I'm a man.  I'm also a feminist.  Or an ally.  Whatever you prefer to call me.  Well... whatever women prefer to call me.   Generally, the only men who say "there's no such thing as a male feminist" are the kind of men who are definitely neither feminists nor allies.  But if a woman wants to refer to me as an ally rather than a feminist, then go for it.  Labels aren't that important to me.

To talk about feminism if you're a man is dangerous, and generally for good reason.  Women have strong, powerful voices and are perfectly capable of telling their own story; I would never attempt to tell a woman about feminism.  

So here, I'm writing this for men.  We all have our own window onto life, and I have striven to avoid describing things from anyone else's point of view, but have shared experiences and evidence from conversations I've had.  Of course, you're welcome to read this if you're a woman, but please don't judge me for telling you things that you already know; I speak from experience when I say that what's obvious to you is often not obvious at all to us men.

This is a personal story of my own journey to being a feminist.  As anyone who's read my stuff before will know, I love a good list.  And so without further ado or explanation from me, here are ten things about being a male feminist.

Sexism is EVERYWHERE - you just don't see it if you're a man.

A few years ago, I used to work for a company based in Ashton-Under-Lyne, just outside Manchester.  It was before Metrolink made it out that far, and the disruption caused by the work to install the tracks was the talk of the office.

Back in those days, I used to bake cakes.  Just before one visit to the office up north, I made some apple and cinnamon cupcakes -  the tops decorated with slices of apple and a bit of icing.  As I proffered them around the office, one of the women who worked in the sales team told me that she didn't believe I'd done them on my own;  I'd obviously had female help to decorate them, she told me.

Such blatant sexism.  I suddenly knew what it was like to be a woman and have sexist comments coming your way.  I was also being attacked, and I was also a victim of sexism.
 
Except I wasn't and I didn't.  Of course not.  It wasn't until I started reading and listening that I got any hint of what it's like to be a woman. 

A few years after that I read the book "Everyday Sexism".  It's based on a website where women share their everyday stories of how they are treated differently because they aren't men.  As I read it, the sexism was just so relentless and every-bloody-where that I couldn't quite believe I'd never noticed it happening all around me.

So I asked some women I know about their own experiences.  I guess I was maybe expecting a few stories here and there, but the casual way they just said "oh yeah, of course" as they told me they had to walk a longer way to the local shop to avoid wolf whistles from the building site, or how they had a male friend take their car into the garage for service because they were sick of being talked down to by the mechanics.  Even if they don't have to walk the long way around to the shops, but they may be tired of being asked at job interviews if they plan to have more kids or of having to paint on a smile when someone asks them who they slept with in order to get the senior job they're doing.  

I felt stupid for never knowing this before, and angry that it was happening to people I knew and loved. 

And so my first piece of advice on your road to being a male feminist is to ask some of your female friends and family to tell you of the times they've been made to feel uncomfortable because of their gender.  You may be able to share your one story of someone making a gender-based comment about your cupcakes ten years ago, but when you've heard of the twenty times that happened to someone you love in the past day or two, maybe you'll feel less like it's the time and place to share your story.

Never put the words NOT, ALL and MEN together in that order.  

You'll be angry of course.  You'll be angry at the world and angry at the men who do that kind of thing.  You're not one of those men of course.  None of us are.  It's the other men who do those kinds of things.  You're one of the Good Men (Here's Hannah Gadsby talking about this much more eloquently than I ever could.)

Now here's the thing.  You're human.  When you realise what's going on in the world around you, you'll want to make sure you're not part of the bad stuff.  I'm sure Socrates said something about nobody willingly doing evil.

I mean, sure, you've likely called a woman you don't know "love" because you couldn't remember her name in the moment, or you've nudged a friend sitting next to you in a bar and motioned towards a woman walking around the room so you can both judge that yes - she does seem to have large breasts.  But still, you're not really part of the problem.

Now here's the thing.  

You can still hurt someone by throwing many small stones at them; not everyone has to be throwing rocks.  And whilst you may not have thrown rocks, you may well have been complicit no matter how small the pebble you threw.

