This piece is co-authored by Jamie Utt and Jenika McCrayer.
Here at Everyday Feminism, we’ve covered a wide range of topics exploring the nuances of patriarchal oppression. But once in a while, it’s nice to step back from the complexities of feminist thought to help people better access, understand, and hopefully embrace feminism.
As two people working in feminist movements for justice, we get a lot of questions from cisgendermen about what their place in feminism can and should be.
And considering that we find a lot of well-intentioned men are terribly confused about the basic tenets of feminist movements, we thought we’d take some time to answer a few of those questions.
Notably, though, we come to this analysis with very different places – a Black woman and a White man. Also, we think it’s important to note that we both are cisgender, and as such, our perspectives are limiting.
We worked hard to be inclusive of how feminism serves trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people, but we hope to demystify the feminist movement for cis men and make it easier to open up for a dialogue in your community about this and whatever we missed!
With that said, then, here’s our take on the questions we get so often from men.
1. What Is Feminism? And Can Men Be Feminists?
To understand whether or not men can be feminist, men really need to understand what feminism actually is.
But the tricky part is that feminism isn’t just one thing!
Depending on who you’re in community with, feminism can be totally and completely different.
Thus, it’s important to be clear what we’re talking about when we say “feminism.”
Though there are innumerable ways that people understand and express their feminism, we see the meaning of the term falling into two general concepts:
Option A: Feminism is a movement for and about women.
To some, feminists are women striving to better the lives of women. Feminism is a movement for gender equality socially, politically, and economically.
Each wave of feminism has expanded to include multiple groups of marginalized people in society, but its basis remains as a movement for and by women (including trans women).
Men can surely have a role in this understanding of feminism, but men’s relationship to feminism would be better understood as an ally/solidarity relationship built on accountable work.
Option B: Feminism is a movement about gender justice.
Patriarchy hurts everyone, even if it hurts women and non-binary people more and in profoundly different ways than cisgender men.
Feminism, then, is a movement to combat systemic and institutional oppression that disproportionately affects disenfranchised groups in our society with the main focus on women.
Thus, in this concept, feminism is a movement where people of all genders can be feminists if they’re willing to do the work to dismantle patriarchal oppression.
So where men fit in feminism depends a lot on who they’re in community with and how communities understand the role of feminism in working for justice!
2. Hold the Phone – What’s This Patriarchy Stuff You Keep Mentioning?
The term patriarchy generally is referring to systems and social norms that are, by in large, created by cisgender men for cisgender men and that, as a result, marginalize and oppress those who are not cis men (or those passing for cis men).
3. Okay, But Who Is Feminism For?
In some ways, it depends on who you ask.
To us, feminism is for everyone (so long as we’re all accountable to those marginalized people who ought to be in leadership).
There are different types of gender equality movements that also focus on intersections of race, ethnicity, and class, like womanism or Third World Feminism, but the current wave of feminism we participate in is seen as an intersectional and inclusive umbrella movement.
To some people, feminism is an inclusive, intersectional movement for social justice that centers marginalized and oppressed people in the work for freedom.
To others, it’s strictly aims to serve cisgender women, particularly focusing on the issues that affect White women.
To those people, feminism isn’t meant to be inclusive at all.
For example, TERFs consider themselves feminists, but that’s not exactly an inclusive and intersectional anti-oppressive feminism when it seeks to actively advance the oppression of our transgender and gender non-conforming family.
At Everyday Feminism, we work to inform the wider struggle for intersectional feminist justice, so our feminism centers women, trans folks, and non-binary people, particularly those most marginalized and oppressed in our society because of race, class, ability, religion, sexual identity, citizenship experience, or body size.
4. But Isn’t Feminism About Hating Men?
Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.