Is the term “feminism” a dead end?

feminismposter
a picture of the only feminist that most anti-feminists seem to know, except maybe for Anita Sarkeesian

Some people on the left have posited the idea of giving up the name “feminism,” since the right has effectively made it a loaded term. Like “SJW,” the word “feminism” in many people’s minds is a word that means shrill, red-headed women who hate men and want to denigrate men’s issues, particularly those of the Men’s Rights Activists, including even some of their more rational concerns.

Obviously I, as a feminist, think those haters are wrong, and that feminism has solutions that better the lives of men as well as women, since patriarchy hurts men, too. But are the haters right about one thing?

Is the term “feminism” so loaded with negative connotations that we need a rebranding and a new name?

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I used to think this myself. But over time, I’ve sided with most other feminists in thinking “hell no.”

And it’s not simply because I’m stubborn and want to support my organization over what would actually be best for women and for equality. It just seems like changing the name of our movement based on what haters of that movement want us to do is a bad idea, one that has never worked to the betterment of liberalism in the past.

Let’s say we change the name from feminism to something else. First of all, that makes an immediate disconnect from the legacy of feminism going all the way back to Mary Wollstonecraft and our great-grandmothers who fought for the right to vote. How can we claim to be part of a long and storied history if those champions of old were feminists, and we’re not?

Secondly, the people who hate feminists now will just ridicule the next name change, and the next.

“Oh, these Equal Gender Rights ‘eggers’ are just ruining liberalism, what with all their making everything about equality when if they REALLY wanted equality they’d go on TV and denounce Muslims, yada yada, etc etc.”

Conservatives keep dominating the conversation by doing stuff like that. They’ve been the kings of forced rebranding, what with making “socialism” and “liberal” and “social justice” all bad words, while simultaneously defining abortion-banning as “pro-life” and the right to own guns of all kinds and calibers as a “second amendment right” despite the fact that this isn’t even what the 2nd Amendment says or was created to do.

I’m not saying that feminists and liberals in general couldn’t do a better job at branding. We could perhaps spend more time pointing out how patriarchy hurts both men and women. We could tone it down on the TERF thing. We could even work harder at honing our name calling, calling them “Nazis” less and “alt-right” and “evangelical” as a pejorative a bit more, which would have the double effect of both defanging their attacks on us for calling everybody a Nazi while simultaneously making people on the right afraid to be thought of as being conservative.

But I don’t see how people’s vitriol against feminism means we should give up the term. I think what we really need is a stronger dose of third wave feminism’s awesome branding of women’s issues as “riot grrrl” hip, though of course it’s hard not to get things coopted as “girl power” and watered down into nothing if we’re not careful.

Perhaps what we simply need to do is what we’re already doing—welcoming powerful players like Beyonce or Lady Gaga into the fold as out and proud feminists, so that the concept becomes mainstream again, and the nay-sayers are revealed as gross incel male shrews.

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D. M. Collins

D. M. Collins is a journalist and writer based in Los Angeles.

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