Equalism? Bootylicious? Let’s call the whole thing off

Ever since Beyonce opened up her mouth about feminism, saying: “I don’t really feel that it’s necessary to define it. It’s just something that’s kind of natural for me, and I feel like… you know… it’s, like, what I live for. I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like Bootylicious,” the conversation about renaming or rebranding feminism has become revitalized.

A couple things are clear here: 1) Beyonce has never really thought much about feminism and, when questioned, could only reply in way that would pretty much infuriate anyone who actually had thought a lot about feminism, 2) We shouldn’t ask celebrities about their opinions on anything, and 3) The last thing feminism needs is a redefiniton a la Bootylicious.

This conversation around the rebranding of feminism isn’t exactly new. Folks are constantly claiming to, rather than identify as ‘feminist’, identify as ‘equalists’, ‘humanists’, ‘giraffes’, etc. While some might argue that this rewording of what should still be defined as feminism, simply avoids ye old hairy-legged, man-hating, angry feminazi stereotype that has been placed on feminism in order to scare us all off, in reality, when we talk about rebranding feminism, we are talking about the success of the backlash.

In a piece published on Jezebel, the author highlights some of the more ‘thoughtful’ commentary, from her perspective on the whole conversation:

One commenter named Kristy, for example, writes: “My husband often points out that while he is a feminist in thinking, he hates the word itself as he feels it excludes men. He has often called himself an “Equalitarian” when pressed, but this lacks Beyonce-style panache, so I suggest “equaliscious.”

So I don’t know about you but I think this comment pretty much sums up exactly why we shouldn’t rebrand feminism. Feminism isn’t about making men feel comfortable. As Julie Bindel writes, in fact, “If men like a particular brand of feminism, it means it is not working.”

The fact that a man feels that feminism needs to be rebranded because it would make him feel more comfortable is kind of hilarious, simply because it is just so unbelievably clueless, but on the other hand I think it is similar to many arguments coming from folks who claim that they aren’t feminists but rather ‘humanists’, for example. And these kinds of arguments are significant because they represent not only a certain level of privilege (‘oh, I don’t see gender, I only see humans’), but also that people have really bought that we are now living in a postfeminist society. White people often make the same argument around race saying, ‘oh I don’t see colour, aren’t we beyond all that’? But of course, the only person who would be so privileged to so as to ‘not see colour’ would be someone that didn’t have to see it, i.e. a white person. Humans aren’t equal. Oppression comes in many different forms and is deeply ingrained in our social structures. Feminism isn’t about being ‘equal’ to men as feminists do not believe men to be the end all be all in terms of our goals for liberation. We do not wish to be equal oppressors. We’d really love it if women were not treated as second class citizens or as less than human simply because they are women. That doesn’t mean we aspire towards masculinity either. Equality doesn’t accurately describe oppression; how it functions, who is being oppressed, and how we need to end said oppression.

Words like ‘equalist’ and ‘humanist’ may well make you feel more comfortable and less controversial than you would were you to call yourself a feminist and there’s a really good reason for that. Feminism is controversial. Feminism desires to remove power and privilege from those who have held power and privilege for a really long time. This is a pretty unpleasant prospect for those who’d like to hang on to said power and privilege. Not only that but there are many who have been hard at work, for decades, trying to make feminism seem as irrelevant, as offensive, as unreasonable, as wrong, as unrealistic and as unappealing as possible. This is what we call the backlash. And when we are talking about the need to rebrand feminism in order to make it more pleasant, we are also talking about the success of that backlash.

Another commenter, named Emily, highlighted in the Jezebel post sums this up nicely:

“Why does “fem” need to be involved in an ideology that should gain the interest of everyone, not just those that would define themselves as “fem.” Also, let’s face it…”Feminism” as a term is notoriously jaded and has a weird set of characteristics that go along with; ie-feminists must be men hating, bra burning, no shaving feminazis. Cut the crap, the new term should be “FUCK PATRIARCHY”. I mean the most fundamental usage of the term patriarchy. White male dominance that has enabled (specifically) our society to reap the benefits of and perpetuate sexism, racism, ageism et al. I’m fascinated by the new feminism of Rihanna, Beyonce, Kesha, Britney, and Nicki. They run the world.”

While I’m into the whole ‘FUCK PATRIARCHY’ angle, the fact that feminists would rebrand because of sexist and anti-feminist stereotypes that have been placed on feminism specifically in order to invalidate feminists is, in my opinion, kowtowing to those very people who are working to discredit the feminist movement.

