What Role do Men have in the Feminist Discourse?

A few months ago a friend of mine who is male and a freelance writer and I got into a discussion about video games and comics and how women are portrayed.  He was working on a piece concerning how certain female superheroes were being revamped and asked me, in my opinion, could a man really effectively write on a feminist issue?


My first instinct was to say, yeah, of course, but after some additional thought I wasn’t totally sure.  Could a man really write on a feminist issue? A man can’t remove his male privilege any better than I could remove my class or white privilege, and I don’t feel as if I can responsibly write on issues that face poor or women of another race.  Is being aware of privilege, is being against privilege enough?  Well in this case…maybe.


First and foremost I do believe that men have a role in the feminist discourse.  When you consider men like Bill Baird, who stood up for abortion rights years before Planned Parenthood and dedicated his life to women’s reproductive rights, it’s unfair and disingenuous to suggest that some men aren’t involved and in fact, some men give up and risk a great deal for women’s rights.  So men do have a role, men definitely do have a role, but I think what men and what role is where things get a little shaky.


For example, women in geek culture seems to be a hot feminist topic in which men seem to try and fit their viewpoints in to some pretty disastrous results (from a  feminist standpoint).  This video, while aiming to illustrate how impractical and sexist women in video games are dressed, falls into the trap of blaming women for thriving in the only area of gaming that they’ve been welcomed into by the male dominated industry: “booth babes.”  Or this article, which while pointing out that sometimes attractive women are unfairly characterized as “fakers” in the geek realm and that women are treated pretty horribly in online gaming environments, primarily rails against “booth babe” types and cosplayers that aren’t perceived as being actual fans of the realm they’re promoting with super sexualized outfits.


Look.  Both of these men aren’t women-haters, they’re not anti-feminist, but their posts are seeping with privilege.  I already had an article about this, but my point on the women in geekdom stands: it’s not fair to point the finger and say “these women are taking advantage of geek men” when they have been encouraged and embraced into the role and often times are shunned, ridiculed, and harassed for not fitting into it.  If you’re a girl gamer and you’re attractive, you’ll be expected to play it up and “show your tits,” and if you’re not attractive, expect to be called fat or ugly or a dyke or whatever because your looks are paramount to your actual gaming ability.  I’m not exactly sure how you can tell if someone’s a “real fan” or not from looking at them anyway, but that’s the problem – when you have a man writing about a feminist issue without a frame of privilege, things like a misplaced persecution complex rears its head.  You think these women are faking it for attention and money?  Maybe the problem is they live in an environment where their worth structure and acceptance into a group is entirely dependent on their looks.


Let’s go back to Bill Baird.  In the 1970s Baird was accused of being a CIA plant, being an embarrassment to the movement, and worked only to “make women appear easier.”  These accusations didn’t come from the far right, they came from feminists and Planned Parenthood.  A man who spent time in jail, a man who lost his family, a man who was nearly murdered multiple times by radical pro-lifers was shunned from the very movement he gave everything to protect.


So you can ask me if I think men can write about feminist issues, you can ask me if men have a place in the discourse, and I will tell you yes.  But, I will hope that by saying yes it encourages responsible writing and dialog with a certain level of care and attention given to the privileges held by the men holding the pens and striking the keys.

6 responses to “What Role do Men have in the Feminist Discourse?

  • cyberfemmefatale

    Agreed! I don’t have anything new to add to this, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently as well, and I think that it might be more difficult for men to see the whole picture at times, but as you have clearly pointed out with your example of Bill Baird, they can do it. Although in general I’d just like more women writing about games and the gaming community.

    • Feminist Menagerie

      I agree! There are a lot of female gamers, and a lot of female game writers but most of them distance themselves from (or outright reject) the label “feminist game writer” and rarely (if ever) brooch the problems with how women in the gaming world are perceived or treated because they don’t want to be labeled as a “feminazi” and lose readership. It’s really kind of sad…even women in gaming who are accepted for something besides their looks have to tip-toe around certain topics to not be ostracized. It’s pretty telling that the loudest voices in the women in gaming discourse are men; when the women speak up they’re shut down.

      • cyberfemmefatale

        Exactly! Or when a man comes out with an informed article, the community responds “Oh wow, now we’ll listen to what you have to say” when the women have been saying it for awhile…It’s sad that sex/gender adds so much weight to an argument.

  • Brandon Amato

    This is a topic that is pretty near and dear to my heart, as someone who is a man and also identifies as a feminist. It\’s something that has frustrated me many times while engaging in film discourse, my particular field of study. I very frequently received hesitant, skeptical, or even downright combative looks from classmates when I would bring up an argument from Mulvey or Radway or other feminist authors. It\’s infuriating to want to push the discourse in the direction these authors fought to take it only to be held back and viewed as an outsider. It feels completely contradictory to what I see as the underlying beauty of feminism, which is the desire to give a voice to groups that have had theirs misrepresented or oppressed or even ignored. It\’s why Feminism as a ideological framework has worked so well while transcending gender issues alone, and can be applied to all sorts issues of inequality of representation. And yet, just because I\’m a man, I\’m occasionally ostracized from the discourse.

    I do not mean to suggest that I completely understand the sociopolitical positioning that female authors and women in general are fighting against. But then again, I don\’t necessarily think that was the point for many feminist authors. Take Mulvey, for example; is the point of her dissection of the male gaze and its relationship with scopophilia in Classical Hollywood Cinema something that I cannot appreciate merely because I am a man? If it makes me think differently and strive to highlight similar disparities, am I being disingenuous? Isn\’t the desire for me to engage in this discourse a victory that should be fostered rather than questioned? And does Mulvey\’s adoption and reworking of Freudian theory hold any less water because she is a female and therefore cannot write responsibly on the issue of male development posited by another male? Personally, I think her work was fantastic (even though her reliance on Freudian thought irks me, although I understand why she chose that path given the academic discourse of the time). I may read Mulvey from a different perspective, but it still makes me question the same issues and want to reach the same goals.

    I may never write about or discuss feminist issues while being completely embraced by my audience. It is something I have learned to live with as a constant battle in academia, and every time one of those skeptical faces in the audience turns into a contemplative nod, I consider it a victory for feminism, because that moment of give-and-take when two people come from different backgrounds and perspectives and ultimately reach a more informed and collaborative synthesis is exactly the point of feminism to me. It is a reworking of societal frameworks and perspectives, no matter how intimate or small, that leads to greater representation for the underrepresented. Yes, there will be moments of misunderstanding or frustration stemming from differing perspectives, but those are precisely the moments that can become the most effective learning and teaching experiences.

    So, can I ever really write on a feminist issue or convincingly write a female character? Maybe. But I\’ll keep trying regardless, and that motivation is proof to me of movement in the right direction.

    • Brandon Amato

      PS, I don’t know why WordPress added slashes before every apostrophe, but I’m sure that was my fault, so I’m sorry! I signed up for a profile just to comment on your post, so I’m new to this system, haha.

  • Hunter

    I like your post! I think men absolutely have a role in the dialogue of feminism, but it is an evolving role and we are all still figuring it out. A great book I recommend is the ‘The Guy’s Guide to Feminism’
    Thanks for sharing, and feel free to check out my blog,


Share your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: