progressive men.) I insisted that my wife support my position, but in an unforgiveable lapse, she did not…

Congratulations feminist 2(this handy graphic below from the O’Toole piece)

Some stuff by women that I found after writing the above piece;

“So when men claim feminism as their own either to gain legitimacy in feminist spaces and conversations or as a way to excuse their misogynist behaviour, it makes me wonder whether men might be better off staying away from the title completely.

“I’m a feminist,” when coming from a man, always feels to me like demanding a pat on the head. “I love my mother,” they say, puffing out their chests, as though it excuses their visit to the strip club the previous night.” (from here)

Lately, there’s been a spate of “male feminists” posting at the BBs where I lurk. At first I saw them and I thought, great! I mean, I like feminists, and I like men, so you’d think I’d love this purported hybrid of the two. And yet, no, not so much, not so much at all.

As a matter of fact, it’s caused me to realize that most of the men I’ve personally known who have made a huge hairy point of identifying as feminists have been either date rapists, mom fetishists, porn addicts, or bear daddies inflicting their frustrated pseudopaternal tendencies on women. They are some of the most passive-aggressive, patronizing, out-dishing without it-taking twerps on the planet, and they are poisoning the women’s movement from the inside by sapping the hell out of everyone’s goddamn energy.

[Janice Erlbaum (girlbomb): “Feminist Men”: Oxymorons, or Simply Morons?.]

From here

And Men- if you’re not a feminist, it’s fine, just move on by Emer O’Toole

17 thoughts on “I am squeamish about “feminism”

Add yours

  1. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a man claiming to be a feminist so I don’t know that I have any observations about those kind of people in general.
    Your issue with feminist men stems from the fact that they seem to be claiming that they’ve arrived. That seems to be quite a huge demand of both men and women though. I feel like I’m in a constant process of re-interpreting my life and overturning ideas of gender which I subconsciously maintain. Women can be misogynous too and society teaches many women to hate themselves is some unconscious ways which you can spend more than a lifetime unpicking. Perhaps no one has arrived.
    You also suggest it means they’re claiming to know what it’s like. If you claim that you are a socialist does that mean you have to be on the receiving end of class oppression and inequality/have to know what it’s like beyond an intellectual understanding? What is different about the gender debate? (genuine question: there seems to be something different If feminism is anti-sexist why don’t we have a word or concept for anti racist?)

    1. Hi Hayley,
      thanks for commenting! I felt this followed on from our conversation at the allotment last Sunday. I think the socialism analogy is a very interesting one, and there was (is) the same unease about “middle-class” people pretending to know what it’s like (as Pulp sing in Common People – “everyone hates a tourist who thinks it’s all such a laugh, and that chip stains and grease will come out in the bath”.) Most people suffer because of capitalism, in the same way that most people suffer under patriarchy, but there are most definitely degrees of suffering, and the more powerful you are, the more you can do something about your own suffering (e.g. men can learn to be emotionally-literate etc, without it actually affecting systemic privilege).

      Best wishes


  2. I believe that if one is a feminist, they are well aware we are nowhere near arriving/ There is still a great deal to be achieved.

    It was never about hating or disliking men. All about what men thought what women are about.

    Sadly there are women who side with men. Sometimes I think for their own advantages. Women can be their own worse enemy.

    The discomfort that one might feel about men calling themselves feminist, is the simple fact they do.

  3. Reposted with permission from Facebook –
    Hey Marc, interesting post, but one I disagree with. As a feminist, I wish more men would identify as feminist. I pretty much agree with bell hooks definition of feminism, that it is a movement against sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression. If you are against sexism, sexist exploitation and oppressiont and you actively support the goals associated with women’s liberation, then you are a feminist, whether you are female or male.

    There are plenty of women out there who aren’t feminist and are actively seeking to undermine the struggle for women’s rights and liberation. I am not up with the current raft of pollies in the UK, so I will go old school and say, think Margaret Thatcher. In Australia, think Julie Bishop, Bronwyn Bishop and also Julia Gillard (despite claiming to be a feminist, actually actively introduced a raft of anti-woman legislation). And there are plenty of women who are not politicians, who also actively campaign against the rights of women and women’s liberation.