Jezebel concluded this particular piece by suggesting that ‘Equalism’ might work as a replacement as, noted by commenter, lioljund:

“Equalism covers everybody. In each and every aspect. It covers people, and that is what unites us.”

And ‘equalism’ may well cover ‘everybody’, but it points to nothing. It is because everyone isn’t working on an even playing field that it is important that oppression be named. The reason there is a ‘fem’ in ‘feminism’ is because (and you may want to sit down for this one) women in our patriarchal culture are oppressed. So we’d just like to point that out to you. And when we demand change it is on that basis. Framing a desire to end oppression as a desire for equality is misleading. And muffling the reality of who exactly is being oppressed by whom and by what systems of power is desirable to, you guessed it, those who already won the privilege jackpot.

I don’t care if feminism makes you feel uncomfortable. It should.




Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • M

    Exactly. We’ve been here since the beginning helping men feel comfortable. Enough of that.

  • profeminist

    ‘kyriarchy’ is another one of the gender neutral alternatives that are just fluffy and reactionary.

    • And another way of not naming who is doing what to whom. Yeah, there was a time when women actually let ourselves GET ANGRY with men! IMAGINE!!

  • Kelsey

    Great post! This has helped me to better arrange my thoughts about the term “kyriarchy,” which I’ve been iffy about. On the one hand, I do like that it acknowledges the intersectional nature of oppression. However, I am also suspicious that it is in reality a neo-liberal weasel word meant to obscure women’s subjection as a class. As far as I can figure out, “kyriarchy” would literally translate to “rule by the rulers,” which serves to obfuscate the fact that a very specific group of people (i.e., dudes) benefit from the way the world is set up, and an equally specific group of people, (i.e., women) have to suffer. “Patriarchy,” is, obviously, a much less ambiguous term. What do you think?

    (Also, when I type it in here, spell-check suggests that I use the word “patriarchy” instead – HA!)

  • Proudly Feminist since I knew how to say the fucking word. Thanks for this.

  • “And ‘equalism’ may well cover ‘everybody’, but it points to nothing. It is because everyone isn’t working on an even playing field that it is important that oppression be named”

    Yes, yes. Precisely. It points to *nothing*. Thanks Meghan!

  • We SHOULD be uncomfortable. I should be. And embrace it. That’s where change starts.
    Thanks for staying on target.

  • I love your posts Meghan. I wish I could summarize broad points as succinctly as you do. Those quotes you took from Jezebel were…ugh. I can’t believe that someone that uses the word patriarchy non-ironically could spew such garbage. I sincerely hope those women stumble upon blogs such as yours and educate themselves.

  • “Feminism isn’t about being ‘equal’ to men as feminists do not believe men to be the end all be all in terms of our goals for liberation. We do not wish to be equal oppressors.”

    Careful, Megan. People may start thinking you are a radical feminist 😉

    I hereby reclaim the word “giraffe”. I’m a giraffist, and I advocate a world in which everyone has a neck long enough to reach the nice leaves, and nobody has a neck hundreds of times longer than anyone else.

  • yep. “new word for feminism”. fuck that. We have not even BEGUN to change the world, it’s still a freakin’ mess for ALL women, and we’ve been scrapping against the backlash since the first transition house opened its doors and we will continue until we win. and we WILL win. But in spite of Jezebel and feministing and the ‘equalists’. God bless ’em.
    my feminism includes giraffes. even though i myself have no neck, and work to keep it that way….

  • oh. and thanks Megan, for yet another brilliant and amusing post.

  • great post, meghan, thanks. i just did a show on rape culture and was accused of all kinds of things, including male oppression and an ‘institutionalised mentaly” (sic for both, obv), whatever that means. i pointed people to you in the hopes that logic and reason will penetrate the haze of internalized bollocks that passes for culture round here.

  • Alex

    I’m a guy, let met just say that up front, and I’m somewhat confused by all this. Are you saying that feminism is not calling for equality, but for women to supplant men as the ones in power?

    • Meghan Murphy


  • Decius

    Why is it important that men not be comfortable with identifying as ‘feminist’?

    Why is “Framing a desire to end oppression as a desire for equality” misleading?
    Are you saying that because my desire to end oppression comes from a deep-seated demand for equality, I am opposed to people who want to end oppression for other reasons? (personal? selfish? emotional? other?)

