Men, here's what to do before you declare yourself a 'feminist'

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Andrew P Street

You recognise male privilege is a thing. Your hackles and ire are legitimately raised by structural inequalities you see ...

You recognise male privilege is a thing. Your hackles and ire are legitimately raised by structural inequalities you see facing women every day. But are you a feminist? Photo: Stocksy

Every so often something happens in one's life that forces hard questions to be asked. Rarely does that revelatory moment come via Alan Jones.

On a recent episode of Q&A the king of pointlessly aggressive radio talkback declared himself a feminist in a statement that would have seemed only slightly less plausible had he instead declared himself a teen gymnast, or a cobra. 

Last week Canadian prime minister and political dreamboat Justin Trudeau insisted that he was a feminist and would continue to declare himself one until the statement "is met with a shrug". 

And it's fair to say that both men had somewhat different views of what their statement meant. However, both cut to the heart of what is the essential contradiction facing Blokes Who Call Themselves Feminists.

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Now, just to clarify, this isn't about Blokes Who Pretend They're Feminists For Their Own Advantage. As Giselle Au-Nhien Nguygen accurately pointed out on this website, there is no shortage of dudes perfectly happy to accept the cookies and sex that comes with embracing the term - while having zero inclination to actually put the slightest effort into making space for women in the world. Those people are, to use a technical term, despicable. 

However, hypothetical male reader, let's assume you're not deliberately misrepresenting yourself because you're some sort of man-shell filled with spiders and inadequacy.

You like and respect women. You recognise male privilege is a thing. Your hackles and ire are legitimately raised by the vast structural inequalities you see facing women every day.

So: are you a feminist?

UK author and feminist columnist Caitlin Moran would say yes. Then again, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop would say she doesn't find the term useful and insist that people are judged on merit, as though that wasn't a loaded term used exclusively by people that have enjoyed staggering levels of privilege throughout their entire life. 

So evidently there's no clear consensus – but before you decide to self-declare that you, male person/radio troll/Canadian PM, are a white knight of feminism, there's a further wrinkle that you are going to need to puzzle out.

On the one hand, feminism is a pretty straightforward philosophy: that women have been historically repressed by men and that there are myriad structural and cultural ways in that this inequality still manifests, and that it needs to be recognised and practically addressed.

That would seem to be pretty cut and dried, and you might even say that those who don't acknowledge this are either impossibly ignorant or being deliberately obtuse to the point of lying through their we-live-in-a-meritocracy teeth. That, of course, would be horribly unfair and accurate.

Blokes who are not fools can and do see this, and can support the need for change – and, as part of effecting that change, make some damn room for women's voices in the wider conversation. (... Says the guy writing about feminism – feel free to parse out my apparent hypocrisy versus the value of modelling appropriate masculine behaviour on the social media platform of your choice.)

However. Feminism is also a cultural movement created by and for women as a method of carving out a female space within the patriarchy. And this is where it gets tricky for the most genuinely well-meaning of dudes.

In a nutshell: how can you self-proclaim your own membership within a movement that is deliberately, explicitly designed as a space for women's voices and experiences?

Isn't that appropriation a teeny-tiny bit like the exact same sort of blithe privilege which feminism was created in order to combat? Doesn't your confidence in assuming you'll be welcomed and praised for your certain-to-be-accepted membership sound a bit… well, cartoonishly male?

So here's my own solution, for whatever it's worth: rather than insist that feminism scooch up so you can manspread in its train carriage, declare yourself an ally.

Allies are part of the solution. They make clear that they are aligned with a group without implying they have some sort of claim over it. Allies are pals who can be relied upon to help out. But allies don't barge into the clubhouse and start demanding that they get to design the flag.

Because, chaps, feminism's not about you. But before you start feeling sad in your feeling-place about not being able to be King Feminist, remember this:

Men – especially the sort of straight, white, middle-class ones that seem especially eager to self-identify as feminists – still largely control the mechanisms of power, from politics to business to finance to media to pretty much everything else, and that makes those of us who are allies pretty useful. We can slip into places that are hostile to non-white, non-straight, non-male voices and effect change from within. And that, gents, is valuable alliesmanship.

We are feminism's Bothans, poised to bring the Death Star plans to the Rebellion. And if that comparison doesn't resonate deeply, what kind of straight middle class white male are you?