Originally published in March 2013 on Fem2pt0. A response to articles by Hanna Rosin and Tracy Moore on Slate and Jezebel. Links are in the article.
I feel like a serious debate is beginning, and I have to throw my two cents in. I need to, because I am worried what the consequences could be I stay silent on the subject. Slate recently ran a well-articulated piece by Hanna Rosin called “Marissa Mayer Thinks Feminists Are a Drag. Is She Right?” As suggested by the title it is about the value of the term feminism. Rosin discussed Yahoo’s female CEO Marissa Mayer who has chosen not to call herself a feminist. The implication is that if a woman can be this successful and still make room for equality in her business, she doesn’t have to call herself a feminist and there’s nothing wrong with that. Rosin points out that many young women are reluctant to call themselves feminists as well, so perhaps there is a trend there.
The term feminism could be holding women back, and as long as women still succeeding and have options available to them we should not let semantics get in the way. Jezebel ran a sort of follow up piece by Tracy Moore titled “Feminism May Be Nearing Her Expiration Date”, commenting on the possibility of the f-word being outdated. I agree with both these articles in the sense that actions speak louder than words, and the movement towards equality matters more than the ‘ism.’ My partner doesn’t identify as a feminist and he is still a supporter of gender equality. But with that being said, I don’t think this means it’s time to let go. I believe it is important to keep the terminology alive, and fight back against the idea that it is outdated. Language has so much power, and the very word feminist signifies that sexism and misogyny are still alive and kicking. If the word becomes devalued and used less frequently I fear that it will become easier to dismiss something that isn’t as visible. For me the issue isn’t the value of the word feminist, but rather the perceived accessibility.
To begin, I am not saying that every woman must call herself a feminist or she is betraying ‘the cause’ if she doesn’t. Part of the point of feminism is that women should be allowed to identify themselves however they want and not be forced into a box because of what is between their legs. But what I want is for women to feel comfortable calling themselves feminists. A woman declaring her feminism, giving herself a title that overtly shows she cares about her rights and the future of her gender, should not still be considered controversial. But it is. The term carries weight because of its history, implications, and because of the people still fighting against it. Many people still cling to this idea that a feminist is an unfeminine, dangerous woman who hates men and never shaves her armpits. Or that feminism is a thing of the past, no longer relevant now that bellbottoms are out of style.
For those who are more informed on the current situation of feminism there is the ongoing news of feminists facing overwhelming misogyny (such as rape threats for trying to make video games free of sexist stereotypes) just because they are trying to create a safer, more equal world. For a woman it can potentially be harmful to her reputation just to identify with an ‘ism.’ Worst case scenario it is fatal. I understand how the term can be discouraging and why a woman wouldn’t want to single herself out in that way. Yet doesn’t this demonstrate that the terminology still matters? Is still needed? If the language is so loaded and often misunderstood that it appears to be bloated, doesn’t that show its significance? We need the term feminism precisely because women are scared or uncomfortable with just the thought of identifying with it. We need it because women should have the option not to identify with it because they simply don’t want to, not because of external pressures. If the word is so bloated that it is deterring women we need to work towards lightening the load, showing people that feminism is relevant and accessible.
One of the things that I love about feminism is it is so multifaceted. Feminism can mean so many things for different people, and it can manifest in a variety of ways. Anyone can be a feminist without jumping through hoops, the problem is that most people don’t realize this. I think something that activists should concern themselves with is not just fighting for abortion rights or to end the wage gap, but on educating the average person on feminism. If not for a couple of liberal teachers I would have gone through my entire pre-university education having zero knowledge of what feminism or sexism really meant. They were intimidating concepts that made me hesitant to speak up. It wouldn’t be until I reached university that I began to fully understand just how much feminism meant to me.
The word ‘feminist’ is anything but irrelevant. It has helped to get us this far, and is an important part of keeping the movement visible and present. Don’t let the term die out because it is difficult or misunderstood. Consider the capacity of language to make waves.