By Monica Corcoran Harel
It’s a tough time to be a male feminist, especially in Hollywood.
A few weeks ago, Kai Cole, the ex-wife of Joss Whedon, the man who created “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and who has been honored for creating strong female characters, wrote a highly personal takedown of him for The Wrap, a Hollywood industry website.
In the post, Ms. Cole, a film producer, said that Mr. Whedon “hid multiple affairs” with “his actresses, co-workers, fans and friends” during their 16-year marriage. His explanation for why he had so many female friends, she said, was that “his mother raised him as a feminist.”
Moreover, Ms. Cole called out his “hypocrisy” for “preaching feminist ideals” while using their marriage as a “shield” to commit adultery. In essence, she branded Mr. Whedon, the director of the coming “Justice League” superhero film, a fake male feminist.
It’s a label that appears to be gaining cultural currency, especially in the Trump era.
“Saturday Night Live” aired a sketch last season called “Girl at a Bar” in which a succession of seemingly sensitive male feminists (“I worked for Hillary,” one says) try to pick up a woman at a bar, only to resort to misogynistic language when rebuffed.
The three-minute sketch seemed to have hit a chord. Myriad essays that decried wolves in pink pussy hats and “woke misogynists” followed. “Watch S.N.L. Demolish Fake Male Feminists,” read a Vanity Fair headline. “Hating Trump Doesn’t Make a Man a Feminist,” said Bustle, an online culture magazine for women, which argued that “male feminists” have become a “powerful cultural niche,” and cited numerous celebrity examples including Ryan Gosling, Mark Ruffalo and Chris Pratt.
Tal Peretz, an assistant professor at Auburn University who specializes in gender studies, sees the criticism of male feminists as an inevitable consequence of social progress. “More men are getting involved in the feminist and women’s rights movements, and I think that the learning curve for them is really steep and really long,” said Dr. Peretz, who is an author of “Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women.” “Our bar for men in feminism is getting higher, too, and rightly so.”
Examples of these higher standards abound.
Critics of men who sport “The Future is Female” T-shirts also maintain that some are using the word “feminist” inappropriately. The preferred term, they argue, is “feminist allies.” The rationale is that white people who fight against racism wouldn’t call themselves “black,” just as straight people who rally for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights wouldn’t call themselves “transgender.”
BuzzFeed recently published “17 Types of Male ‘Feminists’ That Need to Be Stopped,” an illustrated list that included a new father who suddenly becomes a feminist after he has a daughter, and a male manager who congratulates himself for hiring a female employee.
“It’s something I encounter all the time, but that man Robbie Tripp was the real kick in the pants in inspiring the post,” said Loryn Brantz, who wrote and illustrated the article and is also the author of the book “Feminist Baby.”
Mr. Tripp is the San Francisco man who became an internet sensation this summer when he posted a gushing ode to his wife’s “curvy body” on Instagram. People were divided on his seemingly self-congratulatory realization that “the media marginalizes women,” and his appreciation of his wife’s “thick thighs, big booty, cute little side roll.” Some cooed and said “Ah”; others sneered and said “Ew.”
“Good Morning America” interviewed the couple in a segment titled “Hero Husband or Fake Feminist?” The culture site Refinery29 dismissed Mr. Tripp’s paean as “the worst type of ‘male feminism.’”
Celebrities also weighed in. Melanie Lynskey, who will star in the TV series “Castle Rock,” said on Twitter: “Public announcements of devotion are very sexy to me,” she said. “What isn’t sexy is acting as though you’re one of the few men on earth who could possibly love a woman who looks like that.”
Dr. Peretz has coined a term, “the Pedestal Effect,” to describe how men are given special treatment for small acts of gender equality, like changing a diaper or Mr. Tripp’s love letter. “It is basically when guys get a whole lot of bonus points just for being nominal feminists,” he said.
Mr. Whedon’s agent did not respond to requests for comment, but a representative released a statement to The Wrap that read: “While this account includes inaccuracies and misrepresentations which can be harmful to their family, Joss is not commenting, out of concern for his children and out of respect for his ex-wife.”
Mr. Whedon did, however, give an interview to BuzzFeed in 2015 that seems to have foreshadowed the current hubbub.
“When you declare yourself politically, you destroy yourself artistically,” he said in an article about why he deleted his Twitter account (he has since returned). “Because suddenly that’s the litmus test for everything you do — for example, in my case, feminism. If you don’t live up to the litmus test of feminism in this one instance, then you’re a misogynist,” he added. “It circles directly back upon you.”