Has “Feminism” Outlasted Its Purpose?

6 01 2008


The word, not the concept!

I ask because of a discussion I had with some friends tonight, and to elaborate on my “What is Feminism?” page.  As you probably know, the word “feminism” has become associated with all sorts of things that do not actually represent what feminism is.  It has become not exactly a dirty word, but definitely a word with some sort of stigma attached to it, so that many people who have feminist values will not or are scared to label themselves “feminists”–because it has become a label for something other than it should.  The following conversation is a perfect example:

Friend 1: I’m not a feminist, but…
Friend 2: No, I know you’re a feminist.  Let me ask you something: Do you believe men and women should have equal rights?
Friend 1: Yes…
Friend 2: Then, you’re a feminist.

Because that’s all “feminist” means–it means you believe that men and women are equal, should be equal, and should have equal rights.  Nothing more, nothing less. 

This is why I don’t actually like the term “feminist” or “feminism”.  I don’t think these terms should exist at all, because they imply that you are particularly for equality, more so than what’s normal.  Well, who normally isn’t for equality?  It’s as if you were to call someone “contact lensist” for believing in “contact lensism” because they insisted people who wear contact lenses are equal to and should have the same rights as people who wear glasses.  It’s just a given!

My friend made a good point, which was that when the idea of feminism originated, equality wasn’t at all a given, which is why the term originated–because back then, “feminists” really were people who were in favour of equality between the sexes to an unusual degree (within the context of the mentality at that time).  So back then, feminism was a term for an “extreme” belief or movement, and in a way (as my friend said), it’s good that we’ve now come to the point where the term does seem pointless and redundant.

The thing is, it seems as if while the movement has progressed, the extremity implied by the word “feminism” has progressed along with it–no longer does “feminism” just mean equality, it means female chauvinism and misandry.  Equal does not mean imbalanced in the opposite direction.  It’s detrimental, this perversion of what “feminism” means, because people only see the latter, louder “meaning”, and it affects their thoughts and views towards the former, maybe without them even knowing it.

Which brings us back to the original question.  I almost feel like we should give up on the word “feminism”, that it’s time to cut our losses and part ways.  No one likes feminism?  Fine, we don’t like feminism either.  Throw it out, let it die; it’s not what we want.  What we want is women’s equality, and that’s all; it doesn’t matter what you call it.

Picture source: http://images.jupiterimages.com/common/detail/01/49/23404901.jpg