Hanging around social media and just life in general you realise that even allies disappoint. Regularly. Someone who understands race and white supremacy doesn’t necessarily get feminism, or vice versa. So we thought we’d put together a handy guide of things woke male feminists should know and live by.
Just being a woman existing in this world requires emotional labour that goes unseen and unappreciated. Some feminist men, those who are anti-rape and believe in reproductive rights, still behave in ways that are deeply patriarchal and subtly misogynistic. It’s another soft stab into the heart of anyone who fights for the notion that women are people. Not objects. Not a function of men. Not an appendage to validate someone else.
Woke anti-feminists – or the “woke misogynist” – often display unconscious inequality in their behaviours and attitudes. More so in intimate relationships. Society reflects this back to us in many ways.
So we thought we’d put together a handy guide of things woke male feminists should know. And then live it.
Parenting vs Babysitting: When you’re looking after your kids when their mom’s away, you’re not babysitting. It’s actually parenting. Babysitting or nanny care is a paid service. You’re their dad and you’re not doing your wife or your kids a favour. Society rewards men for “helping” moms this way, often getting praise for doing what most moms routinely while some men act like it’s a sacrifice.
Weaponising the Cool Girl: Don’t expect your partner to mould themselves (him or her) into your ideal, for them not to have problems with some of your behaviours and how it messes with their boundaries. You’re asking her or him to be the Cool Girl. Don’t do that. This applies to anti-feminist women too. Expecting your friends to not “bore” you with talk of equality is demanding they be Cool Girls.
“Imagine it was your sister?” If the only way the horrific nature of rape and gender-based violence lands with you is when someone says “it could have been your mother/sister/wife/aunt” then you’re not seeing women as fully-realised independent people. While this appeal to other men to stop GBV appears noble it works because patriarchy teaches us a woman’s value is mostly in relation to the role she plays for a man. Rape is terrible. You don’t need to imagine the horror of it happening to someone “yours” if you understand women are, well, people.
Talking over and explaining things women know. Please don’t mansplain, overtly or in a microagression. We’re keeping this one short. For the irony.
She’s not a slut for sleeping with you: If a woman has sex with you on the first date, or soon after meeting you, don’t slut-shame her. Do we need to point out the double standard with a dash of cognitive dissonance? And sex-positive feminism means a woman chooses when to have sex and who to have it with, whether she wants a relationship with you or not.
No isn’t just a full sentence, it’s also NOT an invitation to terrorise: When a woman declines your date don’t turn around and then insult, slut-shame and threaten her. This happens all the time and never stops being amazing; men can go from flattery to abusive in mere minutes.
If her politics are “bad” then fair game? No: If a woman’s politics doesn’t align with your leftist, progressive views, especially if she’s a public figure, critique that. Don’t go after her looks, her voice, her attractiveness. We can find many reasons to disagree with Helen Zille, Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma or Hillary Clinton, than their value through a male gaze.
Activist in the streets, sexist in the sheets: You’re present at protests against gender-based violence, and yell “consent” during 16 Days of Activism, but you still fail to respect boundaries in your personal relationships. Women and other vulnerable, marginalised people have been socialised to be unassertive, quiet, and silent, and may not always scream their disapproval when you cross a line. Fear of saying no is real because of violence that may follow. Understand that consent is not always verbalised; sometimes silence (crossed arms, or the body turning away from you) is a loud ‘No!” Recognise this. Respect it.
Don’t gaslight: When a woman confronts your sexist behaviour, refrain from asking her if she’s on her period or saying “don’t be so sensitive, I’m not sexist!?” Blood gushing from her vagina does not make her crazy. Your comments do, however, make her less tolerant of your microagressions. Gaslighting is emotionally abusive. Listen. Introspect. Do better.
Check your buddies (and yourself): Remember Dave who called your boss a stuck-up bitch because she confronted him about that report he was meant to submit a month ago? Call Dave out, and tell him his comments are hateful. Remember Bongani who called Jamilah fat for not being a size XS? Tell Bongani he’s fatphobic. And remember that time you mocked your girlfriend who woke up at 3am to watch the Oscars Red Carpet, but you woke up at 5am, too, to watch Mayweather vs McGregor ? Check yourself.
Unsubscribe from toxic expressions of masculinity: The patriarchal script dictates that displays of vulnerability are weak and unmanly. It encourages boys and men to be stoic pillars of strength, permitted to unleash only one emotion: anger. This anger manifests itself violently, and those of us who are most vulnerable and most marginalised are often its recipients. While feminists don’t ask that you cry with every breath, we demand you unlearn harmful ideas and notions of what it means to be a “real man”.
Sometimes just be quiet: Ever heard that quote: “Throughout history, ‘Anonymous’ was almost always a woman”? Patriarchy has placed men at the top of the social hierarchy and validated their ideas, their concerns, their voice. Women and other marginalised people have been silenced, questioned, doubted, and invalidated for centuries. Studies show women are heard less than men, and unless women are desirable, they also tend to become invisible. If you’re a serious feminist ally, and you truly want equality, you are going to have to learn to be quiet sometimes, not interrupt women so much and relinquish some of your invisible social power (and privilege).
Leave your bigotry behind: Feminism is a way of life. It will require you to interrogate and, most likely, alter harmful beliefs, thoughts, and values society has taught us. Don’t refer to an effeminate man as a ‘pussy’. Being gay shouldn’t be used as a slur or insult. If you claim to be feminist, homophobic and transphobic language has got to go. You will show up and stand with oppressed communities because that is what being a feminist means.
Rape & GBV sits at the apex of patriarchal harm against women. And it’s easy – the barest minimum – being against rape. But underneath that apex are pillars and foundations in the examples we’ve talked about here, and many more, holding up misogyny and aggression against women, LBGTQI persons and others. All of us, women and men, can do more to break down those structures toward real gender equality. Especially if you consider yourself a woke feminist man.
Ayesha Fakie is the Head of Sustained Dialogues at the Institute for Justice & Reconciliation and Danielle Hoffmeester is the Project Assistant for the Gender Justice and Reconciliation project at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle