Why Do We Try so Hard to Make Feminism Palatable to Men?

The other day, I was watching BoJack Horseman (one of the greatest shows of all time, which I’ll talk about another day) and I stumbled across a gem of an episode in season 5: “BoJack the Feminist”.

The episode recounts the story of the titular character’s inadvertent rise to feminist icon and addresses the idea that people love feminism more when it comes from a man’s mouth, no matter how hypocritical his words may be. The story contrasts the terrible acts BoJack has committed towards women in his life with the empty, surface-level statements he gives on TV. The overblown, satirical reaction and sudden adoration of the public highlights a problem in modern feminism that only seems to be getting worse: even if men are hypocritical, don’t mean what they’re saying or simply do the bare-minimum, we will eat it up.

BoJack’s friend, Diane, who’s been advising him on his “activism”, says herself, “Sprinkle in a few words like ‘intersectionality’ or ‘micro aggressions’ and Vice News will make you Feminist of the Year.”

On the surface, it’s understandable why people might have overzealously positive reactions to feminism spouted by men— we should be happy that the oppressor is now “fighting for” the oppressed, right?

The problem is, however, that this does nothing to change the status quo, and as we see throughout the episode, BoJack’s feminism is empty. Any miniscule positive effect his words might have is drastically outweighed by his perpetual manipulation and abuse of the women around him. It is so often the exact same in real life— in fact, many of the men I’ve encountered that call themselves feminists are the most misogynistic people I’ve met.

Feminism is not simply stating, or even believing, that men and women should be “equal”. Besides the fact that the version of equality presented in our society often leaves out non-white, non-cisgender women, your actions have to follow through with your words and beliefs. The label of “feminist” means nothing if you perpetuate other forms of oppression.

Modern feminism, though, tries so hard to appeal to as broad an audience as possible that we often forget that actions, not labels, bring change. We’ve let a powerful, meaningful movement morph into catchy slogans on t-shirts, books telling women to “lean in” to corporate culture, and empty instagram posts telling people to “be nice” to women. We’ve distilled feminism into a shell of what it was supposed to be. Us applauding men and validating their fake feminism is part of the process of making feminism more “digestible” and more “palatable”. By celebrating the bare minimum, we’re reinforcing the notion that the only requirement of being a feminist is saying that you believe in equality. But feminism doesn’t need men. I don’t doubt that that statement will spark accusations of misandry, but it’s simply a fact. We don’t need to comfort men and explain to them slowly that we don’t think they’re evil or hate them. We don’t need empty statements from BoJack Horseman types to “strengthen” the movement. We don’t need to appeal to the masses and we don’t need to sell our message (and by extension ourselves) to garner support.

Instead of futilely attempting to make feminism palatable to men, we need to strengthen the movement from the inside and actively encourage intersectional, actionable change that will truly make a difference in real women’s lives.