How NOT To Be A Male Feminist

Shutterstock / Dmytriy Aslanian
Shutterstock / Dmytriy Aslanian

Men these days often have the best intentions when it comes to feminism. However, sometimes their sensitive male egos do get in the way of fulfilling the most important goal of feminism: actually empowering real women. Men, I see you and your good intentions, but you know what they say about the path to hell.

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Don’t disparage other men.

This is not a Renaissance faire, and you are not a knight fighting to defend my honor. Men speaking poorly of other men (calling them cowards, misogynists, or assholes) in an attempt to look good in comparison is one of many ways men vie for power over women and assert dominance, control, or authority, albeit perhaps subconsciously. With few exceptions, it is generally presumptuous and likely inaccurate for you to imagine that a woman needs or wants your input, advice, or opinion about the moral fiber or purity of intentions of other men. Or anyone, for that matter. Or anything.

In some cases, your intentions might be thoughtfully well-meaning, in that you think you are showing solidarity or empowering women by disparaging members of a dominant gender group. But now you know. You are not only perpetuating the sort of competitive, aggressive, winner-take-all habits you claim to critique, but such an attitude might actually end up reinforcing the notion that men’s standards of moral behavior are necessary, privileged, or important at all times. They’re not. What’s important are my standards, or her standards. You’re an adult now, love. You and your intentions don’t count for shit.

Stop offering unsolicited compliments.

Nearly every day of my life, some fellow will take it upon himself to offer opinions to me pertaining to my appearance and my work. Maybe this seems apt in certain venues; on a dating website, for example, or at a bar. But you should really rarely if ever assume that women want your comments or feedback on their demeanor, physique, or style of dress; and you shouldn’t choose to then act upon your false assumptions when a girl’s just doing her best to catch a train or run a meeting. Sure, some women do enjoy being complimented on their appearance, but a relationship in which this is acceptable needs to emerge from a solid rapport that is established by both parties. Consent applies not only to sexual intimacy, but to all realms of social interaction. Women may often not feel comfortable asking you not to remark upon them, because women are often taught to accept compliments graciously. But it’s a little unsettling to me that you might be A-OK with yourself risking making moves on a nearby lady while some invisible narrator goes: “a swing and-a miss!” while she feels disgusting, disgusted, degraded, unsafe, or uncomfortable.

If you’re my mother, my best friend, or my friend-with-a-certain-kind-of-benefits, then I might be interested in hearing you voice your reactions to this beautiful way that I move my body about the world and distribute ideas like moonbeams, radiant and fascinating as life itself. Otherwise, err on the side of not making women feel awful.

Stop name-dropping female and queer artists.

The goal of feminism is not to randomly sprinkle women into any place where they’ve ever been perceived to be missing. A goal of feminism is to respect each woman’s inherent worth and agency within the context of a given social system; in the context of canon-making, this has often involved correcting historical erasures through strategic essentialism, affirmative action, and other deliberate strategies that actively elevate women and their work. But this is far from you superficially hyping films and albums you’ve never even bothered to deeply explore, which are more often than not irrelevant to the task at hand. What might impress women is you being competent at your job and you being a communicative friend, colleague, or partner. Shallow attention-seeking behaviors by which you reference female figures, pretending to be casual but in knowing earshot of women, in hopes of making yourself look fabulous? Not so much, love.

If you find yourself using your social media profiles, your film’s credits, or your book club’s reading list to compensate for your androcentric or even misogynistic mindsets and behaviors elsewhere in your life, then I suggest you hire a licensed therapist to work out some of your own bizarro insecurities. I’m not mad at you guys, I’m just, well, a little confused as to why you think that randomly citing women whose work you’re actually quite unfamiliar with is doing anyone a favor, and I wonder if maybe a therapist could help us all sort things out. When you name drop women, everyone can tell, and frankly you look like a clown. A disingenuous clown. Honk. TC mark

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