In recent years, the word ‘feminism’ has been eased into popular culture, with more men proudly using the feminist label in their day to day lives. Men are finally realising that feminism isn’t a cult of man-hating women who want to see all men shipped to Mars, and are joining in the fight against patriarchal structures and for gender equality.
I decided to do a google image search of the phrase “male feminists”. Here are the results:
Do you notice something? All but one of the men are white.
I then decided to do a google search of celebrity male feminists. Can you spot the pattern?
I know what you’re thinking. They aren’t all white.
But look again and you’ll see that the black celebrities are simply the same men repeated; Will Smith and John Legend. In a Huffington Post article about male feminists, the list of 28 featured just 4 black men; Barack Obama, Will Smith, John Legend and Blair Underwood. I did an extensive google search of other male celebrities that have openly declared themselves to be feminists, and the only addition I found for my list of prolific black male feminists was Forest Whitaker.Why is it that dozens of white men have come out to stand up for women’s rights and declare themselves feminists, while just a handful of black men have followed suit? Where are the black male feminists?
A large reason for the absence of self-declaring black male feminists is toxic masculinity and the tendency to shroud black men in an envelope of hypermasculinity. You don’t have to look very hard to find images of what black men are expected to be.
Black men are expected to be overly masculine, they aren’t supposed to be sensitive, express themselves emotionally and are meant to exert physical strength and aggression. These stereotypes stem from slavery, where black men were forced to be emotionless, physically strong and were depicted as sexual predators. Nowadays in popular culture, black male artists often exert misogynistic messages in their music, behaviour and attitudes. Meanwhile the media continues to represent black men by their physical strength or present them as violent thugs. And they minute that black men publicly show any form of emotion, sensitivity or compassion, they’re ridiculed.
Check out the responses that Vanity Fair received for posting this image of Michael B Jordan and Ryan Coogler:
“I’m a fan but I’m perplexed with this pose!!!!”
“The demasculation [sic] continues. I hate this pic!!”
“Of the hundreds of photos taken during a photoshoot… this is the effeminate image the Vanity Fair photo editor selected to display to the world. No self respecting heteroseexual males pose like this naturally.”
It saddens me that such a beautiful image of two black men who, for once, aren’t being fetishized or depicted as hypermasculine creatures caused such distress. The pose was seen as a ‘weakness’, an attack on their masculinity and their identities. Reactions like this is why black men are often scared to confront their emotions. Reactions like this is why black men tend to steer clear of help when they need it the most. Reactions like this make black men hide their pain. While it’s damaging for their own self-esteem and wellbeing, reactions like this threaten women too. They make black men afraid to stand up for women’s rights, be the allies that women need, and openly declare themselves to be feminists. Because black men are not expected to be like that.
There are, however, black men out there trying to change the status quo. Following the backlash of the Michael B Jordan and Ryan Coogler image, Jermaine Dickerson started the twitter hashtag #BlackBoysEmbrace, encouraging black men to share images of themselves embracing other people. Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture, has started campaigns and written books to get black feminist manhood into the mainstream. And Stormzy’s public interview about his depression is seen as a step forward to dismantling ideas of toxic masculinity amongst black men. We need more campaigns of public black male figures coming out as feminists. And not just because they have mothers, sisters, nieces, or daughters. But because they respect women, they want to fight for gender equality and break down misogynistic structures that bring women down. Black men should not be afraid to call themselves feminists. And their feminism needs to start by dismantling toxic masculinity.
Article by Chanju Mwanza