Male feminist pigs and the quest for gender equality

Some regard possession of a vagina as crucial for membership in the feminist movement. But can a man be a feminist too?

“Female” is a biological distinction. “Femininity” is that group of personality traits are traditionally expected to exhibit. “” is a movement which challenges these stereotypes and combats against women.

If you're a man, obviously you cannot be biologically female – at least not without major, and quite painful, surgical intervention. As a man, you can be feminine, or, like most people, exhibit a mix of “feminine” and “masculine” characteristics. Likewise, progressive men should be allowed to regard themselves as feminists. Despite my aversion to the limiting effects of labels, I would certainly define my views on as being “feminist”.

Cath Elliott's article last week highlighted the controversy about whether men can be classed as feminists. Although she expressed her personal indifference to labels, some activists – both women and men – are not so accommodating. In fact, some claim that men cannot be regarded as feminists – a view which strikes me as paradoxical, since feminism strives to end , yet this exclusion strikes me as sexist.

The main rationale seems to revolve around the notion that only women can truly understand the female plight and truly know what it is like to face gender discrimination. But humans are equipped with a remarkable imagination and sense of empathy, if they choose to exercise it. is replete with examples of “outsiders” who become the iconic embodiment of certain struggles, such as the privileged young doctor turned poor man's revolutionary.

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After all, you don't need to be working class to be a socialist, nor a member of a minority to appreciate the suffering caused by . People didn't need to be black to struggle against apartheid nor Spanish to fight Franco's totalitarianism.

Besides, if the lack of direct experience disqualifies one from being a full member of the cause, should we bar western feminists from showing solidarity with their “sisters” in less enlightened societies because they have not experienced the same magnitude of discrimination in their relatively egalitarian corner of the world?

Moreover, men do have direct experience of sexism and a major stake in combating it. First of all, there are the women in their lives. If your wife, girlfriend, mother or sister experiences gender discrimination, it also has an impact on you, because it makes you angry and frustrated on her behalf. Moreover, men who discriminate against women are not acting in the name of the rest of their gender and the best way to express that would be to describe ourselves as “feminists”.

In addition, the macho which sidelines women can also belittle and ridicule the men who question it – and so fighting shoulder to shoulder for the cause of gender is as much a progressive man's prerogative as it is a woman's under the banner of “feminism”. As Elliott rightly points out: “Centuries of patriarchal hegemony has harmed men too.”

Amusingly, one post in the debate under the article asked, if men can be feminists, “can women be male chauvinists?” I believe they most certainly can. Some of the loudest advocates of the patriarchal order, both in the past and today, have been women. And this highlights perfectly the fact that just because you have a vagina it does not automatically make you more sympathetic to the cause.

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There seems to be a fear that men would try to dominate the movement. Elliott says that “I really don't need men telling me how to be a better feminist, or that my kind of feminism is wrong”. I find such a description of, let's call it, “male, feminist pigs” rather unflattering. Relating obnoxiousness and bossiness to gender in this way is quite frankly rather sexist.

After all, men do not have a monopoly on being domineering, or is Elliott suggesting she's never come across obnoxious female feminists? Would Elliott appreciate a woman feminist lecturing her on how to become a better feminist or trying to dictate to her the terms on which she should act as a feminist?

Elliott stresses that “You can't call yourself a feminist and then go home and beat your partner … and in the next breath deny your daughter the right to decide her own future.” I agree. In fact, that is precisely where I would regard myself as a fully-fledged feminist. I don't go to rallies, nor shout slogans from the rooftops, but I strive to apply the principles of equality in everything I do.

To my mind, feminism is about gender equality and the freedom of choice to enable girls to be boys, and boys to be girls, and girls to be girls, and boys to be boys, and all the shades in between.


This article first appeared in The Guardian on 29 April 2008.

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Khaled Diab

Khaled Diab

Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land. In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as acting communications manager for the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), an NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by the minis: Iskander, their playful, smart, charming, sociable and adorable son, and Sky, their playful, charming, mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled’s life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.


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