Rebecca Kamm

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Rebecca Kamm: What does a feminist man look like?

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In the second of a multi-part series on male feminism, Rebecca asks: what makes a man a feminist?

Feminist men make better heterosexual partners.Photo / Thinkstock
Feminist men make better heterosexual partners.Photo / Thinkstock

Assuming that a man can be a feminist, what makes a feminist man? Because there's a lot more to it than believing women deserve the same privileges as men. (Though that's obviously a very good and necessary start.)

Ultimately, it comes down to feminism as an expansive ideology, and its application in men's lives. Or: how male feminists see the world, and how that manifests in their everyday.

First and foremost, feminist men know - as all men should - that feminism benefits men. And not just because it works to make life better for the important women in their lives, though that in itself is a benefit. Put simply, male feminists know that an equal, just society is a society that thrives.

This is backed by data: studies imply boys with a sense of entitlement based on gender perform poorly in school. Gender equity makes for more vibrant, globally competitive economies.

And women make up 70 percent of the world's poor, so their empowerment is vital when it comes to eradicating poverty.

On the home front, feminism means more women in the workplace, so there's less pressure on men to be the breadwinners. It also means men can spend more time as fathers. And fair pay means more money funneled into the home, as well as brighter future prospects for their daughters.

Feminism sets men free from suffocating gender "norms", too, because it's an ideology opposed to rigid definitions of "feminine" and "masculine". That's why feminist men are, more often than not, more comfortable with themselves. They're not self-conscious about crying, working "women's" jobs, or opposing violence and aggression. They just are.

By those tokens, a pro-feminist man hears the word "feminist" not as a derisive code for misandry and sexlessness but as positive change for everyone.

Crucially, this also involves viewing women as thinking and capable humans. Not just a little bit, but on the same level as men. Sometimes more so, sometimes less so, but never always or naturally less so.

Which might sound obvious, but how many boys and men do you know that look up to female figureheads, or cite women as their personal heroes? Men are taught from a young age to that the "feminine" is weak and somehow lesser, and that doesn't just automatically leave them as adults unless they do some serious soul searching.

Feminist men know this, and for that reason they don't prioritise male contribution to society. Whether it's female rap artists (attention: Dominic Harvey), female politicians, or female writers, the focus remains on the creative or cultural product at hand. Not on the anatomy of its creator.

To borrow from Rebecca West, "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people".

On that note, feminism for men doesn't mean suppressing sexual attraction for women, or never viewing women in a sexual light. But it does mean self-awareness when it comes to talking about women, and how his peers talk about women. It means addressing his peers' sexist commentary, even though that can feel traitorous. As Samuel C L Jones writes,

"...your journey as a male feminist will not be easy - your decision is unlikely to lead to anything other than at best mockery and at worst anger amongst many of your peers.

"Let these reactions serve to increase your empathy for women who face this kind of social isolation on a daily basis when they publicly question their place in society."

"But women and men are different!" is common refrain in male anti-feminist argument, as though that simple fact renders feminism redundant. It doesn't: feminists have never argued men and women must be the same. Feminism is about dismantling difference, yes, but only as it manifests as power (im)balances.

Another classic argument is, "I'm not a feminist. I'm an equalist/humanist". To which I can only say: that makes no sense whatsoever. Power and privilege tips in men's favour all over the world, so without feminism, there can be no equalism.

On a brighter note: feminist men make better heterosexual partners. They see women as people, not ego props. They have empathy, that most important ingredient of all human relations. And they see intelligence in a woman as a plus, not a threat.

Also, they know feminist men and women have better, and more, sex.

Of course, in going back to semantics, not all pro-feminist men will use the word "feminism". Possibly because it doesn't even occur to them that they are feminists, or maybe because they're aware of the term's stigma. That doesn't mean they're not feminists. Just like the raft of female celebrities who denounce the term. They're feminists, too - they just need to learn the real meaning of the word.

As for whether or not John Legend et al are entitled to call themselves "feminists" in the first place, does it matter? Not really. A CBS Poll found 24 per cent of men in the US claim the term "feminist" is an insult. That matters. So does the YouGov Poll finding that only 16 per cent of men in the UK described themselves as feminist, with one in 10 claiming to be outright "antifeminist".

What matters is that when men like Legend talk about feminism, other men hear him.

To be continued next Wednesday in Famous feminist men in history.

Check out Part One in the series here.

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