Time for feminism

Time Magazine has a problem with the word “feminist”, so much so that it’s made the shortlist of its words that should be banned in 2015. This website is aware that, for some people, feminism is a dirty word. We’re called The F-Word, for crying out loud – and that’s been since 2001 (catch up, Time).

There are a number of reasons why people are against the word feminism and its derivatives…

1) “Men and women are already equal.”

These people aren’t so much against the word; they’re against everything that feminism stands for. In more extreme versions, they might even argue that women hold more power than men and actually action needs to be taken to re-tip the balance. In other instances, they are simply baffled at the need for a movement to fight for gender equality. There are laws in place, aren’t there? If women are choosing to concentrate on their children at the expense of their careers or wax their pubic hair – well, that’s their choice, isn’t it?

This entire blog is about why this isn’t true. Whether we’re writing about the gendered effects of the government spending and austerity, the persistent gender pay gap, the invisibility of women in history, how STEM industries underrepresent women or any of the other hundreds of topics in our archives, it’s clear that in a lot of instances, we simply don’t have equality. While many of the movement’s victories can be measured in legal advances, all too often the issues feminism is concerned with need more complex solutions.

2) “Feminist makes it sound like you only care about women’s rights.”

Some people are uncomfortable with the way that the label suggests that gender equality is really about women. Men share some of the issues that affect women and they can also suffer from discrimination and oppression when they fail to fully inhabit expected gender roles. Wouldn’t it be more helpful to recognise this in the term?

It’s certainly true that men are affected by gendered issues. In a lot of ways, the goals of feminist movements address these, because by challenging gendered conventions, masculinity is questioned as much as femininity. However, I also believe that it is right for feminism to acknowledge that women are the primary sufferers of gender inequality and oppression. The historic uneven power distribution between the sexes means that sexism vastly disproportionately affects women.

3) “I think feminism is important, but the name is holding us back.”

When Time lists this word in their poll, they make it toxic. Some worry that by clinging to the label of feminism, the movement loses the opportunity to engage with people who have indelibly negative connotations with the word.

However, changing feminism so that is something that is palatable for everybody means making so many concessions that the movement becomes meaningless. The negative associations that some have with feminism don’t exist because of the word – they exist because of attempts to discredit and destroy something that is threatening to the status quo. If we called ourselves something else, that wouldn’t stop the hate. It would just mean that those connotations were transferred to the new label.

And while many might prefer not to have a label at all, I think that we need to be unified. Yes, the movement is varied and complex and my idea of feminism might not be an exact replica of your idea of feminism. Yes, it can be frustrating to tell somebody you are a feminist and be met with derision or puzzlement. Yes, it is a bloody headache to have as much of a debate over the term as the issues it concerns. But words are meaningful. The reason that Time wants to ban feminism is because it feels that it’s overused. In 2014, an impressive array of public figures have felt the need to state their position on the topic. That means people are talking about it. That means there’s an impact.

When I first identified as a feminist, it was to myself. When I arrived at university, there was no feminist society. I’d never had a conversation with somebody where we’d both explicitly said we were feminists. Yet over the last few years, there has been a proliferation of feminist societies, groups, blogs, petitions and campaigns – and it’s been inspiring. Feminist issues are discussed at the highest levels, grassroots campaigns are meeting with success and people who might have once stayed silent on the topic are speaking out.

We’re on the edge of something world-changing. In 2015, feminism is only going to get stronger – whether or not Time decides to banish it.

The photo is by John Keogh and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows reference books lined up on a shelf, including dictionaries, thesauruses and guides to usage, phrases and fables. In the background, more books are piled up.