5 Favorite Male Feminists in Pop Culture
As a straight dude who is generally down with respecting women, and thinks people of every gender and walk of life should be down with it too too, it can get frustrating to see the lack of similar minded people in pop culture. Recent feuds between comedians and women have created a feeling of natural opposition that’s mostly imagined. Nonetheless, pop culture’s tendency to treat women as entities related to men can be so overwhelming that it’s difficult to see anything that doesn’t perpetuate that. For guys like me, who have their desire to respect women complicated by their desire to constantly have sex with them, this gets extra dicey. If you’re in the same boat, here are 5 dudes in pop culture who I generally see as inspirational in their ability to do so (only two of whom are dead).
Kurt Cobain’s struggles with fame, and the role they played in his eventual suicide, have been well documented. After playing Rock for Choice, and generally associating himself with (and dating women within) the riot grrrl movement, Cobain’s conscience came into conflict with his ambiguous, disturbingly casual depiction of a rapist in “Polly.” The accidental positive acceptance of what was supposed to be a cautionary tale was one of the main inspirations for the crisis of faith that is In Utero; ”Rape Me” was more or less himself taking the blame. But more interesting to me as I get older was how this struggle affected his love life. Knowing that women have it bad, but also knowing he loved the culture that produced that shittiness, Cobain struggled to find a way to reconcile those two feelings, without any real role models to do so. Both his art and personal life showed a tendency, common among straight dude feminists, to get involved in sympathetic but toxic romantic entanglements He showed there was a way to navigate that tight rope, offed himself before he found out how.
Adam Yauch, who eventually died a feminist hero, was, at the peak of his power, famous for shooting a shook up beer from his cock onto adoring fratty fans with women in go-go cages and giant inflatable penises in the background. The 3 years between Licensed to Ill and Paul’s Boutique were the most turbulent in the Beastie Boys’ adult lives. Yauch, who of the three Beastie Boys most embodied their conscience, was rumored to, shoot guns in an underpass in Central Park in a post-fame fury. When Paul’s Boutique took down wife beaters and corrected the punks who took “Beat on the Brat” too literally, it was a significant step for a musician who rose to fame on the back of “The New Style,” “Girls,” and “Paul Revere.” The BBoy’s work in the next 20 years made them the first rappers to directly address the growing misogyny that major labels were demanding for hip hop (Kanye West, who could also be on this list if he cleaned up his ego a bit, would later perfect it). It’s what makes the un-poetic but direct verse in “Sure Shot” appear in just about every tribute after Yauch died.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane, McDonagh’s breakthrough play, openly broke the Bechdel test. In addition to introducing the most daring writer of his generation, the play showed that McDonagh had a knack for writing dynamic female characters like few men have ever done. In his mostly criminal dominated world, McDonagh’s female characters, from the Lieutenant of Inishmore, Cripple of Inishmaan, In Bruges and beyond, have always played a crucial part. His women are tough, inspirational to the male characters, but providing a moral compass that puts everyone in their place. Women play a less prominent, less dynamic role in Seven Psychopaths, but as McDonagh’s most self-referential work, he shows his ability to openly criticize himself for writing weaker female characters, and showing violence to women at all (he nearly gave up on the film after a CBS executive condoned his depiction of violence to women but not his violence to dogs). It was rare, and it was ballsy, and it showed he understands the difference between violence in general and violence against women, which is pretty rare for dudes.
In Improv 101 at UCB, I was taught, when you’re playing someone a different gender in comedy, never to ham up the craziness of “I’m a dude playig a woman, isn’t that crazy!”The main example we were given was Dave Foley, wit-in-chief of Kids in the Hall (by my count the best sketch comedy group that ever existed), who played woman casually, with an innate sense that it had to be a complete character. Kids in the Hall sketches were full of feminism, with Foley’s creepy monologue openly declaring his good attitude towards menstruation (my go-to comedy monologue for auditions), and Cabbage Head, which Foley would state directly came from his observation of faux-sensitive abusive boyfriends. Foley’s Marc Maron interview exposed his devastating relationship problems that came from his feminism (a cautionary tale to everyone like me), but I never question his ethics, in comedy or anywhere else.
This list is not ranked (that’s a dudely thing to do), but if one was to rank it, it’d be hard not to put Whedon at the top of this list. From Buffy to Firefly to Angel to Avengers, Whedon’s female charactes have been among the most inspiring and multidimensional ever depicted. Taking inspiration from his mother and his own traumatic experiences, he came up with the kind of female characters that are vulnerable, flawed, but still tough, with a spirit of perseverence, drive and power that had never really been depicted in teleivision before or since. Some say his depiction of violence against women is exhausting, but I feel his refusal to sugar coat a very real phenomenon in the world is about as brave as it gets, and the fact that he’s able to draw metaphors with vampires, demons, and goblins makes it easier to take and less Lifetime-ish. And those characters, omg. Truly, if you’re a dude who likes it when dudes depict women well, Whedon is pretty much as good as it gets.