What’s the difference between a male feminist and a female feminist? It’s not a gag – there’s a simple and thought-provoking answer. The difference is that the male is in a position to actively address some of the issues he’s fanfaring about. For example, if he believes there’s an unfair gender pay gap of 22%, he can send 11% of his salary to women’s groups. If he believes men should not be invading female spaces, he can take his unsolicited commentary out of women’s Twitter mentions. Is he doing those things? If not, why not?…
The classic male feminist of Twitter uses self-whitelisting to dodge that very tricky question. By awarding himself special status – almost like a kind of prefect – he can navigate around the dissonance of collectively criticising men whilst actually being one himself. Protected by his own version of diplomatic immunity, he can safely tell other men to keep their distance from women, while placing himself so smack bang in the middle of a group of women that he literally can’t see the beyond.
But self-whitelisting is not exclusive to male feminists. It’s notably prevalent in other areas of the online world where men evidently have a primary goal of gaining access to women. There are, for example, men on Twitter who only follow and talk to female strippers. No one else. Just female strippers. These men are ever-ready to shout “weirdo!” at other blokes who do exactly the same thing – especially if a stripper instigates the accusation. But they whitelist themselves. It’s okay for them to trawl around after strippers, because they’re there to “help” – in their “nothing to see here buddy” T-shirt. But other men who do it are predators, weirdos and injunction cases, and could not possibly be there with honorable motives.
This is almost like the tadpole to the frog of Twitter’s classic male feminist. One appears to be the root of the other, and whilst they do at a glance look like different entities, every so often you glimpse, in a male feminist, something that looks very much like the remnants of the tail.
To be clear, I’m referring in this post to a particular type of self-designated “feminist ally”. He’s male, he makes a lot of noise, he exhibits endless double standards, his entire contribution to gender politics comes off his keypad, and it seems the only thing he’s really fighting for is his own visibility on women’s timelines or notification pages.
But he understands the negative connotations of ‘not all men’ and ‘reply guy’ dynamics, so he tends not to go running directly to individual women to stress how appalled he is on their specific behalf. Rather, he showcases his virtues in areas of Twitter where those women are likely to be looking. He may or may not describe himself as a feminist.
I know there are also men whose views are aligned with feminism and for whom real, positive actions speak louder than words. I’m not referring to those men in this post.
SO IS TWITTER’S SELF-APPOINTED MALE FEMINIST A REAL FEMINIST?
Or is he just someone who wants the same access to women that online Romeos want, but has the sense to realise that endlessly reply-guying strippers’ work accounts is not going to end well? Is Twitter feminism for men simply the lifestyle extrapolation of the Nice Guy ™ mask, in the same way that MGTOW is the lifestyle extrapolation of rejection rage? Is Twitter feminism for men just “Hey can I buy you a drink babe?” for blokes who tried saying “Hey can I buy you a drink babe?” and incurred the tongue-lashing from Hell?
I put this to the test. My premise was that Twitter’s male feminists should, if they’re becoming feminists for the same reasons as women, divide down into roughly the same sub-groups. Among the many other subdivisions, there would be lots of sex-positive male feminists, and also lots of sex-critical male feminists. Because that’s how it is with female feminists.
Sex-positive feminism asserts that women should be able to portray themselves in as sexual a manner as they wish, without any wider inference being read by men. It’s particularly popular with women who monetise sexually-themed activity or interaction, perhaps in part because it absolves them of any responsibility for rape culture. Any self-objectifying messages that sex workers spread in the name of making money, are regarded purely as marketing. Marketing which all men are expected to understand is not reality, and does not mean that women in the real world actually want to be treated as sex objects.
Sex-positive feminism sees sex-appeal, and to a lesser extent sex itself, as an asset that women can and should exploit in their quest to establish power and wealth. It does not acknowledge that self-objectification among women is in any way responsible for men’s behaviour. It asserts that the only people who can be responsible for men’s behaviour, are men.
