Men and feminism

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Since the 19th century, men have taken part in significant cultural and political responses to feminism within each "wave" of the movement. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in a range of social relations, generally done through a “strategic leveraging” of male privilege. Feminist men have also argued alongside scholars like bell hooks, however, that men’s liberation from the socio-cultural constraints of sexism and gender roles is a necessary part of feminist activism and scholarship.


Parker Pillsbury and other abolitionist men held feminist views and openly identified as feminist, using their influence to promote the rights of women and slaves respectively.[1][2]

Pillsbury helped to draft the constitution of the feminist American Equal Rights Association in 1865, he served as vice-president of the New Hampshire Woman Suffrage Association. In 1868 and 1869 Parker edited Revolution with Elizabeth Cady Stanton.[3]

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the majority of pro-feminist authors emerged from France, including Denis Diderot, Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach, and Charles Louis de Montesquieu.[4] Montesquieu introduced female characters, like Roxana in Persian Letters, who subverted patriarchal systems, and represented his arguments against despotism. The 18th century saw male philosophers attracted to issues of human rights, and men such as the Marquis de Condorcet championed women's education. Liberals, such as the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham, demanded equal rights for women in every sense, as people increasingly came to believe that women were treated unfairly under the law.[5]

In the 19th century, there was also an awareness of women's struggle. The British legal historian, Sir Henry Maine, criticized the inevitability of patriarchy in his Ancient Law (1861).[6] In 1866, John Stuart Mill, author of The Subjection of Women, presented a women's petition to the British parliament, and supported an amendment to the 1867 Reform Bill. Although his efforts focused on the problems of married women, it was an acknowledgment that marriage for Victorian women was predicated upon a sacrifice of liberty, rights, and property. His involvement in the women's movement stemmed from his long-standing friendship with Harriet Taylor, whom he eventually married.

In 1840, women were refused the right to participate at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Supporters of the women attending argued that it was hypocritical to forbid women and men from sitting together at this convention to end slavery; they cited similar segregationist arguments in the United States that were used to separate whites and blacks. When women were still denied to join in the proceedings, abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Lenox Remond, Nathaniel Peabody Rogers, and Henry Stanton, all elected to sit silently with the women.[7]

One argument against female participation, both at the World Anti-Slavery Convention, and commonly in the nineteenth century, was the suggestion that women were ill-constituted to assume male responsibilities. Abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson argued against this, stating:

I do not see how any woman can avoid a thrill of indignation when she first opens her eyes to the fact that it is really contempt, not reverence, that has so long kept her sex from an equal share of legal, political, and educational rights…[a woman needs equal rights] not because she is man's better half, but because she is his other half. She needs them, not as an angel, but as a fraction of humanity.[7]

American sociologist Michael Kimmel categorized American male responses to feminism at the turn of the twentieth century into three categories: pro-feminist, masculinist, and antifeminist.[8][9] Pro-feminist men, believing that changes would also benefit men, generally welcomed women's increased participation in the public sphere, and changes in the division of labour in the home;[9] in contrast anti-feminists opposed women's suffrage and participation in public life,supporting a traditional patriarchal family model.[9] Finally, the masculinist movement was characterized by men's groups, and developed as an indirect reaction to the perceived femininization of manhood.[9]

Men's liberation movement[edit]

Further information: Men's liberation

The men's liberation movement began in the early 1970s as consciousness-raising groups to help men free themselves from the limits of sex roles. Proponents of men's liberation argued that male bonding is a mechanism to conform men's identities to a single sense of masculinity, which reinforces patriarchy. In lieu of such bonding, the men's liberation movement called for open acknowledgment of the costs of masculinity: men's entrapment in their fixed role as the breadwinner of the nuclear family and the taboo against men expressing emotions. Most significantly, this movement made it acceptable for men to be open about their emotions while maintaining their masculinity.

The link between the biological male sex and the social construction of masculinity was seen by some scholars[10] as a limitation on men's collaboration with the feminist movement. This sharply contrasted with sex role theory which viewed gender as something determined by biological differences between the sexes. Other key elements of the men's liberation movement were the ideas that genders are relational and each cannot exist without the other, and that gender as a whole is a social construction and not a biological imperative. Thus, second-wave profeminist writers[11] were able to explore the interactions between social practices and institutions, and ideas of gender.

Anti-feminist responses[edit]

The men's rights movement are considered by some feminists as part of an antifeminist response.[12][13][14]

Men's rights[edit]

In the early 1980s, the Men's rights campaign emerged in America in response to the men's liberation movement. Men's rights activists refer to themselves as "masculinists" or are labeled as such.[15][16][17]

Masculinists claim that feminist advances have not been balanced by elimination of traditional feminine privileges, and that they should empower themselves by revitalizing their masculinity. This argument was also echoed in religious circles with the Muscular Christianity movement.

