To my dismay, I caught myself doing something problematic that I really shouldn’t be doing.
When I meet a woman who identifies as a feminist, I get excited but not too excited because I already expect all women to support the feminist movement.
Why wouldn’t a woman support equality of the sexes?
However, I noticed that when I meet a man who identifies as feminist, I get extra happy, and I almost want to congratulate him as if he deserves extensive praise for this decision.
I guess these reactions of mine are rooted in my understanding of systems of privilege. It’s difficult and infrequent for a person in a position of privilege to relinquish that privilege and equal out the playing field.
In a society where patriarchy is so deeply rooted, where rape culture prevails, where men’s needs are constantly catered to at the cost of women’s -and other marginalized groups’- rights and freedoms, where the word “feminist” has a negative connotation, you could see why a man wouldn’t call himself a feminist. There is an unfair stigma surrounding the word “feminist” because people assume feminists are radical man-haters when that’s not the case at all.
Being in the position of privilege is a comfortable, safe and easy place to be.
For example, I am aware that I’m privileged in so many ways. I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to attend great schools and have citizenship status; I also identify as heterosexual and benefit from having a tight knit family that is there to support me. The list goes on…
I’m also underprivileged in a lot of ways. I come from a low-income background, I’m a woman of color, I’m just a woman in general, etc.
But I am someone who is aware of her privileges and can still support and stand in solidarity with those who do not have the same privileges. I don’t expect or deserve any extra praise for being an ally. So why have I been giving men extra praise for being feminists?
When I see a man who is willing to relinquish his privilege and supports a cause that I’m so passionate about, yeah, I get excited.
I’m not gonna lie, my heart kinda fluttered when I found out that John Legend, Ashton Kutcher, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mark Ruffalo were self-declared feminists.
But should I be excited about that? Am I that excited when I find out a female celebrity is feminist? Not nearly. This is problematic!
Does a man deserve extra brownie points for supporting basic human rights? Is that something that is worthy of extra praise? Shouldn’t everybody be a feminist, regardless of what gender they identify as?
Why should men be glorified for believing in equal rights? Glorifying men for being feminists is counterintuitive to the feminist cause. By glorifying male feminists, we’re just perpetuating a hierarchy where a man’s opinion is seen as more valid and more valuable than a woman’s.
I was discussing this with a couple friends the other day. We talked about male privilege, white privilege, etc. We talked about how problematic it was that certain activists’ opinions are seen as more valuable because of their identity.
Take, for example, the Palestinian rights struggle. We discussed how when a Muslim woman of color speaks up, her opinion isn’t taken as seriously because it’s automatically expected of her to support Palestinian rights just because of her perceived identity. However, when a non-Arab or non-Muslim male speaks up (especially if said male is white), everybody is all ears because not many people expect him to be in support of Palestinian rights.
This draws parallels to the feminist cause. When female feminists speak up, it’s just “another angry feminist ranting about why life isn’t fair for women.” When a man defends feminism, he’s given extra attention and praise for being so courageous in speaking up for the “underdog.”
However, I want to make clear that I do not discount male feminists, and I do not want to disregard them. Though I do believe that while white heterosexual men will never truly understand what it’s like to be part of a systematically oppressed group, I do believe that allyship is valuable and needed. EVERYBODY needs to be critically conscious about the systems of inequality that exist, surrounding both the oppressed and the dominant groups in power.
But allyship shouldn’t make the issue at hand about the ally. The focus should still be on the marginalized group. For example, UCLA hosts an ally week on campus to raise awareness for LGBTQ issues. The focus shouldn’t be on the privileged heterosexual allies but rather on the oppressed community themselves.
Same with the feminist movement. The focus and extra praise shouldn’t be given to male feminists because a man’s opinion isn’t more valuable than someone else ’s. That is the whole point of feminism: to achieve the “complete social, political, and economic EQUALITY of the sexes.”