So whilst it's obviously true that not all men are sex offenders and not even all men have thrown pebbles, saying "not all men" would be akin to standing at the back watching someone get stoned and saying "you can't blame us all for this, 'cos look, we're not all throwing stones".  

If you really want to help, then start telling all the others why they shouldn't throw stones, rather than protesting your own innocence.

You will hear and see things that women don't

So maybe you never knew that women saw and heard all this stuff that men don't.  And maybe you haven't even been part of that, even in a small way.  But I am still sure you've heard men say things to each other when there are no women present that you know they wouldn't say if a woman were present.

And well, let's face it.  What's the harm in men talk about women in a derogatory way if there are no women there to hear it.  How can I possibly hurt the women if they don't know it's happening?

I don't think I had a particularly traditional upbringing, at least not in the sense that I had was never explicitly taught what you'd call traditional values.  But we absorb our values from the world we see around us.  The TV I grew up with is now the stuff shown on those documentaries on the cheaper channels which invite us to look back at just how un-cool the world was back in the day.  We all watch along and feel so proud of ourselves for not calling gay people that anymore, and for not presuming that women do all the hoovering.  Look how far we've come.  Aren't we all wonderfully non-sexist in 2021... 

But the stuff we look back on now in order to make ourselves feel better is exactly the stuff I grew up immersed in. One of the things I picked up from the world around me was that you never swore in front of ladies.  It's only respectful isn't it?

Well, actually it's not.  Whether you say respectful things or not shouldn't depend on who's listening.  And in my experience, women are just as capable of swearing as men and don't seem to faint if you say "fuck" in front of them.

If you create a separate world for all-male company, then even if you don't mean to, you're creating a space where men can say things they don't want women to hear.  Locker Room Talk, it's called.  It's even got a name.  

And just like those members of UKIP who claim they're not racist, but say racist things when their guard is down - you get the true measure of what a man thinks about women when he doesn't think there are any women listening to what he's saying.

But the good news is that you can do something about it.  And this is one of those rare cases when men can do something that women can't.  You just need to woman up and call people out on their behaviour.  

Sure, you'll get told it's all harmless banter and you'll get told that you're spoiling the fun.  But you did say that you wanted to be a feminist, and you know - being a feminist isn't the easy path.

You don't amplify someone's voice by repeating what they said.

So now you're firmly on the feminist bus.  You're angry about the treatment of the women in your life, and maybe you've even bought one of those t-shirts which says  THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE just like all the politicians had back in the days when we thought the worst thing that could happen in politics was a Lib Dem and Tory coalition.

So you want to help your sisters fight the good fight, and want to add your baritone voice to the cries going up in the streets.  Right on, brother!

So, when you hear a woman say something, you'll say it too.  Amplify the message.  Spread the word.

You see the thing is, it's not cool to repeat what someone else said and take the credit. 

Even if you do give them the credit, it'd be less uncool to help amplify their voice when they are saying it.  So why not do that instead?

Sit back. Let the women speak.  Nod in approval.  Tell people you agree with her.  Invite her to repeat a point again if you think it was important and not everybody heard it.   Direct people's attention rather than command it.  Don't be afraid to be in the background; you can do as much good work behind the scenes as you can at the microphone.

I realise the irony of saying this in the midst of a long piece written by a man, based on all the things that he's heard women saying.  I said I was a feminist; I didn't say I wasn't a little hypocritical, did I?

Your own sexuality is not an excuse.

I was once told that it's much easier for a gay man to be a feminist than for a straight man.  In fact more than once.  In fact, I've even had people presume that if you're a man and call yourself a feminist, you're most likely gay.

It is my experience that gay men have lots of female friends.  And vice versa.  It's not something that happened to me consciously, but over the years I've found that many of my closest friends are women.

But the suggestion that it's easy for gay men to be feminist because they've no interest in sleeping with women feels lazy at best.  It also doesn't explain why so many lesbians find it perfectly possible to be feminist whilst still fancying women.

