Is It Time to Replace the Word “Feminism”?

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We all know the term “feminism” carries certain connotations – some good, many bad. The fact that the word has so many meanings contributes to the nuances in perception, and a recent post on Reddit suggested it’s time for a name change. User Windyo posted in the feminism subreddit:

“I believe “Feminism” is outdated, and that all people who fight for gender equality should rebrand their movement to “Equalism.””

The post currently has a link karma score of 685 (953 upvotes, 268 downvotes) and 462 comments of agreement and disagreement. Some of the commenters agree that modern feminism has too bad a name to be taken seriously, that the term itself is easily distorted and often viewed as anti-man. Is it possible that the word “feminism” alone turns people away from an idea that largely they support?

According to a recent Huffington Post/YouGov poll, only 20 percent of Americans polled identify as feminists, while 82 percent of pollers say they believe that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals,” which is the widely agreed upon definition of feminism. These sorts of statistics lend credence to the notion that the word “feminism” conjures a bad taste in the mouth.

Adversely, Redditors opposed to a name change argue that chauvinists who rebuke the feminist movement as anti-man hide behind a strawman, an excuse not to recognize gender equality. This is perhaps true of some people, but it seems unlikely that the majority of those who don’t identify as feminists are masked chauvinists.

I agree that the movement is poorly named, the term “feminism” poorly chosen. The word used to represent a fight for gender equality should be egalitarian, rather than one with a gender identifier in the root word. But the name is hardly the cause of the movement’s growth issue. As Redditor Sappow commented:

“The caricatures and prejudice would follow the rebranding, and the reactionary antifeminists who currently complain about Feminism Gone Too Far would start complaining about the new group. Reactionaries don’t have an issue with the name. They have an issue with the product. And no amount of rebranding will alter that.”

The anti-feminists will not be persuaded to join their adversaries simply because they chose to fight under a new banner. Many people feel that feminists seek to demoralize men in order to explain either why their cause is necessary or how it originated. Others believe that the feminist movement has already achieved its objectives since women are no longer treated as second class citizens by the law (compared to men). People will still believe these things, regardless as to what you call it.

What’s in a name? Not the answer to the feminist movement’s problem.

Feminists need to reframe their issues past woman vs. man; they should clarify to all confused parties: this movement isn’t about men and the problems it seeks to eradicate didn’t arise because of men. It is a result of a world history wrought with patriarchy—something that comes from society at large. We should continue to push for a world that is focused on gender equality, but we should also be clarifying what feminism means, because people are clearly (still) getting hung up on the word.

Too many still don’t understand that feminism fights for gender equality in a culture that has historically devalued women—and the traits prescribed to them. We don’t want to be men—or be better than men—we want to be women in a society that recognizes our merit. This is a message more people can relate to; one larger percentages of people may be willing to support.

So no, let’s not change the word, let’s change the conversation.

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About the author

Crissy Brown

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Crissy Brown considers herself something of a political prognosticator, accurate about as often as your neighborhood meteorologist. Lover of language and the oxford comma, she’s been a proud member of the “grammar police” since 1998. She saves fondness for books, wine, irony, and cats; but her deepest passion lies in questioning the limitations to normative assumptions, improving political models, and understanding the proclivities of human nature. Crissy works in grassroots politics as a field coordinator for Americans for Prosperity, and pleasantly yet perpetually tired. She has been interviewed on the Lars Larson Show, and her work has appeared at openmarket.org, The American Thinker, and in The Washington Times.

  • AuntMerryweather

    One might argue that Feminism has already rebranded itself into Progressivism or American “Liberalism.”

    Most people also call themselves “Independents” or “Moderates” even though the typically vote along party lines.

    The problem with a lot of gender-neutral rebranding attempts (“I’m not a feminist, I’m a HUMANIST” and the like) is that they’re often embraced by men and women who don’t quite grok the fullness of the last 100,000 years of female subjugation.

    All of this is to say: I have no idea what the solution should be.

    • Arnold

      “Progressivism” vs. “Liberalism” is the great example here though – “liberal” became a word with negative connotations, but “progressive” means the same thing without all that baggage.

      From a pure political strategy standpoint, Crissy is 1000% right. Being branded as a “feminist” has negative connotations and can easily be dismissed in the soundbite media without any thought. If you want to see movement on policy issues, it’s time to rebrand.

