Six Levels of Feminist Critics

September 7th, 2009 by Pelle Billing

Feminism has been a hugely influential political movement in the last few decades. In Western countries such as the US and Sweden, government policy and mainstream media have accepted the basic tenets of radical feminism without much resistance. However, during the past few years, an increasing number of people have started questioning the unconditional embrace of feminism, and whether feminism is the best way to address gender issues in society.

During the past decade we’ve seen an increasing number of books, articles and blogs that clearly demonstrate that feminism operates from a set of rigid assumptions, and that men’s voices are sorely needed in the discussion around gender roles. It’s easy to believe that most of these critical voices are coming from a similar place; however, I do not believe this to be the case at all. People who take issue with some or most of the feminist assumptions, do so from very different belief structures.

In fact, I started playing around with different ways that you can be critical of feminism, and came up with Six Different Levels of Feminist Critics:

  1. At this level you have no criticism towards feminism and believe that feminism is spot-on. You are a feminist yourself and possibly self-identify with a particular branch of the movement.
  2. Some mild criticism starts appearing. You find it important that masculinity studies within the feminist framework are carried out, since you believe that patriarchy hurts men too. Many liberal men and cultural creatives can be found in this category.
  3. Radical feminism (i.e. the belief that men structurally oppress women) is criticized without hesitation, but classical feminism is embraced and deemed to be the solution to gender issues. You believe that women were unfairly disadvantaged in the past, but that the only correction needed is civil and legal equality around the world. You may or many not have anything against a men’s movement. This is the level where we find Christina Hoff-Sommers, who’s written Who Stole Feminism and The War Against Boys – two very important books for the men’s movement.
  4. Both gender roles are viewed as being more or less equally limited and harmful to the individual. Men and women face very different gender roles, but neither one can be said to be much worse than the other. Consequently, you believe that feminism only views half of the problems that a discourse on gender needs to address, and a masculist discourse is needed to balance things out. This is the stance (according to my interpretation) of author Warren Farrell, who is perhaps the best known and most important writer in the men’s movement.
  5. This level is identical to number 4 above, with the addition that you criticize the common feminist position of believing that all gender differences are socially constructed. It’s not that people at level 4 ignore innate sex differences, but at level 5 you consider them to be crucial in any balanced discussion on how gender shows up in culture and society.
  6. At this final stage, you believe that the male gender role is worse than the female gender role, and that things could only be set right by by having a dominant masculist movement, similar to the way we now have a feminist movement dominating the discourse.

Where would you place yourself in this list?

Personally, I belong on level 5, but I believe that anyone from level 3 to 5 can work together to bring more sanity to the whole discussion on gender equality. The first two levels propagate the onesidedness of feminism, which is becoming increasingly unsustainable as men are starting to wake up and demand a gender discourse that looks at the situation of both sexes.

The final level–level 6–is the pitfall of the masculist or men’s movement. The moment you enter this realm you are in danger of sliding down into the same anger and lack of fact-checking that radical feminists around the world regularly resort to. If men’s rights activists, masculists and feminist critics are to have any success in working towards true equality and a society that respects both sexes fully, then level 6 cannot be allowed to have any sort of real influence.

That said, I’m well aware that growing up with feminism, the way I did myself, can create a lot of unresolved anger. So there is a real need for places to vent, where men can say things without needing to come across as grounded and balanced. Men’s groups can be the perfect container for this kind of venting, as can blogs that are dedicated to that purpose–if you don’t have access to a men’s group. However, any person critical of feminism cannot lose sight of the fact that it is only by taking the moral high ground, that the emerging voices of men and the emerging voice of reason can be successful in implementing a new paradigm that replaces the feminist worldview with one that authentically cares about both sexes.

14 Responses to “Six Levels of Feminist Critics”

  1. hampus Says:

    Pelle, what a valuable overview you manage to provide! Thank you.

    I belong to level 6. I believe I have something valuable to contribute (eventually) despite my unresolved anger (this being a issue to be resolved), in spite of your views, that I respect tremendously. I hope not to be labelled as a pitfall, but if that would be the final conclusion, then may it be so.

    My reason for positioning myself at level six is:

    Men are at disadvantage from the start at any gender debate for instance simply because culturally, spawning from biology, we are expected to take the responsibility, in any issue, as a civilization building organism. I belive for instance that sexual evolution has rendered men with clearly less socio-verbal capabilities, just in order to preserve female power over men.

