This question turns me schizophrenic.
I’ve redrafted about five times now.
Perhaps I’ll try to simplify.
I don’t think men can be feminists until a post-feminist society is achieved. At which point they all will be, but the term will be meaningless and outdated.
Being told that may rankle,but that’s just the feeling of having your privilege challenged. We (men) need to get used to it.
What I do believe is that men should all try and be feminists. Men should all engage with feminism honestly and with open ears (and more often than not, shut mouths).
Feminism is about changing the world. It’s about tearing down power structures. It’s about removing centuries worth of bias and privilege.
It’s also an incredibly multifaceted ideology. There are as many feminisms as there are feminists.
For a man to be a feminist, or a feminist supporter. He needs to drop his privilege and listen up. He needs to be perpetually wary of his actions and motivations, and most importantly, assumptions.
A man cannot know the female experience. Though some men will understand oppression.
I believe it is important to extend the social goals of one type of feminism (gender abolition) to all sides of the gender/biological divide. I personally feel I’ve suffered from the gendered expectations of men. The drive to be dominant, unemotional, efficient, strong is a struggle. Another reason I challenge the gender binary is because of my unwillingness to let myself be dominated by that.
And of course, the realisation that I spent a lot of my life trying to live up to those expectations, or internalising them, to the extent where I have been the oppressor. I have harmed women.
It’s hard to admit that I have taken part in the patriarchal attack on individuals, but it’s a truth.
And on one level, I’ll never be able to escape from that.
Men need to take up the cause of feminism. Engage with it fully, and take up the flag. Fight battles with other men. Challenge assumptions in themselves and others.
But the first step is listening. Stop thinking of feminists as angry women (though often that is what they are, justifiably). Start thinking of feminists as people that need to be listened to. People that have been oppressed by a society that has entirely different expectations of people on the basis of biology.
Think about how often you generalise and dominate. Think how often you behave ‘instinctively’. Think of how often you expect something of others, and yourself. Challenge it.
It’s a hard way to live, but it’s a formative one, and it can change the world.
Or at least a small part of it.
In a very real way, this will make you something of a feminist.
But you won’t get all the way until everyone’s doing the same, and the whole thing becomes unnecessary.
Idealism is about trying. Often against seemingly impossible odds.
I am an idealist.
And I’m trying to be a feminist.
You should too.
Illustration by Meg.