Hello. My name is Andrew and I am a heterosexual male. Although my biological defaults are well-represented throughout all of popular media, I am still faced with a slight dissonance which disconnects me from being able to fully identify with most male figures in music, cinema, and television; I also happen to be a feminist. Being that feminism is the movement to help women to acquire equal ground with systemically privileged male culture, I feel that, in the grand scheme of things, representation of a male feminist isn’t really a priority. However, it would still be nice to see a straight male as a platonic and supportive character to a woman every once in awhile. For this essay, I am going to bring scope to the media’s lack of representation of heterosexual male feminists and reveal just where one were to look to actually find them. But first, let me elaborate a bit on feminism and why it is important to me.
For those of you who are not familiar with feminism, it is a rather complex movement that, for some, takes several full college courses to fully comprehend and explore. As a result of feminism’s complexity, for the sake of keeping things simple, I’ll just break the term down to it’s basic definition; feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. For many feminists, one of the steps towards gender equality is challenging and tearing down societally imposed gender norms and gender roles that shepherd people into assimilating a conditioned identity that is ultimately fiat, imaginary, and false as it pertains to the actual capabilities of either gender. For women, gender roles tend to lean towards subservience and submission to their male counterparts whereas men’s gender roles pressure them into positions of power, prowess, and privilege. By tearing down those boundaries and allowing for both genders to roam freely within the emotional, economical, social, and political spectrum without feeling shamed or pressured by the traditional gender binaries, both women and men would have hopefully acquired equality. Having said that, it should go without saying that a woman is not disqualified from being able to call herself a feminist if she presents herself in a way that society has traditionally deemed as “feminine” nor is a male disqualified from being able to call himself a feminist if he presents himself in a way that society has traditionally deemed as “masculine”. Again, the idea is to give both genders the freedom to express themselves without having to worry about what is reserved for women or men. With that established, let us move on to how the media portrays heterosexual male feminists.
In television and cinema the concept of the male feminist isn’t something that has been heavily explored or considered, or when it is, it’s not a full-on representation. If I were made to set a standard for what would pass in terms of representing a heterosexual male feminist in television or cinema, the ideal character would be a heterosexual man who is supportive of a female character on a platonic level. Hell, even if the male character is romantically interested in a female character, I would love to have the male represented as having at least one other platonic female friend. As it is, the opposite is usually the case; in television and cinema, male characters who are supportive of female characters are often either portrayed as gay, a romantic prospector, or a blood-relative.
For an example of the gay male supporter of a female character, the character, Will (Eric McCormack) on the former television series Will and Grace, plays the gay best friend and roommate of the female character, Grace (Debra Messing) (Kohan, Will & Grace). For a more recent reference, the character Titus Andromdon (Tituss Burgess) plays the gay friend and roommate of Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), on the show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Fey, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). On both television shows, although the relationships between the the characters in their respective pairings are technically a feminist in nature, it is clear that the feminism is incidental and that the actual intent is geared towards the progression of LGBT equality and representation in television, which is incredibly awesome and important in its own right. However, it’s not quite the representation I’m looking for.