    I also see a level 7, where men start to explore what a purely male society would be able to achieve, without having to drag females along development. If such a level would be identified, then yes, I would belong to that, and yes, even furthermore. And this not even because of any disappointment I might feel towards females.

  2. Patrick Brown Says:

    I’d put myself at about 4.5. There are innate differences between men and women, but these are tendencies rather than absolutes – whatever the statistical likelihood, a given (outlying) man may have “feminine” characteristics, while a given (outlying) woman may have “masculine” characteristics – and what we have in common – our shared human characteristics – is as important as what divides us, and some aspects of gender roles are learned rather than innate.

    My personal progression was a jump straight from 1 to 4, after reading Warren Farrell’s “The Myth of Male Power”. I went from taking feminism for granted and occasionally getting impatient with those women who, in my mind, “collaborated with the patriarchy” by using traditional gender roles to their advantage when it suited, to believing that feminism was actually all about using traditional gender roles to women’s advantage when it suited. I now believe feminism exists largely to exploit society’s traditional greater concern for women’s welfare than men’s.

  3. Danny Says:

    I have to put myself squarely at a 4. Feminism has done and is doing good things but the input of men is just not there. This is not to say that the men who identify with feminism are not going any good but for the most part they are there for women and that is a good thing because it is a small display of men and women coming together to make the world a better place. However in my opinion that camp is a bit too heavy on the “women first” attitude and it would be folly to expect men to have an equal voice and that is where the problem starts. I’m sure that there are feminists (men and women) that really want to help men out but when there are mixed messages, (a mix of “We care about all people.”, and “Feminism is about helping women.”) its easy to see why you would not be in a mad dash to side with them.

  4. Chris Marshall Says:

    I’d say I am at 4.5 (thanks for the idea Patrick; nice analysis).

    I have to wonder about the role the 6′s of the world play, though, seeing how effective the anti-male version of that strategy had paid off for women’s rights.

    If the 6′s disappeared, would the 4′s be taken more or less seriously?

    I think they would be taken less seriously.

    However, I am also skeptical at how effective any attempt to actively manipulate the existance of the 6′s to the benefit of the 4′s would be, which is one direction my musings would naturally lead. I have no interest in playing that game.

    I think a lot of people do try to play that game, though, and it is important to understand what is going on (good cop / bad cop) even if you only interested in playing a straight 4 role, as I am.

    Power group politics is a fascinating area to study.

  5. Karl Says:

    I seem to fall outside your table, I’m at 5 with one big difference. I don’t think genderroles and identification to necessarily be a bad thing, rather I think it serves a important function in our psychological development, and can be used to good ends. For example, women´s destructive focus on the superficial is like to be a result of lack of any more constructive ideals. If ideals focused more on constructive behaviour I suspect the downwards trend in psychological health would see a quick turnaround.

    Also, I don’t really think it’s optional. If there are no declared gender-ideals for young people to conform with they will simply create them, and from the look of things, that isn’t going to be terrible constructive.

  6. Christophe Says:

    Very good material, Pelle.

    I’m a strong 5, but I have no problem with the number 6 either -> Concerning War and Love, everything’s allowed, no?. The number 6 is the ultimate Phallic position, and counting it out would have the same effect as castrating oneself. This is like: “We own the atomic bomb, but we would never use it – except you force us to do it.” Something like that.

    I realize that this Gender ‘Conflict’ resembles the Cold War a lot. And speaking of Socialism vs. Capitalism (did I speak of this?) I think this whole Stages 1 to 6 thing is a dialectical one, you know. Like in ‘dialectical materialism’ and such. We just have to analyse our position in the historical process… okay I admit I drunk two beer already tonight. cheers:


  7. Factory Says:

    Hmmm, so if you’re pretty sure that men are facing sexism, that in most areas of society (like life expectancy, suicide rate, health spending, education, employment, parental rights, divorce and custody, criminal rights and sentencing, social support, and dominating attitudes in all forms of media and society in general…er, for instance) women enjoy massive advantages over men, and that this “Patriarchy” stuff equates to Male Power quite nicely…

    If you believe that…you’re sliding down a slippery slope into “gender bigot” status?

    Care to point out where any of that ISN’T true?

