I really don’t care whether someone identifies as feminist.
A lot of other people seem to, though. That’s what’s behind the otherwise puzzling insistence on redefining feminism to mean “just thinking that men and women are equal!” (Which is ridiculous. If your definition of a gender-related movement includes both me and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, it is not a very good definition.) It’s behind the surge of pop-feminist adulation every time a celebrity declares herself or himself to be a feminist, regardless of whether they’ve ever shown any interest in anti-sexist activism. It is behind the discourse about how all men should be feminists, and the related discourse about how no men should be feminists because the word ‘feminist’ is somehow women’s private woman-only space or something, because this is totally how language works.
So here’s my opinion: I don’t care.
There are lots of reasons a man might not identify as a feminist. It might be that he is alienated by racism, transphobia, ableism, rape apologism, or whorephobia in the feminist movement. It might be that he is a victim of oppositional sexism or of racism, ableism, or rape apologism influenced by his gender, and thus he finds that male privilege discourse doesn’t reflect his experiences. It might be that he experienced some of the toxic or frankly abusive dynamics that exist in some social justice spheres and now has a flinch reaction to anything remotely feminist-y. It might be that he personally is not particularly sexist, and he assumes that no other men are sexist either, because sexism is clearly awful, and therefore feminists must be blowing things out of proportion. It might be that he doesn’t have strong opinions on gender politics one way or the other. And, yeah, it might be that he’s a sexist dickbag.
So I don’t care about whether a guy calls himself a feminist.
Here are some questions I do care about the answer to: if you organize a big event, do you welcome children or make provisions for childcare? do you divide chores and childcare in a fair and equitable way that both you and your partner(s) are satisfied with? (would your partner agree?) do you consider housework and childcare to ‘not be real work’? have you set yourself up as the Transgender Police who is in charge of who gets to be transgender? are you a dick to sex workers? do you pressure pregnant people into getting abortions or into not getting abortions, or do you support their right to make this decision for themselves? do you respect people’s sexual boundaries? do you think everyone needs to know that you think [insert trait here] is disgusting and you personally would never have sex with someone like that? do you give women you know unsolicited criticism of their appearances? do you assume that women are ignorant about stereotypically male subjects (or that men are ignorant about stereotypically female subjects)? do you assume that a girl wants a doll and a boy wants a truck without asking about their toy preferences? do you understand how uteruses work? do you treat women you know like your mom, your secretary, a baby, or a fragile thing that needs to be protected? do you make fun of men who work in typically female professions or are the primary caregivers of children?
And so on and so forth.
Probably, as a group, men who identify as feminists are more likely than men who don’t identify as feminists to give the right answers to those questions. If nothing else, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is probably giving the wrong answers, and thus weighing down the non-feminist side. But there are a lot of men who say all the right words about patriarchy and bell hooks, but in their private life act like the Laundry Fairy magically causes clean clothes to appear in their drawers. There are a lot of men in This Is What A Feminist Looks Like t-shirts who have no problem with guilting a woman into having an abortion she doesn’t want. And there are also a lot of men who don’t think much about feminism one way or the other– or even identify as anti-feminist– who do a lot of the really boring, unrecognized work of fighting sexism. Who make sure there’s childcare at an event. Who listen to expertise regardless of the gender of the expert. Who say “dude, she was talking” when a woman is interrupted.
And that shit’s the stuff that actually matters? Sadly, cute buttons about smashing the patriarchy have very little effect in smashing the patriarchy. What will smash the patriarchy is a bunch of individual people individually making the decision not to be sexist, and then doing that again and again, for the rest of their lives, until it isn’t even a decision anymore it’s just automatic. And that’s not something you have to identify as feminist to do.