FAQ: Can men be feminists?

(Updated with extra clarification in the clarifying concepts section)

An older man with a silver moustache and a dapper hat surrounded by placards

A man wearing a “This is what a feminist looks like” shirt at a political rally. Cropped (with permission) from an original image uploaded by Alarming Female (it’s her father).

Many men are entirely comfortable with calling themselves feminists, and many feminist women are very happy to accept them as fellow feminists working for the end of sexist oppression.

However, there are also men and women who are ideologically uncomfortable with men calling themselves feminists, because it seems to be a co-option of movements built by and for women. These groups express a preference for the terms pro-feminist or feminist allies when speaking of men who support and advocate feminism.

The debate over the terms is an undercurrent of controversy rather than an enormously divisive issue in the broad women’s movement.

Related Reading:


Personal perspectives on men taking the “feminist” label:

Clarifying Concepts:

  • Why some women are wary of men self-identifying as “feminist”:

    Lately, there’s been a spate of “male feminists” posting at the BBs where I lurk. At first I saw them and I thought, great! I mean, I like feminists, and I like men, so you’d think I’d love this purported hybrid of the two. And yet, no, not so much, not so much at all.

    As a matter of fact, it’s caused me to realize that most of the men I’ve personally known who have made a huge hairy point of identifying as feminists have been either date rapists, mom fetishists, porn addicts, or bear daddies inflicting their frustrated pseudopaternal tendencies on women. They are some of the most passive-aggressive, patronizing, out-dishing without it-taking twerps on the planet, and they are poisoning the women’s movement from the inside by sapping the hell out of everyone’s goddamn energy.

  • Addendum: it has come to my attention that the second paragraph quoted above is being quoted elsewhere as being authored by this blog’s author(s). Please attribute the quote correctly to its author, Janice Erlbaum, and note clearly that it being used as an example of one particular attitude here, not as any sort of uberfeminist diktat.

About tigtog

writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

27 comments on “FAQ: Can men be feminists?

  1. […] does it have to involve self-interest? I Blame the Patriarchy on this same issue. And here at Feminism 101 with a good round up of some blogs posting on ”but what about the […]

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  4. Updated the links and stuff.

  5. I am a man who identifies as a feminst. Although I was born as a woman, I live my life fully as a man, and know men who proudly support womens rights, and identify as feminists themselves.
    Women should accept the support of men as feminists. If they want equality for everyone, they need inclusiveness for everyone. They can not achieve full rights for women, without the support of men.

  6. Heya,

    I thought I’d mention, the “Clarifying Concept” box here didn’t do much to clarify the concept. It immediately begs the question, “waitaminute, what about men who say they’re feminists and *don’t* suffer from those particular flaws”? There’s an ad hominem attack here which may or may not be appropriate in discussing those particular posters, but certainly does a poor job arguing that the concept of male feminism itself is problematic, which seems to be the matter at hand.

    On the other hand, the list of links looks like it’s got a lot of the details on the subject 🙂

  7. I love it when men I know identify as feminists. Everyone is on a continuum of feminism anyway (in my opinion), some women are not very feminist at all (in their thinking) while others are. None of us have it all figured out.

    I don’t think we should quibble too much about terminology. I know that a man calling himself a feminist is somewhat different to a woman calling herself a feminist, I know that there are some things a man can’t know/understand about being a woman.

  8. … the “Clarifying Concept” box here didn’t do much to clarify the concept. It immediately begs the question, “waitaminute, what about men who say they’re feminists and *don’t* suffer from those particular flaws”? There’s an ad hominem attack here which … certainly does a poor job arguing that the concept of male feminism itself is problematic, which seems to be the matter at hand.

    Point 1: you’re misusing “ad hominem.” Criticizing someone is not an “ad hominem” argument.

    Point 2: the point of the “Clarifying Concept” box is right there at the top: Why some women are wary of men self-identifying as “feminist”

    The point of the article is not whether the concept of male feminism itself is problematic, it is whether it is appropriate for men to call themselves “feminists.” One can safely presume that no one in the feminist movement is against men supporting feminist goals.

    The fact that so many self-identified “male feminists” show by their actions that they are not feminist suggests that the social phenomenon of men calling themselves “feminists” is suspect. It also explains why many men (including me) are reluctant to label themselves “feminist men,” and prefer instead to just hope that their actions speak for themselves.

