I am quite certain I have never referred to myself as a feminist. If I ever did, I take it back.
The reason why is complicated.
Before we get into that, many have labeled me such. There are those who proclaim me feminist, starting with those lovely folks we know as “men’s rights activists.” After my first piece of anti-MRA writing appeared in TIME Magazine in 2014, they declared me the enemy. And for them, feminism is the enemy. This post appeared shortly thereafter on an MRA Facebook page:
Two years ago, I wrote a piece about bashing MRAs for Ravishly (a pro-feminism website). I had no input into the title. What the editors went with was “I’m An MRA-Bashing Feminist.”
Just yesterday I posted an article about how patriarchal attitudes have created a difference in how men and women use punctuation, and these were some of the comments people made in sharing it on Facebook.
That’s from just one article. I’ve been referred to as a feminist, both positively and negatively, more times than I can count. My viral piece “She Doesn’t Owe You Shit” seemed to cement my reputation in terms of what side I was on: equality, not douchebaggery.
But I don’t call myself a feminist. There are several reasons why. First off …
1. I don’t have a fucking clue what I’m talking about
My master’s degree in military history focused primarily on men doing bad things to other men, using bombs and guns and shit. I don’t know the history of feminism. I couldn’t tell you the difference between 2nd and 3rd wave without Googling it.
I didn’t take a single gender studies class throughout my education. I don’t read hardly any articles or blogs about feminism. I’m a health and fitness writer who also happens to believe in equality.
I don’t feel qualified to call myself a feminist because I don’t know enough about it. Instead, I have a different intent when I write pro-feminism, anti-MRA articles, and that is …
2. I’m just trying to teach guys not to be douchebags
If you look at the expanse of my writing in this area, none of it is aimed at women. I am not telling women what to do or how to think or behave.
I wrote a follow up to She Doesn’t Owe You Shit, and in it I explain the extent to what I know about feminism: “feminism is about leveling the playing field. It’s not only about women. It’s about each gender stepping up to their inherent potential for the greatest good. This isn’t to deny biological differences or the cultural issues they raise, but to address them squarely.”
I grew up around strong-minded women who love me and have helped me in ways beyond counting. I love and respect them back. I realize women are different (and hooray for that!), but cannot fathom treating them as anything other than equal.
To reiterate: I just want to put a message out to my fellow men about treating women with the dignity, fairness and respect all humans deserve.
And because of that …
3. I have no interest in trying to tell women how to be feminists
The history of humanity is one of men telling women what to do and how to do it, even how to think.
As we’ve already established, I’m not qualified. I don’t know nearly enough. What kind of brainless cockwipe would I be to try and mansplain feminism to women who been living it their entire lives? The closest I’ve come to doing this is that I made a negative tweet towards documentary filmmaker Cassie Jaye, where I used sarcastic quotation marks to refer to her as a “feminist,” because I didn’t think making a pro-MRA film that was a paid-for PR piece for men’s rights was indicative of feminism.
I do think it’s interesting that there is one group of feminists who don’t like me very much. It came about from writing this piece, which included the statement “Like every other movement that has existed in the history of forever, feminism has a radical subset that gives it a bad name.”
That’s when I learned about TERFs, which stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminists. Several self-proclaimed TERFs, using anonymous accounts, attacked me on Twitter. The only comment I’ll make about this exchange is that I think many of the ideas this group shared were silly. I muted the lot of them.
When women come to me asking how to get fit or lose weight or PR a race, I will tell them. Because they asked, and because I am qualified. I am not qualified to tell women how to be women.
4. I’m not trying to hide anything
Any man can say he’s a feminist. He only must open his mouth and say, “I’m a feminist.”
Sometimes, this is done to mask their douchebaggery. It’s not about empathy or fairness or equality. Perhaps they care about a few women’s issues, but likely only the ones where it would directly benefit them.
It is unfortunate that there are men who treat women poorly, and yet call themselves feminists as a method of deflecting attention away from how they treat women poorly. I don’t have a history of mistreatment against women. I have nothing to deflect.
5. I’m not trying to get laid
I’m not a Hugo Schwyzer, the disgraced professor who took up teaching gender studies so he could bang his students.
Besides Hugo, it’s not an uncommon tactic for pick-up artists to proclaim themselves feminists as a tool for getting into a woman’s pants. I suppose it can work. Plenty of women have written of me: “I love how feminist you are!”
But note that I was with my wife for almost a quarter century before I ever wrote a single thing in favor of feminism or against MRAs. I was happy with my sex life before the writing, and just as happy after. Nothing changed. I don’t need to proclaim myself feminist as a marketing gimmick for sex.
In conclusion, I have no issue with people calling me a feminist. In fact, I’m flattered when it happens. When women refer to me as feminist (or even their “favorite male feminist”) then I cannot help but smile and feel good about the compliment. I do consider it a compliment, even when it’s some MRA intending it as an insult.
But I am occasionally suspicious about men who advertise being feminists. There are some famous men (the Dalai Lama, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and John Legend) who have dropped the f-bomb, and I don’t question their motives because they also think and act like feminists.
Actions speak louder than words. There are men who just say the words, “I am a feminist,” but it’s lip service for their own gain. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I wasn’t serious about my desire for gender equality or to question my efforts in teaching men to not be douchebags. I’m not trying to earn points by parading a feminist title like a medal of valor.
I don’t call myself a feminist, but I will continue to do my best to think and act like one.
James S. Fell, MBA, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.