Ten things male feminists need to stop saying

Hi there, men who want to be feminists. Take a seat.

I’ve noticed that you’ve adopted a lot of buzzwords. You think these phrases make you seem enlightened. You think you’re proving your feminist cred.

I’m here to tell you that you’re really, really not.

If you’ve said any of these things, you need to stop, and I’m going to tell you why:

1. “I’m really attracted to strong women.”

Wow, thanks for making female empowerment all about what helps you get your rocks off!

This might come as a shock to you, but women didn’t become “strong” so that you’d find them more attractive. The women’s liberation movement isn’t about turning women into a race of sexy fem-bots who will kick ass and take names in latex catsuits for your enjoyment. It’s about allowing women to express themselves however they like without having to worry about the male gaze.

Besides, who says all women have to be “strong” (whatever that even means)? All human beings have moments of vulnerability. Stop putting women up on a pedestal. That’s kinda what got us into this mess in the first place.

2. “Consent is so sexy.”

No, consent is so necessary.

Again, this is not about what you find hot. Consent is not important because it gets you aroused – consent is important because violating a woman’s bodily autonomy by coercing her into having sex with you is a crime and a denial of her humanity. It’s not about sexiness – it’s about treating women like human beings. This would be like me saying, “getting permission before entering someone’s house is so sexy,” except worse, because you’re talking about a woman’s body here, and the only way you can make consent appealing is apparently by turning it into a fetish. Uncool, dude. Uncool.

3. “Real women have curves!”

Which would make all non-curvy women…figments of their own imaginations, I guess?

I am a skinny bitch. At my heaviest, I was a size 2. And I assure you that this does not make me any less real than women who are bigger than me, or differently shaped.

Body acceptance is about promoting all kinds of healthy body types, not about fetishising some and tearing down others in the process. This is no better than saying real women work out incessantly, or real women say no to that second slice of cake, or real women have D-cups. We’re all real, whether you’re attracted to us or not.

4. “Intelligence is way sexier than looks anyway.”

Again – what the hell is it with men thinking that a woman’s characteristics can only have value if a man finds them arousing?

Some women are intelligent. Some women aren’t. Some women are conventionally beautiful. Some women aren’t. Some women are both of these things. Some women are neither. And none of that matters, because a woman’s worth is not defined by whether or not you can find something about her that’ll make her fuckable in your eyes.

If you need to tear some women down to prop others up, you’re not a feminist.

5. “Men experience that kind of oppression too!”

Just. stop. right. now.

Keep saying this to yourself until it’s engraved upon the inside of your brain: THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. Do not walk into a feminist space and start talking about your problems. There are places where you can do that, and those places are known as the entire rest of the world. Literally every other media outlet and soapbox is devoted to men’s problems and things men find important and concerning. Do you really need to bring that into women’s spaces as well?

6. “Personally, I think all women are sexy.”

Personally, I think you’re pretty damn full of yourself if you think all women care what you think of them.

I cannot stress this enough: women do not exist for you to find them attractive. Stop focusing attention on what you find sexy. We don’t care! Either we already have partners or we’re not looking for partners or you’re not our type anyway or we’re not even into dudes and therefore couldn’t give less of a damn whether you think we’re sexy or not. I realise that the world has conditioned you to see everything as a performance played out for the benefit of the male gaze, but if you actually want to be a feminist, you need to drop that right now. You need to drop it yesterday.

7. “Don’t you think more people would listen to you if you weren’t so emotional?”

Here’s some emotion for you: FUCK OFF.

Do you know why women are angry at men? They’re angry because men have systematically perpetuated their depression for centuries. They’re angry because it is men who are predominantly responsible for the rape and murder of women, particularly trans women, sex workers, and women of colour. They’re angry because it is men who control the boardrooms and the bedrooms of the world, because it is men who stop women from being able to access affordable healthcare and education, because it is men who have set up arbitrary standards for ideal womanhood and it is men who punish women who don’t meet those standards.

That anger is valid. That anger is entirely justified. We can and will express it. We have that right. If you’re the kind of guy who says, “well, I was going to be a feminist, but your anger is really off-putting,” you were never an ally anyway – you were just a man looking for a cookie and a pat on the head. And we are alllllll out of cookies, my friend.

And even if you personally have never done any of the things I just mentioned, I really don’t want to hear you say…

8. “But I haven’t done any of those things!”

Congratulations! You’ve managed to behave like a decent human being. Do you want a medal to go with that huge sense of entitlement you seem to have accrued along the way?

I am a privileged person in some ways. As a cisgender woman, I enjoy many privileges that my trans sisters are constantly denied. I have not actively participated in the denial of their rights – in fact, I work as hard as I can to ensure that they can achieve equality – but the fact remains that I’m a member of a privileged group to which they do not belong. When they’re angry at cis people, I know it’s not about me (because, fun fact, not everything is All About Me!). I know their anger is justified. I know they’re not exaggerating their lived experiences. If you want to be a decent ally to women – and if you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you do – you need to shelve that sense of entitlement at the door. The fact that you are not a heinous criminal does not excuse you from being called on your privilege. Learn to sit down, shut up and listen. You might actually learn something.

