Feminism Isn’t Dead. It’s Just Confused.

The F-word has become a divisive term. So how to describe a person who believes in equality for everyone?


For as much as I enjoy dropping the F-word proper (and I do — no one has ever accused me of being a lady), I have to admit that the other F-word — feminism — has been giving me trouble.

In an article titled “Is Feminism Dead?” for Philadelphia magazine’s Conversation Issue, Sandy Hingston recently sat down with two Philadelphia millennials to gauge how they felt about the word.

The answer, of course, is no – feminism is not dead. Beyonce does not stand in front of banners bearing dead words, or even sickly words. But is feminism confused? Judging from Hingston’s enlightening conversation — as well as pretty much every smart, reasoned discussion on the topic that invites a diverse group of women — feminism is having something of an identity crisis in 2014.

Not that you’re supposed to say this. When Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga declined to align themselves with the label, we all but demanded that they change their minds, accusing them of not understanding what the word meant. Eventually, they all signed on, to some extent — maybe because they found themselves identifying more with the feminist label as time went on, or maybe because we shamed them into questioning themselves and their place in the discussion.

For the record, I know what feminism means — or perhaps ideally means in its purest form: That women should enjoy the same rights and access as men. Like everyone worth having a discussion with, I believe this. I don’t believe that I should enjoy any extra perks or concessions, but yes, I obviously believe in equality.

But what well-adjusted person, in this country and time, does not? (Anonymous commenters, your opinions don’t count as usual, and your mothers are ashamed.)

If, in 2014, in Philadelphia, you don’t think that I should have the same political, economic and social rights as a man, you’re part of a strange, sad little minority — and that’s your problem, probably not even your biggest problem. If this is the case, I invite you to try on a bulky label with unexpected baggage, because personally, I’m tired of carrying one around.

I don’t have to identify myself as a non-racist, or a non-classist, or a non-homophobic person in 2014. Because, of course, we’ve all decided that denying people rights because of what color their skin is, how much money is in their bank accounts, and who they’re sleeping with is disordered and requires an explanation.

So yes, I suppose I’m a non-misogynist, but that’s clunky and unnecessary.

Whether we like it or not, “feminist” can be a divisive term. I’m not concerned about how men react to the word — if you’re turned off by a woman who chooses to call herself one, well, you’ve got 99 more problems with me. But I am concerned by how many women feel excluded by modern feminism, which can, in its less successful manifestations, feel like a dated movement that addresses the very specific concerns of white, upper-middle-class women.

You can define feminism all you want and insist that all women subscribe to it, but that fact is that “feminist” is a term that exists and evolves in the real world, not simply in a textbook. Just because the two young women Hingston interviewed don’t understand it in the terms previously established doesn’t mean they don’t understand it — perhaps it means it has changed somewhere along the way. Their experience with the word today — just like Swift’s and Perry’s — is valid, as is their discomfort with it.

Ultimately, although I try it on from time to time, I’m going to skip the feminist label for myself. I’ll also pass on “humanist,” a perhaps more inclusive term that’s being thrown around as an alternative — but, to me, feels a little pretentious and probably speaks too highly of humans for my personal taste.

If I must choose something to identify myself as a person who believes in equality for everyone? I suppose I’ll go with Thinking Human Who Isn’t A Backwards Asshole — but again, that feels clunky.

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