Why Are (Some) Men Still Afraid of Feminism?

January 19, 2012 Michael Kaufman

Reason One: Giving Up is Hard to Do

I’m a strong believer that men gain a huge amount from feminism. It’s been a theme of my writing and public speaking for thirty years (including in my new book, co-written with Michael Kimmel, The Guy’s Guide to Feminism.)

But, let’s face it, you don’t make omelets without cracking a few eggs. In this case, the eggs are the forms of power and privilege men have traditionally enjoyed:

  • In the past, we men only had to compete with half of humanity for most jobs. Now, we have to compete with all of humanity.
  • At night, men got to relax, go out with friends, or pursue our careers, sports or hobbies while our wives (even if they worked outside the home) did most childcare and domestic work. Now, we’re expected to do our fair share.
  • Some workplaces were straight out of locker rooms. Now, with sexist behavior challenged, for some men, work just isn’t as much fun.
  • No matter our personal abilities, society automatically valued us. Some religions said we were closer to God. We were automatically seen as stronger, more rational, and leaders.
  • In relationships we got cooked for, shopped for, cleaned up after, and emotionally stroked.
  • We could (if we so chose) have power in getting sex. Now, we can get put in jail for things that not long ago were seen as men’s rights.
  • In some families and relationships, we were the ultimate decision-makers. Now, we have to share power and decision-making.

In other words, some men are afraid of feminism because it challenges forms of men’s power and privilege that one-half of our species foisted on the other about 8,000 years ago. Giving up is hard to do.

Reason Two: Being a Man is Hard to Do

Here’s the strange thing: many men also fear feminism because they fear they’re not “real men.” I’ve written a lot about this, what I call “men’s contradictory experiences of power.” What this means is that the ways we set up our male-dominated societies not only bring men power and privilege but, paradoxically, is the source of pain for men.

One source of this pain is that we set up impossible ideals of manhood: You know: always strong, fearless, in control, etc. etc. Of course no man can live up to these ideals. But so long as we had uncontested male-dominated societies, we could pretend to ourselves and each other that we did. Why? Because we could contrast ourselves to the other half that clearly did not.

Now that women are asserting their strength, power, smarts, and sexuality, now that women are saying that anything a man can do, they can do as well, it takes the air out of the sails of many men. If deep down they didn’t feel like real men before, now those feelings are unconsciously multiplied.

Reason Three: Changing Ideas is Hard to Do

In spite of amazing changes that are benefitting most women and most men, the ideas associated with male domination still cling hard:

  • Religions and traditional beliefs have a life of their own and a deep staying power. Especially in a time of economic, political and social upheavals when the future seems tenuous, some men (and women) cling to old ideas.
  • Old ideas continue to morph and adapt. You might think that right-wingers are against women’s equality. But actually, many of their current ideas would have been seen as crazy feminist ideas forty years ago: A woman can be president or prime minister?  Women are as smart and capable as men? Women have as much right as men to pursue careers and education? … In other words, feminism has actually had a big impact even when it seems there is still huge opposition by some men and women to it.
  • Parts of the media have continued to do a remarkable hatchet job on feminism. Ask people in many countries about the specific issues associated with gender equality or violence against women. Many (and in some countries, most) will take a feminist stance. But ask if they agree with feminism and they’ll bring out their stereotype of who or what a feminist is and say “No!”
  • Finally, feminist women and pro-feminist men haven’t done a good enough job of transforming the mainstream. If we truly believe our ideas are just and are right, then everyone should subscribe to them! We should not be afraid of working in the mainstream. We should not be afraid of differences among us, but rather we should find ways to work with those who we don’t see as natural allies, and agree to disagree on specific issues. We should not be afraid to make mistakes or to not be perfect.

43 Comments on “Why Are (Some) Men Still Afraid of Feminism?

  1. You got it all wrong here. I think that majority of normal man (me included) have no issue with anything that was written down here.
    Feminists actions (they will not admit it) always seem to show their view view of society as man vs. woman instead of man and woman. It should be about equal chances and cooperation and understanding this is not some kind of rivalry.

    It has gone so far that man can be accused of sexual harassment for simply complementing woman’s dress, holding door, or even saying hello. This can then lead to law sue and/or public shaming.

