To Be or Not to Be (a Feminist)


Over the last five months, I have met a lot of people. I am incredibly picky with those I keep close – especially platonic friendships with male-identifying people. Friendship takes effort and effort is time and time is precious. 

I started using a briefing question before embarking on said effort-bearing relationships: “Would you call yourself a feminist?” Their response says something about their character, and I make my judgment call from there.  

I will admit, this is not a particularly effective or comfortable way to make friends – especially if you’re going for quantity.

Seven male-identifying students in the class of 2026 were interviewed, some of which requested to stay anonymous. There will be four named sources, while the rest will be numbered. Please note; I am not an expert on feminism for it is an ever-expanding movement that I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand. However, I am doing my best.



Anonymous Interviewee #1: “The original movement was [aimed] to bring more rights to women so I would probably have my definition come from some of that.”

Anonymous Interviewee #2: “I define feminism as women’s empowerment and advocating for equality for women’s rights and speaking out against inequalities that women may face every day whether that be big or small. Feminism can be a large protest in Washington or it can be… thinking that girls should be allowed to play in men’s sports.” 

Anonymous Interviewee #3: “The advocacy for women’s rights/equality.” 

Kelly McKaige ’26: “It’s kind of the support of women and… the fight for equality for women in society.”

William Butler ’26: “I would say it’s the advocacy for equality between the sexes, both legally and culturally.” 

Jeremy Felton ’26: “[Feminism is] the body of thought that surrounds women finding a more just and fair place in the world… fighting against male-favoring patriarchal ideas that have previously been dominant.”

Aidan Stark-Chessa ‘26: “Feminism is the quest… for gender equality by the means of empowering female-identified people.”

Merriam-Webster: “Belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”

bell hooks (American author and social activist): “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”

The question arises: Is feminism a set of beliefs or action based on those beliefs…what constitutes a feminist?

Susan Stark, a Bates associate professor of philosophy and division chair for humanities, answers, “Someone couldn’t be a feminist if they just had certain beliefs, they would have to act on those beliefs or certain values.”



“I’d consider myself a feminist, [but] I do not identify as a feminist,” said Anonymous Interviewee #1. “I am a feminist, I believe in the ideals behind it, but I don’t think… I identify as one because [that] would mean I would need to make space and spend time developing that into [an ideal] I would bring action to.”

He continued to draw an analogy, “I, of course, believe… we need to help the environment… but I wouldn’t consider myself an environmental activist… I definitely agree with the morals and hold them as my own, but I haven’t done anything to… forward that.” He implied that this same line of reasoning could be applied to the feminism values/feminist identification conundrum.

Interviewee #2 said that yes, he was a feminist. However, “it’s just not the masculine thing to want to be called a feminist…maybe it needs to be normalized. Even still, though, I don’t want to be going around – just because of how the world is – being known as a feminist.”

“Yes,” said Interviewee #3. “I wouldn’t go around telling people I’m a feminist, but if you put me on the spot, I’m not going to say no.” Later, he stated, “There are a lot of connotations to the feminist movement. They don’t really have the best [reputation].”

“Definitely, because I have women in my life who I love and respect and want to see them thrive in society,” said McKaige. 

If there were not any women in your life, would you still be a feminist?

“Probably not,” he responded. Why not? “Because I don’t know women at all… if I was raised in a bigoted and racist society, I’d probably be bigoted and racist.” Great point, Kelly.

“I would,” said Butler. 

In “Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression,” bell hooks draws attention to the difference in language between ‘I am a feminist’ and ‘I advocate feminism’. She explains this linguistic difference as taking a feminist identity versus forming a feminist consciousness. 

One can infer that bell hooks is alluding to the insincerity or performativity of feminist identities. In all fairness, I read this bell hooks excerpt after completing the interviews and I do not believe those who call themselves feminists are being performative. However, there is some truth to her claim.



“Comparatively, I definitely do not do as much as other [feminists] do… but if I hear [friends] say something that is stupid or outlandish, I’d be like ehhhh,” Butler said. This ‘ehhhh’ does not translate clearly from Butler to English, but I interpret it as some sort of interference-associated dialogue.

A few anonymous sources stated that they would likely not speak up if one of their friends said something that did not align with feminist values. However, Butler stated, “I feel like that’s a responsibility, especially if you’re friends.”

Interviewee #2 admitted, “The way that I’ve experienced things and the…people I’m around, it’s better to not speak out and to conform.” 

What would happen if you did say something?

“I would probably get teased for, you know, supporting the other side… I wouldn’t lose friends over it… but people will look at you differently and be like, ‘Why is this person saying this? And why are you not just trying to have fun? Why are you making it political?’” Interviewee #2 responded.



Sexist oppression is not an issue that can be solved by more male-identifying people feeling comfortable enough with themselves to say they are feminists nor can it be solved by me writing this article. Regardless, these interviews have given me personal conclusions…

  • I will not discard my briefing process because sometimes it is fun to watch people squirm.
  • It does not matter if you call yourself a feminist or not. It matters if you are aware of things like power imbalances, gender-based obstacles and can acknowledge we live in a misogynistic, white supremacist society.
  • This being said, we need to recognize our own ignorance and rectify it. Read some bell hooks, watch Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TEDTalk, take a Gender and Sexuality Studies class.
  • We’re all still learning. Be patient with yourself and allow some space into your life for your growth to take place.