    Is it possible for a person who is privileged because of a general societal expectation to unilaterally refuse that privilege? Is it even theoretically possible for all people who benefit from that general expectation to collectively refuse that privilege? (In concrete terms, is it possible for a man to compete equally with women in the fields of engineering, considering the current and recent bias against women in engineering? Is it theoretically possible for all of the men who want to compete in the field of engineering to compete equally with all women, considering that same culture?)

    Would you even accept a world where everyone competes as equals, or are you demanding a culture where everyone cooperates as equals?

    • Meghan Murphy

      It’s not so much that men should be uncomfortable identifying as feminist as that we shouldn’t be striving, within feminism, to make men feel comfortable and that if feminism is making you feel uncomfortable, as a man, then it is doing it’s job.

      • Decius

        I can’t tell if you are using strict logic or linguistic license: Are you saving that “making me eel uncomfortable, as a man” is a sufficient condition for feminism to be “doing it’s job”, or are you saying that if feminism is being done right, it will have the secondary effect of making men uncomfortable?

        • Meghan Murphy

          And I can’t tell if you are being intentionally obtuse. Clearly feminism’s entire purpose is not to make men uncomfortable. As No Sugarcoating already explained, feminism challenges male power, which makes men with power uncomfortable. If we are focusing on making men feel uncomfortable than we aren’t challenging male power or privilege as we should be, within feminism.

    • You’re misunderstanding her point. What she’s trying to say is, feminism is supposed to challenge the dominant patriarchal paradigm. If lots of men seem eager to hop on board one so-called feminist movement, it’s probably because it doesn’t really challenge them. It doesn’t ask or encourage them to change their actions or attitudes. You get the cookies of saying you’re for women’s rights without actually having to sacrifice any of your entitlements. Criticizing porn and prostitution, for example, is going to make men uncomfortable. That’s because it’s an integral part of upholding patriarchy, which benefits men. Those things benefit men at the expense of women. Criticizing those things is naturally going to make a lot of men uncomfortable. This is all common sense, really. Feminism is supposed to challenge male entitlement. It’s only natural that a lot of men are going to be angry about it. So, if there are a large amount of men who are “comfortable” with your positions, it’s not a good sign.

      “Is it possible for a person who is privileged because of a general societal expectation to unilaterally refuse that privilege?”

      I don’t think you can just refuse it. There’s no magic wand. In this example, male privilege, you can’t just stop being male. While you can say you don’t want any benefits of being a man, they will still be there for you. There are men that comment here that are more than welcome. A person isn’t bad because they have privilege. That’s not something they can control. There are ways you can change your actions and your attitudes, however. So, you can’t get rid of all of it, but you can seek to be a better person. From the conversations we’ve had, however, it doesn’t sound like you actually want to give up any privilege.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Thank you, No Sugarcoating!

      • Decius

        You’re right. I don’t want to ‘give up’ privilege, I want privilege to not exist. If, as you say, I’m not in charge of my privilege, I don’t even see how it matters if I want it or not. Do you want to give up your privilege?

        I’m going to avoid the discussion of pornography/prostitution, because we have already established that we can’t agree on what it is, much less what effects it has.

        I am responsible for (the cause of) how I think. I believe that I am right, because if what I believe is right changes, I change the way I think. I choose to believe that gender, racial, economic, caste, and other privilege are all equally wrong, and I try to make my position known each time such privilege becomes apparent near me.

        I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with ‘privilege’ which exists solely because the ‘privileged’ individuals took actions equally available to the ‘oppressed’ people. I don’t think that abstraction is exemplified at this time, but only because societal pressure breaks the important qualifiers ‘solely’ and ‘equally’.

        • For privilege to not exist, it would require that you sacrifice your privileges. You seem to be missing that.

          • Decius

            If I have privilege to sacrifice, it means that privilege exists. As discussed above, I can’t effect my own privilege or lack thereof.

            To choose not to exercise an aspect of privilege, I need to have the privilege of making that choice. I want to have neither privilege nor control over what privilege I have nor oppression.

          • Okay Decius, whatever helps you sleep at night.

          • Decius

            Likewise. I do try not to let the actions of a majority of vocal feminists color all of them.

          • Meghan Murphy

            I hate to break it to you, Decius, but this is feminism. Right here. These argument should indeed ‘colour’ your perspective of feminism and feminists. We will, though, do our best to not let your views ‘colour’ our perception of all men.

