How to Be a Feminist Boyfriend

After having a few recent conversations about whether men can even be feminist (The Sexy Feminist says: YES) and stumbling across this plea for guy-friendly feminist reading from a concerned girlfriend, we got to thinking: What does it take to be a feminist boyfriend? Let us count the ways:

1. Read feminist sites. We recommend this one, of course, but there’s also Feministing, Slate’s DoubleX blog, and many others. And we don’t say this as our No. 1 tip just to keep ourselves in business — reading sites that filter news through a feminist perspective is the quickest, easiest way to get a feel for, well, just how far we still have to go. He’ll get exactly why we still need feminism after spending an afternoon reading about Dominic Strauss-Kahn, Planned Parenthood cuts, and, ugh, Charlie Sheen. Hopefully he’ll also come out a fan of Bridesmaids, Tina Fey, and Jane Fonda.

2. Make sure you’re giving her what she wants, and not what she doesn’t want, in bed. This comes down to talking. It’s fun. Have some wine and discuss what you both like (and don’t). Then everyone’s on the same page. It’s so easy to lose track of equality in bed, and while we aren’t advocating strict and literal equality (if you like being tied up, ladies, go for it!) we think the key is making sure everyone is equally satisfied, whatever that means.

3. Share the burden of contraception. Again, it comes down to talking. Don’t assume the lady’s taking care of things just because we have a pill and you don’t. And trust us, she will swoon if you offer to foot half the birth control cost (even if she’s the one who has to go pick up the prescription). She may decline your offer, but it doesn’t hurt to put it out there.

4. Treat her like a lady, but let her pay sometimes. This is another case-by-case situation: Paying for stuff might be the most fraught area of modern dating. Basically, it’ll vary widely depending on which of you makes more, or whether you’ve got roughly equal bank accounts. That said, we don’t suggest using feminism as an excuse to be cheap; but we also appreciate you checking your antiquated ideas about manhood at the door and letting your woman pay sometimes, especially after the first few dates. It helps assuage our awkward feelings of feminist guilt and that nagging sensation of being a kept woman.

5. Cook together. It’s romantic, fun, healthy, and fiscally responsible. It also establishes a feeling of equality when it comes to domestic tasks and lays a great foundation if you take things to the next level and cohabitate.

6. Don’t resort to “stop acting like a chick” retorts during disagreements. Just be direct and honest; don’t drag gender into things.

7. Have intellectual debates with us. We love that.

8. Call yourself a feminist, dammit. This is basically like dirty talk to us.


PG

Author: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up deep in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, then escaped to New York to live in a succession of very small apartments and write about pop culture. In the process, she became a feminist, a Buddhist, and the singer/guitarist in an amateur rock band. She also spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly, cofounded SexyFeminist.com, and now writes for several publications, including Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Writer’s Digest, Fast Company, and New York‘s Vulture. Her history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013; her collaboration with Heather Wood Rudulph, Sexy Feminism, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2013. She is the author of the Why? Because We Still Like You, a history of the original Mickey Mouse Club published by Grand Central in 2010. She has provided pop culture commentary for CNN, VH1, A&E, and ABC, and teaches article writing and creative writing. Follow her on Twitter: @jmkarmstrong

Comments

  1. Christine says:

    I don’t need my boyfriend to read blogs about how to be a feminist. I need him to be concerned with what it means to be a caring, intellectual, strong man and concerned, playful, loving father. I’ll worry about what it means to be a woman. I’d like him to worry about masculinity because few people–women or men, seem to get what that means anymore.

    • Christine, being a feminist does not mean checking your masculinity at the door, instead it’s quite the opposite. If men are concerned with and educated about women — what we like, how we think, how to be the best partner they can be to us — they’re going to be a better husband, father, boyfriend, man, period. And a side note: Being a feminist girlfriend/wife means returning the favor of understanding and compassion for our men.

      • Christine says:

        I didn’t express my point well. I didn’t mean that men shouldn’t be concerned about women– of course, caring and compassionate people, regardless of gender, make the ideal partner. What I meant is that there is so much emphasis on men understanding women today that they could easily get lost in the rules of the “shoulds” (e.g., “you SHOULD call yourself a feminist”) and spend little time understanding their own needs, values, feelings etc. There is an incredible tradition to true masculinity going back to the Greeks– a tradition that the U.S. “macho” notion of masculinity has distracted us from. In the current culture, to be self-reflective is somehow effeminate or sissy-like. But one cannot support another without knowing him or herself first… it’s the old “put on your air mask before you put on someone else’s” on the plane rule. If we want men to understand us and stand up for us, we need to encourage them to get to know themselves and what it means–deeply–not superficially– to be a man. Whether or not I pay or he pays isn’t going to make either of us more evolved human beings if we don’t spend time “cultivating our own garden” as Voltaire puts it.

  2. This is a my total weakness! I love feminist guys!

  3. Emily says:

    I love this blog. Great advice!

