How to be a feminist man

Recently a man friend asked me if I thought he was being a feminist in his behaviour, and if not, how he could improve. That conversation led to me writing this post. My ideas below are all indebted to conversations with feminists, including those at Feminist Action Cambridge. There are so many more we could add.

A note on gendered language. I use ‘men’ and ‘women’ here to refer to the cultural categories of gender, and not the biological categories of sex. By saying ‘men’ I do not mean biologically-born male people, but people who call themselves men and act as men in the world. This works for my use of the word ‘women’ too, and I explicitly include trans women under the umbrella term ‘women’. If my trans sisters and comrades can help me make this blog post less cis-centric in any way – please do.

Also, this list is pretty specific to the groups of people I know, many of whom are activists and/or academics, single or multipartnered and normally childless people, often queer, sadly mostly white and mostly middle-class. So the list needs extending and diversifying.

I would like to date feminist men. I would like to live with them and work with them and stand by their side in political struggle. I haven’t met that many feminist men, and neither of the men I have had relationships with has described himself as a feminist. They were hot but being feminists would have made them hotter. I also date women and gender-queer people, and I can’t remember ever dating a woman or a gender-queer person who has not been explicitly and actively a feminist before, during and after our relationship. This is, obviously, mind-blowingly hot.

A friend suggested that calling feminist men ‘hot’ was itself a patriarchal statement, because even if feminist men were not hot the moral imperative to be feminist would remain. I think the friend might also have been worried that my using categories of ‘hot’ or ‘not hot’ remains within the bounds of a normative discourse of ‘sexiness’ that feeds straight back into patriarchal practises. I both agree, and still find feminist men hot. They are counter-patriarchally hot.

How to be a feminist man:

1. starting the struggle

- we live in a patriarchy. Patriarchy and capitalism are close friends and it is important to fight both. The first step to being a feminist man is to fight patriarchy in your community and in your own behaviour. Because fighting the patriarchy is a high-energy struggle, this has to be an explicit goal and an ongoing priority.

- fighting capitalism will help here, but it is not enough. Therefore: feminist men should recognise that far left politics do not make them default feminists. Far left politics are a basic condition for hotness – but excluding feminism from these politics leads directly to manarchism. Feminist men avoid manarchism.

- I take it as given that feminist men are outspoken pro-choice activists, that they believe survivors of sexual violence, that they don’t even know any rape jokes let alone tell them. Feminist men are aware of feminist history and believe in the urgency of revolution.

2.  sex and relationships

- the personal is political. If you are not sure what this means, read ANY feminist book or blog and you will know. To be a feminist man, make your relationships a site of political struggle. Do not be an activist on the streets and a patriarch in the emotional world of your relationships.

- be good at consent. Be interested in consent and aware of how it works. I recommend reading this article. Consent is complicated and, as the writer of that article argues, it might only be possible to have more consensual sex, rather than fully consensual sex, under patriarchy. Be aware of this and check consent anyway, as often as you and your partners need and want to. In the words of a legendary Cambridge feminist activist, consent is sexy. Ask your partners how they like to do consent.

- if you have a penis and/or penetrative sex, be open to mutual penetration. This can be a radical feminist stance which asserts the potential for violence in all acts of sexual penetration. It can also be a queer feminist stance, asserting the shared vulnerability and jubilant changeability of all bodies. Both are hot.

3. feminist redistribution and the politics of care

- if you are a non-monogamous feminist man, be aware that patriarchy puts you in a position of power over your partners and metamours. Different kinds of power can come into play here, including economic power; if you are a man who works, you are likely to earn more than your women partners and metamours and so be able to afford different kinds of dates or properties. If this is the case, share your money as well as your bed. There are other power problems, such as the distribution of emotional labour in relationships (see my next point). I’m not sure how we non-monogamous feminists can solve the power problem without full-scale revolution, but being aware of it will help for now. I’ve found feminist men to be amazing metamours. Being a feminist man will make you better at polyamory and other kinds of consensual non-monogamy, and it will be hot.

