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.