  2. ATTENTION ALL MEN: Let it go. You simply cannot win. Your voice is not going to be heard. You will be wrong here. Just understand this from the beginning. My suggestion to you is this: Go out and create something. Go forth and do something productive. Build something new. Be greater today than you were yesterday. Succeed. Conquer. Excel. Dominate. Exercise your will. WIN! Do something… anything other than arguing this point any further. Trust me, you’ll be better for it. Your brother, Uncontainable Spirit.

  3. Not just (some)men are afraid of Feminist/Feminism . Many woman are afraid of Feminist/Feminism, too.
    Personally, I think those Feminist are very scary because they love to look down on women who want to dedicate themselves to their family. I mean, why being a housewife and raise a family means doing nothing(Are they serious? Have they been living under the Rock while their mother are being a housewife and taking care of them?).

    1. That’s so true. But I think the extreme Feminists are judged as the whole of Feminism because of that fear, and the real ones that simply want equality then have to deal with the set backs that this judgement causes.

    2. I’ve never met a feminist who was against women making whatever choice they wanted with their life. In fact a lot of the fiercest feminists I know are mothers and so on.

      1. Yup Jane, I agree. Any feminist putting another woman down shouldn’t even be considered a feminist! How are you supporting equality within men and women, but being biased within your own gender? Men are taking hypocrites and ignorant women seriously and using them against the feminist movement. Don’t feed into those kind of women, its a waste of energy and frankly they need more education and awareness.

    3. No one in the movement looked down on women who wanted to be housewives….. and the women’s movement endorses this… It’s the general consensus that being housewives were women’s ONLY OPTIONS, and those who did not want to be housewives were frowned upon. You have a mixed up view of what the movement….

    4. As a feminist, I can assure you that we[feminists] do not undervalue the importance of housework. It is the basis of society and supports us in many ways throughout our lives.

      We are not scary.
      We are not extremists.

      Feminists believe in equal rights for both men and women, and you may join our big, bad, scary community if you would like to. However, since it seems as if you are not currently a feminist, I will be forced to assume that you do not, in fact, believe in equal rights regardless of gender, thus making you a misogynist. Those “scary” feminists that you hear about are nothing but good-for-nothings trying to dirty our name with irrelevant nonsense.

      Having enlightened you about the fact that you are scared of people who believe in social justice, I shall now bid you a good day.

    5. As a feminist, I can assure you that we[feminists] do not undervalue the importance of housework. It is the basis of society and supports us in many ways throughout our lives.

      We are not scary.
      We are not extremists.

      Feminists believe in equal rights for both men and women, and you may join our big, bad, scary community if you would like to. However, since it seems as if you are not currently a feminist, I will be forced to assume that you do not, in fact, believe in equal rights regardless of gender, thus making you a misogynist. Those “scary” feminists that you hear about are nothing but good-for-nothings trying to dirty our name with irrelevant nonsense.

      Having enlightened you about the fact that you are scared of people who believe in social justice, I shall now bid you a good day.

    6. That’s a huge misconception. Remember that part of this article where it said that the media did a decent hatchet job on feminism? Well, thats what men want women to believe about feminism. What feminist DON’T like is all women being FORCED into domesticated housewife roles simply because they were born female. Before the sufferogettes protested for our rights to goto college, own property, have our own bank accounts , work a job outside of the house ETC., we were resigned to the role of marriage and being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. No other life options. Not every woman wants to be a housewife, shouldn’t we have that option available to us? Any woman who enjoys her basic freedom to choose her own life has a lot to owe to feminism. And also, lots of feminist women CHOOSE the domestic housewife role and that’s just fine, the important thing being that she CHOSE her life. We all deserve to have options in life, wouldn’t you agree?

  4. Also, this ‘ducking out’ on paternal responsibility has an old history: why should it be a RIGHT ??? Next, we’ll be expecting to be allowed to break any laws we don’t like, because such laws are a brake on our individual freedoms. For instance, should we be allowed to kill anyone who pisses us off ?? Could we trade off our right to protection from murder, in exchange ?? There are some precedents you don’t want to create.

  5. Kurtis, on the issue as to whether men should have the right to give up paternal rights and responsibilities: the mother never has that option, except perhaps, by putting a child up for adoption. Also, the child has an entitlement to support, regardless of how she/he came into the world. Those men who complain about having to pay child support for a child they never wanted to be born, are often angry at the mother: they forget the child never had a say about born or not. This is where the rights of the child supersede the rights of either and both of the parents.

    And John, where does it say in the Bible that feminism is a sin ?? Does God hate us that much ???

