I am not a feminist. I'm afraid you aren't either, despite what the badge on your rucksack may say to the contrary. Or in the case of Ed Miliband, Benedict Cumberbatch and Patrick Stewart, what your 'This is What A Feminist Looks Like' t-shirt may say. Not to unfairly highlight those three. In fact, the number of self-proclaimed male feminists seems to be on the rise, and not only among the higher echelons of popular culture. I know guys who call themselves feminists. You know guys who call themselves feminists. Most people with some sort of social media presence know guys who call themselves feminists. Yet I don't use the label. I'd even go as far as to say this is harmful.
I have been, and remain, a victim of the same mental health issues plaguing a number of men. Dealing with depression and social anxiety is not aided by a fear of discussing such issues with even those closest to you. Thankfully the awareness around this epidemic has grown year on year thanks in part to the work of organisations such as Mind and the annual BAM Festival. Yet the practice of de-constructing masculinity, along with its constituent, obstinate ideas of how men should behave, was begun by those who suffered from it the most: women. This knowledge seems to have been lost on many of the forums and posts found anywhere male mental health is discussed. If I chose to take such remarks on face value, I'd be convinced that 'angry feminists' had metaphorically castrated men and were not far behind in getting their knives out for the real chop.
Thankfully I stumbled upon feminism before it had found me; or more accurately, before the stereotypes surrounding it had. I found women who loved men. I found some who hated men too. Not that I can complain too much; I also found myself reflected in the daily experiences of many women. I have been the guy who sends five more messages when the first one doesn't get a response. The guy who drowns out the voices of others in the classroom. The guy who feels relief when a girl comes into a job interview because he thinks they will be less competition. I cannot carry that history whilst simultaneously engaging in feminism, without acknowledging my role in the oppression of women. I cannot be a feminist if I am the oppressor. 'The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.' The master even less so.
Which brings me back to the much vaunted 'male feminist'. The one for whom there is much praise and admiration in his proclamation and very little by way of risk. The HeForShe. I was struck by the inability of many men supporting this campaign to see the need for such equality in the first place. 'We need to overcome the wage gap!' Yes, but why does it exist? 'We need to break the glass ceiling!' Yes, buy why does it exist. 'We need to stop sexual assault against women!' Yes, but why, why, why does it exist? We cannot lurch into the battlefield and ask who we are fighting, without seeing ourselves reflected in the opposing army. This is the realisation men need to have. If we are to aid in a movement which has survived spectacularly well without us, our remit cannot extend exclusively to supporting equal pay or abortion rights. We must dissect ourselves and the masculinities we have assimilated consciously or unconsciously, which form the foundations upon which our entire system of male power stands.
I used to call myself a feminist and am certain that many men currently do so with a deep frustration at the inequality which so blatantly surrounds us. Utilising feminism also allows men the tools to help us unlearn a lot of harmful ideas we are taught about ourselves. However, this is a process, a continuous re-examination of oneself and how we as men enable the asymmetrical power dynamic which exists. For those women in my life who call themselves feminists, the word is not solely synonymous with equality. Certainly equality is a desire for them all, yet the word encompasses so much more. I am not the person to explain that but I'd certainly advise men to do what I did to arrive at a lot of what I've written here. Listen. Take in the experiences of all those who identify as women. Reflect on the ways that men perpetuate gender imbalances. If a female feminist friend labels you an ally or indeed a feminist, then I am not in any position to dispute that. I just won't be calling myself one any time soon.