- for this point I am indebted to of one of the members of FAC who told us that when she is upset she turns to feminist men friends to care for her, because she believes that women have done enough work in this area already. Under patriarchy, the large proportion of emotional work is carried out by women. Feminist men should actively address this. So to be a feminist man, seek out emotional labour tasks. Request them: ask the feminists around you how you can take care of them and support them in their struggles and their lives. Follow their lead enthusiastically. When you have found the emotional labour tasks that need doing, take them on at compensatory levels in relation to their uneven distribution under patriarchy. This is a Marxist-feminist analysis of emotional labour. I find it incredibly hot.

- comrades, this is about redistribution. If you want children, do the childcare. When our loved ones are dying, do the palliative care. Take on these responsibilities and lead on them with the support of your partners and communities. Activists would call this bottom-lining. Feminist men bottom-line care.

- this is also about simple economic redistribution: feminist men demand to be paid at the same level as or less than their women colleagues.

4. doing your feminism and (not) talking about it

- know what mansplaining is and be allergic to it. If you think that you risk mansplaining then privilege women and trans people’s voices and expertise over your own. This is especially important in capitalist workplaces. Also at activist meetings and in theoretical discussions. And feminist potlucks. Mansplaining is the opposite of hot. Ask more questions and listen to the answers.

- as a feminist said to me this week, feminist men should not make a big deal about how you are both a man and a feminist as if other feminists are supposed to be impressed by that. Especially not if you are trying to get a feminist to have sex with you. That is mactivism. Instead, if you are a feminist, do your feminism. If you are an anti-objectification feminist, describe your objection to sexist images and remove them. If you are a queer feminist, campaign beside your trans sisters and comrades in their struggle for recognition and safety in our world. If you are a socialist feminist who feels solidarity with sex workers, do work that supports sex workers and their struggles. Just do it. There’s so much feminism that needs doing.

- be aware of your privilege and of the different positions and backgrounds of others. Feminist men should be ‘intersectional’ feminists, meaning that they support and fight for black, differently-abled, working class and queer feminisms among others. This is selfless feminism for men. It is hot.

Finally,

- found a men’s feminist group. Feminist men understand the need for women’s-only spaces, and they build their own groups where they educate one another in being feminist men, and train themselves up to stand beside their sisters in our struggle. You will be our allies.

Maybe if you do all of these things then other hot feminists, women or men, will want to have sex and conversations and do the revolution with you. Good luck comrades, and fuck the patriarchy.


15 Comments on “How to be a feminist man”

  1. ancelincal says:

    Thank you for writing this article.

    > if you have a penis [...], be open to mutual penetration.

    This is assuming people having a penis are necessarily interested in sex. I think this advice is damaging good consent because it is a pressure for people-with-penis to have sex when they are interested in being feminists.

    Asserting the potential for violence in all acts of sexual penetration is possible without having sex.

    > Maybe if you do all of these things then other hot feminists,
    > women or men, will want to have sex [...] with you.

    The phrasing there encourages mactivism. In general, I find the mix of “how to be a feminist man” and “how to be hot in the eyes of feminist women” confusing and disturbing.

  2. murenne says:

    Thank you for this article.
    I agree with many of the things you say as far as “what can men do” to be “more feminist” (I don’t think men can be feminists, because feminism is for me defined by women’s experience of patriarchal oppression/women’s response to it (this is not a definitive definition). Although I think that most of the times I have seen a man showing a sign of disempowerement, it was after a confrontation with one or several feminist(s) (and real feminist-friendly men recognize that) rather than after an individual decision.
    But I have a problem about hotness. I think I get what you say, but I’ll put it the other way around: being feminist friendly is a necessary but not sufficient condition for hotness. And the problem with that is that it becomes a very good reason for men to be feminist-friendly (either consciously or unconsciously). So I guess I would argue for non-hot profeminism for men, meaning men not only not trying to be hot by being profeminist, but maybe also trying NOT to be hot according to patriarchal standards. But now I realize that it’s maybe what you mean by counter-patriarchal hotness?

