Phony feminism: Why men cannot be called feminists


Ceely Patramanis

People flood the streets to protest in the 2017 Women’s March in Chicago, Ill.

Muskan Basnet, Copy Editor

The main goal of feminism is to diminish the discrimination that women deal with because of their sex. Not every woman is a feminist, and certainly not every man considers themselves a feminist. But some are. Which seems like a win for feminism, right?

When talking about allyship, it is important to recognize that allies can only do so much. Some knowledge can be learned, but other knowledge comes from experience, experiences that can only be known by marginalized people. 

Recently there have been some discussions about the role that men play in feminism. Can men be feminists? It seems counterproductive to take away that label from them, especially when there are men who are trying to help women. But it is crucial to evaluate what role men truly play and how they do it.

The discussion is founded on the concept that feminism is a lived experience, but what does this mean? The same way that non-Black people are allies to Black people and non-queer people are allies to the LBGTQ community, men are only allies to women. 

Because men cannot live through the experiences that women go through, there are many things they do not understand. Additionally, men are the oppressors in an oppressive system that works against women. The oppressors cannot be one with the oppressed in a system that they have created.

The patriarchal system is embedded in multiple aspects of society, and trying to understand the implications of that oppression as a male who has never gone through that is virtually impossible. This is similar to how intersectionality works; despite possibly identifying with similar identities, without living through that specific oppression, people cannot speak on that struggle or understand it completely.

The disconnect between the male understanding of women’s experiences and the reality of it cannot necessarily be closed, and senior Katie Sieprawski recognizes this. “I think the lack of understanding impacts men more than they think. It can cause men to get an almost tunnel-like view on feminism, and it can be to the point where they simply do not believe feminism exists and therefore don’t understand why or how there are feminists in this world,” she explained.

People also need to be wary of the potential intentions of males who call themselves feminists. Many men claim to be feminists only to avoid criticism and protect themselves. This can completely undermine the feminist movement by creating a safe place for secret oppressors within a movement aimed against them.

Feminism for men should be about allowing women to have a voice, not speaking for them. As someone who does have the privilege in society to speak and be heard, men can use their voices to amplify women’s voices. 

Senior Ani Pradeep believes that a lack of understanding can be detrimental to the feminist movement. “I think this lack of understanding about the struggles a woman goes through results in a lot of assumptions and misunderstandings. Listening is key, and, if that isn’t the case, then the chances of assumptions and discrimination increase significantly,” he explained.

Men do not need to teach women how to be feminists, and sometimes men will assume that role. Giving men the title of feminists can become dangerous for women because it allows men to believe they have the right to speak for women. 

Men who claim to be feminists and reflect some feminist values will be trusted by the women in their life. When these women trust these men, they will begin to let their guard down. If these men are using feminism as a front for malicious intentions, it can harm the women in their life immensely.

Just because men should not have the title of feminist does not mean they cannot support women in their movement. It simply means that they play a different role in the feminist movement. They can use the privilege derived from their sex to amplify women’s voices, educate other males on sexism and call out males on sexist behaviors.

Pradeep acknowledges this privilege. “If people don’t come together and educate these men about how they should correct what they are projecting, it will lead other men to slowly believe this sexist behavior is acceptable. Males must always listen to the female perspective on sexism and be able to share this knowledge with the others so the cycle can break,” he stated.

Sieprawski shares a similar view as Pradeep and feels that there is a fine line between men’s positive and negative actions in the feminist movement. “I think that men can be pro feminist and can help to fight for gender equality, however I also think that men have this power and privilege that women don’t and that can make it difficult for them to fully understand what women experience,” she expressed.

“So while I think they can be helpful to the movement, I think that they could also be harmful in the way they could potentially be advocating for women in ways where they don’t fully understand a certain matter or topic,” Sieprawski continued.

The title of feminist gives men a place at the table when the table should only be for those who have the lived experience of being a woman dealing with sexism. 

The lived experience aspect of feminism is crucial in women’s fight against the patriarchy. Institutions are still designed to give men an advantage, and in such a world it is extremely difficult for men to completely understand what women have gone and continue to go through. 

Men will exhibit sexist behaviors even if they do not intend to through unconscious bias. Despite trying to stay aware of their privilege, men can still be ignorant, and Bisi Alimi of BRIGHT Magazine described his experience with this.

“One such occasion was last year. I visited my local gym to inquire about joining. A young lady showed me around the gym and informed me of the membership options available. She also said she is a personal trainer and invited me to consider working with her,” Alimi explained. “My first, unchecked thought was, ‘What? A female gym instructor in this gym full of macho men?’ I couldn’t imagine myself being coached by a woman in front of them.”

Before Alimi could think twice, he had already exhibited sexist thoughts that came from a place of unconscious bias. Though he considered himself a feminist, he was more worried about what the other male members at the gym would think of him rather than a woman’s ability to do her job and make an income. 

A label might seem like a trivial thing to be worried about, but it represents much more than just being an ally to women. The lived experience of being a woman is something men cannot understand, and without that understanding men lack the right to call themselves feminists. 

Men should not take this as an attack or disclusion. In any movement and fight it is essential that the right voices are being amplified and heard for proper change to take place. We should continue to fight together against the patriarchy, each of us with different roles in the movement.