  4. Eric M says:

    #1 is unnecessary.

    #4 is completely wrong. Treating her like a lady (chivalry) is anti-feminist because it’s not equality; selective inequality takes away the power of feminism and plays right into the hands of the critics of feminism by hypocritically picking and choosing when equality should exist and when inequality should exist.

    To be a feminist, you must actually be a feminist, which requires opposes special treatment based on sex. Gender-blind common courtesy, on the other hand, is consistent with feminism.

    • #1 might be unnecessary if you’re up on feminist issues, but it certainly won’t hurt — we read feminist sites, too (obviously). And we don’t think treating a lady like a lady sexist chivalry, we consider it manners. In return, we tend to treat men like gentlemen. The point is that it’s a fraught area because there’s so much history, and it’s important to stay conscious of these decisions.

      • Eric M says:

        It is entirely possible to display manners without chivalry. Women do it all the time. True feminism is diametrically opposed to special treatment based on sex, which is precisely what chivalry is. The purpose of true feminism is to enable men and women to be treated with “equal” respect and courtesy, not more for men or more for women, equal. Thus, true feminism doesn’t allow the picking and choosing where you want equality and where you want inequality, even if you happen to be the beneficiary unequal treatment.

    • Ben says:

      Eric, these were precisely my thoughts when I read this. Thanks for representing my viewpoint.

  5. Cassie says:

    Ha! Cute. :)

  6. Melanie says:

    Woot! Feminist men are really hard to come by!! But they exist and I have a great one!! He tries to say that he’s not a feminist (as if it’s a bad word or something, but he totally is!!)

  7. Alicia says:

    I don’t think reading feminist sites makes one a feminist. I think being a caring and compassionate person who understands, without having to think or consider, that men and women are equal and deserve 100% equality and everything that entails makes one a feminist. Being willing to stand up for feminism, even if you don’t know or think you’re feminist, makes you a feminist. I think keeping a finger on the pulse of important social issues makes one an intelligent person and, in some cases, a feminist. Feminist blogs certainly promote both, but they are not the only path to feminist manhood.

    I have a lot of fantastic guy friends who are feminist. They don’t think they’re feminist, but they don’t objectify women, they know that women are equal, and misogynists make them rage. They never actively decided to be feminists. They were just raised in a world and a part of the country where victim-blaming, slut-shaming, anti-choice rhetoric was frowned upon and came out the other end of that upbringing as thoughtful, sensitive, strong, intelligent men who I am proud to know, even if they never once utter the sentence, “I am a feminist.” I don’t think it makes them less feminist, because to them, these things are obvious and don’t need a label. I just hope soon that every child, male and female, feels that way.

    • We couldn’t agree more — we’re just trying to give folks some basics to get started. We do think admitting to feminism is an important step — though we’d rather have the person who stands up for the principles than the one who doesn’t but labels himself a feminist.

  8. Despard says:

    I like this. I’ve never had a problem being a feminist boyfriend. All the things on your list are things I do all the time, and not being able to do those things when I do settle down with a partner (I’m currently single) really doesn’t appeal to me. I have to say that I don’t read feminist websites specifically but I do know about DSK, Planned Parenthood cuts and Charlie Sheen. I mean, even people who write feminist websites get their news from other places. I don’t need to read their perspectives to share them. :)

    Mostly I have this weird idea that women are actual people. I honestly find it massively odd that anyone would ever say something like you note in #6, but I guess I’m just sheltered…

  9. Jenny Spivey says:

    Ryan Gosling (Papa Goose) is the sexiest male feminist.

  10. Thefremen says:

    I don’t have much luck with dating, or more accuately I have no luck in finding anyone willing to go on a first date, but the last time I was in a relationship I was a Feminist Boyfriend and it was pretty awesome.

    I think #4 is labelled somewhat incorrectly but the content clearly does not indicate chivalry so it’s OK. Also, personally I’ve run across my fair share of dudes who still don’t quite “get it” just from reading feminist blogs and I think reading actual books is prolly a better way to go. Anything by bell hooks really is a good choice.

  11. Holes says:

    9. Cut off your balls while you’re at it.

    Women like men who act like men, not men who read feminist websites to find out what women like. Women especially do not like men who have to ask women how to be men.

  12. Hank Trollins says:

    Woah.

    Having intellectually stimulating conversation with your significant other and working through arguments without resorting to petty insults doesn’t make you a feminist, it makes you a rational, adult human being.

    Making sure that both you and your girlfriend’s needs are being satisfied in the bedroom doesn’t make you fucking Jane Fonda, it makes you a conscientious partner and a good lay.

    Helping your lady with food prep and sharing expenses just means that you aren’t attached to old world ideas that most people with a brain let die in 1959.

    All of this is common sense to a person with a mentality beyond that of your average second grader. You aren’t ‘helping the cause’ of women’s rights by publishing garbage like this, you are just enflaming the embers of antiquated gender stereotypes that should just be left alone to fizzle the fuck out.

