There's a lot going on in the fight for gender equality today. Feminism is on its...fourth wave? Fifth? And intersectional feminism is allowing more diverse experiences of the feminine to be heard, broadening our understanding of what equality really needs to look like.
But what about the male feminist, what does he look like? And is this mythical beast even real, or is he a wolf in a feminist t-shirt?
What is a male feminist?
In theory, a male feminist is a true ally to the cause, an advocate for gender equality, a man awake to the need for the fight.
Yet it's a problematic label for a man to use. There's something itchy there, irritating in the way "lady doctor" is irritating. Why do you have to modify the label?
Distinguishing the gender feels suspicious, like it's negating the actual definition of a feminist, which is someone who believes in gender equality. Why do you feel the need to be a "male" feminist, when your gender doesn't have anything to do with the label?
The problem with the "male" feminist.
Toxic masculinity is all about establishing dominance, male over female, undermining any notion of equality. And the problem with toxic notions, or people, is that they're sneaky. They adapt. They will use your words against you. The "male" feminist label can hide just such a creature. "The Body Is Not An Apology" has an excellent article on the dangers of the male feminist and toxicity.
5 Signs of Toxic Male Feminism
1. He doesn't ask questions.
A man truly interested in being informed about an issue will show it. A toxic male feminist will already assume he knows the answers (and probably better than you do, sweetheart).
2. He doesn't listen.
If you catch any hint of an eye roll while you explain why something is important, or offensive, then the fella is not really on board.
3. He doesn't learn.
A man who wants to know what matters to you will pay attention. He won't exert his own values or try to control you in any way.
4. He doesn't change.
Being a feminist (hey, being a person) is a process, one that involves learning and growth. If you bring something to a man's attention and he doesn't listen to you, if he doesn't make an effort to change, then he doesn't really feel he needs to.
5. He isn't really trying.
The feminist man isn't perfect. Neither are you. But you're trying, right? The male feminist isn't. He's not interested in changing. He'll put in just enough work to pass, to sound and look right, but this is all about appearances and not about belief.
This is what a feminist looks like.
Feminism isn't about girls vs. boys, us against them. We're all in this together. A true ally will recognize the need for me to advocate for gender equality just as loudly as women. A feminist man will let his girls play with trucks, his boys paint their nails, their choice. And he'll let them know that neither choice is "better" than the other.
Famous Feminist Men
An abolitionist and ally to women's rights, Douglass believed women should have a voice in issues concerning them. This was a radical stance to take, in an age when "women's rights" was a phrase more likely to be laughed at than listened to. The Atlantic has a great article on male feminism, and includes this quote from Douglass: "I believe no man...can voice the wrongs and present the demands of women with the skill and effect, with the power and authority of woman herself."
Alda's called himself a feminist for decades, and is very public on his opinion that everyone should use that term, regardless of gender. He also advocates for direct action against, and eliminating, sexism on all fronts. Global Citizen has another great list of feminist men, and quotes Alda: "I think misogyny is like a disease that needs to be cured. And if we could eradicate polio, I don't see why we can't eradicate misogyny."
Ruffalo is a vocal pro-choice advocate, urging others to take action too. He often speaks about this issue. Huffpost.com has yet another inspiring list of men standing up for women's rights and gender equality, and quotes Ruffalo urging others to "...find your voice and let it be known that you stand for abortion rights and the dignity of a woman to be the master of her own life and body."
The fall of the male feminist, and the rise of feminist men
A man who asserts his masculinity before his alliance with femininity isn't the kind of ally feminism needs. The decision to call yourself a feminist isn't about your gender at all. It's about your belief in equality.
There are men in the world who are proud to align themselves with the feminist cause, and recognize that this doesn't conflict with their masculine identity. That man is an ally. That man will not hesitate to call himself a feminist. Period.