  3. “A note on gendered language. I use ‘men’ and ‘women’ here to refer to the cultural categories of gender, and not the biological categories of sex. By saying ‘men’ I do not mean biologically-born male”

    I recognise that this prologue was to try to be trans* inclusive, and I write this comment in this spirit of constructive criticism and hope it doesn’t sound too strident! Many trans* people now reject the “biological” categories of sex, recognising that they too are socially constructed. The best explanation of this that I have found is at (http://tranarchism.com/2010/11/26/not-your-moms-trans-101/). The relevant section is the one headed “Bodies”.

    In future, I’d recommend avoiding differentiating between people’s sex and their gender (in the general case; some people obviously do feel a disconnect in that area). Simply state that you do not practice the cis-sexist exclusion of trans women from women and of trans men from men.

  4. there are some really excellent suggestions here – especially about emotional labour. I would really emphasise taking on the emotional caring of other men who are encouraged by patriarchy to pick out a couple of very specific women to do this for them. Also learn to do boring things – lots of work assigned to women is dull [working class men &/ men of colour will also be familliar with this]

    I realise the ‘hot’ thing is a fun theme but I suggest men wishing to be feminist to think very little about their hotness. I’m starting to think we need some words for the way we feel when people attract and impress us that aren’t necessarily sexual – My lover calls it ‘shine’ as in “I really have a shine for that dyke who was shouting at those fascists”. Maybe a tip for feminist men is to take a time of not having any lovers and to learn to satisfy their own emotional and sexual needs first?

    ___

    ps re: the comment on sex/gender – I don’t think this thinking is over yet… I agree the meaning of sex-body is socially constructed but I think sexed bodies have relevance too – as practical things – and that feminists will need to keep talking about women’s experiences of inhabiting sexed-bodies even when those experience aren’t universal, merely common. Examples might be physical birthing or menopause

  5. It is important to talk about sexed bodies, but it is also important not to equate those sexed bodies with universal male or female experience, existence, or consciousness, and to include trans women’s or trans men’s bodies in EVERY discussion about men or women’s bodies. I emphasise the every, in order to redress the dearth and imbalance that has occurred in the past. This is in the same ways that disabled and people of colour’s concerns should be included in every discussion on birth control and sexual health due to historic abuse of their consent, as should lesbian experiences in female sexual experiences, etc. As said at Tiger Beatdown, my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit! (http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/10/my-feminism-will-be-intersectional-or-it-will-be-bullshit/)

  6. Sam Ambreen says:

    Reblogged this on Left at the Lights and commented:
    Men, take note

  7. By indicating feminist men as “hot” are you not encouraging mactivism yourself? (“Do better feminism and you will see more vaginas”). That said, is it really such a bad thing to be motivated by one’s sex drive? Most non-feminist men (or men who don’t think they’re feminist) I’ve met are motivated by sex, a lot. Call it patriarchy, call it biological imperative, call it freudian compensation, there’s no denying that the id can have far greater effect on our decision-making process than it should. Especially in someone who couldn’t sustain a conversation on Marist-Feminist dialectics.

    Hell, I personally find feminist (read: politically engaged and vocal) women to be more attractive. Mainly because they tend to be intelligent, charismatic and in fuller supply of their body hair.

    Personally, as a feminist man, I don’t actually see any need to politically define as such, as it should be a NORMATIVE FUCKING STANCE; instead of “feminist men” and “non-feminist men” the distinction should be made between “men” and “misogynists/bigots/dickheads”.

    Anyway, top post.

  8. @ Tom Bush – yes feminism should be a normative stance but as we live in a patriarchy feminism isn’t even normative for women. I don’t think being motivated by ‘sex’ [i.e. access to sexual partners] is a good motivator for doing feminist type things – then surely it’s just a stance and undermines consent of lovers who might take you at face-value. If sex is a motivator for feminism then perhaps this means motivated by a desire to be more fully human and less alienated from your body and those of any lovers.

