No more f-word?

Make sure to check out Rebecca Traister’s excellent piece today in Salon, The F Word. (And I’m not just saying that cause I’m quoted in it, I swear.)
Traister’s piece takes on the word ‘feminism’ and asks if it’s time we retire—or reclaim—it:
It’s no great news that “feminism” — the word and, by extension, the movement — has an image problem. Women of all ages and colors have, at turns, bristled at the term, embraced it, lauded it and disdained it, practically since it was coined. However, after years of soldiering on under the burden of a heavily loaded word, a new crop of progressive and politically active women are finally addressing the problem. Some are looking to reinvigorate “feminist” by laying claim to the word — a new magazine and a recent book are both cheekily titled “The F Word” — while others are contemplating new words and phrases to employ in the fight for women’s equality. After years of quiet debate, women are tackling their own labels with the energy of a movement anxious to make itself fresh again.
Clearly an interesting topic all by itself (well, at least to me), this ‘feminism’ argument gets a lot juicier when you see the craziness that ensued as Traister put this article together:
…But the hyper-sensitivity surrounding the “feminism” discussion makes it an ideological fire-starter. Weeks after my interview with Gandy, I called Feminist Majority leader Eleanor Smeal about this story. When I asked her to respond to some of the comments Gandy had made, I was apparently unclear, somehow leaving Smeal with the impression that I was reporting that Gandy wanted NOW to abandon the word “feminism.” This was certainly not what I was reporting. But Smeal alerted Gandy to the possibility that my story might suggest that Gandy was rejecting the word just days before her reelection as NOW president. A very agitated Gandy called me to clarify that her comments were not reflective of any formal discussions within her organization. I assured her that I only planned to report what she had told me: that she had had discussions about the word with colleagues at NOW. She responded: “I hear people talk about it. But they don’t talk about it that often. To say that ‘there have been discussions within NOW’ would convey a really inaccurate thing.” Gandy emphasized that she can’t imagine ever backing away from “feminism.”
(You really have to read the whole piece to get the context, but you get the point…)
Why oh why are folks so scared of just being candid? I realize that the backlash is always intense when it comes to feminism, but shit—can’t we even talk amongst ourselves?
Is ‘feminism’ really so bad? It seems the sentiment from older feminists is that younger women don’t relate to the word. Clearly I disagree, but I can understand wanting to make feminism more accessible and appealing to younger women. That’s part of the reason I started this blog. But I can’t imagine what other word we could use. (I’m pretty clear in the article how I feel about ‘humanist’.)
And like Amy Richards says in article, “Whatever we’d change ‘feminism’ to would become a bad word too.” No joke.
Any thoughts?

UPDATE:
Amanda at Pandagon has perhaps the most eloquent response to the article ever: You could call it “suckacockism” and people would still hate it as long as you were calling for women’s social, economic and political equality. Nice.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted July 5, 2005 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Sounds to me like this guy was trying to make trouble, as is the case with much of the mainstream media when it attempts to “examine” any philosophy it considers foreign to its way of thinking – and lo and behold, he succeeded, not only at pissing people off but at shifting the blame for obscuring feminism once more on the feminists rather than at his own doorstep. Don’t fall for it, Jessica.

  2. Jessica
    Posted July 5, 2005 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Rebecca Traister is actually very supportive of feminism; you can check out some of her other pieces at Salon. I don’t think she’s trying to blame feminists, I really do think she brings up an interesting point that isn’t talked about enough in the open. After working for a number of national women’s orgs and being in that world, I can honestly tell you that there’s big problems going on. There isn’t a lot of room for candid discussion and criticism. But I certainly understand your concern, considering the neverending backlash.

  3. Rebecca
    Posted July 5, 2005 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi! I wrote the piece and want to respond to Elayne’s comment, since it’s a charge that I’ve heard before, and one that I’m certainly sensitive to. I’m familiar with the kind of journalism that “makes trouble” between women as a way of undermining their work. I’ve written pieces on exactly that topic.
    But I also believe in asking questions, even — perhaps especially — of those whose work we believe in. Feminism is certainly not foreign to my way of thinking; I’ve been steeped in it and make my living, at least in part, by covering it. But just because we’re all feminists doesn’t mean that we’re not allowed to ask uncomfortable questions of one another. Yes, it sometimes pisses people off. And yes, it’s fair to say that a journalist asking those questions is, in a certain regard, “making trouble.” But I’m not trying to undermine the movement or the women who lead it. Nor am I blaming anyone for anything.
    Crying “divisiveness” every time someone takes the women’s movement seriously dulls our thinking, muffles our freedoms, and, I believe, stunts our growth.

  4. Posted July 5, 2005 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    I have had this discussion with many people for what seems like a long time. I, like many of us, don’t have a problem with the word itself, we have a problem with how we are all painted with the same brush and image and all of that. The problem that I have is how what feminism is about should simply be “the way.” For example, look at racism – the ism there is the evil and the side of righteousness or the side of anti-racism, is considered “the way.” The same with sexism, or homophobia or heterosexism. The isms are the bad, but with feminism, we are labeling the side of righteousness. So it is the nature of the fight where we are on the defensive, and thus forced to label it with some sort of all encompassing word that at its core defines the goal, but is also used to villify the movement.
    I agree that no matter the word people will dislike it. I think the important thing to recognize is that if we ask the average person if they are a feminist or if they can define feminism they would say no. But if we ask them if they support political, social, and economic equality for everyone regardless of gender, or if we ask them if they support ending gender based discrimination people would invariably say yes.
    For what it’s worth, I am a liberal, small-d democrat, feminist, Latino, tattooed, treehugging, bicycle riding, pro-labor, activist that tends to vote Democrat (and many more things that I simply cannot think of to put down…). I’ve been told that I am a feminist just because I want to pick up girls or because I am gay. I don’t know how to they actually reconcile those two things analytically, but there are a lot of things that they think that I can’t explain…

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