But sex-critical feminism asserts that anyone characterising women as sex objects – including women themselves – is creating problems for women. What makes it feminism (as opposed to, say, right wing Christianity), is that it’s not saying “Don’t portray women as sex objects because it’s an affront to God and husbands”; it’s saying “Don’t portray women as sex objects because it has a negative impact on women”.
Sex-critical feminism is vehemently opposed to pornography – not just because of the message porn sends out to men, but also because of issues like sex-trafficking, the content’s accessibility to minors, etc. Unlike sex-positive feminism, sex-critical does acknowledge that women’s behaviour has an influence on men’s behaviour. Sex-critical feminism is actually more lenient on men than sex-positive, because it holds women (as well as men) accountable for the image of women in men’s eyes.
So we’d expect quite a lot of male feminists to be sex-critical, right? I took a look…
I located a few overtly sex-positive female feminists on Twitter, and counted how many men were in their mentions agreeing with them. Then I located a few overtly sex-critical female feminists on Twitter, and… yep, you guessed… counted how many men were in their mentions agreeing with them.
The result was heavily polarised. The overtly sex-positive feminists’ mentions were awash with men agreeing with them. The overtly sex-critical feminists had virtually no men agreeing with them, and when the men did agree, they were normally agreeing on a point that wasn’t sex-critical. Nearly all of the men tweeting the sex-critical feminists I chose, were disagreeing with them.
I did try a few more searches, which gave a similar indication.
It was, I should stress, dead easy to find sex-critical men on Twitter per se. But sex-critical ideology in men tended to be driven by religion, or a manifestation of rejection-rage. These men were anti-feminists. Misogynists. There appeared to be a noticeable absence of men who were sex-critical advocates purely for the protection and benefit of women. A noticeable absence of sex-critical male feminists. It appears that Twitter’s archetypcal male feminist does not do sex-critical. Could it be that these men are unable to stomach feminism unless it comes with at least a tacit acceptance that women have a sexual role in public life?
Whether or not that’s true, it was pretty clear that men do not get into feminism for the same reasons as women. They don’t start with a goal of furthering women’s interests, and then, from there, decide on a most effective route to achieving that goal. Because if they did, a lot of them would deem sex work detrimental to women’s welfare in the big picture, and protest against it – as indeed many female feminists do.
Then there was the problem of personal motivation.
Women have an unambiguous personal motivation to champion women’s issues. They’re women, pushing for a better deal for women, and therefore a better deal for themselves. That’s human nature. But the male feminist often appears to be arguing for a better deal solely for theoretical women he doesn’t know, and who may not even exist. And in many cases he’s investing a hell of a lot of his time in doing that. On a site which is renowned as an attention-seeking tool, that level of selflessness is always going to be suspicious. What’s his personal motivation?
The same question of personal motivation extends to the adoption of a sex-positive stance. Women primarily embrace sex-positivity because it protects, and gives them licence to exploit, an extremely powerful asset within their possession. Namely, their sex appeal. But if you look at the average male feminist on Twitter, he’s not interested in leveraging his sex appeal to gain power and wealth. He knows that’s not even an option. So what’s his vested interest in sex-positivity? Apart from just wanting easy access to sexual titillation?
I’m not saying men don’t inherently agree with feminist concepts. I think a great many do. Men have mothers, female partners, daughters… and they want the best for their loved ones. But that’s achieved through everyday action and decision-making. Not by sneaking into a telephone box, flinging open the door, leaping out in elastane suit and codpiece, and then running onto Twitter and diving right into the middle of a massive bunch of women, with the loudest and splashiest belly flop you ever did witness. Whatever that is, it’s probably of a lot more benefit to our crash-landing superhero than it is to actual women.
WHICH IS MORE LIKELY?…
So, can I assert that the classic male feminist of Twitter is that metaphorical frog, spawned from the tadpole of the babe-chasin’ Romeo? No, I can’t. But can I assert that the classic male feminist of Twitter is NOT that metaphorical frog? No. I’m even less prepared to make that assertion.