Women’s Month Series: Can Men Be Feminists?

By Khothatso Kolobe


In the second year of my academic indoctrination towards getting a degree, one of our feminist lecturers publicised an offer for a male student to be a feminist ambassador. I was tempted but the guilty conscience of being against my fellow men overshadowed my temptation. I always answered when nobody was willing, which made it hard to suppress the urge to volunteer.

I sat it out, at war with myself until the lecture vacated the hall without a volunteer. Whether my actions that day were in the right or wrong has been blurry until today. Let me walk you through it with the assistance of Bell Hooks’ The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love.

Women who express themselves to be feminist are automatically viewed by men as the enemy. The obvious reason is that conservative antifeminist women and men conclude that feminism destroys family life. This blame game is played without considering the role that the iron fist consumer capitalist culture has pulled women out of the home into the workforce like a furious tornado.

It is true that there has been a small faction of radical women who openly hated men. The reasons were clear, men murder and rape women. Men are imprisoned for their violence against women. Imprisonment has not deterred men from sexually abusing girl children and taking it a step further by creating an amusement world of child pornography featuring little girls.

As a defence, mass media gave most attention to feminism as being antimale. This minority group received massive attention because it was a threat to patriarchy. Patriarchy within itself had sewn seeds of its own destruction, which were represented by feminist rebellion. Females had to revolt because patriarchy in its purest form, was an advocate for fear and hatred of females.

In one of her au courant works, Feminism Is for Everybody, Hooks narrates:

“Individual heterosexual women came to the movement from relationships where men were cruel, unkind, violent, unfaithful. Many of these men were radical thinkers who participated in movements for social justice, speaking out on behalf of the workers, the poor, speaking out on behalf of racial justice. However when it came to the issue of gender they were as sexist as their conservative cohorts. Individual women came from these relationships angry. They used that anger as a catalyst for women’s liberation. As the movement progressed, as feminist thinking advanced, enlightened feminist activists saw that men were not the problem, that the problem was patriarchy, sexism and male domination.”

Feminism unfolded into a multifaceted ideology because it evolved gradually like software updates addressing problems as encountered. This accounts for the diverse feminist paradigms. Of paramount interest to us are the visionary feminist thinkers who had never been anti-male and were deprived of mass media attention.

The attention deficit fosters that there is a need for a feminist outlook that encircles feminist masculinity, that loves boys and men and demands on their behalf every right desired for women and girls. This could revive the position of men in society. Feminist thinking guides all towards a path of loving justice and freedom in a manner that favours and affirms life, notably for males.

Feminism in itself has had contradictions. It has encouraged men to be in touch with their feelings, be more vulnerable. Some men followed suit. Au contraire, they were viewed as wimps by women in their lives who preferred a macho man surreptitiously. Correspondingly, men who were open to change ended up throwing the towel, falling back to patriarchal tendencies.

These contradictions are even manifested at school, where teachers think that equality means pairing girls with boys in terms of opportunity, not the other way round. Equality is to them about giving girls the same privileges as boys, not awarding boys the same right as girls, such as that of resisting to engage in violence. There is a song we used to sing in primary school about an imprisoned father sharing advice with his son, it went:

“Promise my son not to do those things I have done, walk away from trouble if you can.

It won’t mean you weak if you turn the other cheek. My son, never fight to be a man.”

It is primarily sagacious to be peaceful at all times. To the contrary, there are rare instances where you will have to tell someone that with a single strike of your open hand in their face, you will put them in a coma for nine months so that they are reborn as their better selves. Sometimes words could be too slow, just rush and communicate it with action then go on with your business.

To punctuate the above point, Hooks quotes the reply of a Masai wise man when quizzed by Terrence Real to name the traits of a good warrior. The wise man answered:

“I refuse to tell you what makes a good morani (warrior). But I will tell you what makes a great morani. When the moment calls for fierceness, a good morani is very ferocious. And when the moment calls for kindness, a good morani is utterly tender. Now, what makes a great morani is knowing which moment is which.”

The towering message is integrity. Men must be able to relate and respond in lieu of simply reacting. They should oust the patriarchal masculinity compass of multifarious levels of reaction and overreaction as it makes women to fear men, which deteriorates trust and removes love from the relationship equation. Populous men have lost love through acts of relational violence.

Accordingly, visionary feminism is a savior paradigm by virtue of its wise and loving politics rooted in the love of male and female being with partnership as the foundation of such love. Men are strongly advised to welcome feminist thinking and practice as it accentuates the value of mutual growth and self actualization in all relationships.

So can men be feminists?

Hell yeah! Provided they appreciate that love cannot coexist with domination and coercion. Provided that they make the complex choice to rebel against patriarchy, giving prominence to loving justice over manhood. Taking a stance that enables them to reconnect with selfhood, spotlighting the essential goodness of maleness, permitting everyone to find nobility in loving manhood.

Subsequently, we will beam the influence of popular culture on media masculinity.