      • AuntMerryweather

        “Liberal” is doubly-negative: it either means “socialist” or “basically a republican,” depending on who is speaking.

        My contention is that the branding matters less than you think; people organize within or against labels based on very shallow understandings of what they mean. What does the “Tea Party” stand for? Ask one of them, and they’ll probably say Patriot. Ask somebody who blogs for Daily Kos, and they’ll probably say Racist.

        Again, I don’t know what the answer is. I grok that it lies less in a Re-branding, and more in going back on the offensive, and branding the movement and its advocates as Not-sexist.

        • Arnold

          The “Tea Party” is a great example of my point though – because of a variety of factors (http://academia.edu/2198873/Revisiting_the_Protest_Paradigm_The_Tea_Party_as_Filtered_through_Prime-Time_Cable_News) it has become a negatively valenced term that people think of poorly. Like feminism, people support the component factors, but they oppose the “brand” itself. The relevant counterfactual doesn’t lie in the Daily Kos/Tea Party comparison, it comes from how the group is valenced within the general population. Tea Party, Feminist, and Liberal all have negative connotations but only “liberals” have rebranded (and have done so successfully in many ways).

          If feminists go on the offensive, they will likely be dismissed by the as angry man-haters. Witness the other comments in this thread for great examples of that behavior. If “equalists” go on the offensive then there is potential for change.

          (A side note: “equalist” is an awful new term…I don’t know what the right word is, but “equalist” doesn’t have the immediate appeal that it needs to become the new dominant paradigm”

  • Morgan Scarboro

    I’m pretty much fan-girl’ing over this, Crissy. One of my favorite Thoughts on Liberty posts to date!

  • Louise_Chanary

    I think that the name ‘feminism’ was actually given to us in the past by a man with the intention of sounding negative.

    I agree that it is not a great term.

    However, many people who think feminists are manhating women etc. are really not interested in what feminism actually is about. The thing is, it is very easy to google ‘feminism’ to find out what it is all about. But that is even too much trouble for these people. I often find myself explaining things to men (usually they are men, but that does not mean all men are like them of course) who are out to argue with anybody who sounds vaguely feminist….and it is so tiresome. And they will not change their tune because their mind is made up somehow. They have this fixation about women …women who just want to take what should be rightfully theirs are a threat to them because their privilege is denied. So, don’t think these people usually have good intentions but are just misled by the name. On the contrary, usually they are out to pick a fight and demean women and they use the name and associated war of the sexes as an excuse. In the meantime it cost you a lot of energy to always stay calm and polite and explain things. I often give up and will kick them back where it hurts. (When a man seems really sincere I will do it still, usually it’s the ones taking an effort to discuss and leave their own point of view instead of attacking and pushing you in the defence corner all of the time. But those are rather rare.)

    • Chris Moore

      Gender is a 2 way coin with privileges going in two directions in different areas. Feminism recognizes only one, they will not speak to the other. They have enveloped themselves with a Marxist ideology, are prone to censorship, stifle real debate, and their institutions are rife with “groupthink”. I say we let feminism stay feminism, but hopefully a more intellectually honest movement sprouts from the public dissatisfaction.

      • Carl Montes

        Chris, thank you. I only wish there were more FEMALES who could realize this. Feminism just disgusts the hell out of me.
        I’ve tried to tell people that I am all for helping spread awareness of individual issues that are in need of addressing, but that means I will spread awareness for BOTH MALES AND FEMALES. I always get hit with the classic, “Spoken like a true privileged male” or “men don’t have problems NEARLY as bad as women do” etc. Here’s the problem, feminists…you’re turning into the people you currently claim to hate. You’re turning into the oppressors that you were once so adamant to liberate people from. That mindset is poison. Stop it.

        Egalitarianism. Now that has a nice ring to it. And it works, as the people who fall under it don’t argue about who has it worse, or try to encourage feelings of victimization. They simply address the issues.