Speaking of which…

9. “I haven’t witnessed any of what you’re describing.”

Geez, I wonder why. Do you think it might be because…you’re not a woman?

No, you have probably not witnessed street harassment – or you have, but it didn’t register with you the way it registers with the women who are forced to endure it. You may not think you know any rapists (though odds are that you actually do, since statistically speaking, one in sixty American males will commit rape in their lifetimes). You might never have seen a female colleague be passed over for a promotion at work – probably because you weren’t paying attention. Why? Because these aren’t things that affect you.

It’s pretty easy to be blind to the injustices other people face when you never have to face them yourself. That’s kinda how privilege works.

10. “But I just want to help! Why are you picking on me?”

Because if you sincerely want to help, this is all stuff you need to hear.

Did you think this would be easy? Did you think being a feminist was as simple as reading something by Gloria Steinem and not raping women then showing up for your hard-earned participant ribbon? Well, boy howdy, do I have news for you: like every other worthwhile endeavour in life, it’s not that easy. Being a feminist is hard work. It’s even hard work for women! Why do you think you deserve an easy ride?

Being an ally isn’t a title you claim. It’s not who you are – it’s what you do. And if what you do is barge into female spaces and derail conversations so that they’re oriented around the male gaze, if what you do is whine about how you don’t get enough credit for being a decent person, if what you do is baulk when you realise there’s actual work to be done, then you are not doing the work of being an ally. All you are is a hindrance, and one we neither want nor need to put up with.

I’m sorry, fellas, but them’s the breaks. If you want to be a feminist, you need to leave your baggage at the door. You need to go into this with an open mind and a closed mouth and a willingness to be taken down a peg or two at times. This is not your movement – this is our movement, and you will play by our rules or not at all. Don’t be surprised if your self-aggrandising male ally circle-jerks are met with hostility and derision. You’re coming into female spaces, ostensibly to help. So let go of your ego, get rid of your preconceptions and stop making it all about you.

If you want to help, we want you to help us – on our terms, not yours. Take a seat and start taking notes. You have a lot to learn.

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171 thoughts on “Ten things male feminists need to stop saying

  1. I am profoundly relieved that I do none of these things, but I’m sure there are plenty of things that I do wrong without realising so I do hope you will continue writing articles like this.

  2. Okay, this was tons of rubbish thrown in the face of the wrong audience. Clearly your view of a “male feminist” is barely overlapping with the characeristics of a feminist in general. Get this straight: you are not describing feminists at all. Be careful with whose feet you tread on.

    1-7 do not apply to any feminist. No, it applies to the feminist counterpart. 8-10.. you know what, now as I’m re-reading, none of the above statements apply to any feminist, though they may be interpreted as put in decreasing order if stupidity. The first ones may describe a plain asshole, and the latter someone less enlightened.

    Common to all is that they all need directions however. Alas, you are not speaking to them but to someone else.

    • Alf I’ve actually heard men who call themselves feminists use some of these very terms. They mean well, but they still just don’t get it. To truly be a member of ANY group means groking that group’s very essence. Any man who thinks he’s a feminist but still uses any of the above statements is clearly not groking.

  3. hey! just wanna say I love this post. it’s in fantastic dialogue with some of the things in http://www.mediacoop.ca/blog/norasamaran/19018 – in response to the previous poster I just want to say that none of these ideas are directly in opposition. They’re very complimentary – and if I wasn’t clear about that in the first Dating Tips post, I hope I can be clear now. Just writing a quick note on my way to work – will think on this more later – but just wanted to say thanks for this 🙂
    in sol – nora

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  6. As a male feminist myself, I like the idea of the article but disagree on a few points:

    I agree that there is too much sexuality used to judge women, but most of those comments regarding sexuality aren’t wrong per se – it depends on the context a lot. Talking about sex and sexuality really shouldn’t be a taboo when it’s appropriate. What’s not needed is always diverting conversation and making all of your complements of a sexual nature, but there are times and places for comments like that.

    I also simply disagree that male feminists should shut up about whether problems affect them too. While it’s definitely inappropriate sometimes to dismiss problems as affecting other people by talking about the miniscule way that they affect you, it’s important to understand the problem from as many viewpoints as possible. Is this a problem that affects everyone? Is this something that all people experience but is worse for certain races/genders? These are important questions. Again, it’s important to know when it’s appropriate and inappropriate to say these things.

    • Did I say talking about sex and sexuality were taboo when appropriate? I did not. I said that talking about what turns you on when people are trying to discuss feminism is inappropriate.

      Go have a look at my Twitter. I talk about sex and sexuality all the goddamn time. But knowing your moment is kinda important, you know?

