Depending on personal definitions of feminism, as a male you can be either a feminist directly, or a feminist ally. But, as someone who has lived in a male body and presents (for the most part) as male-gendered, I've found it can be very easy to really cock things up, often unintentionally. These are a few things I try to keep in mind. I appreciate critical feedback and further suggestions.
You're not special
You might think you're an enlightened, 21st century guy, sensitive to the problems women face and all in favour of equality. But so what? Do you really think that not oppressing people is something laudable? That not being an asshole is praiseworthy? Being a feminist should be the default position for all decent people, so don't think that coming along with a feminist attitude will get you showered with goodwill, because it's the absolute least you can do.
The problem is bigger than you think
Start appreciating just how bad it is for women every single day. When you look at some of what would be regarded as the “big” problems, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, you'll go cold when you first read the numbers:
- 70,000 women raped
- 400,000 women sexually assaulted
- 1.2 million women suffered domestic abuse
That's just in the UK. Those numbers are for a single year. One. That's almost 200 rapes every day.
Home Office: Ending violence against women and girls in the UK. March 2013
That's before you even begin trying to count the hundreds of thousands of cases that go unreported.
Then look at the casual (and not so casual) sexism that women and girls are subjected to every single day just going about their business. Follow @everydaysexism on Twitter. Have it coming into your timeline for a week and realise that far from being a rare occurrence, the abuse suffered is relentless, dehumanising and demoralising. And it's not just some “trolls” on the Internet (I've already said this is not trolling), this is real people, face to face, in the real world.
You do not and cannot know what it's like
Don't think that reading what happens, or even seeing a catcalling builder shout at someone to “get your tits out” in any way allows you to know what it is like. Recognise that you have not lived with this, or anything like it, for your entire life and that you simply cannot begin to appreciate the effect it has on a person. The best you can do is listen to women speak of the effect, and try to empathise. But also realise that at any stage, you could stop worrying about it and it no longer affects you. For a woman, that is not an option.
Recognise your privilege
As a man (and even more so if you're a white, straight man), you occupy the highest rung on the social ladder. You can't even begin to believe how easy the world makes things for you. You are the oppressor, which means you can't be oppressed. There is no such thing as societal misandry, fuck your “men's rights” and fuck your complaining when some little thing doesn't land in your lap like you've been used to. You come from thousands of years of history that have set you up in a position of power. Now stop whining about it.
Shut the fuck up
Yes, we all realise that you're used to flexing your privilege to make sure the whole world listens to you, but there's more than just a passing chance that your cute little theories and insights into feminism are bullshit. So why not park your ass over there, open your ears, and actually listen to people?
And when you're done sitting there listening, open a book. You can never live through the abuse and oppression that women face, but you can at least know the history and the political and philosophical arguments that underlie feminist theory. My Goodreads shelf has a good selection of feminist works (and thank you to all the wonderful women who helped compile it). Reading them is a humbling experience and will at least allow you to be vaguely knowledgable if you do get into a philosophical discussion.
Stop being self-satisfied
Remember how you're not special? Well sitting there being proud of yourself helps no one. You're all for equality, great, but are you actually taking any positive action? Are you standing up to misogyny you witness? In work? Down the pub? Or do you just let it slide, preferring the ease of ignorance to the friction of confrontation? It doesn't take long in an all male group for casual misogyny to appear. Ignoring it is giving it tacit approval. Are you prepared to take a stand, even if it means your friends start complaining at you “going on” all the time? If not, you need to ask if you really are in support of equality or just want to pay it lip service.
Always be listening
Once you start listening out for the casual, every day misogyny that permeates society, you will be shocked at just how prevalent it is. If you can become attuned to it, you'll realise that not only is it a problem, but that many people don't even realise they're doing it. It will help you become better at avoiding it, but it might start making you sad after a while (and boo-hoo, it's not even directed at you).
For every argument, you can almost certainly come up with some edge case to disprove the point, or a fictional legal circumstance to blur the lines, or a reversed situation that shows it's not all one direction. That is not helpful. Learn to recognise that your cute little hypotheticals are so rare that they are a statistical anomaly. The problems you have some deep philosophical musing about are actually real problems that millions of woman face every single day, so forgive them if they're not that interested in your sophistry.
Be humble, your opinion should always be secondary
No matter how much your brain screams that someone is wrong, you need to bite your tongue and realise that you do not have the insight they do. As a male, you cannot tell a women is doing feminism wrong, because you don't get a say in the right or wrong way to do it. Remember we talked about listening? Well, you mansplaining your way all over a conversation will only make you look like an asshole. Don't do it.
Recognise your own misogyny
With thousands of years of patriarchy behind you, it is easy to accidentally be misogynistic without even thinking about it. If you are, and you get called out on it, you have a chance to take the high ground, apologise, admit you made a mistake and try to be better in the future. Even if you don't think you were, you're not in a position to make that judgement.
Also, try to catch yourself playing into the patriarchal role. Did you have a brief smirk at some casually sexist joke or comment, even an involuntary one? Internalise that, realise that you have been conditioned to react that way and try to train your brain to react with revulsion. Hey, no one said this would be easy.
Don't expect to be welcomed
As a male, you represent the entire history of oppression of women. Deal with it, it is the one piece of baggage that comes along with your lineage. Even if you yourself, in your enlightened, equality-loving way, would never oppress anyone, the fact you represent that oppression means some people will never accept you as part of the feminist movement, nor will they ever trust you. Recognise that many people have very good reasons for this, often horrific reasons. If you take offence that you, representing the oppressor, are not universally loved, you are just exercising your male privilege again.
Stop thinking with your dick
Seriously, it's liberating. When you view women as people, not potential sexual partners, you remove a lot of baggage from yourself when talking to them. You can engage your higher brain functions, converse with them like *gasp* real people, and generally have a much more fulfilling life. Ideally, men should grow out of this naturally as they leave puberty, but all evidence suggests that the vast majority don't. Why not make a conscious effort to start thinking about all people like people?