The word “feminism” seems simple enough on paper. In any dictionary, the denotation of the word means “a movement for granting women political, social, and economic equality with men”, a detached term void of emotion. Yet, the connotation of this seemingly mundane name could not have been more different. For me, “feminism” has always implied power, strength, and dignity; but for others, less respectable words come to mind.

In the 1890’s, utopian socialist Charles Fourier first coined the word “feminism” to describe the ongoing feminist movement of that era. Little did he know that, a century later, the word would prompt a plethora of debate.

The Problem

Although women have always viewed the term “feminism” as an empowering word designed to inspire, men have come to despise that very term more and more often. Most men dislike “the f-word”, justifying their distaste with the word as being alienating, discomforting, and degrading. As The Telegraph explains, “feminism” brings a bout of negative connotations, implying that only women are allowed to be “feminists” or devote their time to “feminism. Additionally, affectionally nicknaming devoted feminists as “femi-Nazis” suggests a concept riddled with violence, conflict, and struggle. In fact, further evidence of the unpopularity of “feminism” is shown through a recent HuffPost poll, which discovered that only 20% of Americans identify themselves as feminists, although 82% believe that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” Evidently, this word has already created a schism deep enough to question the concept of feminism at its roots.

As a matter of fact, this linguistic divide has already spilled into the very real world, threatening to unravel the century-long work of feminists around the world. In September 2014, Emma Watson made waves after giving an inspiring speech to launch the United Nation’s HeForShe campaign to promote gender equality. However, although lauded by many, the reality was that Emma received glaring criticism from advisors prior to the delivery of the speech for including the word “feminism”. “I was told not to use the word…because people felt that it was alienating and separating”, Watson admitted. This pushback prompted an internal crisis and almost forced Emma to rewrite her speech, delaying the campaign and putting the campaign off to a very bad start.

The Answer

The debate over this linguistic name has arisen to epic proportions, ironically aligning negative connotations and petty arguments with a movement designed to inspire peace and equality.  Although the term “feminism” is viewed as too narrow and gender specific, it is precisely because of this reason that makes the term so suitable for this movement. As Jennifer Weiss explains, the term “feminism” specifically suggests a movement to empower women and to acknowledge the priority to grant rights to people who do not have them, and protect the privilege of those who do. To compare, the phrase “feminism” is analogous to the “black lives matter” movement. Similarly, Black Lives Matter is specific to the plight of African Americans, forcing people to recognize the fact that African Americans do not have the equality that others have. Otherwise the movement would be dubbed “All Lives Matter”. So although widely criticized for its narrowness and exclusiveness, it is precisely this “fault” that makes feminism so useful and action-inspiring.

Yet, at the end of the day, the truth is that when so many people from all over the world are able to come together to make the world a more gender equal and peaceful place, it becomes largely irrelevant what the concept is termed, but rather how the concept is put into action.

 

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