How to be a feminist manPosted: 16 March 2012
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.
– 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.