Indulge me, for a moment or two? I’m going to be the cantankerous language nerd here for a bit.
This post has been written many times before by people smarter than me.
But I still hear [straight, white] people telling me that they like the stuff I write and talk about, but they’re not feminists because they don’t like that the word suggests a women-centered focus. What about the men, if it’s about equal rights?
This is a really frustrating conversation for me, because it’s based on an assumption which is an exception to their normal approach to words.
We don’t pick the way words originate, usually. They come into use. And they mean things and have certain connotations, and we develop a cultural awareness of what those words mean to us, to our parents, to our peers, to church people, to “secular” people, to our kids and younger siblings.
And they change, shifting, slipping, taking on new meanings of less or greater potency as time passes.
I wish everyone would bother to read Derrida and not be afraid of him. Words mean things! Yes. But words also shift and undermine themselves as new meanings unravel the old ones as time passes.
Most people hate the word moist, but it is a Useful Word That Means Something Specific, even if we don’t like how it sounds.
My mom used to get twitchy and a little upset because I’d say things like I’m screwed, or I screwed that up in a lighthearted, oops! sort of way. She didn’t like that because when she was growing up, it had the same connotations as fuck does for my generation. My generation knows that screwed had that meaning, but it’s not used in THAT way anymore, unless you’re a little out of date and happy with that.
This is elementary cultural language awareness, folks. We adapt to new meanings of words. We adopt language as it morphs. We can be a little cantankerous about “LOL” getting into the OED, but we also know that it serves a purpose and it’s relevant, and accept it on its own terms. Oh well, lowbrow language. But it works, so, in it goes.
So why are all these people (mostly, but not all, men) afraid of using the word “feminist”?
I’d argue that pretty much everyone I know, aside from some true, die-hard reconstructionist patriarchs, is a feminist.
I have to admit, the weird insecurity I see about a word that appears, root-wise, to be focused on women is fascinating. Do these men have any idea how we women felt growing up with regard to words like “mankind” and “men” being the gender neutral dominant terms for people? If I can accept the use of these “male” words as being gender neutral terms for all people, why can’t they deal with “feminist” as a way to identify themselves as someone who
Advocates for the social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men. [Dictionary.com]
Believes in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. [Merriam-Webster]
Do you think that men and women should be treated equally to men in society, by the law, in the workplace? [Notice how religion and the church isn’t mentioned! Complementarians, you’re not off the hook!]
Then you’re a feminist.
And please stop fussing about how the word seems gendered or how it suggests men-hating second-wave feminists. We don’t like the privilege and insensitivity of that phase of feminist rhetoric, either. But the word is still relevant and the meaning has changed. It’s not all about women, and your complaint that it is sounds just as ridiculous as a woman complaining that the word history is male-centric. Please. It means more than that now.
Words shift. Deal with it.