Next, we have the romantic prospector or “sensitive guy” trope found commonly in movies and television. A great example would be Adam Sandler’s 1998 film, The Wedding Singer in which Sandler plays Robbie, a wedding singer dealing with his fiancé, Linda (Angela Featherstone), leaving him at the altar on the day of their wedding. Having befriended a girl named Julia (Drew Barrymore), Robbie helps Julia as she prepares for her marriage to Glenn (Matthew Glave), a rich playboy womanizer. Although Robbie starts off his relationship with Julia as good and supportive friend, Robbie’s feelings for Julia eventually grow, as does Julia’s for Robbie, resulting in the two becoming a couple by the end of the film. Robbie’s character is nice, understanding, sensitive, and often humble, but it’s still a bit of a strike considering that, apart from the female character that he ends up pursuing, the rest of his friends are guys. Not just any guys, but moronic, misogynistic guys whom objectify women. Couple that with the overall negative language and behavior used to belittle transexuals, nerds, heavyset people, or women who happen to have facial hair (a type of discrimination typical in many Adam Sandler movies), and we get a lack of something I can relate to as a viewer (Coraci, The Wedding Singer). However, the cinematic circumstances could be worse; the “sensitive guy” character can sometimes be personified in a degradingly satyrical way as demonstrated in the 2000 film, Bedazzled. Elliot (Brendan Fraser) has a crush on a girl named Allison (Francis O’Conner) and makes a deal with the Devil (Elizabeth Hurley) to get seven wishes in exchange for his soul. With these wishes, Elliot decides to change his personality and status in a way that he thinks will win the affections of Allison. Enter the “sensitive guy” character; at one point in the film, Elliot wishes to be emotionally sensitive in order to understand the needs of women. This results in Elliot being transported to a beach and transformed into an overly-emotional and overbearing, red-headed, acoustic-guitar-playing, sketch artist who weeps every time he looks at the beauty of the sunset (Ramis, Bedazzled). Yikes.
Now comes the role of the male family member in support of the female character. Unless a film or television show is creating a story that illustrates an abusive, distant, or oppressive male family member, the idea of a male family member being supportive to a female family member isn’t exactly a rarity. However, for sake of providing an example I’ll use one of my favorite examples of a cool father: the 2010 teen comedy, Easy A. The Film is about a girl named Olive (Emma Stone) who pretends to sleep with her gay friend, Brandon (Dan Byrd), in order to help prevent him from being further bullied at school for being gay. As a result, Olive develops a reputation as the promiscuous girl in her school. Stanley Tucci plays a minor role as Olive’s father, Dill, alongside Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s mother, Rosemary. In scenes where Olive is conversing with her father, Dill is supportive, humorous, and trusts his daughter’s judgement. When Olive seems troubled while at the dinner table, her father asks if she needs to talk about something with them, but when Olive suggests that she is disinclined to do so, he doesn’t press further, respecting his daughter’s boundaries. As a result of his support, respect, and trust, Olive returns that respect (Gluck, Easy A). Although this example may not fit my requirements for my “ideal” of a heterosexual male feminist character, I’ll totally take it; I’ll probably be a father one day, and if I have a daughter, I can only hope that I’ll be as funny and cool as Olive’s dad is. Also, we’re both bald, so that’s a plus.
After giving examples of close-calls regarding the representation of male feminists in cinema and television, you might be wondering if there are any television shows or films that actually pass my “ideal” male feminist test. Honestly, I didn’t really think there was such a thing until last week when I saw Mad Max: Fury Road. In this fourth installment of the famed Mad Max cult series of films, Max (Tom Hardy) ends up assisting a woman named Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) whom is on a mission to rescue the five wife-slaves from their life of torment at the hands of their warlord husband, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Whiteley), hoping to get them to a place of refuge. Throughout the partnership between Max and Imperator, Max never tries to take over the operation, never tries to supersede the authority of Imperator, acknowledges Imperator’s skills and strengths, and never one tries to romantically pursue her (Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road). Although action movies aren’t really my thing, and although I’ve never really been a fan of the Mad Max series, I throughly appreciate how this movie was handled. Voila; a film that has passed my hypothetical test.
With television and cinema elaborated upon regarding the representation of the heterosexual male feminist, we are now going to be looking at how the music industry is fairing on the subject.
One of the problems that the music industry faces is that the market is one of the most oversaturated media outlets in existence. There are literally millions of bands and musicians whom, if they record an average-length album, have at least 12 songs to their name. Although there are many female musicians and female-fronted bands that have earned notoriety in popular culture such as Hole, Ani DiFranco, Bikini Kill, or Björk, one has to look fairly hard in order to find music written by men in support of feminism or feminist themes. However, in order to simplify the search process, one needn’t usually look further than the punk scene; not pop-punk, mind you, but actual street-rooted punk culture. Since the first wave of the punk movement in the late 1970s, the very political musical movement has often preached a message of protest against classism, racism, and sexism. Even now, these themes still run strong.
