Dear Male Feminist,

Thank you for your interest in gender inequality. We agree that these imbalances are a concern for everyone, not just women. Of course, binary distinctions like ‘male’ and ‘female’ are themselves somewhat archaic: feminism is dynamic and fluid, and its relevance washes across the spectrum of gendered identities. But if Male Feminist is how you want to brand it, by all means, don’t let me stop you.

It is this notion of Male Feminist as a brand that I really want to speak to you about. In short, we’ve got some problems. Before I begin, I wish to clarify one fact with the full conviction we’re both aware of how thoroughly saturated it is with irony: some of my best friends are male feminists. Really, I’m being serious. In fact, I can’t think of one guy I know well that doesn’t intuitively understand that gender privilege is a major player in broader power dynamics, and that they therefore need to keep an eye on the assumptions they make about how their lived experience differs from others.

This is where things begin to get a little tricky. These chaps, unlike you, cringe at the label ‘Male Feminist’. This is not because they are bigots, nor is it because they have any opposition to feminism. In fact, aligned as they with the feminist movement across all its varied and diverse manifestations, they get a little worried that if they adopt the label, they might come across as patronising, as if they are trying to co-opt something that has a long and complex history for their social media brand, or as if it might be interpreted as them actually really not getting magnitude and the seriousness of the whole gender inequality thing at all.

Even Vice MagazineVice Magazine! – has figured out that this is some tricky ideological terrain. Their first piece of advice is sound: read. We all should, and sometimes going back to material even older than what pops up in our news feeds. For example, bell hooks once wrote a book on the subject addressed specifically at men called – you’ll love this – Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics (2000). hooks tells us that we need to  ‘share feminism, to let the movement into everyone’s mind and hearts’, and to her male readers, she issues this invitation:

 Come closer.  See how feminism can touch and change your life and all our lives. Come closer and know firsthand what feminist movement is all about. Come closer and you will see: feminism is for everybody.

Let me be clear: from this perspective, I agree with hooks. I absolutely believe men can be feminists, and I encourage it because feminism is at its core about ending oppression. I can’t speak for all – or, to be correct, any – other women, but I know I certainly would feel a whole lot better if there were more men who felt this way. That would mean ideally that there would be less men in the world who wanted us dead, who wanted to torture us physically and emotionally, and who wanted to harass and stalk us and our children.
These men are not feminists, even if they tell us they are: and sadly, sometimes they do. It is in this way that the Male Feminist brand has now been corrupted, because some who have adopted it consider it a free pass to act out their own passive aggressive (and sometimes just plain aggressive) misogynies. Because of this, the label Male Feminist is for many something that triggers suspicion. As one activist friend who has publicly rejected the term wholesale recently told me, ‘Male Feminists are not feminists, they’re just men who want to fuck feminists’. This is not all women’s experience with the label, but it is the experience of some.

I am not for one moment suggesting that it is impossible for men to adopt the spirit of feminism and to implement it into their own lives. There are a lot of good guys who align themselves with feminism if only to distance them from the chamber of horrors we see unfolding as Team Chauvinist escalates into some pretty terrifying newfound terrain. But just anecdotally, most of the people who I know who fall into this category would hesitate to identify publicly as a Male Feminist, because in this climate the label has backfired time and time again. The Vice article uses the phrase ‘feminist men’ as a possible alternative, but is the solution really just a simple rebranding?

As far as I am concerned, call yourself whatever you damn well please. But do so with the knowledge that things are complicated. Make sure you help, and don’t hinder, and accept the fact that right now the Male Feminists brand is developing a reputation for doing precisely the latter. The politics surrounding the Male Feminist brand may be confusing right now, but the rules for ideologically sound living are as simple as they ever were: play nice with your fists, your cock, your words and your thoughts. It will make things better for all of us.

Come closer,

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a film critic, research academic and the author of seven books on cult, horror, and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics. She has recently co-edited the book ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May for Edinburgh University Press, and her forthcoming book 1000 Women in Horror has been optioned for a documentary series. Alexandra is also a programming consultant for Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, the largest genre film festival in the United States.

More by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas ›

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  1. Good stuff, Alexandra. I agree it’s become very dicey and it’s always been an awkward position, well before the governments and UN started messing us all around – aside from the core fact that I began to look into feminism more deeply after female mates and dates confided in me about rape and sexual abuse (aside from the compulsory feminism from uni days). So I appreciate again the call to come closer. xo

  2. So, its all about ‘branding’ is it?
    …to ‘play nice with your cock, your words and your thoughts’ and then we’ll let you be a ‘Male Feminist’ (maybe we’ll even lets you ‘fuck’ us) – Wow!

    This type of talk about a woman by a man would get you arrested – imagine it … ‘play nice with your c*** and then we’ll let you in’ – Isn’t that what the ‘boys clubs’ in the patriarchy said?

    How is it exactly that feminism can touch and change our lives?

    Do you mean that we can then find a way to enjoy being officially hated and lectured at in our schools and universities, supervised in our football clubs, discriminated against in our job applications, controlled and dominated in our marriages, having our children taken from us in our divorces?

    Wow! – that sure beats being a man. Sorry, ‘male’ – Hell who would want to be just a mere (non male feminist) male? … It would surely be better to be whale because women love whales
    … and it is clear that ‘feminists’ may not love ‘men’

    Is this not female chauvinism?
    or is it still just ‘getting equal’?
    tell me, when will the beatings stop?

  3. Doesn’t it speak volumes that you don’t have anyone arguing for ‘white blacks’ or ‘heterosexual gays’ or ‘upper class workers’ but, of course, you have ‘male feminists’ because men just have to be everywhere like a rash crying victim!

  4. Hell, Anitra, there are ‘white blacks’ everywhere, though they usually identify with where the money is best and there are certainly ‘heterosexual gays’ labelled ‘bi- sexual’. Upper class workers are all over the place especially in the public service – in fact there seems to be a new ‘upper class’ who live in Williamstown, but I’m not sure if they work or not. Yes ‘male feminists’ – what a drag (probably male lesbians too) not sure about the rash crying victim though, more like victims crying poor.

  5. I just wonder to what extent do notions of ‘male’ or ‘female’ even have relevence anymore, and most certainly desirability as explanatory categories, except as signifiers of that which is sought to be swept away by feminism? And the sooner the better I might add in my opinion.
    In how many circumstances is such a binary opposition of any use or value at all except in describing what is undesirable in society and culture?
    Just asking.

  6. What IS going on down in the pubic area of that male statue – whatever it is, the woman’s turned her back and is off, but hey, there’s another shrunken priapus heading her way – is there no escape? I didn’t know statuary was of the thriller genre. I’m subscribing right now!!

    1. The previous comment is reminiscent of Keeper of Orchards by H.D Monroe. Perhaps it’s time for Priapus to fall prostrate (flayed by his own phallus!?). There’s a Greek myth for you..

  7. i get it – a triple whammy – priapus / male feminism falls on its own phallus – and you get all those prizes – pears, hazel nuts, grapes, berries, wine, figs, quinces – i.e. their equivalent contemporary characterological substitutes – simply by SUBSCRIBING!! how easy was / is that …

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