          • Decius

            If feminism requires offering to engage with people, thenusing personal attacks, strawman discussions, cherrypicking, and fora control in order to not clarify your position, then I’m done with it.

            If that is the case, I suppose I need to find somewhere else to find a way to rip open the dark recesses of my common culture and show me how my actions are contrary to my philosophy; if it isn’t the case, then why did you just say that it was?

            Really, I would like to have some place where I can discuss the fact that I want privilege to cease to exist, and yet also want to retain advantage, of which some of mine was obtained with the assistance of racial and gender privilege.

          • Helen


            Pretense to sympathy with political position that ultimately amounts to baiting: check.
            Display of poor argumentative logic and syntax: check.
            Possibly deliberately nonsensical or if not extremely thick: uh, I’d say so.
            Single sentences require multiple readings to grasp vague point that may be intentionally obscure: check.
            Self-righteous indignantion, whining, blaming the other: check.
            Uses the word “strawman” when embattled: indeed.
            Complete misunderstanding of issue and clear explanations given in good faith: oh yes.
            Refusal to examine own assumptions: yup.
            Self-interested manipulation of poorly understood rhetoric (“Can’t I be privileged without privilege?”): guess so.
            Unilaterally “done with feminism” because disagreed with two bloggers: uh-huh.
            Takes ball goes home when down by goose egg: hell yeah.

            Hello troll! Goodbye!

  • This girl tears a hilarious strip off Beyonce….
    Beyonce- Run the World (LIES)

  • just me

    Great article. However, I must point out 3/4 of the women named are women of color who are perhaps not accepting the feminist word. We have a LONG history of women of color not feeling accepted by the feminist movement or feeling that it was/is not speaking to them. I think not addressing that & only calling it backlash, while interesting, is a bit naive. That is the largest problem I have with the mainstream feminist movement- it does not address the needs of men & boys much (perhaps understandably) & tends to speak about white women’s issues as women’s issues & often describes the intersection of race, class, & gender as *this other thing* on the side. That is the legacy of that word, even when it seems to be changing kind of, sometimes, with some feminists these days. So, yeah, it might be also shaped by not wanting to seem like a feminazi, but it might have some deeper things they may or may not be able to/want to articulate.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks for your comment. I’m not quite sure what you mean by 3/4 of the women named are women of colour? There is just Beyonce, no? I might be missing something…If so, please let me know. I think that the issue around women of colour not feeling accepted by the feminist movement is a completely valid one and the reason for womanism, I believe, which is, actually, a real thing, unlike ‘equalism’ or ‘bootyliscious’. I don’t see ‘womanism’ as an attempt to either re-name feminism or as a way to obscure gender but rather a term specific to the experience of women of colour. I certainly didn’t mean to invalidate that in this article and, rather, was trying to address those who want to rebrand feminism in order to make it more saleable, particularly to men and particularly because feminism is unpopular with popular culture. I think that it is an entirely different issue and certainly don’t think womanism evolved out of a desire to make feminism more palatable but rather in order to have a term that described the experience of women of colour. I seriously doubt Beyonce ever had this in mind when she suggested ‘Bootyliscious’.

  • just me

    Ah. Sorry, it was Emily at Jezebel that you quoted: “I’m fascinated by the new feminism of Rihanna, Beyonce, Kesha, Britney, and Nicki. They run the world.” (obviously full context & tone not in this quote)

    And to be clear- I know that you have a lot of consciousness around this- I have really enjoyed reading your pieces.

    Clearly, “bootyliscious” is not the most thoughtful term to be suggested. It did seem to me though that you were trying to widen the conversation from what a pop star said to a larger idea. What I would suggest is that those who want to take on the labels of “equalists” & “humanists” may be struggling with backlash & feeling threatened themselves, but use of either of those terms specifically can be seen as trying to widen scope. I would guess that many who try identifying with those labels have never heard of womanism, nor do they fully understand intersecting systems of oppression, but often they have just a little glint that makes it difficult for them to feel like they are choosing one issue (women) over others.

    • Meghan Murphy

      True. I think the difference, though, is that those who want a ‘humanism’ or an ‘equalism’ want not to recognize the specific oppression of women, whereas womanism wants to recognize the specific oppression of women of colour (I think feminism wants that also, but understand that it hasn’t always reflected this)…Choosing one issue over another, I get, but I also see a certain level of privilege that says ‘I don’t see gender, I see people’ – same thing goes for white people who say ‘I don’t see colour, I see people’ -it’s very much about privilege and I find that those who want to say ‘for ME it’s not about feminism, it’s about humanism’ are generally saying ‘I don’t want to offend anyone’ and, to be real, I think you’re always going to offend anyone if you are challenging the status quo.
      Really appreciate your thoughtful comments!