I once asked one of my close friends what she wanted for her birthday. She said that she could do with some new bras, so I went into town and popped into Bravissimo.  For those who don't know, it's a bra shop that particularly specialises in bras for women with larger breasts.  And not just bras, but strappy tops and other tops with decent bras built into them, so that women with larger breasts have a wider range of stuff to wear than the rather plain bras you for large cup sizes in most places.

So anyway, I popped in and picked up a gift voucher and left.  I was admittedly the only man in the shop, but it didn't feel weird.  You may want to say that's because I'm gay, but I'm sure that straight men are also capable of going into a bra shop for larger breasted women without thinking "Bras for big boobs!  Wayhey!"

The thing that straight men did, though, was to tell that I was very brave.  Yes, that's right. Brave.

I always thought bravery was running into a burning building to rescue a cat or overcoming your fear of public speaking to deliver a speech at an important event;  I didn't think it was brave to buy a bra.  But if that's the case, I wonder if there's a "men's bravery medal" I can claim if I went back and bought the matching knickers?

Truthfully, it doesn't feel any easier to buy a bra if you're a gay man.  It doesn't feel like buying a bra should be a difficult thing for anyone, but it seems that a lot of straight men have an aversion to getting involved in women's things.  

How much does the average straight man know about periods?  Most straight men mutter something about woman's trouble or time of the month and then maybe go on to joke about how their girlfriend is grumpy for a few days. Hilarious.

But the truth is that many women have periods.  As men, we've been taught by society to stay away from that whole area.  Never ask about it, and just let women deal with it.  We probably know that dealing with it has something to do with wings and little glass jugs of blue water, but beyond that, we're generally not sure what you actually do with a tampon.

And that's not OK.  

To dismiss all this as women's trouble is to put women into another category.   You can pretend that you're giving the women period privacy, but you're actually sending the message that you're not interested.  In some parts of the world, women who are having their period are sent to live in cold huts with the animals.  And some of those women die.  To say you're not interested in periods is to say there's something about them you'd rather not know.  

If you're going to be a feminist, you really do need to know about period shame and period poverty.  You need to make sure there's a way for visiting houses guests to unashamedly used and dispose of period products if they need them.   And you're not going to be able to do any of those if you can't say the word period.

On the flip side, though, if you're a gay man reading this, you don't get a free pass for misogyny either.  There's a worrying undercurrent amongst some gay men to use the word "disgusting" when describing the idea of sex with a woman.  

A bit like the straight men in the locker room, then only say it to other gay men, presuming that there's some safety in that company.  So if you're gay, don't think you get a right to other women simply because you don't fancy having sex with one.  Saying that straight men are the problem is only a step away from saying not all men. You can still be part of the problem if you're gay...

Being a feminist doesn't make you less of a man

Now, you're a straight man and you like women.  You like them so much you want to have relationships with them and go to bed with them.  And you're thinking to yourself, how can you possibly do that if you're a feminist?  After all, don't women like men who are masculine.  What's masculine about fighting the gender pay gap and campaigning for an end to period poverty.

A few years, that noted expert on female sexuality, Stephen Fry, confidently told us all that women don't really like sex anyway.  So isn't it obvious that beating your chest and trying to show how manly you are is the only way to persuade a woman into bed to do something she doesn't really enjoy?

I'm about as much an expert on female sexuality as Stephen Fry is, but from the conversations I've had the evidence seems to suggest that women do actually like to have sex.  And evidence also suggests that shouting "oi love, nice tits!" isn't their favoured seduction technique.

I blame the film Grease.  Sandy was lovely. She was bookish, happy in herself and wore clothes that made her happy.  Yeah, she felt a bit like the outsider, but with friends around her, she was going OK other than a little melancholy nostalgia about a bloke she'd had a thing with in the past.    

And then there was Danny.  A bit of a slimeball, really.  The kind of guy who calls a car a pussy wagon when shiny phallic symbol would've been a better name.  But somehow, by the end of the film, Sandy has found her way into the world's tightest pair of trousers, changed her hair and turned into exactly the kind of woman Danny wants her to be and this is such a happy ending because she gets her man.  