  • Helz

    Interesting thoughts, thanks for sharing them.
    Look, take it from a straight-shooting genderqueer lesbian feminist who’s been around the block a few times – the reason people have a problem with the product of Feminism is the same reason they have problem with the -product that is, say the Republican party, or Anarchists, or the Black Panther Party – because there are flaws in the way people who identify as feminists comport themselves. Until the Feminist Movement becomes more willing to listen to critics & question freely their own doctrines, people aren’t going to be interested. There is way too much anger over trivial matters, there is much too little facilitating of debate, there is a tendency to refuse to reach out to males who are also having issues due to gender discrimination, such as male rape victims, an over-use of censorship, a preoccupation with elistist academic theory & terminology that can alienate the less privileged, etcl – there are many ways to make Feminism more accessible & it starts with not letting it be too much of a sacred cow.
    The name would be a good start, actually – a way to distinguish yourself as someone who is breaking away from the negative side of the Feminist movement – a Gender Equalist…?

    • Carl Montes

      I love you…

  • Helz

    InterestingThanks for sharing. Makes me think…

    My sister & I were watching an episode of Star Wars in which men were oppressed by women (who were the bigger, stronger, bosses). I remarked – “oh! he’s one of the feminists – oh, I guess they’re not feminists – one of the maninists.”

    My sister said, “no, they can still be feminist.”

    I said, “no, because that implies they want to empower women, but the women are already more powerful”

    see, right there – that’s the reason for, & to my mind the problem with, the word “feminist”. It IS limited by the word “female” to mean “representing women”. However, females aren’t the only people who are limited/oppressed/abused due to gender – transgender people, intersex people, men, etc. – all kinds of people are fucked over by gender discrimination. & while most feminists take the word to mean equality for all genders, the etymology, it’s basic construction, doesn’t convey that.

    Which, as the article suggests, belies the real problem here IMHO – the reason people have a problem is certainly partly to do with personal prejudice & misunderstanding, but it also have to do with the “product” of Feminism is because there are flaws in the way people who identify as feminists comport themselves sometimes…

    For example, there is a tendency to refuse to reach out to males who are also having issues due to gender discrimination, such as male rape victims.

    There also seems to be a preoccupation with elitist academic theory & terminology that can alienate the less privileged.

    & frankly it seems, to my experience, that there aren’t enough feminist groups that are open-minded to criticism & debate.

    In any case there are many ways to make Feminism more accessible & to my mind it starts with being more open to listening to other people.

  • Chad

    feminism is an unnecessary movement in entirety. Although people claim it to be about equal rights, it was created to improve the lives of women, and now feminists seek only to become privileged. So i say, rather than relabelling it as something equality-related, we label feminists as what they truly are; sexist tyrants. Although I agree that there are countries where women need to be treated better, we cannot allow them to corrupt an equal-rights movement as they have in America. Rather than claiming feminism, let’s drop the whole movement and fight for equal rights, to restore the damage feminists have caused, while also fixing the true problems women face, without degrading men in the process.

  • GoveGrey

    I am sick of how arrogant feminists are with this “It’s not what we do that is why people do not agree with us, it’s the name, it can’t be us”.
    No, it isn’t the name, it never was. I was a feminist because I thought it was for equality, although the choice in name is absurd for a group of equality, it was the “people” in the group that made me leave the label, not the label itself.

    I have gone on to countless feminist grounds, not being intimidating, aggressive, or rude, but bringing up points about issues males face. This was when I was neutral against feminism, and the responses were just vile, disgusting, and a perfect example of feminism today.
    I brought up topics of inequalities for men, trying to see if the group is infact anti-male, and what was the response for me bringing up such topics? Mockery, insult, I was “just another man whining”, and so on. It was vile.
    Then we get in to an actual debate, and I explain how what they say on the topic (that the issues I talked about are not true), using facts, and because they had no way of responding, they resorted to deleting everything that was said – censorship.

    If you go to a feminist group with intentions of explaining “men’s inequalities”, you will see just fine well that their “we care about men, too” is just a bunch of BS. You can’t sit there and belittle people for bringing up issues, then claim that you care about the people you are mocking for talking about inequalities that they face in society.

    Changing the name will do nothing, because it isn’t primarily the name that is getting feminism this negative view, it is the feminists in the group. Changing the name does nothing, all it will do is change the name, and then you will see these feminists with the SAME attitude be in that group, and then they say the exact same crap of “you are against equalism, that makes you sexist!”

    Feminism has no right to rename their group as something giving out a message that means “nothing” to what they actually do. You think you can shed your old skin with all the negatives attached to that skin, and that your group will be different simply because the name change? No.