  6. Feminists neither understand gender difference,nor God. The bible is clear on the subject. Feminism is sin. it will go on like any other sin. But it is wrong.

  7. Thank you so much for this piece of writing! I am blessed to have come across your work. I was Googling to find out why men feared women for a new blog post and this gave me amazing insights! … We all feel fearful and defensive when we think our privileges are threatened! Thank you for your incredible work.

  8. Reason 1. is the classic example that my dad doesn’t get & keeps harping on about how bad feminism is.
    Dad says he can’t understand what’s wrong with the women of today “We put women on pedestals”.
    I have to keep reminding him women only stayed on that damn pedestal if they had, no opinions, never argued when treated unfairly, cooked, cleaned, did all the child rearing & minding, never got to go to the pub, obeyed & praised her man for bring home the paycheck.
    Now if a women didn’t comply with all of the above & she wanted a say in her life, she was knocked clear of that damn PEDESTAL & never to be looked at as the perfect woman, she was actually considered crazy.
    Even if women are bringing home a paycheck & doing all the home jobs, men like my dad will still criticize her.

    Feminism my have some fine tuning needed, but I’d much rather be a feminist than on some damn PEDESTAL.

    Life can be great when you work together as a couple, share the work load, including earnings & child rearing. Men actually have so many more choices themselves now.

    But hankering on about wanting feminist to shut up & go make me a sandwich is just making more & more women turn into feminists.

    “Parts of the media have continued to do a remarkable hatchet job on feminism”

    Yes of coarse parts of the media are doing a hatched job on feminism, there’s a lot of scared male media out there. Some men can only see whats lost, not whats gained.

  9. This is only half the argument, there is a flip-side to each of those points that reveals why men find feminism unwelcome.
    1. Men are being told to give up their old advantages, but no-one is telling women to give up the advantages they had in a sexist society (an example is stating clearly sexist behaviour as chivalrous).
    2. Women are less accepting of un-manly men than men are. Add to this the fact that women aren’t sharing in all the traditionally male areas, just the high-reward ones.
    3. Telling men we have to change is one thing, but no-one is clear on what the change IS exactly. If women can’t make up their collective minds it is impossible to give them what they want.

    1. 1) maybe both men and women should be nice to each other? That’s the way i’ve always liked it. Its weird when niceness or chivalry is just coming from one side. In my circles I already live in a world where we all nice and look out for each other and not just men being chivalrous to women (which is something a lot of men end up being bitter about anyway e.g. I was so nice so why was she like this.)
      2) women are soooo much more accepting of “unmanly” men than men are. Seriously all the guys I know who really don’t fit in with male stereotypes have a large group of female friends than those who do. That clearly indicates they feel more at ease with women.
      3) Every person has to figure out what is right for them. We should stop looking to other people and in this case men should stop looking to women. Only you can figure out what is right by you. Sorry but life does not come with an instruction book on how to live it. Its all up to us to decide.

  10. Because feminism and feminists are about as likely to genuinely help a man with his own equal yet different set of issues regarding society view of him as they are to exacerbate the issues(intentionally or otherwise. Most likely they ignore and allow the issue to persist which may not be harmful but is certainly not helpful.

  11. Reason 4: Some women take it too far

    Some women are using feminism as a weapon against men. Many men are rightfully afraid of these women. They have the power to swing inequality in the opposite direction. I believe that there are far too many of these women, and that there are far too many more women and men that share their beliefs.

    One difficulty with combating this phenomenon is that people are particularly sensitive to the feminist movement and willing to condemn men. This is due to men’s relatively recent history of condemning women. Another difficulty is that the ways men are discriminated against are not as obvious as for how women were.

    Women were discriminated against legally and openly. Men are discriminated against socially and subtly. This is something that cannot (and should not) be fixed through legislation. It requires teaching a firm and deep societal belief that the sexes are inherently equal. That there is no such thing as chivalry (that is an inherently sexist ideal). That it is OK for men to be feminine and straight.

    Manifesting such a social change is difficult and the roads to do so are not clear. My hope is that people will wake up and see this problem. My hope is that women will realize it is not in their own best interests for their sex to be “superior”. That they will voluntarily give up their social power and act as people that are not bound by outdated beliefs and stereotypes.

    1. I just want women to stop being objectified, raped, beated and many other problems that are more common for women. Guess this means I’m a ball breaking bitch who is hellbent on world domination?

