Hey Ladies: Let’s Talk About Being A Male Feminist

Hey Ladies: Let’s Talk About Being A Male Feminist

by Ariel Chesler

Andy Hinds recently wrote about being a feminist and the father of two daughters, and his continued objectification of women he encounters in daily life. Hinds honesty about how his own behavior bothers him was generally greeted with disgust and derision.

As Hinds later admitted on his blog, Beta Dad, the intended humor of his piece was lost on his audience. It was not clear where the piece was serious and where it was meant to be humorous. This is evidenced by the outrage at his non-serious suggestion that he would limit his objectification by cloaking women in “imaginary burqas.”

Amanda Marcotte expressed concern that Hinds believed “that feminism is really about policing men’s thoughts and scrubbing them clean of anything resembling sexual desire.” Marcotte then advised Hinds that it was okay to fantasize about women “as long as you respect their right to not know that’s what you’re doing.”

As a feminist man myself, and the father of two daughters, I think Hinds deserves applause his honesty and for raising this topic. For, I too, have objectified women that I passed on the street or the grocery store or the gym. It bothers me too. And, this does not mean I am not a feminist.

Hinds’ critics agree that sexual fantasies are both normal and okay as long as the target of your fantasy is not impacted.  Marcotte and others suggested that discretion is the key. Of course, sexuality is normal and healthy, as is sexual fantasy, and feminism is not meant to limit our sexuality. 

Yet, there are three concepts that Hinds and his detractors couldn’t quite articulate that are helpful here: Internalized Sexism, Contradictory Reality, and Work in Progress.

We have all (even feminists) internalized sexism. This means that even if, like Hinds, you celebrate and support the advancement of women and equality in every sphere, you have also internalized the sexism that is pervasive in our culture. And, this is not limited to men.  All of us internalize the messages we see about women. I worry, for example, that my daughters will internalize the message about women they get from all the princesses marketed to them: You are an object; you must be pretty; You must be rescued by a handsome, wealthy man. This may manifest in other ways, such as when women dislike and try to take down other women who are leaders; they can only accept male leaders or men in positions of power. Or, it may manifest in a woman’s self-hatred and limitation of self.

For men, even feminist men, internalized sexism places our normal sexual desires into hyperdrive and takes our male gaze and multiplies it to the nth power. All of the pornography, movies, television commercials, and music videos that surround us, which in fact are speaking mainly to men, have an impact on us. All of these show us women as sexual objects posed for our pleasure. And, even if we would never gaze at the real women in our life (our mothers, our sisters, our wives, our daughters) that way, we are taught to gaze at other women exactly in that manner. 

Which leads us to the concept of contradictory reality. This means that all of us live with inconsistencies. For some, like Jonathan Safran Foer, it may mean eating meat for years while being against animal suffering. For me, it was my immersing in deeply misogynist rap lyrics and hip hop culture, even as I learned how to be a man from my mother, a feminist leader, and other wonderful strong women. So, even as I proudly marched at abortion rallies, attended feminist Seders, and learned how to chop wood from Kate Millett, I sang lyrics containing the words “bitch” and “hoe” countless times and began to see women through a super-male-gaze.

We must accept that sexism exists, that we have internalized it, and that we are works in progress trying to minimize the impact sexism has on our daily lives, including on our sexual fantasies. Being a feminist does not mean being perfect. Male feminists need to grapple with our male privilege, our internalized sexism, and, as Mychal Denzel Smith has discussed, we need to do the emotional work of feminism by challenging ourselves and the other men in our lives to change our language and gaze regarding women.

And, finally we arrive at the fact that we are all works in progress. Hinds has done the important work of sharing his internalized sexism. He is to be applauded for exposing his contradictory reality and sharing his personal challenge of confronting his own sexism.

Ariel Chesler is an attorney and blogger/writer. He lives in New York with his wife and two daughters, and one cat. He is the son of feminist author and psychologist Phyllis Chesler.