Male Feminists in Popular Culture
I should start by saying that I consider myself a feminist. I should also say that I do not use this term lightly. It is important to state that the feminism that I prescribe to has been built by women who have come before, without whom we would not have feminist portrayals at all. More and more in recent years there has been an upward trend of men identifying as feminists, but with new trends comes opposition. The portrayal of the male feminist within popular culture has been an interesting one because there seems to be two main characterizations that come from two disparate camps. One side is represented by non-feminist men, who portray men who do identify as feminists as somehow not masculine. The other side is represented by feminist idenitified women who feel that male feminists are merely attempting to gain the attention of women or who are trying to take on the identity of the oppressed without having ever experienced it first hand. Both portrayals take away from those men who truly do identify as feminists, not because they have ulterior motives but because it is the right thing to do.
The first characterization of male feminists comes from men who vehemently oppose identifying as such. I have found that many men turn away from being labeled feminist for two key reasons. First, they feel that the term itself is stigmatized. Some men feel that feminism is synonymous with “man-hating” or “female-supremacy,” and so they spurn the title. Second, there is a general idea that feminism is also synonymous with femininity. To some, if a man identifies as a feminist, he is stripped of his masculine because he is seen as taking on what they feel is a feminine role. I found a great example of these portrayals in a clip from the show “Fox and Friends” in which they discussed the “wussification of men” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YG7KTMyOnw). The hosts were discussing with guest Nick Adams how they perceive a lessening of classic gender roles and stereotypes within today’s society, and that they see this as weakening society as a whole. They felt that “men should be men” and that America is in danger of falling into this neutral territory in which genders blurred together. They then related this to feminism by confidently stating that feminism produces “angry women and feminine men,” and that this somehow denies men of being masculine (Nick Adams, Fox News). They believe that feminism is weakening the security of our nation, and compromising this American image of manliness and masculinity. The most astounding part of the clip comes when the guest is quoted as saying “wimps and wussies deliver mediocrity, and men win.” What the people in this clip fail to realize is that the entire world does not prescribe to the gender roles that America does, so if we are not coming off “masculine” enough for them, not every country would view this as weaker or lesser. The other thing that took issue with was the calling of men “wussies” because they are participating in feminism. I find the use of the word “wussy” and “wimp” quite juvenile, and also offensive to women because they are saying that men doing things they feel are prescribed to women makes them “wussies,” and therefore lesser, concluding that women are lesser then men.
Another example that I found of male feminists being looked upon as less masculine than their non-feminist male counterparts was an interview Joe Rogan did on his radio talk show (http://youtu.be/wK9GnWVWolo?t=2m56s). In the clip, Rogan states that men who claim to be feminists do so just to appear “different” (Joe Rogan Experience #533). He goes on to say that, to him, men who identify as feminists are never “savages… studly, or good looking,” but rather they are not manly or attractive and are “socially retarded” (Joe Rogan Experience #533). According to him, men who support feminism are doing so to appear super sensitive and are living “life in misery” (Joe Rogan Experience #533). Rogan is generalizing the male feminist community, saying that manly, good looking men don’t support feminism, but feminine socially awkward men do because that is the only way that they are able to relate to women. Both of these examples support the idea that femininity is inherently negative or is lesser then masculinity, which is not only harmful to male feminists, but I argue harms non-feminist males because it further serves to strengthen traditional gender roles.
While one side of the media portrays male feminists as less masculine, some female feminists are skeptical of the intentions in which men profess their feminism. There are some who believe that men cannot inherently be feminists because they live outside of the experiences of being a female. Others believe that men can be a part of the movement, but that there are some inherent issues that come up that should be actively addressed. An article entitle “So You Want to Be a Male Feminist? Maybe Don’t” by Kat Stoeffel goes into a few of these issues (http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/10/you-want-to-be-a-male-feminist-maybe-dont.html). She begins by identifying two groups of men that she has come into contact with. One are men who support gender equality and defend women’s rights, but “would sooner die” than be labeled a feminist. The second group are men who freely label themselves feminists to try and “shore up their sensitive-dude bona fides” (Stoeffel). She then goes on to say that one of the bigger issues she has experienced with men practicing feminism is some of their volatile responses when women criticize or comment on their actions. Stoeffel states that to “act defensive in the face of criticism from the women you purport to serve.. undermines your shaky right to be there in the first place.” The most crucial part of her article, though, came when she stated that “the fact is that even though you know better, and are truly a male feminist, you’re still stuck being the bad guy. You can’t opt out of the privileges you inherited at birth” (Stoeffel). She asserts that male feminists, though some might truly have the right intentions, need to remember that they are just allies and cannot experience the same oppression that women experience because they inherently have privileges that women do not.
On the topic of intention, Katie Heaney wrote an article on BuzzFeed entitled “I’m Not Impressed By Aziz Ansari’s Feminism” (http://www.buzzfeed.com/katieheaney/im-not-impressed-by-aziz-ansaris-feminism). In it, Heaney discusses how intentions can influence a man’s interaction with feminism. What the article is referring to is when comedian Aziz Ansari went on the Late Show With David Letterman and “came out” as a feminist. Ansari made a few follow up comments expounding on his feminism by giving the dictionary definition of feminism, putting down the angry woman stereotype, and putting Beyonce and Jay-Z as the model for gender equality. Heaney felt that Ansari was oversimplifying something that most women do not find simple or easy at all. She argued that though Ansari’s intention was to try and take down what he perceived to be a stereotype of feminism, Heaney herself identified with it. She is a women who experiences sexism and oppression on a daily basis and she is angry about it. She feels personally scorned when it is proclaimed that this is not a real identity. Despite this, she is glad that Ansari and other men are at least thinking about feminism, but she ultimately feels that intentions are crucial. She ends by stating that she can “no longer think claiming the word feminist is particularly worthy of accolades. Acting like one – that is”(Heaney).
Both of these portrayals show male feminists in a negative way, but I feel that the critique coming from women that identify as feminists is a positive one. When men say male feminists are “feminine” or “wussies,” they are demeaning them and there is nothing to be gained. When feminists comment on male feminism, they are doing so for the betterment of the movement, and the betterment of each other as people. Regardless of how feminism is portrayed in popular culture, whether of a man or a woman, it is crucial to note that this is an exceedingly complex issue that cannot be generalized or trivialized.
Heaney, Katie. “I’m Not Impressed By Aziz Ansari’s Feminism.” BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed, 8 Oct. 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2014. <http://www.buzzfeed.com/katieheaney/im-not-impressed-by-aziz-ansaris-feminism>.
Stoeffel, Kat. “So You Want to Be a Male Feminist? Maybe Don’t.” The Cut. N.p., 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2014. <http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/10/you-want-to-be-a-male-feminist-maybe-dont.html>.
Joe Rogan & Chris D’elia Mocking Male Feminists Jre 533. Dir. Joe Rogan. Perf. Joe Rogan. Youtube. N.p., 24 Aug. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK9GnWVWolo>.
Nick Adams- Fox News- The War on Men. Perf. Nick Adams, Elisabeth Hassleback. Youtube. N.p., 4 Feb. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YG7KTMyOnw>.