      1. Ali-No, you are not a ball breaking bitch. But, did you notice, your response shows that you didn’t listen to a thing the author said about his point of view. And THAT’S the problem with feminism. It teaches women to discount and even disdain the male point of view just because there are some men who do the same to women. Equality is healthy boundaries, not domination.

    2. This weapon that you and other men mention being used against them to render you victims, are you referring to laws? It doesn’t make any sense and sounds like paranoid rambling.

  12. As a man, I can’t support feminism because it doesn’t do anything for me. If feminism is about equality breaking down genderoles and stereotypes then what what are the feminists representing feminism doing to help men? Considering all of the “man up” articles popping up lately written by women trying to tangle men back into the roles that have been demonized by women. Do feminists as collective wholes speak out against the treatment of fathers in family court? Do they fight for men’s right of separating the consent of sex with procreation? Or paternal surrender as in if you give up or rights to a child you can also surrender your responsiblity to same child without going to jail? Are there outcries when from feminists groups when a violent women abuses a innocent man then the police comes to arrest him rather than her? If there is such abundant proof that feminists are then please direct not just me but all men so such theories can the truth as being self evident.

    1. Kurtis, don’t you think it strange that the examples you use are predominantly things that would label a man effeminate?
      These are as much feminist problems, or more accurately, are equality problems. They are being worked on, the support has been growing since the 80’s. But if you reject the rights of feminists, you reject the rights of males to be non-traditional as well. Ultimately, true equality will need us all to accept both sides of this equation.

    2. I have to agree, Kurtis you have a good point. But this is also a call for equality. Being a feminist (I strongly believe that the resonance this word leaves in our heads is not perceived for what it should be – which is in essence civil rights movement for equality – not for “some animals are more equal than others”) it is very difficult and painful to observe spread of a hostile comments becoming more and more demeaning and aggressive whenever inequality is pointed out or word feminist us used. Like this one http://femfreq.tumblr.com/post/52673540142/twitter-vs-female-protagonists-in-video-games.
      There is a lot to be done ground up. Great article.

    3. Kurtis – 83% of men make up congress. 50.8% of women make up the US population. We need to work together in unity and support each other.

  13. I have no problem with the word “feminism” and I understand that it carries a lot of assigned meaning in the west (as my only experience I can claim is an american upbringing). We shouldnt change the term because many people have out of dates views about the feminist movement. As in any movement, people will argue about its direction internally. I think the most important thing is to keep having honest discussions about gender inequality and about how we can work to correct it.

  14. There is so much wrong with this article it makes my head it. It makes me ashamed to be of the same gender as the author.

    1. I’m sorry it makes your “head it” and causes you to feel ashamed. You should feel ashamed, but guess again as to why.

  15. Feminism is a dirty word and people do not want to identify themselves as such – even if they are feminists. There are too many feminists pointing out what is wrong with the view of another that is close to theirs instead of progressing the cause. It’s detrimental to equality. Great post!

  16. I think your reason number 2 is very interesting and could be retitled “because patriarcal values are damaging to men too”. Idealized patriarchal “masculinity” is be hard to live up to, and it also excludes quite effectively a large portion of the male sex and labels them “effeminate” or another such term which indicates how they are inferior to a “real man”. This of course breeds anxiety.I think that this also feeds into another common reason why feminism is perceived to be dangerous, the idea that feminism wants to “emasculate” men. While masculinity is rigidly defined by these patriarchal ideas, any attempt to bring equality in the interactions between male and females can only be interpreted as an attempt for women to appropiate “manliness” (ie superiority in a relationship) and to thus “emasculate” them by making them only equal rather than the “natural” superior.

  17. Men have not seen it as a subject worth male achievement. When feminism….or pro-feminism, as we carefully call it in the African context, become a subject that men will want to identify with or pride about or even “die for” then the men will see the benefits.
    Programmes that engage men from a point of responsibility – not blame apportioning – work better…..and you do not have to package it as feminism: Peace, human rights (in general initially), leadership, GBV, HIV, development and child protection are topics that connect and easily open up discussion towards gender equality-women rights-feminism.

  18. I would add one more very important factor: people confuse personal bigotry with structural. [They say] “My friends and I are not sexist, therefore sexism does not exist or there is nothing for us to do. Why should I be blamed for the actions of my group?”

  19. It works in much the same way for women. Many women deny feminism even though they want the benefits feminist politics have brought them, but when asked if they are a feminist they say “NO” – and then say something nonsensical like they like being feminine – not really understanding that feminism is about equality NOT about sexuality.

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