  9. I do not see an issue with this. If a man wants to identify himself as a feminist, and believes in what being a feminist is, than he should be allowed to. Him not being a woman should not be an issue, he may not have experienced what women go through, but he is trying to be understanding and supportive. If that is the arguemt being made than there should be no such thing as animal rights activists since humans do not experience the same things as animals being sent to the slaughterhouse.
    I am a man who identifies as a feminist, and i have lived a portion of my life as a woman. I believe that in the position of a man, although I no longer experience these things, men being feminists is only a step further for the movement of women being equals.

  10. The problem isn’t that certain men call themselves feminists, it’s that they happen to act like jerks! Sure, it’s infuriating to see annoying insufferable men being jerks — whether they call themselves feminists or not.

    But I say: let’s encourage EVERYBODY to call themselves feminist and let’s also encourage them to ACT in a feminist way! The word and concept needs to be reclaimed from the misogynists! It’s good to “label” yourself a feminist, not bad!

    By coincidence, I came here a few minutes after reading the horrifying, misogynist definitions of “feminism” on the Urban Dictionary page. (in short, all these definitions said that feminism means “man hating” and being hypocritical, with double standards — and all that sort of hateful stereotypes)

    I often think how terrible it is that our culture (dare we still say, patriarchy?) has distorted the meaning of feminism so that even many women refuse to claim the label. And I thought of how important it is that the record be set straight and that the word “feminist” be reclaimed in support of the full freedom of women as full human beings.

    It’s great to see feministing.org which seems to be bringing that spirit into the 21st century and speaking for young feminist women. More power to you, in every sense of the word. [Editor note: it is the opinion of many that the moderation of comments on feministing.org is insufficiently rigorous to make the site a good recommendation for young/new feminists]

    But this particular “Clarifying Concepts” post. is particularly unclarifying. A more thoughtful example would have been more helpful. (I know the author of it has stated she was trying to be funny.) But if the word feminism is so limited by its advocates that it can’t even t be used by men who support women’s rights and struggles, then those mysoginists win.

    If people (men in this case) call themselves feminists but act like hypocrites, call them on their bad behavior or get rid of them, but don’t criticize the label that represents the values you actually agree with! That can become almost a self -hating thing to do that.

  11. kaye and David,

    Your responses seem to be presuming that this issue is a major one for most feminists. It isn’t, but this doesn’t mean that the minority who do feel strongly that men shouldn’t call themselves feminists are therefore ripe for marginalisation.

    It seems to me that any man who is challenged on calling himself a feminist rather than using the term ‘”feminist ally”, and who is not happy to step back to using the term ‘ally’ for that interaction – those are the men who are giving all male feminists a bad name.

    Allies who insist on appropriating the language and rhetoric of the group they are supporting over the objections of that group are not really allies, they’re just riding a bandwagon for their own purposes instead of supporting the group.

    • I’m confused what you’re saying here.

      “It isn’t, but this doesn’t mean that the minority who do feel strongly that men shouldn’t call themselves feminists are therefore ripe for marginalisation.”

      Did you mean “aren’t” ripe for marginalisation? Or do you think that, regardless of the issue is a major one, it is NOT the case that the minority IS marginalized.

      “It seems to me that any man who is challenged on calling himself a feminist rather than using the term ‘”feminist ally”, and who is not happy to step back to using the term ‘ally’ for that interaction – those are the men who are giving all male feminists a bad name. ”

      By “challenged on” to you mean “reluctant to” or “determined to”? You suggest that men should “step back to” the term “ally.” But then you use the term “male feminist”, which seems to imply that you think men should call themselves feminists.

      “Allies who insist on appropriating the language and rhetoric of the group they are supporting over the objections of that group are not really allies, they’re just riding a bandwagon for their own purposes instead of supporting the group.”

      Really? You think that just because a man uses terminology you object to, he doesn’t care about women’s rights?

      I’m not trying to argue, I’m just confused what position you’re advocating.

      • @ John,
        1. No, I said that it doesn’t mean that the minority are ripe for marginalisation. If I’d used “aren’t” that would have been a double negative.

        2. These FAQs are describing common questions and common responses. Describing a common response does not mean that it’s necessarily the one that I would make. I personally don’t mind men calling themselves feminists, but some other women do, and when they challenge it then I believe that the response of a dedicated ally is to step back and not insist on using language that they find objectionable.

        3. I deliberately used the term allies generally because this is a phenomenon which is seen in all sorts of activist movements, not just in feminism. I find it very difficult to believe that somebody really respects women’s/homosexual/transsexual/African/Latina/Aboriginal/workers’/immigrants’ rights when they refuse to listen to those people objecting about the language that they are using – it strikes me as behaviour that at the very least is telling the objectors that their opinions don’t matter, so what’s respectful about that?

