As we close out 2017, let’s take some time to reflect on lessons learned over the past 12 months. In an act of no holds barred brutal honesty, this year completely obliterated the myth of the male feminist. Though these men claim to be champions of women’s rights, we’ve seen time and time again how they are nothing but wolves in sheep’s clothing.
In the last several months, Harvey Weinstein, Joss Whedon, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose have all fallen into this camp. In the case of writer Michael Hafford, who has been accused of physically assaulting four women, he went as far as authoring a column for Vice’s women-focused site, Broadly, in 2015 titled “Male Feminist Here,” parodying the deceitfulness of this very group of men. [Editor’s Note: Hafford is a former contributor to Playboy.com; the company was unaware of the allegations made against this individual during the brief time he contributed to the website.]
From an evolutionary perspective, the approach has been described by the late evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith as the “sneaky fuckers” strategy, referring to the way in which subordinate males manage to accomplish mating with females—which they otherwise might not get to do—by taking advantage of instances in which dominant (and more appealing) males are preoccupied, fighting off intruders.
This has been observed across multiple species in the animal kingdom and in humans, it takes the form of feminist men. These men know by rote all of the right things to say in order to gain a woman’s trust. They pride themselves on being sensitive, socially conscious “allies,” calling out “male privilege” and “problematic behavior” by the “patriarchy.” They will subvert any hint of their masculinity. This brilliant comic, which compares male feminists with predators in the wild that successfully camouflage themselves from their prey, accurately sums up their duplicitous nature.
I’ve encountered a healthy number of male feminists in my day and they never fail to disappoint when it comes to posturing. Many proudly declare how much they admire “strong women” and will be sure to randomly insert inspirational yet irrelevant quotes into everyday conversation, like “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” or name Judith Butler as one of their favorite authors. (Yes, these men actually exist.) In doing so, they’re attempting to atone for the atrocious behavior of other men when really, they are engaging in their own special form of projection.
A research paper published in Motivation and Emotion earlier this year suggests that virtue-signaling—commonly seen in men apologizing for the behavior of other men—is a reflection of a person’s own moral failings. Voicing outrage at unethical behavior is a way for people to alleviate guilt, essentially through overcompensation.
As part of the study, the authors presented participants with vignettes that primed them to feel guilty about a particular social issue (like purchasing products made in sweatshops). As the result of this guilt, study participants expressed greater moral outrage and condoned greater retributive punishment against the responsible party in the vignette (in this case, sweatshop owners) as a way of feeling better about themselves.
As for women who prefer to date self-proclaimed male feminists, some thoughts for you. In a recent blog post for Everyday Feminism, Lara Witt broke down “10 Things Every Intersectional Feminist Should Ask on a First Date.” The listicle included questions like, “Do you think capitalism is exploitative?”, “What are your thoughts on gender and sexual orientation?” and “How do you work to dismantle sexism and misogyny in your life?”
Let’s be real: no man in his right mind would answer all 10 questions with aplomb, and if you’re in the market to date a sane person, you should hope he doesn’t. Because men know that I’m less likely to castigate them with accusations of being “anti-feminist,” the male feminists I mentioned earlier have no issue telling me privately what they really think about women and feminism.
When it comes to the hot topic of gender in particular, they know that men and women are different, but they will proclaim otherwise, saying nonsensical things like there are no differences between the sexes or that differences are socially constructed, because doing so will win them points and secure them sexual partners. But pretending these differences don’t exist only leads to a wider chasm between the sexes. In a dating context, it hampers our ability to understand one another and form any genuine or meaningful connection.
So, going back to the intersectional feminist dating checklist, I guarantee any guy who touts the “right answer” to each of these bizarre, social justice-related questions will reveal himself in time to be hideously deceptive. Thankfully, it seems women, including female feminists, have become wary of these red flags. They even inspired their own SNL skit last year, wherein a bunch of “male feminists” approach a woman in a bar only to call her “bitch” when she rejects them.
Women deserve equality and to be treated no differently from men, and there are plenty of decent men out there who agree with me. The difference is these men don’t feel the need to run around waving a giant banner notifying everyone of this (or wearing a pink pussy hat, the national emblem of the Woman’s March on Washington in January). To have healthy and successful relationships, the solution isn’t mindlessly telling women what they want to hear, nor setting impossible expectations on men based on a biased worldview.
For those who have bought into the unfortunate narrative that women are an oppressed class in need of special treatment in order to level the playing field, I will say that helping and supporting women because they are women is patronizing. These is nothing a male feminist loves more than educating women on how oppressed we really are.
Feminism once had the admirable aim of elevating females to having the same rights and opportunities as males, but it has warped into a profitable industry, ironically offering social currency to aid a subset of men—who are at worst, dishonest, and at best, self-deluded—in getting what they want. Don’t fall for the trick, and don’t believe in the myth, either.
Debra W. Soh writes about the science and politics of sex and holds a PhD in sexual neuroscience from York University. Her writing has appeared in Harper’s, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Globe and Mail and many others. Follow her and her writing: @DrDebraSoh.