Right.

Fundamentally, one of the problems is with the idea of masculinity.  So many men I know find themselves outside the scope of what's defined as masculine.  And that's a problem.  Men have emotions.  Something they cry because they are happy and sometimes they cry because they are sad.  Sometimes they feel good about how they look and sometimes they don't.  Sure they don't get as much pressure from society about any of it, but they still have those feelings.  But those other men who can't bring themselves to view women as equals also view these real, everyday men as lesser too.  The phrase man up is the most common manifestation of this.  If you want to be a feminist, you'll want to stop using that phrase too.

And again, not my area of expertise, but I get the impression from the women I know that being a feminist - that is actually being one, not just saying the right thing now and again - is actually a very attractive quality in a man.  

So who knows, treat women with respect and dignity and you may find yourself having more sex and better relationships than if you beat your chest like an ape.

But how do you give a woman a compliment these days?

You allow yourself to show emotion and treat women with respect, but things have gone so far these days, that as a man, you're not allowed to say a nice thing to a woman, let alone ask her if she'd like a drink.

At least that's what you'd believe if you trusted a lot of the nonsense you read online and hear on low rent radio phone-in shows.  Just Google for and read about incels if you want to see how bad this can get.

But the fact that people like to hear nice things about themselves hasn't changed.  Everyone who has done something new with their hair or bought a new outfit wants to feel good about it.  The point is that you can tell someone that without it being creepy.  You can tell a woman that she looks nice, you just need to drop the expectation that she'll have sex with you in return for saying it (Sara Pascoe has written a great book which talks about this - you can find it here...)

It would be easier if more straight men were comfortable with the word fabulous.  It's a great word for these situations, but it seems that only gay men are entirely comfortable throwing the way around with - well - gay abandon.  There's nothing sexual about the word fabulous.  To be told that you look fabulous  (or fab if you prefer brevity) is nice.  Being told that your new coat looks fabulous! is a world away from being told that you look really hot in that new coat.  

If you can't bring yourself to use the word fab then think about using cool instead.  

But vocabulary is really only half the trouble, but it's a good place to start.   The key to saying nice things to anyone is to not make it uncomfortable.  If someone is uncomfortable at a compliment you're paying them, then you're not doing it right - it's not really a compliment if it makes them squirm.

Consent isn't complicated

So much has been written about consent that I'm dubious about whether I have anything new to say on the topic.  So many women have written about it, that I could just post a load of links here.  

On the other hand, I can't really write something about being a male feminist without talking about the importance of consent.

If you believed the stuff you read around the place, then consent is really complicated.  I mean how are you supposed to tell the difference between a woman smiling at you because she's being friendly and smiling at you because she'd like to have sex with you.  Maybe she's wearing that low cut top because it's a hot day and she wants to be cool in the breeze - or maybe she's wearing it because she wants you to stare at her breasts.

We all already know the answer.  Saying that a woman is inviting the attention is a lie that some people just choose to be complicit; sure nobody actually believes it's true.

Fortunately, there's a simple way to free yourself from that confusion.  There is an absolutely sure-fire way to tell whether a woman wants you to have sex with her or touch her breasts.

You ask her.  Revolutionary I know.  The question needs to be appropriate for the situation, but if you think things are heading that way, and you want a simple way to find out.  Just ask.  The words can I touch your breasts? or Would you like to have sex with me? may sound really awkward and slightly uncomfortable out of context, but in the right context, they are perfectly good questions.  

Rejection hurts us all.  We don't even like being told that we can't eat a piece cake before dinner.  If you're anything like me, then you tend to bias towards asking questions to which you are pretty sure the answer is going to be yes.  And handily, that's a good way to judge whether to ask these kinds of questions too.  If you are pretty sure the answer is going to be yes then ask.  If the answer is no, you'll feel a little wounded but will have tuned your senses to make a better judgement of the situation next time you come to ask the question. 

But how about female-only spaces?  Aren't they just sexism against men.

