Ten ways to be a better male feminist

Who says I’m always negative? Leaving aside the substantial evidence in the form of blog posts, angry Twitter rants and the rages that overtake me when my football team isn’t winning, I assure you I’m capable of being reasonable, constructive and even – make sure you’re sitting down for this – pleasant.

You may be under the impression that I hate men. This is not the case. Men are fine! (Some men are really fine, if you get what I’m saying, which I’m sure you do, because that had all the subtlety of a large-scale trainwreck.) What makes me mad is misogyny. What makes me madder is the appropriation of the feminist movement by men who either don’t know what they’re doing or are deliberately trying to profit from it.

Let’s say you’re the first kind – well-meaning, but just not that well-educated about what being a feminist entails. You’ve come to the right place! I’m going to stop yelling for long enough to tell you ten things you can do in order to be a better feminist, a better ally and – let’s face it – a better person.

1. Leave your baggage at the door.

I know you have a bunch of preconceptions about what feminism is and what your place in the grand scheme of things might be. That’s perfectly natural – all of us have preconceived notions about the world based on our prior experiences. But I’m gonna need you to drop all of that when you walk into feminist spaces.

Feminism is a movement that is largely based on female lived experiences. If you’re not a woman, you can empathise, but you simply can’t say you know what we’ve been through. And that’s fine! There are plenty of causes I support even though I’m not directly linked to them or affected by them. Nobody’s saying you can’t be a feminist. What we’re saying is that you need to follow our lead on this one, because this movement is about the way power structures affect our lives in ways that you may not even be able to perceive from where you’re standing.

Come in with an open mind and be ready to learn, and you’ll find yourself not only having your eyes opened to a whole new world, but being much more capable of understanding and processing what you’ll see and hear.

2. Be prepared to do a lot of listening.

You probably have a lot of insights that you want to share. You want to tell us why men act the way they do and how you think we can change that behaviour. And there’s room for that in feminism…to an extent. But for the most part, what we need men to do is just to listen.

I want you to think about all the women who are denied a chance to speak by men around the world – women who are barred from obtaining an education, women who are subjected to genital mutilation, women who aren’t allowed to work, women who are survivors of sexual abuse, women of colour, trans and queer women, sex workers. Don’t they deserve a chance to be heard? Wouldn’t you like to be the person to give them that chance?

It seems simple, but it’s so, so important. A huge part of being an ally is being prepared to listen to our stories – and there are a lot of them. A lot. You might want to get out a notepad and start taking notes. There may or may not be a test later.

We have been silenced for so long. Let us speak. Please.

3. Don’t expect an automatic welcome.

You’re a stand-up guy, right? Here you are, ready to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty fighting the good fight. If only more guys were like you!

The thing is – and don’t take this personally – we’ve seen a lot of guys who looked just like you, talked just like you, were just as enthusiastic as you…who proceeded to talk over us, silence us, demean us or use our movement to profit off us. Can you blame us for being a little wary? Can you blame us for being suspicious when men try to enter our spaces, no matter how seemingly good their intentions?

Under the guise of “feminism”, men have sexually harassed and raped women whose trust they’d gained, used their positions of influence to bully and silence women (Hugo Schwyzer, anyone?) and even gotten away with murder. No, you probably won’t do any of those things – but we can’t be sure of that. So be prepared for a little hostility. We’ve had to learn the hard way to be suspicious of strangers bearing gifts. If you work hard and do right by us, we’ll accept you in time.

4. Don’t expect special treatment.

This is something a lot of men struggle with, and with good reason – they’ve come from a position of total privilege, where their ideas and opinions are automatically given weight by virtue of their gender. You might not even realise this, but your maleness gives you huge advantages out there in the big, wide world.

If you want to be a feminist, you have to be prepared to give that up.

It’s hard. I know how hard it is, because there are times when I’ve had to do it myself. Sometimes you’ll find yourself feeling offended or affronted. You’ll find yourself wondering why you even bother if people aren’t going to acknowledge your efforts. That’s your privilege talking, and you need to learn to set all of that aside if you want to do this right.

Welcome to the new world, friend. Enjoy equality!

5. Don’t talk over us.

A lot of men take offence to this, but you need to learn to bite your tongue.

This is our movement. We’re glad that you’re along for the ride, but you have to learn that you don’t get to take centre stage. That space is reserved for women with real lived experiences to share. If you find yourself with the urge to talk over a woman who’s sharing her story, just…don’t. There is no easier way of riling up a feminist than by trying to tell her story for her, or assuming you know it better than she does. I promise you, no matter what the situation is, you don’t. You haven’t lived her life, you haven’t seen what she’s seen or felt what she’s felt, and there is no way that you, a man, can possibly understand 100% of what it’s like to be a woman.

I’m not saying you’re not allowed to speak. I’m saying you have to wait your turn. In feminist spaces, a woman’s lived experience takes precedence over your insights as a man. We’re kind of natural experts in this field, you know? Just let us talk.

