Why I’m a Male Feminist and Not a Men’s Rights Activist

Many people seem puzzled that a man would identify as a feminist and I believe this is largely due to a lack of understanding of what feminism actually is.  According to a national poll in 2005, only 14% of men identify as feminists. However, this poll found that when they told men “A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economical equality of the sexes” it resulted in 58% of men identifying as feminists. Clearly, awareness of accurate representations of feminism is necessary for obtaining more allies. I am optimistic enough to believe that generally men and women want to help others, but sometimes they become misguided or misinformed. Some men even view feminism as their opposition and have formed a movement of their own, the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM).

The MRM disputes claims that men have greater social privilege over women and focuses on social issues which harm men.  As a man, it may be more intuitive that I support the men’s rights movement if only for my own personal gain. However, I argue that hypermasculine standards and the patriarchy are the root causes of many MRM issues and that feminism aims to fight the same issues from a different angle. I find feminism to be an effective means of dismantling the systems that hurt both men and women and for achieving future equality. 

I definitely see the emotional appeal of the MRM. While reading through some MRA articles, I actually did feel a pang of empathy for these men regarding several issues. Some of the main issues I saw were custody concerns, domestic abuse by women, circumcision, and even the double standard of how it’s socially acceptable for women to wear men’s clothing, but not for men to wear women’s clothing. I argue that these issues, while both real and important, can be alleviated by feminism.

Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) claim that it is not fair that women often receive custody over men and need to pay large amounts of child support. An article on an MRM website provides data from the US census to back up this claim. This is certainly unfair, but custody concerns fall towards women because in our patriarchal system, women are perceived as being universally better parents (caring, empathetic, patient, domestic). Additionally, because this work is devalued, it’s assumed that men are more capable of and more busied with other, more important ventures.

Another MRM issue is how domestic abuse against men isn’t viewed as seriously compared to abuse against women. This perception occurs despite women being victimized by their partner only slightly more often than men. People tend to form this perception because women are assumed to be weak, quiet, passive, men are assumed to be strong, stoic, and in control. This is both a failure to move past gender roles and a preference against portraying men as effeminate (weak) by acknowledging their abuse. These traditional gender roles also contribute to the double standard regarding clothing. Women can wear men’s clothing without being reprimanded and they are sometimes even viewed more seriously. However, if a man wanted to wear a women’s clothing, he would be reprimanded and humiliated for acting effeminate.  Finally, circumcision is also a feminist issue as well. Nobody should have their genitals (or body in general) permanently altered before they’re able to give consent.

MRA’s make some accurate observations, but they incorrectly attribute the source of injustices to ‘female privilege’ instead of patriarchy. Patriarchy, a culturally-enabled distribution of power which, taken on the whole, favors maleness and masculinity, to the disempowerment of all, explains these social phenomenon much better than women trying to oppress men. Additionally, men will benefit from fighting patriarchy by not being hurt by hyper masculine ideals. Men can be free to express any feminine traits, be viewed as competent parents, and have violence against them taken more seriously if patriarchy is removed. Furthermore, without patriarchy men would not have any restraints on developing deep emotional connections with other men and women. Feminism is easy to misunderstand, but I urge men to explore it as they will find it does cover their gender issues as well. Sometimes their issues are not explicitly addressed in feminist blogs or articles, but feminists sympathize with many of them. Feminists simply see a different way to solve the same gender issues.

Male feminists can actually provide a unique perspective on how to attack gender inequality issues from their experiences of masculinity. However, masculinity can make it difficult to empathize with others since masculinity often values deadening one’s emotions. So when exploring feminism, I urge men to make an extra effort to break through the emotion barrier society places on us. Furthermore, empathy coupled with objectivity will help men while talking about gender issues. When taking a step back, the sense of self doesn’t muddle things as much. When looking at things more objectively, men can recognize the privilege they have in certain situations. Furthermore, us men need to understand that any blame in a conversation about gender inequality is not a personal attack, but a critique of the larger social system.

For example, A Voice for Men writer Walter Romans becomes offended when feminist Megan Milanese discusses patriarchy here: “It is a systemic devaluation of femininity that creates the rigidly defined masculinity by which men must abide. If men have a problem with masculinity as it currently exists, perhaps they should consider increasing the social status and viability of femininity in all people.”  Romans interprets this as “Men’s problems are their own fault.” Feminists are not saying that it is the man’s fault he has privilege. They are saying that recognizing one’s own privilege is the first step towards improving everyone’s situation. It is the abstract system’s fault, but we have to see it as it is to move forward, and in this case, that means that we stop devaluing traditional femininity for the sake of bolstering the image of masculinity.  I think men will have an easier time embracing feminism when they understand how oppression is the abstract system’s fault, not any one particular person or entity.

Men will certainly run into feminists they disagree with as we’re a diverse group with varying opinions. I certainly do not agree with every feminist I’ve met. However, it’s important to understand that everyone wants essentially the same thing: gender equality. If men have become turned off from the opinion of a couple feminists, I would suggest meeting more feminists instead of basing opinions on just those few. Finally, activism is a very personal thing, so people should choose something important to them and seek out allies in that area. Talking to others about their beliefs, volunteering, blogging, donating money, teaching, etc. are all valid ways to grow as a feminist (and person) and to help others. We all want to be treated fairly and by working together as allies we can accomplish that goal.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Matthew Facciani is a cognitive neuroscience PhD candidate at the University of South Carolina. He is originally from Pennsylvania and completed his undergraduate degree at Westminster College, PA where he majored in psychology, minored in sociology, and graduated with honors. Facciani's research interests largely fall under the academic area of social neuroscience. He has previously studied how emotion is represented in the brain using the neuroimaging technique of fMRI and his current research interests are the racial and gender disparities in mass media and the cognitive effects of sexism. His dissertation will be on the psychological and neural mechanisms of religious belief. Facciani also serves as the Co-Chair of the Secular Coalition for South Carolina, writes for The Feminist Observer, and volunteers for The Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands. Science communication is also a passion for Facciani and he enjoys traveling around the country to give talks about neuroscience and religion (more information can be found at www.facciani.com).

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