We're back at cupcakes again.  Can you tell I am still deeply hurt by the reaction my cupcakes got?

If someone tells you that as a man, they didn't expect you could make pretty cupcakes then it feels a little strange.  Actually, the situation got a little weirder after that because someone else told her that I was gay, and suddenly she believed that I had made the cupcakes after all.  But that's another story.

But feeling weird is OK.  Feel weird causes us to question the world around us, think about things and explore how the world around us is.  Weird is good.  

Imagine there was a duck that landed in the garden and stared at you through the kitchen window.  That'd feel weird.  You'd probably tell people about it.  You'd think about what was going on, but it likely wouldn't overly trouble you.

Now imagine that the duck is there every day.  And it's not just ducks, many of the other birds are watching you too.  Through all the windows.  The feeling of weirdness would soon turn to creepiness and pretty soon after that into fear.  You don't dislike birds, and not all of them are staring at you, but you start to feel that you'd be much more able to cope with this if there was somewhere you could go without birds for a while.  Maybe somewhere with other people experiencing the same thing you could talk to, share stories and support.  

Once you've had the conversation with the women in your life about their experiences of sexism, try talking to them about whether they are constantly on edge.  Are they constantly looking at everyone around them, judging the threat.  Crossing the street to avoid groups of men or even a single man.  And then ask them whether they would like to have some spaces in which they can dial down that feeling.  

Trains are scary places late at night.  They are metal boxes with no escape between stations, which can sometimes be for tens of minutes at a time.  There isn't even a driver who can see what's going on inside the carriages.   I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've felt slightly uneasy on a late-night train.  When there's been a person or group of people making me feel concerned about my safety.  I've got up and moved carriages to be amongst more people.  

The reality is that most spaces are safe spaces for men compared with the same space for women.  For women to have one carriage on a train where they don't have to be fearful of the men on the train isn't a huge imposition on the men who have pretty much every other carriage of the train to sit in without being fearful.  Sure, we should fix the underlying problem that women are fearful of men in the first place, but until we reach the utopian world where every space is equally safe for everyone, maybe these explicit spaces are necessary.

I actually asked a friend recently what I could do to help.  I rarely take trains late at night, in fact I'm really out of the house late at night, to be honest, but if I ever did, and there was a woman on her own on the train, what could I do to make her less fearful of me.  It's not nice to be afraid and it's not nice to have people afraid of you, and I dearly wish there was a way I could do or say something to remove that tension.  But the advice I received is that the only thing I can do is to act normally.  Saying or doing anything to bring me to her attention wouldn't help.  Of course, I can step in if someone else does start to make her feel uncomfortable, but I can't help but feel it's a shame that things have to go wrong before there's a way that I can help.  It's frustrating that there's nothing I can do there and then.   

When is International Men's Day? 

Firstly, it's 19th November. Thank you for asking.  And yes, I have mercilessly stolen this from the wonderful Richard Herring.  It's no coincidence that 8th March is the only day that anyone asks the date of International Men's Day.  The men doing that are not interested in men's issues but are interested in suppressing the attention on women's issues.  

One of the most frustrating things for me whenever I talk about fighting discrimination of all sorts is the confusion, willing or not, between equality and sameness. I believe men and women are equal; I don't believe they are the same.  I believe that people of different races are equal; I don't believe they are the same.  I believe that LGBTQ+ people are equal to straight, cis people; I don't believe they are the same.

We are all shaped by the way the world treats us.  And our gender, race and sexuality will affect how other people talk to us and treat us.  That's why hearing those differing voices matters.    That's why diversity is good.  Bringing together people who are different creates better collective wisdom.  Bringing together people who are the same does the exact opposite.

There are issues that affect men more than women, and those problems need fixing, too.  But addressing them is not incompatible with working to make society fairer for women; The truth is that if we get rid of the notions of what it is to be a woman and to remove the constraints we place around what women are permitted do, then men benefit too.   

Let's not set equality for women as the opposite of equality for men.  
The clue that equality is for everyone is in the name.

One of the greatest things about feminism is that if we get this right, everybody wins.  



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