    Feminism should remain named as feminism, because that is what it is, it’s a group in favor of women and not caring about men. They are not “equalists”, they are not for “both” genders getting their problems fixed, they are for only doing it for women, and trying to re-name your group to give the impression you are looking out for both genders, when “EVERYONE” knows you only look out for one of them (women) is just trying to insult our intelligence. We’re not stupid, we’re not gullible. You feminists have a nack for claiming to be for something, yet show the opposite, and all you will be doing is giving people more reason to dislike you, because you would be giving the impression that under “equalism”, you think only women’s issues are required to be looked at to make the genders “equal”, and changing the name of the group won’t make anyone think anything different.

    Feminism, you have made your bed, now you have to lay in it. The irony being is that you have simply made more negativity between the genders, not positivity.

    • Andrea Castillo

      Don’t you know that patriarchy hurts men too? /s

    • AuntMerryweather

      When you charge into “countless feminist grounds,” and attempt to make feminism about you (Dear GOD what about the men?!), you shouldn’t be surprised to be met with hostility. There are places on the web, operated under the banner of “feminist” even, that invite discussions on gender, and encourage the participation of feminist/ally men. There are others that seek to be a safe, female-only space for women who do not wish to bear the responsibility of explaining feminism 101 to male commenters (who are, presumably, fully-capable of reading a book or five on the subject).
      If you don’t recognize this distinction, one might conclude that you understand feminism to a much lesser degree than you think you do.

      • GoveGrey

        So, going to a group that is about equality, bringing forward points where males do not get get fairly treated, expecting the group for “equality” to support “equality”, I shouldn’t be surprised when this group for “equality” does not support “equality” because the aspect of equality mentioned does not support what they want?

        This has been on every feminist ground I have gone to, and your attempt to justify it does not work.

        Nice to know that bringing up the disparities between the genders where men are disadvantaged is “trying to make feminism about you”. So, feminism isn’t for equality, it’s for women being able to get what men get without the reverse happening?

        Then, after that, you are the same type of person that would complain if somebody criticized feminism by saying feminism is the idea that we can solve the problems between the genders by solely working on the issues of one of them, something you clearly implied.

  • BeverleyMo

    Until Feminists break away from the movement to monopolize female power over reproduction and the family, men are excluded from social change and improvements. Now that women have equal (actually slightly more) legal rights than men, Feminism is about female supremacy with its anti-father, anti-heterosexual family and anti-male social policies.

    Should men have any reproductive rights? How can men and women be socially equal when male sex is valued at zero by women? Women continue to be the sellers of sex while men are the buyers.

    How many Feminists oppose mandatory (by that, I mean, never optional) paternity DNA verification in the birth certification process? This would strengthen family ties precisely in those situations in which the father has very low paternal certainty and eliminate ties in the 10% of births for which a father is fraudulently named?

    Shouldn’t a father have a right to know as early as possible in the pregnancy, such as with the emerging three month maternal blood test for genetic deformities?

  • BigMobe

    If they called it equalism that would mean less rights for women since they have every right men have and more.

  • Andrea Castillo

    The problem with feminism is that it cloaks an ostensibly falsifiable theory of society (patriarchical oppression) with liberal values of human rights. To challenge the theory, then, is to oppose human rights in the minds of feminist advocates. A clever strategy for preventing discussion and dissent, but problematic for forwarding understanding about gender relations.

    Of course liberal and individualist feminists exist, and this complicates things. But if we take Hayek’s structure of social change seriously, we should reflect upon the statements and values of the cadre of intellectuals that put forward the ideas that filter down into our culture. Many of these intellectuals *don’t* fight for gender equality, they fight for female privilege. Some of them *do* hate men. Again, not all people who identify as “feminist” do this. But their rhetoric and intellectual legacy comes from people who do, and this is worth considering.

    I wish you the best of luck in changing what feminism means. But I fear that you have your work cut out for you.

    Meanwhile, I hope to demonstrate that it is possible to be skeptical of patriarchy while advocating for the rights and dignity of both genders. You can keep your “feminism,” and I welcome the change of conversation.

  • Be129

    It’s GREAT to hear from a person and not a gender,, Thanks.

  • USS Bebop

    Like all other movements. It’s the money. If feminism is gone then the money flow that goes to support it stops and stops going to all those people who help run it. They wouldn’t want to give up that cash.