The Shriver Report – How to Talk Like a Feminist (If You’re a Guy)

Special Edition

How to Talk Like a Feminist (If You’re a Guy)



I am a straight married white male feminist.

If you are a man who really cares about feminist issues and wants to take an active role in fighting patriarchy, then you’re in the right place. Feminism, at its core, begins with a critique of the gendered distribution of power in our culture. Through that critique, one comes to identify actions one can take.  But because men are the beneficiaries of our patriarchal system, engaging in male feminist discourse comes with some perils.

Here are a few guidelines for negotiating the world of male feminism as a writer, in conversation, or throughout the worlds of social media.

1. It’s not about you.

This is the most important thing to remember.  At the core, feminism must begin and end with a conversation about women’s rights. Yes, our patriarchal system causes lots of for problems men, but when people are discussing patriarchy and its discontents, don’t make it about you.  You win no points for derailing a conversation about the oppression of women to how men have it bad, too.

2. But sometimes it is about you.

There may be many feminist topics on which men in fact have a lot to say, but let’s focus on the big one: rape. Men have to talk to men about rape: fathers to sons, bros to bros, teachers to students. Too much of the focus on rape focuses on teaching women not to get raped, and that’s sadly necessary. But here is one place where men have to act, to teach our male communities to intervene, to call the police, and most of all, not to rape.

3. It’s always about them.

Women must occupy the core of any feminist movement, though you can help. First, read the smartest feminists you can find, and when you talk or write about these issues, make sure you cite them or link back to them.  Promote them. Do not mansplain discrimination to women.  Do not take credit for discovering things that women have been writing about for generations.

4. Don’t expect gratitude.

I find a lot of male feminists, having realized that patriarchy is a real thing and discrimination is everywhere, expect women to be really excited that, finally, here is a guy that gets it! They hope to be praised as one of the “good men.”  They want the mere fact of not being an oppressor to render women grateful to them.  Expecting gratitude makes a feminist position about what the man gets out of it, whether it’s generic attention or sex with liberal women (look up “nice guy syndrome”). Don’t be that guy. Accept praise with humility and redirection to other feminist voices.

5. Do not argue with Men’s Rights Advocates as a feminist.

Lots of men and women don’t like feminism.  Often, when you push through the surface of anti-feminist thought, you’ll find that they have a very limited idea of what feminism actually encompasses (i.e. it’s not man-hating). I love these conversations, as they often turn into the best kinds of teachable moments, where people enter a conversation with opposing views and end up finding synthesis. But Men’s Rights Advocates (MRAs) have developed an iconography in which feminists are responsible for everything that has gone wrong for men. MRAs focus on domestic violence (against men), divorce law, how hard men have to work, and the education system.  Some of the concerns that MRAs voice are, in fact, real – it’s just that the solution to the problems tend to require more feminism, not less.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk to each other, in fact, as a feminist man I love talking to MRAs, I just am very careful to avoid the “f-word” if I want to get anywhere.


We need male feminists.  We need men to make the arguments that feminism may threaten our unearned privilege, but that it’s fundamentally good for men. Feminism opens up new definitions of masculinity to us, freeing us from the limitations of traditional ideas about being a man.  Even more important, patriarchy won’t go away until men make it go away. We don’t all have to be feminists – that’s just not going to happen – but male feminists can show other men the way.

So embrace the “f-word” despite the challenges.  I’ve offered these guidelines based on my  experiences in the barroom, the classroom, and in public media.  It’s not always easy.  As a male feminist, you enter  a world that may pre-judge you based on gender and be highly suspicious before you’ve even done anything. But man up. You can do it.



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David M. Perry is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
David M. Perry is an associate professor of history at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. See more of his writing at his blog: How Did We Get Into This Mess?
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