Feminist is the epitome of a word with many meanings. Time Magazine recently published a list of “Which Words Should Be Banned in 2015?” Katy Steinmetz, the author of this piece, claimed the term “feminist” should be banned due to the pervasiveness of celebrity feminism and believes it’s “thrown around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade.”
Time’s list of banned words is infantile, and placing a highly politicized word like “feminist” alongside “bae” and “obvi” is nothing short of asinine. Though Time issued an apology a couple of days later, the fact that this happened in the first place exhibits a much larger issue at hand. It is predicated on the notion that being a feminist is something to be ashamed of.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” If more people consulted a dictionary, the trite phrase, “I believe in equal rights, but I’m not a feminist” would certainly die out.
Steinmetz’s reasoning is not an uncommon one. Many have expressed qualms with the word — notably with its “fem” prefix, which people argue cannot be synonymous with equality if it favors women. Why not just refer to yourself as a humanist or an egalitarian?
It’s important to note that humanism and feminism are not mutually exclusive, nor are egalitarianism and feminism — not to mention the exclusion of women in egalitarian and humanist movements historically. Egalitarianism and humanism are valid ideologies, but they do not address the disparate experiences of various peoples. Both humanism and egalitarianism view humans abstractly; however, what it means to be a woman in our society varies greatly from what it means to be a man. The experience of being black in our society is not the same as being white, gay as opposed to straight, transgender or cisgender and the list goes on and on.
It’s certainly commendable to be “pro-human,” but to one day have a world where equality is possible, fighting inequality of the sexes and races takes precedence. In fact, humanism does not identify its members with a political or social movement whereas feminism does — rather, humanism is a branch of philosophy that emphasizes secular thinking and human agency. Egalitarianism, too, is a form of social philosophy. As a political and social movement, feminism provides a medium for fighting sexism.
Another criticism of the “fem” prefix is the misconception that it excludes men. The specificity of feminism does not emulate exclusion. The prefix “fem” acknowledges the inequalities women face in addition to the connotation of femininity with “weak,” “lesser” or “submissive,” hence why “throw like a girl” is utilized as an insult or why it’s commonplace for women to say “I’m not like other girls.”
That is not to say feminism is only about women or gender, but it addresses the pernicious side effects of patriarchy — a system that literally means “father-rule.” Patriarchy is an androcentric system — meaning it values men and male interests above all. By fighting this system, feminism calls into question other forms of inequality that are correspondingly a result of patriarchy, such as racism, homophobia and transphobia.
Feminists are also concerned with the rigid gender expectations that hurt men, whether that be the pressure to be the breadwinner, the socialization of men from a young age to be emotionally stoic (that later manifests in anger and violence as a result of bottled-up emotions) or the shaming of men who are victims of domestic or sexual abuse.
Another complaint against the term “feminist” is its “-ist” suffix. This concern stems from the belief that “-ist” implies one does not inherently believe in gender equality. While it’s gratifying to believe equality is something everyone innately wants, the fact that the word “feminist” even exists shows gender equality is a matter that requires a movement behind it considering the myriad of misconceptions surrounding the feminist identity.
Steinmetz’s annoyance with celebrity feminism is a valid one. Celebrities are often seen as role models, and frequently asked, “Are you a feminist?” The problem with this lies in the assumption that acting in movies or performing music somehow serve as credentials to inform impressionable minds about social justice issues. If they are an activist who regularly voices their concerns with gender inequality (for instance, Emma Watson and her UN speech), that’s an entirely different story.
As with any other group, feminism has its extremists. These extremists discourage many from proudly declaring themselves feminists. “Feminist” is a loaded word; perhaps this is why Time proposed banning it. It should come as no surprise that the more progress the movement makes, the more negative the connotations have become. Time may have listed “feminist” as a word to ban in 2015, but you can’t ban an idea.