    I think you need to create a couple more categories above #6, and assign the “woman hater” label to that group.

  8. Feckless Says:

    What a wonderful post.

    Looking at this list I would say I am somewhere in between 5 and 6. I want a stronger MRM as feminism is dominating the discourse and believe that the male gender role has more disadvantages than the female one. I still wouldn´t go so far and call it oppression, which I think is a too strong word as men and women in the western world usually live a fairly good (privileged compared to other parts of the world) life . As I also believe there must be a balanced discussion (a MRM that is just the reversal of feminism is equally bad) I am really in between 5 and 6. Probably, depending on the topic at hand between 4-6 (of course the female role has its downsides as well). A part of me believes to stop looking at feminism completely and just focus on men´s rights. You can see me fail doing so regularly on my blog…

  9. Patrick Brown Says:

    I agree with Feckless that claiming “oppression” on the basis of gender roles in the modern west is excessive. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it completely insane. Too bad nobody told Betty Friedan that when she said the home was a “comfortable concentration camp” for women.

    I don’t exactly agree that the male role has more disadvantages than the female one. I think the current, feminist-inspired situation – where women can pick and choose what they want out of their role to a far greater extent than men can, are held to lower standards of accountability – is harsher on men than on women.

    But what we need is not masculine dominance, but a better balance. And I think there’s only one thing missing before that can be achieved – for women to try and see things from men’s point of view. The fact that they do not have to is, I think, women’s greatest privilege.

  10. Danny Says:


    A part of me believes to stop looking at feminism completely and just focus on men´s rights.

    A part of me wanted to do the same until I realized that some of the things that MRAs are doing actually goes hand in hand with the things feminists are doing.

    MRAs wanting dads to have a bigger role in the lives of children goes hand in hand with feminists wanting women to have a bigger role in the job place (because someone has to bring home the bacon and someone had to take care of the little ones).

    Feminists wanting noncustodial (well they call them deadbeats) parents to pay child goes hand in hand with MRAs who are pointing out judges and courts that treat noncustodial parents extremely unfairly when it comes to child support orders.

    And the list goes on…

  11. Danny Says:

    Patrick Brown:

    But what we need is not masculine dominance, but a better balance. And I think there’s only one thing missing before that can be achieved – for women to try and see things from men’s point of view. The fact that they do not have to is, I think, women’s greatest privilege.

    Its not that they don’t see the men’s perspective. Just like you say they cherry pick the female gender roles that suit them they cherry pick the male perspectives that suit them. They will shout from the mountain stories about men who feel entitiled to access to women’s bodies but they will ignore those men when they tell stories of the women that abused them which caused the anger that led to that sense of entitlement. In fact its a perfect 180 of what they do with women. When a woman is telling the stories of abuse they suffered at the hands of men in their lives they are all ears but when that woman goes vigilante and kills her abuser the last thing they want to hear is said woman did a bad thing.

    Why else do you think there was a wildfire about the man in PA that killed those three women at the gym but barely a spark about the woman in Kuwait who went to her exhusband’s wedding and burned down a tent killing 41 women and children?

  12. Feckless Says:

    @Danny….I know I know ->

  13. Kristina Says:

    Pelle, it´s a usefull scale you provide!

    I could in some respects call myself a feminist. Still, I acnowledge the reality of the core points of the critisism that you listed. I see the need for de male voice in the gender debate. I do not think it posible today for women to voice all male problems and vice versa.

    I have my believs at level 3.5 (or maby 4 depending on topic). In other words i´d like to see a challange of traditional gender rolls in those issues where these rolls no longer helps us. I agree with Patrik Brown´s ananlysis that some feminists actually preserve gender rolls and exploit the benefits of them.

    I see both men and women struggeling with the downsides to their rolls. I see women have challanged their roll and that men are starting to do the same. Most importantly men has started to claim their right to bonding whith their children. I see that there are still a call fore a womans movement, thogh not a prodominant one, but one side by side with the growing mens mowement.

    As Hamus I also see a level 7, the opposit of the most radical feminists, when playing whith thoughts of a society without women.

  14. Pelle Billing Says:

    Thanks Kristina!

    I agree that you would be roughly a 3.5 on this scale, from what I’ve seen you write on my Swedish blog. Which is an unusually balanced place to be for a feminist :)