11 Simple Principles Male Feminists Should Understand
11 Simple Principles Male Feminists Should Understand
By Derrick Clifton / mic.com

Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Aziz Ansari. John Legend. These are a few of many male celebrities who have recently come out as feminists. Emma Watson's high-profile #HeForShe campaign and the White House's launch of #ItsOnUs against sexual violence have encouraged many more men to think critically about feminism. More importantly, about why it's necessary to affirm and practice gender equality, given the many ways institutional sexism and the patriarchy have created environments where conventionally white, masculine, cisgender men have power and privilege.

Keep in mind that a feminist, as defined by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes (and various gender identities). Although some believe that men have no place in the movement, others argue that strategic social movements should build bridges of solidarity. It's not about focusing or coddling men, but instead about recognizing that people who have privilege can operate with respect and understanding by taking the leads from those who have been marginalized.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivers a TEDx presentation entitled, "We Should All Be Feminists." Source: TEDxTalks via YouTube

For men who wish to truly engage in the struggle for gender equality, here are some ways they can helphelp while remaining cognizant of how their identities may limit their understanding of women's struggles:

1. Understand that women are leading the way and affirm their capable leadership. Don't assert yourself at the forefront.

Feminism has primarily been a movement for women, led by women. Although bell hooks wrote the iconic Feminism Is for Everybody to encourage all people to become invested in the struggle for gender equality, maleness is still privileged in a society that promotes male perspectives and experiences at the expense of women's.

For men to insist on positioning themselves and their maleness ahead of women's voices is to ignore that a man's voice will, on the whole, be perceived as more legitimate, even when he's not speaking with any authority or accuracy on issues pertaining to women.

2. When it comes to issues that directly pertain to women's bodies and experiences, be quiet and listen.

For people who have penises and a male reproductive system, they will never know what it's like to have a period, go through menopause or bear children. If a man is conventionally masculine, straight and nottransgender, he is much less likely to encounter street harassment and sexual assault or be told that his gender innately makes him unfit to fully participate in various aspects of the workplace. And should he dare to speak up in favor of gender equality, he likely won't face online harassment, including death and rape threats, as was recently the case for feminist gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian

Online threats against women are real, pervasive and must be taken seriously by law enforcement agencies and educational institutions alike.

Remember Elliot Rodger used the internet to make threats ahead of his misogynist rampage. Schools must always take online threats seriously.

Instead of talking over women or worse, making unfounded assumptions about what they experience on a daily basis, be quiet and listen to what women have to say, and redirect other men to their voices.

3. Men don't get to determine if they are "allies" to the feminist movement. Women do.

So this is happening. #ghc14 #ghcmanwatch pic.twitter.com/S83sqI7ZKp


As a man, being a feminist isn't some special badge you earn after going to a rally, speaking out for gender equality or holding another man accountable for sexist behavior. It's not about getting "ally cookies" or a pat on the back every time you do something that's considered pro-feminism. Rather, it's about making sure your actions aren't sexist, transphobic or reinforcements of gender-based bigotry. It is not going above and beyond to act respectfully and in solidarity with women working towards gender equality. 

4. Take responsibility for addressing men's issues with other men, rather than expecting women in feminism to do all of the work.

So-called men's rights activists gather at a 2014 conference in Detroit. Source: A Voice For Men via YouTube

Men who are ignorant about feminism — and even so-called men's rights activists — often critique feminists for not addressing what they describe as men's struggles. Some of these issues include the disproportionately high male suicide rate, how the court system regards fathers in custody battles and the perceived abandonment of survivors of sexual violence

On the one hand, these criticisms miss a pretty large point: Feminism can, and already has, helped men as well as women. 

Additionally, men, especially white men, are already positioned to work towards resolutions, sinceinstitutional sexism gives them a disproportionate hold on the levers of power. Instead of railing against the women in feminism, it's important that men take steps to work with each other, as well as with feminist leaders, to recognize how the struggle for gender equality plays a key role in many of these efforts.

5. Use your male privilege to encourage other men to work towards gender equality, under women's leadership.

Source: Manish Swarup/AP

Once you feel that you have a stable understanding of what it means to be a feminist, motivate other men you know to join in the push for gender equality. Being a feminist shouldn't be seen as a chore, a job or a simple label, but rather as a lifelong commitment to ensuring that institutional sexism comes to an end. 

But, as the CEO of Microsoft recently learned, that commitment should run deeper than tokenization, or telling women, from a position of privilege, how they should approach key issues such as the gender pay gap.

6. Don't use the label of "feminist" as a way to try to get women to like you — that's disingenuous and counterproductive.

We've all heard the horror stories of men using feminism to get dates or new female friends, thinking the label may prove they are somehow "softer" and not as ignorant as more conventionally masculine "bro" types. 

However, this "nice guy" approach can backfire. Beware of the male feminist who behaves as though his feminist sympathizing makes him more entitled to female sexual attention, even when he shows little to nounderstanding of his privilege. Instead, this logic objectifies and belittles women with the assumption that they can be manipulated into liking someone who really doesn't care about their position in society. 

7. When given opportunities to execute professional tasks related to feminist issues, consider referring other women instead.

Former professor and news commentator Hugo Schwyzer appears on CNN to discuss sexual harassment in schools. Source: CNN Video

Women have been at the forefront of feminism and civil rights efforts for more than 100 years. But by and large, institutional sexism often renders women and their experiences invisible, because male needs, thoughts and opinions are usually elevated above their female counterparts'. 

So when organizations or news outlets ask for a "male perspective" on issues such as feminism and gender equality, ask what the needs and goals of the conversation are in order to discern whether or not you can truly speak from a place of experience, education and expertise, especially if the topics are related to issues that mostly affect women. Don't be afraid to suggest a female peer if you're not the best suited for the event or discourse.

