This breed of performative male feminism can take many forms, but implicit in it is the same sensibility that animated the conspicuously low-maintenance Cool Girl. When one of these guys says men are trash, he doesn’t mean himself. Even if he nominally claims to still be “unlearning” his own bad ideological habits, he’s not like those other guys, not one of the bad men. He’s “half woke,” a step above the rest, one of the good ones, or—on certain curious occasions—not actually a man at all. Last year, Peter Coffin, a bearded, male-presenting feminist, came out publicly as nonbinary because “I am physically happy with myself but severely dislike my place in the gender dynamic.” In fact, Coffin wrote, “it just felt like the dynamic didn’t apply to me.” Ignoring the fact that Coffin still reads as male to the world at large (and will continue to reap the accompanying benefits of such, whatever they might be), it’s not hard to see the reasoning: Men are Bad. I am Not Bad. Hence, I am Not a Man.
Either way—whether he’s disavowing masculinity entirely or only distancing himself from it—the Cool Guy’s performance inches him incrementally closer to the new nexus of cultural power. And yes, it sometimes puts him in contact with women who find his posturing attractive, but here the analogy frays: Cool Guys are not, above all, hot, nor is that their primary intention. Where Amy Dunne imagines grabbing an enraptured man by the lapels and telling him what’s what—“Nobody likes chili dogs that much!”—many women, and particularly the longtime feminists from whom the Cool Guy borrows his talking points, find him insincere and obnoxious. Even the women who date these men describe being attracted not to the behavior itself, but to the appearance of allyship, a guy they won’t have to explain male privilege to because he already gets it. It’s not that this self-flagellating male feminism is sexy, but it does seem safe. Surely, that guy won’t mistreat a woman the way a less-enlightened man might.