My partner was recently able to fulfill a challenge she set out for herself -- to do something that makes her scared. She gave a TEDx talk. And she was amazing. She talked about accepting ourselves for who we are and for recognizing that even with faults, we have plenty to offer to others.
She also, in one five-second segment of the 14-minute long talk, referred to me as a feminist. But she left me wiggle room in the way she worded it. "Someone who's a feminist," she said. Not, "he calls himself a feminist."
Because she knows, I don't call myself a feminist.
I don't refrain from calling myself a feminist because I'm afraid of the men's rights groups who may come after me. I don't refrain from it because I don't agree with the oft-quoted definition of feminism as "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men."
I refrain from calling myself a feminist because it seems too easy for a man to call himself a feminist and get credit for it. Like simply saying he's a feminist puts him on the same level as the women who have done so for years, often suffering more just because they've used the word as an identifier. I refrain because I know there are groups who would rather men not play a role in this fight and I accept that given their own experiences, there is value to that. I'm not as educated as these people are when it comes to feminism and the fight for equality. I haven't had insults hurled at me, physical threats thrown at me or any rights taken away because I'm a woman.
"But I have a voice and I can help," isn't always a sufficient answer.
The truth is, I've been a part of the problem far more frequently than I've been part of any solution to equality. I've been the asshole making sexist jokes. To suggest I've become someone equally engaged in the fight for equality as some of the people I've come to meet over the past few years seems disingenuous. That because I've written words out, I'm suddenly the same as people like my partner who has worked to help women make the choices that are right for them, is ludicrous.
I consider myself a feminist ally. Someone who believes strongly in the need for equality for all people who identify how ever they identify. Someone who wants to listen to people who have experienced inequalities I can only read about. Someone who some will call a feminist and who others won't. I'm okay with that.
I don't want to mansplain, I don't want to push my way to the front of a movement because I have the privilege to be able to do so. I don't want to compare the few angry blog comments I get to the copy and paste death threats some get for suggesting men are the most frequent perpetrators of sexual assault.
It feels too easy to be a man and to write #feminist in your twitter bio or to wear your this is what a feminist looks like t-shirt and receive immediate accolades for being so "progressive." These things only seem progressive because we haven't been acting out our male feminism long enough. It seems far more impactful for me to become an engaged bystander, to call out sexist, misogynistic behavior when I see it, even if it's coming from my friends. To support organizations who have been doing this for years and to look to these experts on how we can help end sexual violence against women. Or, at a very simple level, to talk to parents about how we can introduce our kids to the concept of consent at the age of two and that doing so doesn't mean they'll be engaged in sexual activity at the age of seven.
I'm a partner to a feminist, I'm committed to raising feminist daughters. I want them to know that I support them and believe them and will fight with them not because they're my girls but because they're girls at all. That we'd do the same for their friends or for someone we've never met.
Do I like being called a feminist by feminists? Yes, very much. It makes me think my actions must be useful. It makes me think I might be doing something to make the world a little more equitable for our girls. I like the word, it gives me direction.
But there's always so much more to learn and there's always so much more I could be doing. So much more I could stop ignoring.
It's a flawed stance to take, I know and one that might indeed change. I'd love to be seen as a feminist, but right now, I can't call myself one.