I asked my brother if he was a feminist and he said, “not particularly”. I then asked him if he thought men and women should be equal. “Of course!” was his immediate response. Like my brother, many people refuse to identify as feminists, despite a belief in the equality of the sexes. I think that many people shy away from the term, fearful of the raised eyebrows or the label as the kind of person who will scream about the patriarchy. ‘Feminist’ is polluted with preconceptions, a dirty word. While many firmly believe in equitable treatment of women, their desire not to be associated with the radical bra-burners and other kinds of radical behavior is much stronger.
The word feminist stems from the latin root femina meaning woman, referring to a person who stands up for women’s’ rights in the political, economic, social, or other spheres. According to a 2013 article in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/feminism-poll_n_3094917.html), only 20% of Americans call themselves feminists; at the same time, 82% of Americans agreed that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals,” a clear avoidance of a term that means the same thing.
I have found that most commonly this evasion is the discomfort that is comes with the associations and preconceptions of ‘feminist’; the word has been tainted and is somehow unclean.
A solution that has been presented in the past is replacing the unclean word, feminist, with a more modern, inclusive, and entirely fresh term, usually humanist or equalist. Although I appreciate the sentiment of these new terms, I maintain my choice to identify as as a feminist, for several reasons.
Firstly, I never need to explain myself with unfamiliar terms and I am a part of an existing and recognized community. Having extreme agitators as a part of one’s movement is simply a part of being an activist, and the past that is associated with a name is no reason to necessitate a fresh start.
Feminism specifically, as opposed to other terms, is important because it highlights the issue. It is similar to the use of #blacklivesmatter over #alllivesmatter because although of course the desire is for all lives to matter or for all humans to stand equally, the focus is on women because that is the purpose of the movement. By allowing this important crusade to be engulfed with others, it loses value and drive. By identifying as a feminist you are in no way belittling other groups that ought to be fought for, you are simply placing an emphasis on one essential issue.
Maybe, even with an understanding of why other terms are insufficient to describe the feminist movement, you are still hesitant to identify as a feminist, fearful of conjuring an image of the kind of person who will go on rants about the patriarchy. The only way to reinvent this essential term, is to reinvent it through use. If we use the word in a context that people are comfortable with, we are able to purify the word in a sense and bring it back into use. There are few people these days that don’t support the feminist cause, often they are just uncomfortable with the radical actions with which they may be associated. To untaint the word feminist we must repaint through use and allow it to gain new, positive associations. We must recreate our view of the word as a whole. We must redefine feminism.