    @ translesbianlogicalmusings – I don’t understand intersectionality to be about a popper bead set of identity mentionings. I don’t find it useful for trans* and cis women to be set up so cis women’s experience of sexism is seen as less valid because trans* experience should be foregrounded – I don’t know if I yet have the words to adequately say this, but I’m trying to express this with nuance. More or less I think there is a specific experience of being a cis woman in relation to being (having?) a female sexed body – I don’t think in a patriarchy that the experience of having the most common types of female body has managed to make this ‘dominant’. I think in this case the hierarchy map went 3D
    ‘Cis’ is perhaps only adequate for describing a woman’s lack of trans* experience in this context but does not account for the alienation of cis women from their own sexed bodies. I think all feminist women* have to go through a deep questioning of gender [constructions] and sex [something with physical paramenters] which involves for many women* talking about having a bodily sex (for want of a better word) because it is the targeted site of sexist oppression.
    I don’t think this is going to be possible if we say sex doesn’t exist – but I do think it is possible to do this in multiple voices in which trans* women are heard and cis women are heard so all women* are heard.

    in sisterhood, anywave

    • I agree that being alienated from one’s body is a problem that many women face, that sex does exist, and that it is important to consider living in a sexed body. However it is important to include trans women in this; their bodies are sexed too, in particular their bodies are female sexed, and they also often feel deep alienation from their own bodies. Sex is a social construction, as is gender, which is not to say that it is unimportant, but that it is not as clear cut and characterisable as many people would believe. There is much that we can learn from one another in this area, many ways we can support each other, but not if we characterise one set of bodies as female and others as not.

      “I don’t find it useful for trans* and cis women to be set up so cis women’s experience of sexism is seen as less valid because trans* experience should be foregrounded.”
      I am not calling for cis women’s experiences of sexism to be seen as less valid, and I don’t see how bringing trans women’s experiences into the foreground does so. I don’t mean focussing on their experiences to the detriment of all cis experiences (the alternate of which is the case at the moment re cis experiences) but that trans experiences should be given as much space as cis ones, even if they are less prevalent, until their historical erasure is compensated for.

  9. @ translesbianlogicalmusings – thanks for your ideas and discussion on sex/ed bodies – I’m thinking we should take it to a different forum as it’s mostly off topic [seeing as women* are not ever needing to be better at being feminist men] I’m on twitter @anywavewilldo

    @ everyone else – hey please say more on this… if men are going to be feminists then they need ideas about how.

  10. [...] fan of the idea that you can teach men to be feminists by following certain rules, as suggested in this article (though I do support *most* of what it calls for). That reeks of categorisation. You don’t [...]

  11. scrozz says:

    I love this article, it’s really well written.

    I also love feminist men and women!

  12. longerythm says:

    I think there is too much silencing without explanation. Men should be able to talk about feminism as they practice it. Of course they should not brag or expect reward for it, but that is the basis of the movement. I hear very little talk about feminism and most people I know still correlate the term with “men haters” and don’t think about the issue. I know many men are not apart of the movement, but are still good people and do not do all these things. So talk should be encouraged or this movement will not spread.

    I think that sexual drive should be admitted as healthy and NOT always associated with manipulation. Men and women should be able to talk about there desires and not connect them with guilt or manipulation. I don’t think you make that distinction very well. Similar with sexual roles. I find them somewhat confining, but they should be on a spectrum. I think many people have boundaries and do not have to be accepting of penetrative sex (including women).

  13. [...] I was trying to find an article today. I read it a few weeks ago and I was planning to dissect it here, for my readers enjoyment. Sadly, I cannot find the article I was originally intending to bring to you gentleman’s attention. However, I did find another article equally or more disturbing. You can find this full, insane post, with comments, HERE. [...]


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