8. Educate yourself about the history of feminism and how women of different backgrounds have approached the movement. 

Source: Edward Kitch/AP

Feminism means different things depending on the country, its laws, racial and ethnic groups, class stratification and the prevailing world religion, among other factors. In the United States, feminism encompasses enslaved women writing about their struggle for both their womanhood and for their full humanity to be recognized and respected. It includes the fight for suffrage, reproductive justice, access to education and equal employment opportunities. 

Often, those struggles have privileged the perspectives of mainstream white women, at the expense ofwomen of color who endure universal but differing struggles, given disparities along the lines of race and class. It's all the more important, especially in a "post-racial" society, to make sure the history of feminism isn't whitewashed. 

9. Ensure your feminism is intersectional.

Source: Mikki Kendall via Twitter

Before diving into feminism, men should remember that what's often heard in the mainstream doesn't provide a complete snapshot of the movement.

Many women in feminism have long rallied to ensure that the fight for gender equality is inclusive andcognizant of everyone, including people of color, queer, trans and gender nonconforming people, people with disabilities, differences in class and ability, various faiths and non-faiths and other identities and situations. That's because intersectionality ensures that various goals and needs are addressed to truly elevate everyone, rather than focusing on the experiences of those who have relatively more privilege.

It's a critique against mainstream, white-centered feminism levied by Mikki Kendall and feminists around the world in August 2013 with the viral hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen:

SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when your concept of feminist history starts & ends with middle class white women. Not the WOC doing the work.

10. Acknowledge that sometimes, women need opportunities to discuss feminist issues without the presence of men. And that's okay.

Participants from the December 2009 conference, titled, The Courage to Lead: A Human Rights Summit for Women Leaders.

Source: United States Mission Geneva via Flickr

When hashing out difficult conversations, ideas and questions about women's issues and the direction of the movement, it can be challenging to deal with interjections from men who derail the conversation due to their relative lack of understanding

In addition, some women may feel more comfortable discussing their bodies and their experiences absent the gaze and presence of men, whose thoughts, needs and desires are privileged in virtually all sectors of society. Instead of taking offense, practice respect and compassion by minimizing yourself in the situation, and by simply asking if there's any way you can be helpful outside of the closed dialogue

11. When women criticize your involvement in feminism, don't talk over them or talk down to them. Actively listen and be accountable.

Sometimes, in doing the work or attempting to be helpful, people make mistakes, and that's a human thing to do. But listening to constructive criticism and being accountable for missteps is what separates aresponsible ally from someone who is clueless about their privilege

Instead of talking over women or talking down to them, ask questions about how you can be most helpful. And, given institutionalized sexism and male privilege, figure out how you can work with women in leadership to remedy any damage done. Because that's what true allyship and solidarity look like in feminism.


Men saying they support feminism is just one small, albeit important, step in breaking down these disparities. Going forward, men need to take the next step: challenge and dismantle their preconceived notions and stereotypes of to women and gender identity. They can and should do this while affirming the leadership of the many women who have paved the way.

0.0 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Donald Trump Is the Mirror and Hillary Clinton Is the Mask
Chris Agnos · 15,190 views today · Disclaimer: I do not support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. I think the scope of the political debate is far too narrow for the kinds of actions that need to...
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 12,248 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Gil Scott-Heron Deconstructs Colonialism and Black History in His Own Unique Style
3 min · 9,086 views today · His-Story: I was wondering about our yesterdays, and starting searching through the rubble and to say the very least, somebody went to a hell of a lot of trouble to make sure...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 6,256 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
For Those Who Don't Want to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils
Peter White · 5,146 views today · Ranked-choice voting is catching on, and Maine might become the first state to help citizens vote for candidates they actually want.
Anarchists - What We Stand For
unknown · 3,438 views today · Anarchism : The word “anarchy” comes from Greek and means “no rulers”. As a political philosophy, anarchism is based on the idea that organization does not require rulers—that...
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 2,856 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 2,258 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 1,762 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,693 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Lessons in the Calais Jungle: Teaching Life Stories and Learning About Humanity
Aura Lounasmaa · 1,304 views today · I am part of a team of academics teaching a course to residents in the Calais Jungle, a camp for migrants and refugees outside the French city. Life Stories in the Jungle has...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 1,253 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Planet Earth II Could Be Best Nature Doc Ever Made
3 min · 871 views today · 10 years ago Planet Earth changed our view of the world. Now we take you closer than ever before. This is life in all its wonder. This is Planet Earth II. A decade ago, the...
My Cuba - An Intimate Look at the Pleasures and Struggles of 6 Different People's Cuba
150 min · 860 views today · Cuba - diverse, vibrant and complex - is undergoing immense change. But what does it mean to be Cuban in this time of change? Six people. Six films. From the comedy and ballet...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 642 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 622 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 420 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Our Obsession With 'Good Immigrants' Breeds Intolerance
2 min · 397 views today · Society sets the bar so high to become a 'good immigrant', argues writer Nikesh Shukla, that normal immigrants are demonised. He says non-Brits in the public eye have a simple...
The Untold History of Palestine & Israel
22 min · 390 views today · Previewing Abby Martin’s on-the-ground investigation in Palestine, The Empire Files looks at the long history of Zionist colonization, expansion and expulsion of Palestine’s...
Eckhart Tolle: Your Facebook Ego, That's Not Who You Are
2 min · 372 views today · “Identification with thoughts and the emotions that go with those thoughts creates a false mind-made sense of self, conditioned by the past: the "little me" and its story. This...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
11 Simple Principles Male Feminists Should Understand