Guest blog: What being a feminist man means to me

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

What does it mean to be a feminist man? I tend to assume that most people who read this blog regularly would identify as ‘feminist’, but when I was on dating sites I found a lot of men with profiles that expressed a vague ick about labelling themselves as such. The idea that men would publicly say ‘I am a feminist’ can clearly be a bit controversial, but personally I think that a lot of the work of feminism – especially when it comes to the basics (pointing out day-to-day gendered expectations and beliefs, challenging other men on sexist microaggressions or intervening in harassment) we could really do with having more men step up and give us a hand. Alongside assuming you’re all feminists, I also likely make a lot of assumptions about the things most of the men reading already know about when it’s good to step in if you spot inequality in action. But I’m probably wrong to assume that, and I’m grateful to Paul for dropping by with an overview of what it means to him to be a feminist man. What actions does he take on a daily basis that other men could do well from copying? Take it away Paul…

What being a feminist man means to me

For me, equality is like air: we all need and deserve it, we can’t get too much of it and only when it isn’t there do we really notice its absence. Unfortunately, I am confident that our society is sexist. It is also racist, homophobic, transphobic, ageist, classist and biased against people with disabilities, but today I want to focus on feminism – the movement for “political, economic, personal, and social equality”.

There is no merit in the institutional and societal disadvantaging of any group of people. It’s surely a reasonable belief and desire that every person should be able to expect the same outcome from the same input. It should be possible for everyone to achieve the same success, to earn the same income, to get the same respect, to be as safe and as appreciated as someone of any other gender who puts in the same hard work or has the same qualifications, skills and aspirations. Horribly, this is not the case in this country. UK society has been skewed towards benefitting men through the long-established patriarchy: the glass ceiling; the gender pay gap; the assumption that women will do most, if not all, of the childcare; men’s family names being passed down through marriage… These (and many other) prejudices are sadly alive and well in 21st century Britain.

So what can a feminist man do about it? There are plenty of ways we can kick back against these expectations. Here are just a few examples from my own experience:

As an employer I can strongly ensure that people are not disadvantaged in our business because of their gender, whether that is as employee, customer, supplier or in any other capacity. I can support my daughters – exactly as I do my sons – to be everything they want to be, whether that is in a field which has traditionally been the preserve of men or not. It means that I can question the assumptions of my sisters and my parents when it comes to the employment prospects and life expectations of girls and women.

When a relative of mine criticizes his young son for being upset, scared or tired and calls him a “big girl’s blouse” or a “jessie”, I can pick him up on it and explain that this is propagating sexism and doesn’t help his son or those around him to recognise that all people should be treated with respect.

For me, being a feminist man means paying attention to the little things. For my granddaughter’s first Christmas I bought her a signed copy of “Nursery rhymes for feminist times” – poems are based on traditional verses, but which bring in consent, equality and empowerment rather than relying on tired gender stereotypes.

And being a feminist man also means standing up to bigger challenges too – when I was in the sauna at the gym last year and a guy made some loud and lewd remarks in front of half a dozen of his mates after the only woman present left the space, I called him out and told him that comments like his were deeply disappointing. I explained that such behaviour is upsetting as it holds our society back. Like many men, I’m wary of the possibility of male on male violence. Especially in the gym and the sauna, with weights and protein shakes, it feels like a powder keg atmosphere at times. But he just replied with something like “you can’t say anything to have a bit of fun these days” and looked around at the other guys. I added that words such as those he used make this world an unhappier place for people like my daughters and granddaughters to live. He didn’t seem impressed or convinced, but nor did he argue or attack me. Nor did anyone else.

When an older business associate from the continent sent me an email a couple of years ago, introducing me to a new colleague of his and commenting on her looks, I pushed back and confronted him on it. I explained that it was not acceptable to me that what, in his mind, was a compliment on her physical appearance, was included in an otherwise normal work message. I suggested to him that he would not have made those comments about a man or perhaps someone older or less attractive and that it was completely irrelevant and inappropriate to include these comments in the business communication. He seemed to feel that the fact it wasn’t behind her back was somehow better, but for me that made it even worse. He had emailed me, my colleagues, his own boss and his own deputy, not to mention the young woman concerned and everyone was able to read his personal view on her attractiveness. I explained to him that this was not professional or acceptable and that he must not send messages or comments like that to me or my colleagues in future.

So what does it mean to be a feminist man? You’ll encounter different situations in your own life, but when asked about feminism by other men, I give friends three short requests:

  • Be an ally.
  • Notice your own prejudice.
  • Call out misogyny.

But obviously I’m not going to solve this all alone. So, other men: what do you do?


  • Bex says:

    One of the reasons I married my husband is because he identifies as a feminist, and that impacts how he treats me and women he knows and doesn’t know. For example he shared his salary with a colleague doing the same job at the same level who he suspected was being paid less (she was), he makes it clear to women walking alone at night that he isn’t a threat my crossing the road/slowing down so she doesn’t feel threatened, when another colleague was too drunk at a Christmas party he started walking her to the toilets while flagging down another women to accompany her in there and make sure she was ok, he explains to people that I’m not Mrs Hisname and he is cool with that- he doesn’t put that burden onto me all the time, my professional aim is to out earn him – he is looking forward to that day and encourages me to progress by sharing the physical, mental and financial load fairly. There is so much more, I could gush about him all day.

  • Iconiiique says:

    This is such a fantastic piece. Thank you for featuring it. Does Paul have a website or blog? I’d love to hear more from him.

  • Iconiiique says:

    Love to hear this! My partner of 10 years is a proud and self-proclaimed strident feminist who backs it up in every aspect of his life and always calmly calling out the casual misogyny that sadly still pervades society.
    He’s a big, bald, ex-rugby player and it always amuses me how surprised people are to hear him espousing and embodying feminist ideals.
    I hope that by continuing to celebrate these behaviours, we can help to shift what is meant by being a *real* man.
    He still struggles to afford himself the same kindness and permission to fully emote that he shows me which is a symptom of the culture of toxic masculinity that denies men their full humanity.
    As a female feminist, I see it as my job to remind the men and boys (I’m an educator) in my life that it’s ok to be vulnerable and they should feel entitled to experiencd and express a full spectrum of emotions, without fear of mockery or shame.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.