Are we feminists or pro-feminists (Marc’s take)

Should men sympathetic to feminism call themselves feminists?  I don’t think so, for a few reasons. I think it is presumptuous, a misunderstanding, a hostage to fortune and a political mis-step.  In what comes next, I want first off to acknowledge that my position is shaped by reading some fabulous supple thinkers (though errors remain mine).  I can’t track down the exact publications, but these on the notion of ‘allyship’ were part of the mix, I think.

First off, it is presumptuous; who am I to say that I behave as a feminist should?  Whenever pressed on the ‘greatest of all time’ question, Roger Federer (#yum) dodges it and says ‘that’s not for me to say’.  There are a gazillion things I do, a gazillion I have done, that make me cringe and think that the label ‘feminist’ would be a lie.  I grew up in patriarchy, I am of patriarchy. Just because I am (or claim to be) ‘woke’ doesn’t make me a feminist.    [See the last paragraph of this post for more on this]


Secondly, beyond my personal aesthetic preferences, I think the whole label of “being a feminist” is a dead end for men, based on an idea of mis-placed concreteness.  Being a male supporter of feminism is not a property of an individual, like your height, eye colour, love of Mozart or whatever. It is a series of actions, based on thoughts and reflections and open-ness to criticism and the myriad ways that your privileges imbricate with your experiences and outlooks.   It’s not a destination, where you get to sit on a pile of accrued good-guy tokens, it’s a never-ending journey, made up of lots of bumps and scrapes and mis-steps.

Thirdly, by proclaiming yourself a feminist, you are planting a big target on yourself.  When (not if, but when) you fuck up, you can held up to be either a hypocrite by women who are (rightly!) suspicious of self-proclaimed “feminists”, or by right-wingers/alt-right/mens rights types.  And you ruin your credibility in the eyes of potentially “convertible” onlookers, as well as messing with your own morale. (And wasting time and energy that could be better spent on, you know, activism.)
Finally – and I am not so sure on this one- I think it might make it harder rather than easier to have useful conversations with men who don’t ‘get it’.  By proclaiming that you have ‘gone over to the enemy’ (in order to get laid more, they’ll say), then is it not harder to have useful conversations about porn, how to treat partners, social injustice etc [yeah, and the sum total of those conversations that I have had this year is, I think, zero.  I live in a liberal bubble].

So what is my alternative?  Well, I think the slightly (!) clumsier formulation “man who is trying (and probably failing most of the time) to behave in accordance with the basic propositions of feminism” – [ i.e. that is, ‘a movement to end sexism’ (h/t bell hooks).  It doesn’t roll of the tongue, does it? But it does capture that behavioural aspect, that this isn’t a property that someone arrives at after the accumulation of a certain number of good guy tokens and can then relax. It isn’t a thing, it’s a process, and – as such – one that is going to need constant input and thought.


The counter-argument to this is that I am just claiming I am not a good feminist in order to extract ‘no, you’re a great ally’ comments from women to boost my pathetic ego.  At least as far as I can know – I am not.