    If you think any of this is a luxury in a 21st century relationship, you are either surrounding yourself with the wrong kind of men, or Jennifer Armstrong is just a pseudonym for a 14 year old ghost-writer from upstate New York who just heard of Gloria Steinam for the first time and decided it’s now on her shoulders to defend all of the glory that is the vagina.

    You have certain responsibilities as an author that you should consider. Here, you are just preaching to an audience of your peers, and any sort of effect will be infinitesimal because those too doltish to have these ideas occur to them in the first place wouldn’t be caught dead reading this website anyway. Try relaying these thoughts via a forum that might actually yield some results and make a positive change in this world. I hear that the Mall of America is hiring.

    All the best,

    Hank.

    • alissa afonina says:

      You don’t choose which men you surround yourself with, neither is it the fault of her or anyone else if these ideas do seem like a fucking luxury. This SHOULD be common sense, but it ISN’T. I’m not sure what world you live in, but it isn’t the real one.

  13. Lauren says:

    Proud to have a boyfriend who is proud to call himself a feminist! Yes he cooks (very well), my BC is covered, but he also uses condoms so he is most certainly footing that part of the contraception bill, if there was a man-pill he’d be on it. I’m most certainly getting everything I want in bed, and we talk openly about what we like and how we like it. We split the bill, sometimes he pays, sometimes I do. He never brings gender into an argument and intellectual debates are our bread and butter of conversation. He reads some feminist articles, but I think he could benefit from a little more feminist fiber in his reading diet… SO Check! Feminist boyfriends rock.

  14. Janie says:

    I hate the word feminist. How would women react if men called themselves masculinists? The word feminist should be abolished. We shouldn’t be pro-woman or pro-man, would should be for equality. Men and women who are caring individuals who treat everyone with respect are not feminists, they are simply caring and respectful individuals.

    • alissa afonina says:

      If men have been oppressed for ages and wanted to change things, I’d have no problem with that. Feminism isn’t pro woman, it’s pro equality. A simple wikipedia search would teach you that.

      • Mike says:

        Feminism isn’t pro equality, it is pro female. If you were pro equality then there is already a word for that – egalitarianism.
        Don’t get me wrong, feminism has its place, but it is a lie to call it pro equality.

  15. A.K. Whitney says:

    That’s nice, Janie. Or is it “Jennifer”? You seem to post here under several aliases. But feminism as a concept will continue to be valuable as long as folks (like your alter-ego) maintain that women are not as creative as men, are only good at “following directions” and therefore can never be tech entrepreneurs, chefs, etc.

  16. cheyenne says:

    Feminism means equality for everyone, not just women. I know the word sounds one sided, but we have to remember this started about one hundred years ago and then it made sense to call it something to point out the inequalities of the female gender.

  17. DEBU says:

    Some views from India : ) Just as messy this world and our societies have become; so also has the man-woman / men-women equations as a result. A website like this one results from the most dreadful disease that we suffer from as humans – expectations! There is no end to that.

    Essentially…we have messed it up to the extent that in spite of countless books/websites/feminists…romance is rarely going to be great because too many people, especially women, have worked overtime to list so many expectations that by the time dudes go through them and try and imbibe…their lives will be over : )

    God made men and women differently for a purpose. Today women just want to be masculine and expect men to be so many things that one lifetime is not enough for that. What do we have today? More broken homes, more broken relationships, more suicides, more desperation, more substance abuse, more isolation etc.

    All this after…supposedly…we have evolved as humans and human societies. Bullshit !!!

    We have to be good, tolerant people and that is enough to ensure harmony across all types of relationships. I absolutely love women and I am very blessed to have many wonderful women in my life who have never drowned me with their expectations. If one is brought up well; naturally he / she will grow as a person who respects others! You don’t need to be a feminist for that.

    There is, unfortunately, a large number of women who are only worried about accomplishing what men already have…to prove that they have stormed another male bastion! Why don’t guys worry about storming female bastions? When will this war mongering stop and make way for gender harmony? When did guys ask women to prove themselves?

    Women are tender, beautiful and innately strong and we love them for their femininity. No sensible, well brought up guy ever needs to be told that he needs to be nice to girls / women. We are naturally programmed for that. How can I not be nice to my mom, sister, friend, aunts, wife and how can I not be caring towards them?

    It is only natural that women are better at certain things than men and men better at certain things than women. That is why they compliment each other. Why make that a cause for gender war? Of course, sections of the media and certain businesses gain from this war and hence, they do everything to keep it going.

    Unfortunately…too many women and men have already been led astray by this propaganda around gender wars.

    At the end of the day…genuine progress can only be measured by the extent of peace and harmony we have in our societies in a world that has been brought closer than ever before by technology.

    And by that yardstick………….we are regressing surely ! The genders are fast forgetting to love each other for what they are and that is a real tragedy.

  18. Andrew Daar says:

    I want to print this up as a pamphlet and hand it out to people.

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