As more and more women embrace feminism, one question has come to the forefront: can men be feminists? And the answer is that they absolutely can. People employ all kinds of arguments to suggest that they cannot, but every one of these has problems — and in fact, trying to argue that men can't be feminists makes no sense whatsoever.
Feminism, according to Dictionary.com, is "the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men." Similarly, Merriam-Webster considers feminism "the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities." In practice, feminism also includes the advocacy of equal rights based on race, class, sexuality, and every other part of your identity. This intersectionality is important because so much more than gender plays into oppression. You can obviously hold these ideologies regardless of your gender, cultural background, or pretty much anything else.
A number of male public figures openly identify with feminism, including actor Matt McGory, singer John Legend, and President Obama himself. They recognize that gender roles hurt everyone, and combatting them creates a freer world for us all. They simultaneously recognize that men have a different role in feminism than women or non-binary people because gender is a system that affords them privilege, and feminism means giving up some of that privilege in order to lift up less privileged people. But that doesn't mean feminism doesn't help them.
Here are some of the most common arguments against the idea that men can be feminists — and the best counterarguments against each.
1. "Men Don't Benefit From Feminism"
Since patriarchy does give men privilege, one argument goes, men don't really want to be feminists. But patriarchy does a lot of awful things to men, like prohibit them from expressing emotions and dictate that they all be straight, cisgender, and traditionally masculine. Plus, there's such a thing as empathizing. Even if men don't experience the worst of gender-based oppression, they can still be angry about what women experience and want to combat it.
2. "Feminism Doesn't Welcome Men"
Why would men want to be feminists, some people believe, when feminism is anti-male? Well, feminist isn't anti-male at all. Feminism is against patriarchy — a system that puts straight, cisgender, white males above everyone else — not against men. And it's against some of the ways men are socialized, not any innate traits they possess. Contrary to popular belief, feminists actually reject stereotypes about men being innately aggressive or unfeeling. The feminist community is a place where men can be free to be themselves.
3. "Feminism Isn't For Men, So They Should Take The Back Seat"
One of the less hostile arguments against men being feminists is that, since women, trans people, and non-binary people are the people who experience the most gender-based oppression, they should be in charge of feminism. But while these groups should be in charge, that doesn't mean men (cisgender or not) can't play a supporting role. Men's role in feminism is listening to what marginalized groups want and educating other men. The only issue is when they try to argue with women or gender minorities about the best way to practice feminism or tell them how to run their movement. That doesn't mean they can't be part of this movement, though.
4. "Male Feminists Are Hurting The Movement"
Some argue that male feminists have ulterior motives, like scoring dates with feminist women or gaining fame for themselves. And men who use feminism to their advantage definitely exist. While women and LGBTQ people are often criticized for being feminists, men often get showered with praise for being feminists and gain the status of spokespeople. That's why it's so important for them to take the back seat.
But male feminists also do the movement a lot of good. When men see that supporting gender equality doesn't make you less "manly," they're more inclined to do it. And given that there's still so much stigma against feminism, the movement can use all the supporters it can get — from people all over the gender spectrum.
5. "Nobody Should Be A Feminist"
Then, of course, there's the notion that men shouldn't be feminists because nobody should be a feminist. This can stem from all sorts of assumptions, including that feminism advocates female supremacy and that feminism's not necessary. As I mentioned, feminism is about equality, and we still need it in a world where women are making less money, facing discrimination, and disproportionately experiencing sexual violence. And those are all issues men should care about, too.