A uniting principle was the belief that men's problems were awarded less attention than women's and that any previous oppression of women had turned, or was about to turn, into oppression of men. Men's rights activists cite men's economic burden of the traditionally male breadwinner role, men's shorter average life expectancy, and inequalities favoring women in divorce issues, custody laws, and abortion rights[18] as evidence of men's suffering.

The campaign has generally had the most success achieving legal reform in family law, particularly regarding child custody. Activists argue that the American judicial system discriminates against fathers in child custody hearings since mothers are typically viewed as the main caregivers. They claim that the economic burden of the breadwinner role has made it more difficult for men to take part in child rearing, and that court decisions rarely account for this obstacle.[18]

Some organizations, such as the National Coalition of Free Men (NCFM), have made efforts to examine how sex discrimination affects men. For instance, this group argues that custody rights in favor of women discriminate against men because they are based on the belief that women are naturally more nurturing and better caregivers than men. Also, in the belief that women are somehow less culpable than men, women receive gentler treatment by the justice system for the same crimes that men have committed. Thus, groups such as NCFM promote awareness, resources, support, and openings for discussion for these issues.[18]

Male feminism and pro-feminism[edit]

As feminist writer Shira Tarrant has argued, a number of men have engaged with and contributed to feminist movements throughout history.[19] Today, academics like Michael Flood, Michael Messner, and Michael Kimmel are involved with men's studies and pro-feminism.[7][18][20][21][22]

There is debate within feminism over whether or not men can be feminists. While some feminists, like Simone de Beauvoir in her seminal text The Second Sex, argue that men cannot be feminists because of the intrinsic differences between the sexes,[23] others argue that men's identification with the feminist movement is necessary for furthering the feminist causes. A number of feminist writers maintain that identifying as a feminist is the strongest stand men can take in the struggle against sexism against women. They have argued that men should be allowed, or even encouraged, to participate in the feminist movement.[24][25] For some, the participation of men in the feminist movement is seen as part of a process of the universalization of the feminist movement, necessary for its continued relevance.[26] One challenge of motivating men to participate, or promoting their inclusion, in feminism has been linked to the disconnect between gender and intersecting components of identity. An example of this is demonstrated in that African American men have largely been unable to realize the connection between the civil rights movement and that to end sexist oppression. The bonds formed in the civil rights movement established valuable solidarity among African American women and men.[27] This is an approach that should be transferable and equally useful to the feminist movement. Making these important connections understood by women and men will greatly benefit feminism. As described in the theory of strategic intersectionality,[28] utilizing the experiences of one part of our identity that intersects with another provides insightful tools to further improve the available tactics of the feminist movement. Other female feminists argue that men cannot be feminists simply because they are not women, cannot understand women's issues, and are collectively members of the class of oppressors against women. They claim that men are granted inherent privileges that prevent them from identifying with feminist struggles and thus make it impossible for them to identify with feminists.[29]

One idea supporting men's inclusion as 'feminists' is that excluding men from the feminist movement labels it as solely a female task, which could be argued to be sexist in itself. This idea asserts that until men share equal responsibility for struggling to end sexism against women, the feminist movement will reflect the very sexist contradiction it wishes to eradicate.[25] The term 'profeminist' occupies the middle ground in this semantic debate, because it offers a degree of closeness to feminism without using the term itself. Also, the prefix 'pro' characterizes the term as more proactive and positive. There has been some debate regarding the use of the hyphen (identifying as a 'pro-feminist' as opposed to a profeminist) claiming that it distances the term too much from feminism proper.[24]

Men's studies[edit]

Masculinity scholars seek to broaden the academic discourse of gender through men's studies. While some feminists argue that most academic disciplines, except women's studies, can be considered "men's studies" because they claim that the content of the curriculum consists of primarily male subjects, masculinity scholars[30] assert that men's studies specifically analyzes men's gendered experiences. Central to men's studies is the understanding that "gender" does not mean "female," the same way "race" does not mean "black." Men's studies are typically interdisciplinary, and incorporate the feminist conception that "the personal is political." Masculinity scholars strive to contribute to the existing dialogue about gender created through women's studies.[citation needed]

Recent polls[edit]