  12. Thanks for a quick response, tigtog (not that I expected one). No I do not presume it this issue is major (I personally don’t think it should be) but it happens to be the topic of this page. 🙂 I also don’t think anybody should be “marginalized”! That is exactly what I don’t think. I don’t know if you were around in the ’70s, but I think splintering into little factions and challenging one’s “allies” over their semantic choices is not a good way of winning the more important struggles. Progressive movements have a long history of turning on each other instead of those who really oppose our aims, which is who we should be challenging. (I am not, BTW, criticizing the existence of this discussion, as I assume everyone here has the same overall goals and can handle some friendly disagreement.) But what is really to be gained by “challenging” the word choice of a man who calls himself a feminist? You don’t have to give him an award, but why not just say “Great! Me too. Your turn to cook dinner, right?”

  13. The last comment was for tigtog BTW. I didn’t realize comments don’t nest on this website.

  14. tigtog: Okay that clears things up. Thanks.

  15. This is a question that by no means has any conclusive answer, but I would like to share some of my thoughts on this issue.

    I am a male and sometimes refer to myself as a feminist. It is not something that I am adamant about, mainly because of the issues listed above. If a woman objected to that, I would not refer to myself in that manner when around her.

    The reason I prefer the term feminist is because I want to make it clear that this is about women and nothing else. I don’t like the term pro-feminist for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is generally associated with whole male empowerment movement. I really want nothing to do with this movement because it obscures the real issue at best, and is downright sexist at worst. To truly end patriarchy and allow total equality, men must step down, end of story. It is extremely insensitive, and frankly insulting, to divert energy away from the empowerment of women by focusing on men’s issues. I will not be a part of that. Another reason I dislike the term pro-feminist is because implies a sort of support without actually doing anything about it. Regardless of intentions, males have screwed things up and I believe that I have a responsibility to act. Some may say “it’s not fair”, and I would ask them to look at what’s really not fair: women being harassed, abused, raped, fired, belittled, discriminated against, and all-around treated like dirt.

    I don’t have any use for gender roles, and I don’t think there are too many inherent differences between men and women aside from physiology. Even among chromosomes the line isn’t too clear. It is true that I do not know what it is like to be a woman, but that is because I am privileged rather than oppressed, not because men and women are completely different by nature.

    Again, I would much rather refer to myself differently than cause any problems. I just want to be clear that my involvement has nothing to do with “masculinism” or any of that garbage.

  16. Shit, thinking about this whole issue, I need to step back from some of the stuff I said in that comment. Yes, I do have passionate beliefs about patriarchy and the oppression of women, but feminism is about the empowerment of women specifically. Probably the best thing for us dudes to do is move out of the way and let women figure out how to best help women. I am sure they can to this just fine with out our doodly input, and if they want our help they will ask for it.

  17. “Allies who insist on appropriating the language and rhetoric of the group they are supporting over the objections of that group are not really allies, they’re just riding a bandwagon for their own purposes instead of supporting the group.”

    I have a couple of concers with this statement. The most prominent of which relates to a dichotomy of opinions between the majority of feminists and those feminists who would argue that men shouldn’t take the label. If all (or even a significant majority) feminists felt it was innapropriate for men to call themselves such then your statement would be fair. However, from my observation it appears that the majority of feminists feel that it is beneficial to feminism for men to identify themselves as feminists. A man who calls themselves a feminist subscribes to this view, and in doing so supports the main body of feminists.

    To deny oneself, as a feminist because individuals within the movement are uncomfortable with the idea of men as feminists, seems to me to betray the wishes of the majority – with which one concurs. Worse, you could go as far as to say that it compromises your own feminist values for the sake of seeding your beliefs to the particular feminist you happen to be conversing with.

    As you are quite fond of saying Tigtog, feminists aren’t a hive mind. Certainly men within feminism need to follow the lead of women, but they shouldn’t change which particular feminist views they hold depending upon which feminist they happen to be talking to. If a man believes that he is a feminist and that calling himself such aids the movement, then I don’t think it is reasonable for him to display another opinion just because it is unpopular with the people he happens to be conversing with.

  18. Perhaps it would be illuminating if I share my definition of an allie.

    The way I see it, within every movement there are front line activists and allies. Both groups would generally be considered advocates for their cause and therefore activists generally. The cause of a movement is made up of any number of issues – which may be linked to other issues through complex intersectionality or just come under the umbrella of the cause.

