According to the Oxford Dictionary definition of feminism, (“the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of sexual equality”,) the movement doesn’t appear to be something that is confined to one particular sex; inclusive and unexacting definitions that appear all over the internet seem to agree with this. Despite this, for some people, the argument still remains: Can men truly call themselves ‘feminists’?
Recently, I got the opportunity to speak to Game of Thrones actor and self-proclaimed male feminist, Sam Coleman, about whether or not men should brand themselves feminists, or whether they should be consigned to the ‘ally’ label merely because of their gender.
“I think people should be able to call themselves what they like, nobody can own words. I, personally, describe myself as a feminist. Why? Because I support, nay fight for, feminism,” Coleman told me. “It’s rather hypocritical to alienate support based on gender. That’s without getting to the fact that feminism is about gender equality and that includes men as well.”
To deliberately isolate an entire gender from the feminist movement would be a juxtaposition in itself, where campaigning is based around inclusivity and alliance. In doing so, the social justice movement would do itself no favours; I was more than surprised to discover that many feminists believe that men terming themselves ‘feminists’ is actually detrimental to the campaign. In an equality movement, I believe that inequality should be fought as one.
“Whilst being young, white and male puts me at the advantage of not really being discriminated against in terms of legal rights or employment, there have been times where I have been acutely discriminated against. My weight, for example, has sometimes led to prejudice from people, as has my sexuality,” Coleman tells me. When put into question, it’s important to understand why people may believe that the male privilege would act as counterproductive in the movement. “I understand my privilege,” Coleman says. “I have also been lucky enough to avoid a lot of the gender discrimination other young men and certainly most young women have faced due to my open and supportive home life and friendship circles, though I am fully aware this is not the case for a lot of people.”
Whilst being a male may limit your personal experience with sexism, it’s paramount to remember that everybody experiences different forms of discrimination in their own ways; that’s really what feminism is all about. “I think that anytime we get into a discussion about semantics, we miss the point entirely,” Coleman said. “Whilst I have witnessed very little obtrusive sexism, due mainly to the typically progressive nature of most of the people I interact with, I have seen acute sexism against women many times, because it is everywhere.”
With many failing to agree that men can freely call themselves feminists, I think it’s important to understand that feminism, as a movement, is made to be inclusive: that in excluding men, the terms of the movement itself are violated. Though on a personal level they may not understand the daily sexism that women experience, they can try to help us fight it; that gives them a right to call themselves ‘feminists.’