The first band on the list is called Andrew Jackson Jihad from Phoenix, Arizona. this punk/folk group wrote a song called, American Tune in which the band acknowledges heterosexual, white, male privilege and the implications come as a result thereof. There is a feminist line in the song which goes:
I’m a guy getting paid more than a girl with a degree
And I can walk down the streets after dark, no one wants to rape me
And I can get a girl pregnant and just as easily flee
Just like my straight, white, male dad did to me
(Andrew Jackson Jihad, “American Tune”)
For my next example, we have Fugazi from Washington, D.C., a post-hardcore punk band whom wrote the song Suggestion in which the song is written from a woman’s perspective speaking out against sexism. How’s this for a sample of the lyrics?:
You spent yourself watching me suffer
Suffer your words, suffer your eyes, suffer your hands
Suffer your interpretation of what it is to be a man
For my last musical example, we have the universally famous Seattle-based band, Nirvana. Although technically not purely punk, their punk roots are what helped the band evolve into the famed grunge genre that completely dominated much of the 1990s. The song in which they convey a feminist message is also considered to be one of their most disturbing; Polly is a song based on the true story of a young girl who was kidnapped by a serial rapist by the name of Gerald Friend and escaped his clutches. The lyrics are written in the perspective of Friend complacently observing the impressiveness of Polly’s success at eluding her confinement:
Polly says her back hurts
And she’s just as bored as me
She caught me off my guard
It amazes me, the will of instinct
Although it can be difficult to find male feminists in cinema and television and even harder still to find them within the music industry, the one media outlet where I’ve had little to no trouble finding male feminists, is journalism. Be it in interviews with celebrities during during promo tours for films, or be it in an online magazine, if you look you will find representation.
Last year in an interview conducted with Daniel Radcliffe as promo for his film Horns, he had divulged an experience he had regarding the media seeing him as an unconventional romantic lead. Because the topic had been perpetually broached to him, he eventually asked what exactly was so unconventional. The answer that was given to him was that it was because of his association of playing Harry Potter, a young child wizard. To this, Daniel replied, “Well, the male population has had no problem sexualizing Emma Watson immediately,” referring to his female costar of the aforementioned Harry Potter films. With Radcliffe speaking out against this double standard regarding the willingness to sexualize one gender over another, Radcliffe is making a feminist statement by criticizing gender norms and expectations (Vagianos, Daniel Radcliffe’s Delightfully Feminist Response To The Label ‘Unconventional Male Lead).
We also are able to find male celebrities coming out of the feminist closet in more than just interviews. In December of 2014, Elle UK, a British fashion magazine, teamed up with with the gender equality lobby group The Fawcett Society, by selling a t-shirt which read, This is what a feminist looks like. To promote the campaign, Elle UK enlisted the help of several celebrities, many of them male, willing to “out” themselves as feminists and model the shirt. Featured models include Tom Hiddleston, Simon Pegg, Richard E. Grant, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, and several others. To have that kind of representation from so many well-respected and distinguished male actors fight for gender equality feels nothing short of empowering (Brog, Call Yourself A Feminist?).
As a final summation, I’d like to start by stating that the main reason why I’d like there to more representations of heterosexual male feminists in media has nothing to do with my own personal gratification; I have absolutely no problem identifying with virtually any given character, song, or band regardless of the race, gender, orientation or cultural background from which the media outlet constructs their product. The main reason why I feel that male feminists need to be represented better is so that the idea of gender equality can finally become normalized through exposure; when it becomes common to see a man united with a woman for the benefit of the woman, or speaking in support of empowering women to have the same rights and opportunities as men, we can finally move a little closer towards a resonating harmony. The representation is light is some areas, but it’s still there. Hopefully now that I’ve elaborated upon the subject, you, the reader, will be able to look at things from a new perspective and encourage the same change that I hope to see in world.
Bedazzled. Dir. Harold Ramis. Prod. Trevor Albert and Harold Ramis. By Larry Gelbart. Perf. Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O’Conner. 20th Century Fox, 2000. DVD.