As anyone who’s ever seen my Twitter feed knows, Twitter is for me a multi-faceted thing: Clipping service, networking resource, branding device, virtual water cooler, sketch pad. In that latter capacity, I’m forever finding that I’ve just tweeted what amounts to the rough draft of an actual piece, sent out into the world in little 140-character bursts — and lo, I did just that this morning. Only I think the following might also wind up looking like a draft, because I’m still working out my thoughts (blogging [as Ta-Nehisi Coates once wrote] as memoir, not history).
The thinking started when I read a post by Alex Cranz on her site FemPop: “Feminism Isn’t the Problem, the Word Is.”
When I launched FemPop in March 2011 the tagline for the website was “Pop Culture Through A Feminist Lens.” It was accurate and snappy and emblazoned at the top of the site and on all related social media forums. Almost immediately people noticed the phrase. Particularly guy friends and relations.
“It makes me uncomfortable,” was the usual line.
“It just doesn’t jibe with the material,” was more specific. “Your site is for everyone. Feminism isn’t.”
….In February 2012, after yet another explanation from a well-meaning friend that the word was alienating to FemPop’s audience I snapped. I abruptly changed the logo and removed the word “feminism” from its prominent position on the website. I told myself it was an experiment I could later write about. I briefly even deluded myself into believing nothing would change.
Except there was a change, and it was so immediate and immense I actually thought I’d broken something on the website.
Cranz discovered that FemPop’s “bounce rate” — the percentage of visitors who come to one page of a site and then immediately “bounce” away — dropped. Dramatically. Like: CRAZY dramatically.
I changed one word and suddenly visitors felt comfortable poking around. Nothing else changed on the site. There wasn’t a huge redesign and the clearly feminist title of the site didn’t change. I didn’t alter color schemes or suddenly post the best article in the history of the universe. It was still pop culture through a feminist lens–but with a little less feminism on the front page.
To be honest, this shouldn’t have surprised me, and I suppose it didn’t. Not really. I may not get out much, but even in my wee, one-woman office in flyover country, I get a good eyeful of just how problematic the word “feminist” can be. I suppose I found Cranz’s piece more disheartening than surprising.
But then I got to thinking: If feminism really isn’t the problem, then maybe it’s ok to let go of the word? If we’ve reached the point where the idea of gender equality, and all the work necessary to achieve that, have been incorporated into our norms and mores — then ok. I suppose we can call whatever that is whatever we want to, and just move on. No need to derail with an apparently infuriating vocabulary choice.
But Cranz’s title, while accurate for her website, isn’t an accurate descriptor of the world in which we live (which, to be clear, Cranz wasn’t suggesting. I’m pivoting off her point).
Feminism is, to re-state the oft-stated point, the radical idea that women are people.
It is, to put it another way, the radical idea that all people are of equal value and should be treated as such.
That’s it. That’s all it is. The idea behind feminism, a word which apparently repulses so many Americans, is the same idea that stands behind the most American of values: Equality.
It makes me angry that so many Americans have gotten it so twisted, and have very little interest in getting it un-twisted. I’m not sure what they think “feminism” means or who they think it’s intended to serve or what it’s intended to do, but the animosity is so great, that it can’t be just the word. I have a very powerful feeling that if the early feminists had called themselves “egalitarians” or “equalists” or “free-to-be-you-and-me-ians,” those words would be just as reviled today.
The problem, then, isn’t the word. The problem is with the ongoing difficulty we have acknowledging the simple fact that women are as fully human as men. This is why we continue to argue over women’s right to bodily autonomy, our right to make independent decisions about our own health and well being, our right to not be assaulted or harassed, no matter what.
America’s problem is not with “feminism,” it’s with feminism. And in light of that, I think I need to hang on to word — despite all the anger and angst and sturm und drang — until we begin to get it a little more right.