Why is Feminism Still a Dirty Word?

Recently, when asked in an interview with UK Harper’s Bazaar if she’s a feminist, Beyonce said she wanted to invent a new word for feminism, because she doesn’t feel it “necessary” to define whether she is one or not.

Why, in this day and age, do we still distance ourselves from the word “feminism”?

And it’s not just Beyonce. Keri Hilson, Lady Gaga, and even (kind of) Tina Fey, have been called a feminist in one instance, and tried to backtrack on it in the next.

In response to all this, Jezebel ran a contest to come up with “a catchy new word for feminism”, like Beyonce suggested. Some suggestions were “FUCK PATRIARCHY”, “Flesh-Hungry Young Slutism” (seemingly appropriate given it has been the year of the SlutWalk, if you will), “Vaginist”, “Diva-is-a-female-version-of-a-hustla-ism” (how you like that, Beyonce?), but the one that came out on top was “Equalism” which, in my experience, is what young feminists today strive for.

Speaking of young feminists, I would probably only define a handful of my friends as this, and even they are hesitant to describe themselves this way.

One says she’s not a feminist because she wants to “cook for her boyfriend”. Since when did not cooking and feminism become mutually exclusive?

Another says he’s (yes, he’s) could never truly be a feminist because he doesn’t have a vagina, so therefore will never know what those who do have to go through on a daily basis in a patriarchal society, and have gone through for centuries in patriarchal societies.

I have another who, just by looking at her, screams feminism before she even opens her mouth. Yet sometimes, when she says things I morally disagree with, I think, “she’s not feminist enough”. (Abhorrent, I know, and something I strive not to think and say as a feminist. And, by my own admission, some might say I’m “not feminist enough” because of the way I talk and how I dress.)

It’s a far cry from Beyonce, Gaga et al., who try to distance themselves from feminism, while young feminists (and old!) bicker amongst themselves about who’s more feminist! And it perfectly illustrates the discrepancies between what self-described feminists project onto the movement, and what lay, non-feminist Generation Yers believes it to be about.

Camilla Peffer over at Girls Are Made From Pepsi writes:

“I think most women associate feminism with radicalism and the whole bra burning hulla-balloo. Which is RI-DUNK-U-LOUS. And a lot of people see the term feminist [as] biased towards females in the sense that the whole movement promotes this idea of women being better than men.”

Indeed, there is a far cry between the first wave suffragist movement, second wave “bra-burning” and the sexual revolution, and current third-wave feminism. Some would even say that we have passed third-wave feminism and are now living in a post-feminist society.

When I first started getting into feminism about two years ago, I subscribed to this notion. Now, having been exposed to all manner of blogs, academic articles, events etc. to put the sexism, discrimination and harassment I’ve experienced as a woman into perspective, I can see that we sure as hell aren’t living in a post-feminist world and that we still need feminism, perhaps more than ever with the rise of the Tea Party and Michele Bachmann and the closure of Planned Parenthoods in the U.S., the blatant harassment most women experience on the street and in their workplaces every day, the attacks on SlutWalk, and the atrocities facing Third World women, to name but a few.

Taking on these battles shouldn’t be seen as something “dirty”; it should be seen as something we can all get behind, if it leads to our daughters experiencing a world free from harassment and discrimination based on what genitals she possesses and what she looks like, no matter what part of the world she hails from.

Sadly, as Rachel Hills muses, “it can be a bit uncool to care. Feminism means caring and wanting to change things, ergo it makes people uncomfortable—especially people who are comfortable with the status quo.”

Are you comfortable with the status quo? Do you think feminism is still a dirty word?

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Why Young Feminists Still Have “A Long, Long Way to Go” in the Eyes of Second-Wave Feminists.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] So Misunderstood.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Melbourne Writers’ Festival: A Long, Long Way to Go: Why We Still Need Feminism.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Has Feminism Failed?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl: Street Harassment in CLEO.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Taboos of Sexual Harassment.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] SlutWalk: A Smokescreen of Lies, Misinformation & Those Old Myths About Males.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Let’s Invent a Catchy New Word for Feminism.

[Jezebel] The Catchy New Word for Feminism.

[Jezebel] Keri Hilson is a Feminist, Not That She Wants to Say So, Exactly.

[Jezebel] Tina Fey on the Message of 30 Rock’s “Joan of Snark” Episode.

[Feministe] Time to Check In With Tina Fey’s Feminism.

[The Frisky] Tina Fey: Not Feminist Enough?

[Girls Are Made From Pepsi] The Post in Which I Talk About Beyonce, Feminism & Equality For All.

10 thoughts on “Why is Feminism Still a Dirty Word?

  1. Pingback: Welcome to Monday ~ 19th September 2011 | feminaust ~ for australian feminism

  2. The fact that people feel awkward or uncomfortable calling themselves feminists shows the success of a long push of anti-feminists to silence the achievements of women. Make women feel uncomfortable to label themselves under a name that unites and creates solidarity between women who want to challenge women’s oppression, and there will be a lessening of a movement. This is why we need to call ourselves feminists no matter how ‘ugly’ feminism has been made to look, because creating a new word that is ‘less ugly’ is ridiculous. It’s just buying into what we need to fight against. We need to say ‘feminists are as diverse as women’ and i am a feminist, and i am not going to be ashamed of that.

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