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Why Can't Men Be Feminists Too?

Last night I found my feminism coming under public scrutiny on Twitter. But why are we fighting over who should be allowed in the gang when there's so much work to be done?

Scottee. Image via ​Curtis Brown

This post originally appeared on VICE UK.​

I've spent my life being mistaken for a woman. It's something to do with the Evan's blouses and femme demeanour, but I'm OK with that. I'd much prefer to be mistaken for a woman than a man.

Last Friday, I went "up West" to get some plus-size tights for the weekend. I found a place with over-priced herbal tea and began to listen to Radio 4 – I think this means I'm aspiring to be middle class nowadays. At around 10.05 AM, I threw my Moroccan flat bread on to the reclaimed wood table and sighed through a discussion on Woman's Hour that asked: Can a man be a feminist?

Annons

See, the notion of questioning if a man could – or should – be a feminist is alien to me. From early on, my mum educated me on how women were having to fight tooth-and-nail for equality. I remember reading the cover of Fat is a Feminist Issue on her beside table around the same time Miss Fitzmorris told me I had to play trains with boys and take my hands off my hips. It stuck.

I grew up in a home with domestic violence, and watching this play out every weekend meant I was full of femme rage before I even understood the concept of feminism. And, before Woman's Hour last Friday, I thought all feminists wanted men on board, too. Apparently not.

Feminism's answer to Katie Hopkins, ​Karen Ingala Smith, was invited to broadcasting house to join the debate. She believes feminism is about "the liberation of women from male oppression," and I agree. However, she argued, because "we socialise differently and have different experiences of the world, men can't be feminist".

I've spent all of my adult life surrounded by women, feeling alienated by masculinity. I am fully, inherently aware of the widespread, damaging effects of the patriarchy. I believe women should be on completely even footing, in every tributary of society, as men. How am I exempt here?

"Why would a group of power hand over that power to the oppressed group?" Smith continued. "If you get men involved in feminism you water down what feminism is." But the idea that only a woman can maintain the integrity and power of feminism is bullshit. Are only white people racist? Are only straight people homophobic? Are only men misogynists? No.

Annons

The idea of feminism "belonging" to a chosen few marginalises it. It's counter-productive. Smith's website has such rallying cries as: "Men have had eleven and a half thousand years to do something about sex inequality – if only a) you had wanted to and b) you weren't too busy enjoying the benefits. What's suddenly happened for you to want to get in on the act?"

I can't be responsible for the atrocities my birth gender has committed, but I can't help but feel like shame gets us nowhere. Activism gets us somewhere.

The more I listened, the more annoyed I became at such short-sightedness, but I'm glad I'm now exposed to it. Such a blinkered version of feminism is the sort that dictates what equality should look like – it's extremist. Like all marginalised groups, extremism is inevitable. But extremist equality is an oxymoron.

Smith @-ed me on Twitter to let me know that she'd quoted me in a Storify story called Feminism – It Isn't About Equality for Men. An ​interesting exchange ensued, the crux of which was that she "rejects" the "idea" that I'm a feminist.

I can't be responsible for the atrocities my birth gender has committed, but I can't help but feel like shame gets us nowhere.

Wanting to know how many of my followers shared Smith's opinion, I opened up the conversation. Artist Selina Thompson ​said that, while she understands where Smith is coming from, she believes it's important that "men don't derail or centre debates on themselves", but that "equality is something we need to work on together." Another follower ​said: "I think some men end up speaking over female feminists, when they should be amplifying their voices," but that it's "entirely possible for men to be a supportive part of feminism."

Annons

Maybe my active approach to feminism is counterproductive, but I don't want to be someone who wears the badge and does nothing to contribute. I do not want to be any kind of poster boy for feminism – I just want to live in a world where women are equal.

The idea of not being welcome in the club doesn't frighten me. I understand why some feminists don't want me to be a card-carrier. I really do. All too often men centre the argument in the comment boxes of articles on domestic abuse or rape, but it frustrates me to think that, because I was born with a penis, I'm automatically aligned with the male de-railers. We are not all the same.

The painful truth is that, until men are fully onboard, gender or sex equality will not be reached. When I asked Smith to comment on why she rejects me as a feminist she responded with: "Sorry Scott. Your schedule isn't mine. I'm making Yorkshire Puddings.‬

It is, as ​one follower tweeted, quite a long way down the list of wider priorities for men to claim the right of being seen as feminist. This is something I completely agree with – as a feminist. The fight for gender equality is a huge, multifaceted task. It's something that requires action every second, minute and hour of the day. It requires deep, systemic changes that I may not see in my lifetime.

Fighting over who should be allowed in the gang doesn't make you a better activist. Not when there's so much work to be done.

​@ScotteeScottee