    The difference between an allie and a front line activist (FLA) is that an FLA belongs to the group directly affected by the issue presently being discussed/fought. This definition works for any movement: racism, ableism, feminism, enviromentalism, etc.

    Feminism is a movement. It’s cause described succinctly in the ‘What do Feminists Want?’ thread as: “To end the perpetuation of gender expectations that, on balance, harm women.” The difficulty within feminism generally revolves around not have a seperate term for activists and FLAs, most people refer to both groups as feminists; they refer to the allies as allies.

    The feminists who argue that men should not call themselves such don’t seem to use the term feminist to describe all activists within feminism. Instead they reserve the term for the FLAs. However there are some issues within the cause of feminism* which primarily affect men. There are issues of masculinity that need to be addressed because of the kyriarchial nature of the patriarchy. In these particular situations, under this definition, it is the men who are the feminists and the women who are the allies.

    Thus I think it is fair, when speaking generally, for men to describe themselves as feminists. Other times, it might be more appropriate to, for example, begin a dialouge by saying, ‘As a feminist allie…’ It depends on the context.

    *Note the ‘on balance’ within the definition of the cause.

  19. To Chris Osborn,

    I support the position that women are, necessarily the leaders of feminist and womanist movements, and men ought to ask how to be of service. And that we often do need to get out of the way and that’s one way to be of service.

    That said, there is plenty for us to do, such as call out men who are being racist/sexist/misogynistic jerks in environments where men feel entirely entitled to do so, and in any other male-majority space as well. And in spaces where there are women and the women welcome you to call men out so they don’t have to.

    Too many women are being beaten and raped, are dying of poverty, are enduring racism, for any man, particularly and especially any white man, to take a passivist stance, to back away from action, and to believe there’s nothing to do until a feminist calls me to action.

    There’s always plenty to do. If you want more suggestions, send me a comment with your email address, and I won’t post it but will reply by email.


  20. I am a 24-year-old heterosexual white male.

    I’ve been interested in feminism since approximately August of 2009, when I observed the media coverage of the LA Fitness shooting in Pittsburgh, in which George Sodini’s lack of sufficient sexual gratification was legitimized on national news as the source of his homicidal rage, and the “pickup artist” community (which had briefly entranced me in high school) not only broadly sympathized with his motives, but in some cases excused his actions as well. I learned the word “misogyny” for the first time during this episode.

    I also began speaking to my estranged mother again, against the advice of my father, who has maintained since she divorced him that she has a personality disorder (which is allegedly very prevalent in females) and is “crazy” and possibly “evil.” I have heard little if anything from her to confirm this, to make a long story short.

    For several years before then, I was gradually becoming aware of the prevalence of sexual crimes against women through female friends who confided their experiences in me. I have no need (or right) to go into detail, but suffice to say you can’t guess who they are in any case because it’d be like finding a drop of water in the ocean.

    More recently (within the last week!), I learned – almost by accident and from a feminist blog that I might not have even looked up if not for the previously related experiences – that drunken sex is non-consensual by definition, and therefore constitutes rape. This was NEVER TAUGHT TO ME by any source, official or unofficial, and while it doesn’t directly affect me at the moment (I am a virgin), it’s something I should have known much earlier. Furthermore, the entire popular culture as well as the majority of my peers glamorizes the stereotype of the drunken upstairs hookup at a party. FURTHERMORE, men who go to prison (for any reason, but especially sex crimes) are subjected to rape in many cases, which is ALSO sanctioned by the popular culture and tacitly encouraged by the “justice” system itself. Unless I’m missing something, this is the very definition of rape culture.

    I would never have become interested in what, for men, is such a taboo and stigmatized subject if I didn’t have a very personal reason. My assumptions have been under siege for a long time (by reality, not feminism) and I can no longer maintain them. My views are still evolving and I expect I will probably learn something groundbreaking tomorrow at the rate things are happening in my life, but I am convinced that the status quo must be smashed. I have been lied to, my friends have been hurt, innocent people have been killed, and I spent ten years of my life without a mother because of the way our society treats women. I am F’ing furious and I don’t care what you call me.

  21. Sorry for the late entry into comments, but I stumbled across this when doing an image search for a post abou to make on my blog. http://goodgravey.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/feminism-by-men/

    I have been amazed by the number of men who passionately believe in feminism, and actively work to remove oppression and discrimination in the world. I would like to see more of my fellow men get involved in this.

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