  7. Why not just be honest and say you’d prefer men stay out of feminism altogether? If a group tells me my thoughts, experiences, and perspective is not welcome or valid, I must assume that group doesn’t want me there. This type of piece is what makes feminism appear so often as more a bigoted supremacist movement rather than an egalitarian one. Just be honest and say its a female space and “no boys allowed”.

    • Because I absolutely want men in feminism. I want them right in there with women, getting their hands dirty and doing what needs to be done. But speaking from experience as someone who participates in movements that aren’t about my rights, it’s vital that people understand when they need to step back and not be the centre of attention. Men who can’t get that very simple concept really don’t belong in feminism, full stop.

      • It seems like these “feminist” men are just another version of the “nice” guy. They are neither feminist, nor nice. They are frauds masquerading as something else for ulterior motives.

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  9. What i belive is, as bell hooks famously put,Feminism is for everybody, whether or not you need to append an adjective to make it feel like it belongs to you.What matters is your commitment to challenging the notion that a person’s gender should, by law or by rote, be an obstacle to civil and personal liberties. It’s important to have a sense of feminism’s complex history, but it’s also crucial to know—and help others understand—that feminism isn’t something that happened to your mother or grandmother and is now over. It’s living, breathing, and evolving.

    So, how can you talk to your friends, family, and other concerned people about feminism? First of all, remember that many people do have these misconceptions, or have never received any adequate education on the topic. Start with the facts: Feminism is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. Hard to argue with, right? Be patient: Not everyone takes to feminism right away. Some people, like the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd or the always-incendiary Camille Paglia, will insist on referring to “the feminists” as if they are one big indistinguishable lump. Others will insist on modifying their own identification as feminist with a sentence like “But I don’t hate men or anything.” But just keep talking, and encourage others you know to do the same. And in time, you’ll make feminism a normal, everyday part of your life and the lives of those around you.

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  11. “Queer Muslim feminist”… a-ha! I knew you were trolling! That oxymoron is a dead giveaway lol. A feminist would never subscribe to the most toxic and misogynistic religion humankind has ever created (especially not the rigid, frigid, ball stomping variety feminist). Well, the only other explanation is that you hope to one day be the proud owner of 72 sweet, young virgins… but then than would be misogynistic.

    Yeah, trolling it is. You’re definitely trolling.

    • Haven’t stomped any balls recently and would prefer 72 sexually experienced women, if that’s something I get to choose. I’m sorry I don’t fit your narrow idea of what a Muslim can be, except that I’m not sorry at all.

      • I know this is old but the 72 virgins is houri (Islamic mythology) and is most definitely NOT in the Quoran so not to be rude but kiddo this isn’t an actual thing.
        What even? Mr Shaw, you should calm tf down. You have no concept of what Islam actually is and thus should not be speaking about it. I’ve been raised by Christian parent btw in a place where white people are the minority and I believe the God that Jews, Christians and Muslims believe in is one and the same. Each refers to the “God of Abraham” personally I don’t believe but honestly I think it rings true just the same- we are all people of the cloth.
        I am white but I am also African, I am a fourth generation citizen in an African country. I am a minority. You are NOT African if you haven’t lived here for a while or weren’t born here. Just like I’ll never be an American because I was not born there and have not lived there for a time and been considered a citizen.
        So just to America, stop saying shit like “African American” when someone has never been to Africa. Seriously it’s silly

  12. Great points, but I think we need to come up with more original ways of getting them across. I asked my partner to review your article and he says he’s getting tired of the cookie analogy because he’s heard it a billion times. It doesn’t make sense to him and he finds that the cookie and pat on the head analogy is extremely patronizing. I asked him if I should use a different analogy, like say, “You don’t get a sugar cube” but he thinks the whole reward thing in the analogy is condescending.
    I’ve used the cookie analogy with some success here and there with other male allies, but lately I’ve even had some men finish my sentence for me because they know when I’m about to mention the cookie. I think it’s losing it’s effectiveness.
    I do wonder if men can ever really be trusted to be strong allies. Some have learned to say the right things, but, honestly, I don’t trust it, even from my partner. I think it’s better we just tell them what they are and are not allowed to do, and not try to use reasons. Just, “Sit down, shut up, you don’t get to talk.” Because, honestly, whatever is going to come out of their mouths is going to be fucked up some way, just as you pointed out.

    • But that’s the problem: there is never a cookie. Nothing constructive is given, just another “sit down, shut up, you suck” article. I get the frustration that breeds these articles, but it shouldn’t be surprising that they aren’t very effective.

      The reason the message isn’t getting through is only the what not to do half of the message is being put out there.

      Where is the one that tells allies what to do? What would a blue-ribbon male feminist look like? Who are some role models to aspire to be like?

      • I literally wrote a follow-up to this article about how to be a better male feminist. It was republished in the Huffington Post and everything.

        The information is out there, but if you’re expecting someone to spoon-feed it to you, then you’re still the one with the problem.

  13. Thank you. As usual in articles on feminism, the level of mansplaining and self-involvement in so many of the comments only serves to prove you right.

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