Feminism 101: What’s the deal with male allies and feminism?

10 fabulous feminists explain what it takes to be a true male feminist ally
By Avital Norman Nathman  Published on 09/30/2016 at 10:42 AM EDT

Welcome back to Feminism 101, where your questions are answered by our group of fierce, fabulous feminists! This week we’re taking on the concept of male feminists/male feminist allies. If you’re a woman, nobody really blinks an eye if you identify as a feminist, but something strange happens when men identify as feminists. They’re either looked down upon by other men or the opposite: they are put up on a pedestal, as if to say “This man gets it! Why can’t you?” but then, more often than not, they end up disappointing and failing us in some way. So, we wanted to know:

What’s the deal with male feminists?

Kat Rutkin:  “To be honest I had probably given them too little credit across the board until Obama wrote his feminism essay. Seeing one of the most powerful men in the world take a humble but firm stand for women still gives me chills to think about it, and makes me hopeful I can raise my two boys as true feminists. If we can have a feminist president followed by a female president, they may see no other way of thinking.”

Shaindel Beers: I think one of the biggest issues that male feminists have is not realizing HOW ingrained misogyny is in our society. I get it. Racism is deeply, deeply ingrained in our society as well. I’ve made mistakes and said and done things that I didn’t realize were wrong until they were pointed out to me by people of color. These were hard lessons to learn. Male feminists need to know the same thing. Sometimes, you may be wrong, even if you’re trying to be a good ally. The important thing to do is back down, apologize, learn, and be a better person next time. Too often, the temptation is to double-down, get defensive, and in the worst cases, melt down and attack. Don’t do that. We need you to be allies. We need all the help we can get.”

Danielle Corcione:Male feminists would be awesome if they would actually listen to women when they experience oppression. If they aren’t doing that, I’m not sure why they call themselves a feminist. It’s hard to protest a patriarchal system to support women if you’re reaping the benefits of the label without actually living up to its values.”

Shannon Luders-Manuel:I grew up in a family of male feminists, though I don’t think they’ve ever referred to themselves that way. Rather, it’s just the way they live their lives on a daily basis. Feminism is nothing more than thinking men and women should have equal rights while also being aware of gender inequality. If a man were to proclaim he was a feminist, I’d probably be a little skeptical. I’m more apt to believe the ones who think there is nothing revolutionary or even noteworthy in their stance.”

Awanthi Vardaraj: I don’t think —  as too many feminists seem to — that male feminists are upstarts or that they’re not wanted here or that they don’t know what they’re doing or really just ‘how dare they, how DARE they come in here and think they can understand or know what it feels like to be a woman in their space when they stand there in all their privileged maleness?’ I don’t. Because that sort of thinking is in itself a privileged thought.

Because the truth is that we need all the allies we can get. That those allies will sometimes screw up because they’re still learning. That they want to be there and they want to speak up and they want to be tagged in and they want to learn. They want to be supportive to every woman. And they’re teaching others as they do. There are women out there in places where it is dangerous to be a woman; there are women out there who are silenced and afraid; there are women out there who rely on these enlightened men to be their voices, to be their support, to be there. Even if they’re still learning how to be.

And that’s why it’s okay with me.”

Sarah Buttenwieser: Of course men can be feminists; if all of feminism weighed only on women’s shoulders we wouldn’t see any meaningful change. But now, I’m wondering: is the question too rigid? In a world where the binary is being blown open, isn’t feminism spread out even further and wider?

Debra A. Klein:My hot take on a guy proclaiming himself a feminist is that he’s trying to get in someone’s pants. But after reading and hearing the vile misogyny spewed during this election season, and ignoring plenty hurled my way in response to pieces from personal essays to humor, I’m happy to have allies who are willing to catch some flak by wearing the label. To me it’s the closest a dude can get to walking a mile in our (uncomfortable) shoes. At least we know they won’t be muttering ‘bitch’ under their breath after a woman speaks her mind.”  

Katherine Heller:I don’t know about you, but I just adore male feminists. I feel like I talk too much anyway so I’m happy to be spoken for, loudly. For further insight, I’ll share my dating profile:

W4M (Brooklyn): 28 year old cis white female feminist seeking relationship with a true feminist ally. Must be so enraged about toxic masculinity that he can successfully yell over people at parties/on the street/during his tight 5 comedy set about about rape culture. Must be adroit in invoking ‘sex positivity’ to coerce consent for sex acts I don’t (think) I want (yet)! Extra points for quoting Dan Savage to help me understand open relationships/denouncing jealousy as a patriarchal construct. My top 3 vulnerable areas to be used for future exploitation: absent dad, suicide, molestation. ‘Good guys’ only!’

Avital Norman Nathman:I am all for folks across the gender spectrum identifying as feminist. Of course boys and men can be feminists – I’m raising a male one right now! What I have a problem with is when folks use the feminist label to look good, but then do not do the actual work associated with it. I’ve seen male feminists from high-profile ones to random Joes get called out for legitimate issues which they either ignore or throw a pouty party over. We simply don’t have time to destroy the Patriarchy and hold your hand, men.

Mayim Bialik: Male feminists are awesome. I made babies with one and he’s an awesome dad. Male feminists believe in the power of equality for women given the unique perspective women have as humans. They don’t feel less than women, they don’t hate themselves, and they most certainly aren’t ‘weak’ or ‘feminine’ like many people think they are. I actually only date male feminists, because men who understand how important equality is are generally men who understand that fighting for women’s rights is the same as fighting for human rights.”

Do YOU have a question you’d like our cabal of fierce feminists to tackle? Email it to Avital Norman Nathman at

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