In 2001 a Gallup poll found that 20% of American men considered themselves feminist, with 75% saying they were not.[31] A CBS Poll in 2009 found 24% of men in the United States claim the term "feminist" is an insult. Four in five men refuse to identify themselves as feminist, but when its definition is given the number fell to two in five. An increasing number of men said that feminism had improved their lives in comparison to polls taken in 1983 and 1999 with an unprecedented, but marginal plurality of 47% agreeing. 60% believe that a strong women's movement is no longer needed. However,[32] a YouGov Poll of Britain in 2010 found that only 16% of men described themselves as feminist with 54% stating they were not and 8% specifically claiming to be antifeminist.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robertson, Stacey (2000). Parker Pillsbury: Radical Abolitionist, Male Feminist. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801436346. 
  2. ^ DuBois, Ellen Carol (1999). Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1848-1869. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. p. 102. ISBN 0801486416. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Murphy, Peter F. (ed). Feminism & Masculinities. Oxford University Press, 2004.
  5. ^ Campos Boralevi, Lea. Bentham and the Oppressed. Walter De Gruyter Inc, 1984.
  6. ^ Maine, Henry Sumner. Ancient Law. 1861
  7. ^ a b c Michael S. Kimmel, "Introduction," in Against the Tide: Pro-Feminist Men in the U.S., 1776-1990, A Documentary History. Boston: Beacon 1992, 1-51.
  8. ^ Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements. Rowman & Littlefield. 20 March 1997. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-8039-5577-6. 
  9. ^ a b c d Janet Saltzman Chafetz (2006). Handbook of the Sociology of Gender. Springer. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-387-36218-2. 
  10. ^ Mirsky, Seth. "Three Arguments for the Elimination of Masculinity." Men's Bodies, Men's Gods: Male Identities in a (Post-) Christian Culture. (New York: NYU, 1996), 27-39.
  11. ^ Carrigan, Tim, Bob Connell, and John Lee. "Toward a New Sociology of Masculinity." Reprinted in Feminism and Masculinities, Peter F. Murphy, ed. ([1985]); Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  12. ^ Clatterbaugh, Kenneth (2004). "Men's Movement". In Kimmel, Michael S.; Aronson, Amy. Men and masculinities: a social, cultural, and historical encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, pp. 529–531. ISBN 978-1-57607-774-0.
  13. ^ Dragiewicz, Molly (2011). Equality with a vengeance: men's rights groups, battered women, and antifeminist backlash. Boston, Mass.: Northeastern University Press, pp. 13–18. ISBN 978-1-55553-738-8.
  14. ^ Messner, Michael A (1997). "Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements". Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications, p. 20. ISBN 978-0-8039-5576-9.
  15. ^ Wood, Julia T. (1994). Gendered lives: communication, gender, and culture. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Pub., p. 104. ISBN 978-0-495-79416-5.
  16. ^ Flood, Michael; et al. (2007). International encyclopedia of men and masculinities. London; New York: Routledge, p. 421. ISBN 978-0-415-33343-6.
  17. ^ Kahn, Jack S. (2009). An introduction to masculinities. Chichester, U.K., Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, p. 202. ISBN 978-1-4051-8179-2.
  18. ^ a b c d Messner, Michael, Taking the Field: Women, Men, and Sports, University of Minnesota Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0-8166-3449-1
  19. ^ Tarrant, Shira, Men and Feminism, Seal Press, 2009
  20. ^ Flood, Michael. "Backlash: Angry men's movements." Reprinted from The Battle and Backlash Rage On: Why Feminism Cannot Be Obsolete (Stacey Ellen Rossi). Xlibris, 2004: 261-278.
  21. ^ Michael S. Kimmel, "Who's Afraid of Men Doing Feminism?," from Men Doing Feminism, Tom Digby, ed. New York: Routledge, 1998, 57-68
  22. ^ Messner, Michael, Power at Play: Sports and the Problem of Masculinity, Beacon Press; Reissue edition 1995, ISBN 978-0-8070-4105-5
  23. ^ Beauvoir, Simone De, Constance Borde, and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, "The Second Sex", New York: Vintage, 15.
  24. ^ a b Harry Brod, "To Be a Man, or Not to be a Man — That Is the Feminist Question," in Men Doing Feminism, Tom Digby, ed. (NY: Routledge, 1998), 197-212.
  25. ^ a b hooks, bell. Men: Comrades in Struggle, in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984).
  26. ^ Owens, Lisa Lucile, Coerced Parenthood as Family Policy: Feminism, the Moral Agency of Women, and Men's 'Right to Choose' (May 20, 2014). Alabama Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 5, p. 1, 2013. Available at SSRN:
  27. ^ hooks, bell. 2000. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Boston: South End Press.
  28. ^ Belleau, Marie- Claire. 2007. "L’intersectionnalité: Feminism in a Divided World; Québec- Canada," in Feminist Politics; Identity, Difference, and Agency. Plymouth: Rowman and Littlefield.
  29. ^ Russ Ervin Funk, "The Power of Naming: Why Men Can't Be Feminists," in Feminista!: The Journal of Feminist Construction 1, no. 4.
  30. ^ Brod, Harry. "Studying Masculinities as Superordinate Studies," in Masculinists Studies & Feminist Theory, Judith Gardiner, ed. (2002), 177-90.
  31. ^ George Horace Gallup (2002). The Gallup poll Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 152 (or more). ISBN 0-8420-5001-9, ISBN 978-0-8420-5001-2
  32. ^ "Poll: Women's Movement Worthwhile" CBS News. February 11, 2009. Retrieved February 27, 2012.
  33. ^ "Women + equality" YouGov Survey Results. October 4, 2010. Retrieved February 27, 2012.

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