For a short time, the word “Feminist” was winning a poll run by TIME Magazine of words which should be banned. The magazine has since issued an apology. Of sorts. Dotty Winters wonders how important the word is anyway.
Illustration by Louise Boulter
We feminists like to win a competition as much as the next ideological movement, but when you consider that we were competing against words like “bae”, “basically” and “kale”, I think we need to accept that the inclusion of the word “feminist” was at best misguided (as TIME has now admitted) and at worst a massive trivialisation of a huge world-wide issue.
There is an argument that feminism should be proud to be stirring up such strength of feeling from the public at large. After all, broken eggs are required for the omelette of social change. But as an article on US women’s blog site Jezebel reveals, much of the impetus to vote for this word is coming from renowned trolling-experts 4Chan and 9gag, with a helpful boost from the many active “Men’s Right’s Activist” groups on the internet. (If you aren’t aware of the work of Men’s Activists Groups, lucky you, but you can get some useful summaries and links from sites like We Hunted the Mammoth. Explore with caution though; it’s grim out there.)
Attempts to ban the word “feminist” boil my piss, and here’s why. IT IS NOT IMPORTANT.
Here are just some things that are important:
•Around 700,000,000 women worldwide live without food, healthcare, sanitation or water (compared to around 100,000,000 men)
•Only 1% of the titled land in the world is owned by women
•67% of illiterate adults are women
•Approximately one women per minute dies in childbirth
•In the UK, approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales every year, over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year and 1 in 5 women (aged 16 – 59) has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 (Ministry of Justice statistics, 2013).
I hope we can all agree that none of these things are OK. Giving airtime, energy and emotion to endless debates about the linguistics of inequality is a distraction we do not need. Yes “feminism” contains the prefix “fem”, which implies it is to do with females, but we don’t devote column inches and air time to debating whether men can catch herpes just because it starts with “her”.
I understand why people are concerned about the word; I don’t want men to feel excluded from feminism (or herpes), and I know that some people who have a non-binary gender identity are concerned about the use of the “fem” prefix. I don’t want anyone to feel excluded from this term, and I understand that words are important. But the importance of words is how they shape attitudes and how they inspire action. The need for increased equality regardless of gender identity is the aim of feminism; it’s good for all of us and IT IS URGENT. If we were starting again would “equalitist” be a better term? Perhaps. But, in a word where we still call our Dysons “hoovers”, and our hoop and loop tape “Velcro” we need to worry less about words and much, much more about action.
In her Time article Katy Steinmetz bemoans the fact that celebrities are often asked to take a position on feminism. Personally I don’t care what they call themselves. They, like all of us should be judged on how they behave, not what they say they are, but I do think it’s more than fair to ask people who are in the public eye about this important issue. If there are celebrities out there who don’t believe in equality in terms of gender, race or age, I think I’d like to know who they are, and which products they are endorsing.
After all, the debate about this word is one of the reasons some people are reluctant to use it, and as with all movements some people are determined to discredit whole groups based on the actions of a few extremists (who are often serving interests other than those the movement is built around).
The good news is that attempts to ban words are: “a fairly futile pursuit”. We know this because a different article in Time from earlier this year, written by the same Katy Steinmetz, tells us so.
Every minute we spend arguing over the word feminism is a minute we could spend doing something more useful for equality: educating our children, lobbying for change, challenging everyday sexism, standing up for someone who needs us. In fact, stop reading this right now, and go and do one of those things instead.
Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.