6. Don’t stay silent when you see sexism in action.

Your buddies all tell rape jokes. They make you feel awkward, but you don’t say anything because you don’t want to be That Guy – the one who kills the buzz, the one who’s the PC Police all the time. You smile awkwardly when your bestie tells women to make him a sandwich even though you think it’s not really that funny, and you let yourself be drawn into discussions that degrade women even though that’s not your intent.

Yeah, that needs to stop.

If you want to do something concrete – and I’m guessing you do – this is the best place to start. Call out sexism when you see it. Tell your buddies those rape jokes aren’t cool. Roll your eyes at your friend’s sandwich jokes and tell him he’s being an ass. When you witness street harassment, step up and say something. Be the guy who doesn’t let other guys talk shit about women behind their backs. Be the guy who never lets “she was asking for it” stand.

I can’t stress enough how important this is. Your intent means nothing if you don’t back it up. Help us out here, dude. Use your voice for good.

7. Never, ever mansplain to us.

You’re talking to a sex worker who’s sharing her story of what working life is like for her where she lives. You feel like she’s getting some of the details wrong – maybe you’ve understood a certain law differently from her, or you find it hard to believe the police are so unsupportive. You tell her you don’t think that’s the way things are and proceed to explain reality the way you’ve experienced it.

That’s mansplaining, and you shouldn’t be surprised if that sex worker gets more than a little testy when you do it.

I know some of you do this unintentionally, but you need to catch yourself doing it and stop. Mansplaining derails discussions, trivialises the lived experiences of women and is just outright rude. Do you honestly think you know more about the reality of sex work than the girl who was talking to you about it? She lives it. You’ve just seen a documentary on TV. She doesn’t need you to explain to her what her life is really like.

8. Don’t tell us to calm down.

I think I’ve kept my tone fairly light thus far, but most of the time, if I’m talking about social justice, I’m pretty goddamn angry. This is a natural response to being discriminated against for being a woman for my entire life. I know that anger can be very confronting and a little off-putting, but there are reasons for that, those reasons being that a) the reality of existence as a female in our society is pretty confronting, and b) being faced with brutal, unpleasant truths is naturally very off-putting.

You might be tempted to say something about catching more flies with honey. The thing is, we’re not trying to catch flies. We’re trying to change the world, and you don’t change the world with niceness (believe me, even Gandhi was a manipulative old bastard – no activist is ever as serene as they may seem). As my dad was fond of saying: the reasonable man adapts himself to the world, whereas the unreasonable man adapts the world to himself; therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

We’re the unreasonable women, and we’re adapting the world to ourselves, because that’s how you get things done. Telling us to calm down is tone policing, and if you’d like an explanation of why that’s a terrible thing to do, click that link above and prepare to feel like you’ve just been slapped in the face repeatedly by several angry women all at once.

Or you could take my word for it and just let us be mad when we need to be. Trust me, it works better this way.

9. Amplify and empathise.

If you find a great blog post about sex worker rights in India, share it with your friends. If someone you know is sharing their experiences as a trans woman going through the medical system, retweet the hell out of her and encourage people to follow her. If, say, a fiery young Muslim woman you know writes a great blog post that you find really useful, spread it around to everyone else you think might find it useful too. Allies are great amplifiers – they help spread our message so that it reaches audiences it might not have reached otherwise. That’s a valuable thing.

And while you might not understand what we’ve gone through or what it’s like to be us, when we share our experiences, listen empathetically. It means a lot to know that even though you might not know how we feel, you care that we’ve felt pain and it pains you, too. Be there for us. March with us. Listen to us vent. Come along to our seminars and tell all your friends to come too. Be a part of the creation of safe spaces for us because you genuinely care about our safety and well-being. Be the great person I’m sure you’re capable of being. This is what allies do.

10. Don’t give up when it gets hard.

Not if – when. Because it will get hard, I promise. You will be forced to re-evaluate almost everything you’ve ever known about women and feminism. You will learn about experiences that are totally alien to you. You will probably be taken down a peg or two when you mess up. (Don’t worry, we all mess up, and we all eat crow afterwards. It’s fine, the internet has a pretty short memory.) And once you start doing this, you can’t just stop, because even if you want to, you won’t be able to shut your eyes to reality once you’ve had them opened.

This is a war so many of us wish we didn’t have to wage. I can’t tell you how tiring it is to spend day after day after day having to fight for my fundamental human rights. It’s draining and exhausting and, to be quite honest, pretty damn demoralising sometimes. You won’t experience all of that, but you’ll experience enough to make you wonder why you got into this in the first place.

Here’s why: because equality matters. This stuff isn’t some kind of abstract academic debate. This is about the way fifty percent of the world is forced to live because of a system that regards them as second-class citizens. Isn’t that wrong? Isn’t that hateful? Shouldn’t it change?

And wouldn’t you rather be one of the people helping to change it?