  4. Also from Facebook, also with permission. (Different person)
    Marc – re: your squeamishness about men adopting the label of ‘feminist’, I guess I share that squeamishness for the reasons you mention. It’s very hard to have ‘arrived’, as you put it, if you cannot know on more than an intellectual level what it is like to be on the receiving end of misogyny. Hence I think your third point – of appropriation – is apt.

    Now this is not to say I claim use of the label just for women – I don’t mind if men use it while demonstrating an assimilation of what it is to be a feminist. And I’m fully open to discussion on the topic. But, yes, I do feel ‘squeamish’ about the adoption of the label by men.

    I’m trying to think of an equivalent for race rights, gay rights, etc. Have white people adopted a term that non-whites use to describe the theories and philosophies behind anti-racism? Have heteresexual people adopted a term that LGBTIQ people use to describe the theories and philosophies behind anti-homophobia, etc?

    All’s I can think of is that we purport to be supportive of equal rights and fair treatment – we haven’t gone around appropriating the labels of other marginalised groups, as far as I can see. Does that mean we should? Or that we shouldn’t? I dunno, as a heterosexual white female it isn’t for me to say.

    NB: I was once told, at a race rights meeting, by the facilitator, that I couldn’t really be an advocate for black rights because I’m white. That kinda jarred with me, but I didn’t argue, as it’s his right, I guess, to express that. But then the whole intersectional privilege business started fucking with my head – yes I was told what I could/couldn’t do by a black person… but he was also a man… enough of being told what I can/can’t do by men!

    It’s a big fat headfuck.

  5. Sexual predators do best in situations where their victims are likely to trust them before hand and not be believed afterwards. It is hard to remember, but there was a time where no one questioned Priests – to question the virtue of the Priest was to question God – it was the ideal occupation for someone wanting to get their hands on little boys or little girls. Pedophiles also became teachers and coaches – any occupation where one would be trusted with other people’s children.

    Now look at the male who adopts a fake feminist persona. Well, if you are a woman, this man seems trustworthy because he is pretending that he opposes “sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” so the woman lets her guard down. She gets raped. She mentions it to a couple of women and they tell her that she must be mistaken because so and so will never do that.

    Despite the stereotype put out by Disney that rapists are scary ugly people who jump out from bushes and IQ and manner-wise are animal than human – predators can be well-mannered and charming. In the past, no one believed that the pseudo-feminist male existed but now the phenomenon is part of feminist literature.

    “I do not like their faux-politics.
    I’ve had enough of that Moxy-schtick.
    I do not like them at a pro-choice rally,
    I do not want to meet them in an alley.
    I do not like their P.C. ham,
    I hate them hate them, Sam I am.”


    “Celebrity, in times of crisis, becomes a crucial part of a façade that masks the deeper problems. Which brings me to a radio program called Q … and a celebrity named Jian Ghomeshi.

    It’s never been much of a secret that popularity and celebrity are potentially dangerous because, along with the illusions of success, they foster artificial hierarchies of power and influence. When egotism and narcissism become factors in success we will invariably find abuse.

    But abuse is often difficult to deal with. Abuse is part of a continuum. At the extreme manifestations of abuse — say, assault or homicide — there’s no debate: sooner or later, there will be accountability. But what about the rest of the abusive continuum? Abuse is never acceptable. But we are all programmed to put up with it, to a point, in the interests of avoiding worse — or in the interests of advancement, or for the sake of economic security. In a workplace rife with insecurity the impulse to tolerate abuse can compel a victim to silently allow it to advance along the continuum into a darker zone where it becomes perilous to mental and emotional well-being and physical security.

    The CBC is not unique in the celebration of celebrity — of fostering celebrity with all the entitlement and power that it bestows — in order to enhance the prestige of the institution and the reflected fame and reputations of the people with the real power, the managers. But when an institution is in trouble — with diminished job security in a workforce that is often young and vulnerable — celebrity, infected as it often is by egotism and narcissism, creates a workplace atmosphere that is toxic for the many people who feel they must put up with it.”


