By Joy-Mari Cloete

People tend to become more conservative as they age; I think I’m becoming more radical. Or perhaps  feminist conservatism looks like radicalism to the outsider. Who knows?

I responded to something Jen tweeted by saying that men make lousy feminists. Not that they can’t be feminists. Because I think most people agree men *can* be feminists. Just that they’re not amazing as feminists. This is why some of the feminists I hang out with online want men to call themselves pro-feminist or feminist allies.

I’m sorry, y’all. I made a generalisation about all men who want to identify as a feminist or pro-feminist or a feminist ally. I thought about it some more and I’m going to edit my statement – men as a class make lousy feminists. Or feminist allies. Or pro-feminists.

This doesn’t have much to do with reading Twisty, I promise. It’s got to do with the guys who hang out in the feminist spaces I hang out in. It’s because there are some things that make it very difficult for men to be good feminists. But worse, most of these men think it’s good enough to call oneself a feminist and that’s that.


Our culture is one that glorifies women-hatred. There are very few societies, whether present or in days long gone, that give women equal status to that of men. And we as a society teach men how to hate women from when they’re babies. It’s hard to overcome that type of wiring when everything and everyone says that women really only exist for one thing. OK, two things: babies and sex.

Yes. This is harsh.

Too much privilege

Men as a class have a lot of privilege. And few want to give up their status as the Alpha Males. Not even the Beta Males. Why would they? It’d mean no more rapey jokes, no more male-only clubs, no more sexist jokes, quite possibly the end of prostitution and porn on their terms. It’d be the end of sexist language. The end of telling women to smile. The end of sexual harassment. I’m starting to get excited, y’all. It’d be the end of unconscious sexism a la Apple’s glass staircase. But that also means the end of possibly glimpsing someone’s buttocks when they’re climbing a staircase…

What does all of this mean, though? Simple. Men as a class have got too much to lose. The patriarchy/kyriarchy rewards us all in some way or another. And the list of privileges for men… well, let’s just say that it’s long. Doubly so for white Western(ised) men who give up very few of these privileges when and if they see the light of feminism.

Retreat into male privilege

What does being a feminist mean to a Liberal Dude? Other than adopting a label that gives street cred among some feminists? Male privilege means they can, while hanging with the boys, act as though they’ve never been tainted with the F-Word. Ever. You’ve heard of the term ‘straight presenting’, yeah? Some liberal dudes still present as women-hating even though they call themselves feminists. They still use sexist words, sexist jokes. They still wear sexist T-Shirts, they still read sexist comic strips. They still dabble in ironic sexism. They still sometimes go to strip joints. They call conservative women whores and sluts and bitches. They still slut-shame. They still get defensive. Oh God they get defensive!

The equalist/humanist vs feminist thing

I can’t tell you how tired of this I am. There’ve been plenty of articles of why ‘humanist vs feminist’ is an inaccurate argument. There’ve also been rebuttals of why ‘equalist vs feminist’ is better than calling oneself a feminist. The word feminism isn’t sexist but plenty of even liberal men think it is and they like the sound of equalism. ‘Equalism’ doesn’t make anyone uncomfortable around the dinner table. It’s palatable. But it’s not good enough. Call yourself a feminist if you want to be a good one. Or nothing at all. Just don’t pretend equalism is the same thing as feminism.

Liberal Dude Nation

I tend to like liberals. But they think we’re all individuals. OK, it’s true and yet it’s also incorrect. We’re individuals who each belong to various tribes. I belong to the tribe of the Unitarians, the tribe of Walmart, the tribe of my family, the tribe of Toastmasters, the tribe of feminism, etc. We’re all connected and yet we’re still individuals.

Liberals are, of course, not a proxy for feminists. But a feminist dude tends to be a good proxy for a liberal. And liberals generally think of people as individuals, not as members of a tribe. This thinking contributes to the myth of the individual. The myth of Oprah and Obama and Mandela. That, if one person works super hard, they’ll overcome! Sorry, y’all. It doesn’t work like that. We’re all interconnected beings. And thinking that the individual < collective action will never get us anywhere. Especially not when we’re talking about erasing oppression.

It’s not the end

Hey, listen: I get it. I get it that feminism is about ending the oppression of women (cause it really isn’t about equality). And that we’re the ones who should lead the way. But ending women’s oppression’s only going to work if y’all can help us by giving up some stuff. Start wearing a dress, for example. Put glittery stuff in your hair. Take your partner’s surname. Do some gender-bending. Just do something, anything, anywhere.

Cause think about it, feminist man: what have you given up since you came to feminism?

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6 thoughts on “Men make lousy feminists

  1. Great read. I never thought of it in that way before. I have to admit, though, that none of the men I know would admit to being (or claim to be) a feminist, but I know they’re out there and I would tend to agree with you.

    By the way, I also agree with your “People tend to become more conservative as they age; I think I’m becoming more radical” comment. 5 years ago I would never have been able to see this point of view, let alone called myself a feminist (I was 19, though)…


  2. I rolled my eyes when I read this post. Not because of the contents, which I agree with, but because I expected the comment section to be filled with the outraged cries of feminist-identifying guys who are upset and feel like they’re being silenced because they’re discouraged from talking over women, who are angered because no cookies are being handed out for brandishing their “feminist” label around, who feel that what feminism really needs is their Unique Male Viewpoint, who feel hurt at the implication that they don’t understand women’s viewpoints because they’ve totes had conversations with women and now they know all about harassment and sexism, and who feel excluded from the Special Feminist Clubhouse. Thus proving that, even within feminism, women cannot say no to men without repercussions.


    • Well, firstly Mohammed, there are many forms of oppression and as you don’t live the lives of American women, you have no space to say whether they are or aren’t oppressed.

      Secondly, this is an African site.


  3. I am the world’s greatest feminist and I’m a man. Having a penis automatically makes me better at everything, even at having a vagina.


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