Significant Others

By Christine Cupaiuolo — October 12, 2006

Every so often a discussion kicks up over whether men can be feminists or if men should call themselves “feminist allies” or “pro-feminist.”

For me, I’ve always considered the issue kind of a non-issue; I’m lucky to know guys who have considered themselves feminists longer than I have (relax: I wasn’t talking yet). They claim it because they support social, political and economic equality, period.

Then there’s Spain. “We have a prime minister who not only says he’s a feminist — he acts like a feminist,” María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, Spain’s first vice president, told the Washington Post, referring to Prime Minister José Luis Rodríquez Zapatero. “In two-and-one-half years, we have done more than has ever been done in such a short time in Spain.”

Half of Zapatero’s cabinet members are women — the highest proportion in any government in Europe. From the WP:

New divorce laws not only make it easier for couples to split but stipulate that marital obligations require men to share the housework equally with their wives.

To draw more women into the armed forces, the government is shrinking the height requirements for women entering the National Guard and opening child-care centers on military bases.

Not even the royal family is immune: Zapatero wants to abolish the law giving male heirs first rights to the throne.

The push for gender equality in one of Europe’s most macho cultures comes as both internal and outside forces are creating seismic social shifts: Spanish women are taking greater control of their own lives by waiting longer to marry and having fewer children. The European Union is exerting more pressure on members to enforce equality. And the growth of high-tech businesses with a greater sensitivity to hiring women is expanding job opportunities.

After he was elected, Zapatero affirmed his commitment to feminist principles. “One thing that really awakens my rebellious streak is 20 centuries of one sex dominating the other,” he said. “We talk of slavery, feudalism, exploitation — but the most unjust domination is that of one-half of the human race over the other.”

Of course, not everyone is down with the program. “Just because Zapatero says by law men have to do dishes, men are not going to do dishes,” Alberto Fuertes, a 37-year-old factory owner, told the WP. “That’s ridiculous. It’s totally absurd.”

All of his 11 employees are women mostly between the ages of 46 and 55. “If I hire a 36-year-old, the problem is that she’s going to take a lot of days off to take her child to the doctor. She knows her rights and knows I can’t do anything about that,” Fuertes said.

He notes that his mother does everything for his father — but he doesn’t want that kind of life for his 2 1/2-year-old daughter. “I would not be happy,” Fuertes said. “It would go against everything I’ve tried to teach her.”

Back in the U.S., when was the last time you saw feminist in a headline — and it didn’t apply to a woman? “Educator, Integrationist, Feminist Dies in Port Washington”

The story, from Long Island’s local Northender, an online publication, is about the death of David Saltern, an educator who in the 1960s oversaw the desegregation of schools in New Rochelle, N.Y. In 1958, he appeared as an expert witness in federal court and argued for immediate school integration in Little Rock, Ark., which the school board at that time was fighting to delay for two and one-half years.

“When certain types of surgery have to be done, it should be done quickly,” he said, according to The Associated Press.

The Northender included this quote, which seems to be from an interview with Networking Magazine in 2002:

“Surrounded as I am – first by three sisters; later, daughters, granddaughters and great granddaughters – I have always been an outspoken feminist – understandably so … the enormously powerful potential of women has not as yet been fully tapped in American industry, government and civic affairs. We have a long, long way to go.”

Saltern was influential enough that the New York Times also published a bylined obit (alas, with no mention of his feminist credentials).

Two representations of male feminists in the media in one week!

So, readers, if more men self-identify as feminists, will it have any impact on the number of women who claim, “I’m not a feminist, but …”?

2 responses to “Significant Others”

  1. Men can not be feminists any more than I, as a white person, can be a black power activist. I’ve had it with feminists who constantly seek men’s approval, stamp, legitimation for their simple request for a more feminine, life-oriented, world. Men do not experience being a woman, therefore, they can not be feminist.

    It is one thing to be sympathetic to a cause that undermines your own position of privilege, quite another to live and fight against oppression from the fucked-over position.

    Name, just one famous feminist man (or one white black power activist) and maybe I’ll revise my position. As I see it, men can be “pro-feminist,” “anti-sexist,” “anti-patriarchal,” or even better, “dissidents against masculinity.” However, they can no more be “feminists” than I can transform my whiteness to blackness.

  2. I believe Phil Donahue and Alan Alda are supposed to be feminist. Perhaps, we can say pro-women’s rights, which we do need considering the majority in Congress, the Supreme Court and the White House are men. We need men to support our equality to move it forward into law.

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