  6. There is power, privilege and domination. I find it easy to accept that I have white privilege because I would not be alive today if I didn’t. While there is a downside for both men and women any time there is gender stratification and assigned gender roles, which may not fit the person, power and privilege does tend to be in male hands. If one is used to dominating or being centre stage, it is often hard to step back. If one is a man at a feminist rally or a white person at an Idle No More or Black Lives Matter rally – called allies – one is expected to show solidarity but let the others speak for the most part.

    Feminism isn’t just one thing – Feminists disagree about a lot of things – prostitution and the hijab being among them – yes, there are Islamophobic Feminists just as there are Islamophobic misogynists and whatever Sarah Palin is. Feminism is about gender equality – though there is a quibble about whether it should be about equal pay for equal work or equal pay for work of equal value. One can be a Feminist and a bloody toff or a working class Feminist.

    To the degree that men can adopt the basic tenants of Feminism “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” – they can accept the label.

    Digital spy stopped working in Canada and missing my Corrie spoiler fix. What should I know about this Jackson creep that got Faye Windass pregnant?


    “In a remarkable 1,600-word Facebook exercise in TMI, Ghomeshi tried to paint himself as a victim of a vindictive “jilted ex-girlfriend,” gave details of his preference for BDSM sex and claimed it was always consensual, attacked his employer for prudishness and cowardice, and said he was launching a $55 million lawsuit for defamation and breach of trust.

    Initially, it seemed to work. His fans sent messages of support — including one, remarkably, from Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who quickly had to backtrack when the other side of the story — involving the physical abuse of women — emerged.

    And that emerged because of Ghomeshi’s decision to go public. The Toronto Star, which had spent months investigating four women’s complaints about his sexual violence, was holding its story in abeyance because, editor Michael Cooke explained, there was no proof. It’s not clear if it would ever have published it. But that changed when Ghomeshi went public with his side of the case.”


  7. Reposted from facebook with permission of author –
    I like it. I expected it to be longer. I like “pro-feminist” and idea of being on a journey. The first comment said most of what I’d been thinking. Glad you mentioned the male pretend feminists, I think there is at least one more variety of those nasty creatures: the blagging, using, think they’re right-on but are just selfish lazy scum. I like that you speak up on feminist issues, this makes you a good pro-feminist ally. Thank you Keep going. I think it is especially useful when men call out other mens sexism, that feels better that a woman having to do it. I’m really sick of seeing “cunt” used as an extreme insult on Facebook. I’d like to see men comment on that. (Note: we haven’t said anything about genderqueer, I don’t really know what to say, so I’m just acknowledging that gender isn’t binary, I totally respect that but I don’t know how to bring it into the debate).

  8. Marc, I have to disagree with you on this. In my opinion, anyone who genuinely believes that men and women should be treated equally has every right to call themselves a feminist. I think it is dangerous to suggest that men can never ‘arrive’, because it implies that men must always be morally inferior to women simply by being born as men, which to me sounds like a sexist sentiment in itself. I don’t think someone has to have suffered the effects of sexism directly to see that it is a bad thing.

    Why should men have to prove that they have ‘arrived’ before adopting the label of feminist, whereas nobody would dare question a women who says she is feminist? You probably know more than I do about feminist theory and pervasive sexism in everyday life. If a man calls himself a feminist and then, through ignorance, carries on some sexist behaviour, then someone should see this as an opportunity to educate him rather than immediately questioning his intentions. Nobody is perfect and tackling any form of discrimination will take time and effort to undo unconscious biases. That shouldn’t preclude people from identifying with the feminist movement.

    If the current system favours men, then it is men who have to become feminists in order to balance the system. If only women can be feminists, then that puts the burden of responsibility for change onto women, suggesting that it is somehow women’s fault that the system favours men…. No, it doesn’t make sense to me.

    1. Hi Helen,

      I totally agree that it isn’t just women’s responsibility to change the current system – it would, as you say, put all the burden of responsibility on them.
      I don’t know many men who self-describe as feminist, and I wouldn’t “call them out” on the label (though dodgy behaviours, as you say, can be tackled). I reckon I will, if pushed, stick to “pro-feminist man”, and hopefully be a better ally to the cause (which of course benefits me!) in the future than I have been at times in the past.

