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7 Unlikely Male Feminists

Lately feminism has been all about … men. Here are seven dudes who prove that gender equality really is for everyone.

“Male feminist” is a fraught term. There are those who find it oxymoronic, those who think it’s patronizing, and others who find it unnecessary (there’s even a satirical magazine about it). But as recent campaigns—including the UN’s HeForShe and the White House’s It’s On Us campaign—have highlighted, the struggle for gender equality is everyone’s problem.

It’s difficult to be a feminist, and male feminist allies have the added burden of being men. No one goes to bed a misogynist and wakes up a feminist—feminism is not an end goal, but a process. It’s a process that requires men not only to listen to the experiences of women but also to leverage their privilege in support of the feminist cause. It’s not a slouch’s journey, which means that even the best of men have to constantly struggle to achieve better feminist politics. In honor of that effort, we highlight seven unlikely men who are making the case for gender equality—without waiting for a formal invitation to the cause. They’re not perfect, but at least they’re trying.


Anthony Bourdain

Photo by Lwp Kommunikáció/Flickr

Bourdain is generally known for mining his bad-boy culinary past to write a best-selling book that led to the most enviable job in the world: hosting his own travel show about food. But a careful observer will notice the feminist underpinnings of his work. In his 2010 book Medium Raw, he pointed out the problematic way that home-ec classes of the 1950s and 60s perpetuated a gender divide in the kitchen, writing, “Knowing how to cook, or visibly enjoying it, became an embarrassment for an enlightened young woman…Males were hardly leaping to pick up the slack, as cooking had been so wrong-headedly portrayed as ‘for girls.’” Though Bourdain has lauded female chefs like Gabrielle Hamilton, he has also objected to the idea that there should be a designated category for them, tweeting in August 2013: “Why—at this point in history—do we need a ‘Best Female Chef’ special designation? As if they are curiosities?” Though his viewpoint was controversial (and challenged by Dirt Candy owner and chef Amanda Cohen), speaking out on the issue shows he’s aware of the need to finally close the gender gaps in professional kitchens.

Arthur Chu

[tweet url="https://twitter.com/arthur_affect/status/524590972810706945" author="Arthur Chu" handle="arthur_affect" text="I am a man who talks about gender. Women make me feel bad sometimes. I can handle it. Male “victims of feminism” are #NotYourShield" date="2014-10-21" time="08:00"]

Chu came into the public eye earlier this year after controversially subverting the rules on Jeopardy to win 11 straight games. He then turned his 15 minutes of unlikely fame into something much more meaningful: a thoughtful column in The Daily Beast about the role of women in gaming culture, which he was prompted to write after Elliot Rodger’s school shooting in May near UC Santa Barbara. The piece gained traction online for eloquently pointing out that “fixating on a woman from afar and then refusing to give up when she acts like she’s not interested is, generally, something that ends badly for everyone involved.” The column amassed more than 1,300 comments and since then, Chu has continued to thoughtfully weigh in on gender issues on his Twitter account.

Russell Brand

Photo by readingagency/Flickr

Calling Brand a feminist has caused more than a few eyebrows to be raised in the past year. The once-notorious lothario—who once famously broke up with Katy Perry via text message—is full of paradoxes. But in January, he made headlines for publicly backing Britain's No More Page 3 (NMP3) campaign, a social media-fueled effort to stop the The Sun from displaying topless women daily in their so-called “family newspaper.” Holding up a NMP3 t-shirt, he tweeted: “And finally, through the love of a good woman, teenage, sexist me was slain.” While his new book-cum-manifesto Revolution calls for equality of all kinds, Brand’s involvement in the cause of gender equality will undoubtedly continue to stir controversy and debate. However, it’s hard to deny the significance of someone whose public profile was once synonymous with the objectification of women publicly admitting that the institutionalized sexism has no place in a mainstream publication.

Vivek Wadhwa

Photo by Doc Searls/Flickr

Wadhwa—an Indian-American tech entrepreneur, academic, and one of TIME’s Top 40 Most Influential Minds in Tech—came across the problem of tech’s gender discrepancy numerically. After noticing the dearth of minorities and women at TechCrunch’s 2010 awards, he crunched the numbers to reveal the difficulty females have in finding investors, jobs, and mentors in Silicon Valley. As a columnist for The Washington Post, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and others, he’s used his platform to advocate for Silicon Valley companies to post transparent diversity information and examine the “conscious and subconscious bias that has led to the exclusion of women, blacks, and Latinos from their workforce.” This year he published Innovating Women, a book he co-authored with Farai Chideya that was based on the submissions and interviews from more than 500 women.

Aziz Ansari

Photo by David Shankbone/Flickr

By his own admission, actor and comic Aziz Ansari is a feminist because his girlfriend, professional chef Courtney McBroom, compelled him to think more deeply on issues of gender equality. On a recent Late Show with David Letterman appearance, Ansari went on a well-publicized tangent about what it means to be a feminist and why he’s happy to bear the label. “You're a feminist if you go to a Jay-Z and Beyoncé concert and you're not like, ‘I feel like Beyoncé should get 23 percent less money than Jay-Z,’” he said. “‘Also, I don't think Beyoncé should have the right to vote and why is Beyoncé singing and dancing? Shouldn't she make Jay a steak?’” On Parks and Recreation, Aziz Ansari is co-star to another outspoken feminist, Amy Poehler, whose character on the show, an ambitious public servant named Leslie Knope, is pretty flamboyant about her own gender-equality agenda. It’s hard not to be a feminist when you have that many powerful women around.

Saladin Ahmed

Photo by nebulaawards/Flickr

As an Arab-American fantasy writer and Twitter personality, Saladin Ahmed has not only used his platform to talk about racist depictions of Arabs in popular media but also about feminism. Although Ahmed faced some criticism for his representations of women in his popular novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, he’s now trying to repair his feminist standing. In an interview with Think Progress, he said, “It’s why I’m practicing what I preach in creating warrior women and badass grandma alchemists.” Ahmed has gained huge followings on social media, where he posts frequently about how women are depicted in comics. More recently, he sparked a lively conversation when he posed this question to his followers: “What do you think men can do to help make the internet less dangerous for women? I AM LOOKING FOR RESPONSES FROM WOMEN ONLY, PLEASE.” The resulting Twitter thread is a good place start for any man looking to strengthen his feminist chops online.

Chris Hayes

Photo courtesy of MSNBC

Cable news often has little to offer in the way of feminist discourse, but those looking to reform the medium should seek out Chris Hayes, host of All In. Last year, the MSNBC host wrote a well-received letter to the feminist movement for making Father’s Day a better day for dads. “This is the great gift of feminism to men: It took a sledgehammer to the [most] stultifying parts of patriarchy, including a vision of fatherhood in which dads were expected to be distant, stoic, removed creatures from their kids’ lives,” he wrote. Hayes puts his money where his mouth is, not only applying a feminist lens to the issues of the day but also making sure his guest panels are diverse in both race and gender.

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