Feminism is vital work. It’s hard, it’s messy, and it’s often thankless, but it’s also very, very necessary. It’s necessary for all the reasons I’ve stated and re-stated on this blog dozens of times. It’s necessary because when we don’t do this work, people don’t just suffer – they die because of our inaction. And it’s not just women who are affected – it’s every man ever criticised for choosing to stay at home with his kids, every man who likes crafts more than sports, every man who’s ever cried in public, every man who isn’t arrogant and self-assured enough to bluff his way through life as though he owns everything he sees. You might even be one of those men. If you are, this isn’t just about us, this is about you. This is about a world in which we can all be free to express our genders however we like without facing judgement or discrimination for simply being who we are.

I want to live to see that world. I’m sure you do, too. So welcome aboard, friend. I’m glad you’ve decided to join us. Let’s save the world together.

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.

Male Feminists – a spotter’s guide

Ah, the Male Feminist. Once an elusive creature, this peculiar subspecies of H. sapiens sapiens has begun to proliferate at an alarming rate with the advent of the new atheist movement. Most often seen flashing their plumage (in the form of buzzwords such as “consent is sexy” and “I want to empower women!”) with the aim of attracting the attention of real feminists, the Male Feminist, or H. sapiens mansplainam feeds on a steady diet of female approval, ally cookies and pity fucks. 

As H. sapiens mansplainam is the natural predator of women, particularly trans* women, women of colour and sex workers, it is important to be able to quickly recognise the signs that differentiate him from the true feminists amongst whom he hides, almost cuckoo-like, consuming their resources and shunting aside anyone who threatens his position in the spotlight. H. sapiens mansplainam has evolved several forms of camouflage designed to help him blend in against a backdrop of actual feminists, but the cunning and discerning scholar of natural history may, with careful study, identify him among the morass.

One may identify a wild H sapiens mansplainam as follows (please note that these are only a few of the telltale signs of the beast):

  • He may identify as a “freethinker” or “progressive” who demands that every woman he meets engage with him in debates about trifling issues that often derail larger conversations
  • The distinctive squawk, “MISANDRY! MISANDRY!”, which the Male Feminist uses in order to intimidate women into submission during his bizarre mating ritual
  • The belief that he is owed sexual favours, gratitude or praise for basic acts such as choosing not to rape a drunk woman at a party one time, or saying that a woman could totally be President
  • A peacock-like display of t-shirts bearing the logo of the HRC or other trans*-exclusionary “equal rights” groups, designed to attract prospective partners in a show of ostentatious philanthropy
  • The insistence that feminism should be renamed “humanism” or “equalism” to more accurately reflect the struggles faced by fellow Male Feminists
  • Frequent use of the tone argument when a woman is not charmed by his claims of “ally cred” or the fact that he once read a book by Virginia Woolf and responds with disdain or hostility
  • Use of coercion or insistence that “grey areas” exist which allow the Male Feminist to have sex with any woman he pleases, something he believes is owed to him due to the fact that he claims to be a feminist

These are merely some of the many signs by which one may identify the Male Feminist; however, as they are the most common, they should help the beginning scholar to avoid the most egregious Male Feminist infestations in their communities.

Unlike true feminists, H. sapiens mansplainam is impervious to reason, will ignore any statistics that do not support his worldview and is unable to be swayed from his predatory ways through engaging in rational debate. The Male Feminist will barge into and quickly claim entry of any feminist spaces he finds, and will respond to resistance or hostility with his other mating-call, “radfem! radfem!” It is not yet known whether this word has any meaning to the Male Feminist or whether it is just a random regurgitation of previously heard syllables, similar to the facsimile of speech that can be achieved by some species of parrot. It is inadvisable to engage the Male Feminist, as it is rare that one will be persuaded to discard his predatory, territorial ways and assimilate peacefully and successfully into civilised society.

If one encounters H. sapiens mansplainam in the wild, the following tactics – some defensive, some diversionary – may prove useful:

  • Barring the beast from entry into one’s community, thereby preventing him from terrorizing the residents
  • Providing the Male Feminist with male-authored treatises countering his spurious claims that misandry is a real issue threatening to undermine the feminist movement
  • Pointing and laughing from a safe distance
  • Openly and blatantly rejecting any and all sexual advances in public, which may cause the Male Feminist to reply with Male Tears and cries of, “frigid bitch!” or, “ugly whore!” – a small price to pay for escaping his predatory clutches

It is important to be on one’s guard against H. sapiens mansplainam at all times, as they will often attempt to convince their victims that they are true feminists using a technique known as “mansplaining”, whereby they assume that everything they have to say on any matter is correct because they are men. Beginning scholars are particularly advised to be wary of such an approach, as the Male Feminist can be a very vocal and persistent mansplainer, particularly when accidentally engaged in any kind of debate.

It is this writer’s hope that this introductory guide to the Male Feminist will be useful to spotters beginning their forays into the world of feminism, particularly intersectional feminism. Forewarned is forearmed, and with H. sapiens mansplainam populations increasing drastically in many communities, it is best for anyone seeking to take part in feminist discourse to be prepared against the possibility of a Male Feminist attack.