      I have a couple of blog posts brewing about this thorny ally question, as well as a totally amazing video interview that I did with a 1970s vintage feminist. That’s going up soon…

      All best wishes!!


      Coffee sometime?

    2. And another woman agrees with you too – from Facebook – ” i’d say anyone any gender can call themself feminist and it’s for others to judge how far along that branching road they are”

  9. People speak of motives. Then there is the white ribbon campaign, and men who have daughters whom they love …

      1. The White Ribbon campaign started in Mike Layton’s bedroom – though should tell you that he had two bedrooms when he was little – one at his mom’s and one at his dad’s and stepmother Olivia Chow’s.

        Six minutes in

      2. Marc, thanks for the articles – never heard of the Good Men Project. What is missing from the UK thing on the White Ribbon is first that it took place in an engineering school and that Lepine actually made the point of telling all the women to go to one side of the room and all the men to go to the other side of the room and then leave. Secondly, that in Lepine’s suicide note he said specifically that he hated feminists and then went on to list all the ways he figured they ruined his life. One of the men that was told to leave later killed himself because he could not live with the fact he did nothing and I think his parents, who could not face losing their only son died soon after.

        “If he had wanted to target women, he would have gone to a nursing school,’ she said. “He was targeting women who had the audacity to want to do a man’s job.” …

        “A year later, the White Ribbon Campaign was launched calling on men to take responsibility for ending violence against women. It was contested ground because anti-violence feminists feared with reason that male privilege would mean that they would get the funding and the attention. My view was it was about time. The women’s movement could break the silence and create refuge for women but violence would not stop until men stopped it.

        The impact on politicians was also great. An all female Parliamentary sub-committee had the courage to issue a report called “The War on Women.” And after a two year campaign, Parliament accepted an NDP private members bill declaring December 6 a day a commemoration and action against violence against women.”



        Dec 2, 2014

        Mr. Marc Garneau (Westmount—Ville-Marie, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, this Saturday will mark the 25th anniversary of the tragic events at École Polytechnique and this government is not welcome.

        In fact, according to one of the survivors, the government “does not share our values. It ignores the advice of experts, police, and women’s groups fighting domestic violence.”

        The survivors’ group opposes the Conservatives’ Bill C-42 . Can the minister tell us how he will explain this bill to Quebeckers and Canadians?

        Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, CPC): Mr. Speaker, this week we remember the horrific events that took place in Montreal at École Polytechnique 25 years ago, and while we may never understand what occurred, why this happened, why these women were singled out for this horrific act of violence, we have to stand together. We have to work continually to support victims, to hold offenders accountable, and we are creating a safer and more secure country by doing so.

        We are committed to continue in that effort, but it will require tremendous efforts from all sides of the House and from all Canadians.


        Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): Mr. Speaker, earlier in question period, the Minister of Justice said this about December 6, the 25th anniversary of the tragedy of Polytechnique. He said that “…we may never understand what occurred, why this happened, why these women were singled out”.

        We know why this happened. We know why these women were singled out. It is because they were women. That is what Marc Lepine wrote in a manifesto.

        Is there anything that the minister would like to correct in his previous statement?

        Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, CPC): Mr. Speaker, of course they were singled out because they were women. That was exactly the point of expressing misunderstanding among anyone out there who would possibly suggest that women and girls should ever be targeted, should ever be subject to violence. That is the emphasis. We want to bring people together around stopping and putting every effort into avoiding violence, or anything that would ever put women and girls at risk.

        To try to make this a partisan issue on such a day is deeply disappointing from the member.

  10. I consider the aim of the feminist movement to be to achieve gender equality.

    By giving a movement a definition based in negatives; to end x, y and z, puts the movement on the back foot to begin with, providing the general public with a negative feeling about the movement, driving them away from the cause.

    If you agree with achieving gender based equality, regardless of your gender, age or socio-economical background, then I would say you are a feminist.

    Besides, it seems silly to to deny men from a cause that is for gender equality, not only is that hypocritical, but for the movement to succeed male participation is vital.

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