  • just me

    Yes, I think we generally agree on that. Really appreciate your writing too. 🙂

  • I am growing so tired of this appropriation of the feminist movement.

  • cath

    Don’t see anyone getting all huffy about the term ‘mankind’. People can just deal with feminism thankyou very much, we made the term we’ll keep it.

  • Link

    I’m sorry, but in all honesty, this aggressive stance is doing Feminists no favours.

    You say “I don’t care if feminism makes you feel uncomfortable. It should.”… So you’re happy disenfranchising 50% of the population because your stubbornness dictates that the term ‘Feminism’ SHOULD be disenfranchising?

    If Feminists truly do want to equal rights for all (and believe me, I’m all for equality), then you should be fighting the battle with as many allies as you can. By segregating yourself, you’re simply giving into what you’re fighting so hard against. Carl Sagan – “An organism at war with itself is doomed.”

    Furthermore, your problems with the terms ‘Equalist’ and ‘Humanist’ are unfounded. You say it gives women no direction? Of course it does! It doesn’t have to state specifically that women should be equal to men, because it also includes men wanting to become equal with women.

    The problem I see is this – women are striving so hard to have their own voice heard that they’re inadvertently brushing aside the voice of the male gender, which, through its ignorance, is leading to exactly what they’re fighting against — a hierarchy influenced mainly by a specific gender.

    P.S. I’d go a step further. Stop being so nearsighted and tale into consideration the world around you. Stop labeling yourselves with segregating terms and become ‘Unilists’ (Uni – one), or something of the ilk. Don’t just involve humans, involve our symbiotic relationship with nature and everything around us. Our social concerns are worth pennies compared with the bigger picture. Take it all on, not just one small aspect of the problem.

    P.P.S. I don’t mean to offend anyone with the opinions I have posted here, I’ve tried to come from the most neutral point of view I could (even though I get quite passionate about the subject!)

    • NitroGirl

      “The problem I see is this – women are striving so hard to have their own voice heard that they’re inadvertently brushing aside the voice of the male gender, which, through its ignorance, is leading to exactly what they’re fighting against — a hierarchy influenced mainly by a specific gender. “

      It is not through ignorance, it is survival mechanism brushing aside the voice over the dominant majority. This is where “Equalism” (or Humanism) practitioners fall short—not understanding the difference between the Oppressed and the Oppressor. It is absolutely necessary to moderate the amount of voices . The female hierarchy would not be oppressive,it would be self-preserving, because they are not the Oppressor Class.

      “If Feminists truly do want to equal rights for all (and believe me, I’m all for equality), then you should be fighting the battle with as many allies as you can. By segregating yourself, you’re simply giving into what you’re fighting so hard against. Carl Sagan – “An organism at war with itself is doomed.” “

      You seem to be all for equality under specific conditions—that being align with males or else the movement is in vain.

      “Stop labeling yourselves with segregating terms and become ‘Unilists’ (Uni – one), or something of the ilk. “

      Women and other minorities wouldn’t have had to label themselves if they had no one fighting against them having rights. Women wouldn’t have to call themselves Feminists in a society where it was equal footing between genders in the first place.

      Just a general comment, the word “equalism” , the word itself puts a veil over the oppressor class, it doesn’t actively name “what”, “who”. It is quiet, it is passive, it doesn’t appeal to me at all. I realize more and more people are calling themselves Equalist and trying to pretend to be above everyone (every minority too) and their silly “politics” . It’s a safe word to use,and you can’t possibly be some kind of “ist” (or anything) else, because an Equalist focuses on all issues. This couldn’t be further from the truth from my experience. Equalists (or Humanists) I have encountered think reverse-racism and sexism are real, create discord in safe spaces for minorities,and have no basic concept of power dynamics between the oppressed and the oppressor class. They operate under an idealistic,unrealistic frame that just boils down to “Can’t We All Just Get Along”,without asking why that is,and who’s really hurting who. Often this label is adopted by people who don’t want to look at the privileges they have so it’s better to be intellectually lazy than to self-reflect or even acknowledge the leverage they have over the disenfranchised.

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