Should we scrap the word 'feminist'?
I’d like to do the following experiment. A group of people – made up of men and women – stand in a room.
Everyone who calls themself a feminist is asked to stand on the right, the others stand on the left. Next, everyone on the left would be asked to move over to the right if they think that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men – that women should be allowed to vote, to have an education and to work if they want to.
Now if you’re doing a scientific experiment like this (and trust me, this is very scientific) you’re not supposed to predict the outcome, you don't want to go about biasing the participants. But, hey, it’s probably never going to happen, so I’m happy to predict that the majority of people who don’t call themselves feminists do think that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men.
The 'F' word
But hang on a second, that can’t be right. If you want equal opportunities you’re a feminist…right? Well, erm, actually, that’s right and wrong. Technically, yes, feminism is simply the fight for equality, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who wants equal opportunities calls themselves a feminist. In fact, there’s a big difference in numbers between the amount of people who say they’re a feminist and the amount of people who think like a feminist.
That’s because the word ‘feminism’ has got a bit of a bad rep. Many people think that being a feminist means banishing make-up and short skirts, plus living up to that old cliché of not shaving under your arms. They think that if you’re a feminist you hate men, you’re a career-first family-never woman who wouldn’t be seen dead in a pair of false lashes. But that just isn't true.
Who is a feminist?
Earlier this year, as part of their equal pay campaign, Cosmopolitan attempted to make the word feminism a bit more accessible. They got a bunch of celebrities like Emma Bunton and Fearne Cotton to say why they call themselves feminists.
It was good campaign, not least because celebrities are so damn scared to put their name to that bold word ‘feminism’.
Like Katy Perry who recently said “I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women”, whatever that means; Kate Winslet who, when asked if she’s a feminist, managed to reply “I think I probably am, aren’t I?” only to have her assistant quickly interject with: “In a loose, unofficial kind of way”; then there’s Gaga who declared “I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men.”
Luckily it looks like someone has explained feminism to her and she has since claimed that she is, in fact, a new-age feminist; and last, but not least, there’s Carla Bruni, who said: “I’m not a feminist, I’m a bourgeois, I love family life,” again proving that people don’t understand that feminism is all about having a choice – be that choosing to stay at home to look after your family, to go to work or to do both.
A population of feminists?
But it’s not just celebs who don't like to call themselves feminists. Parenting website Netmums found that only 1 in 7 of the 1,300 people surveyed called themselves feminists. Most said they don’t want to be equal to men and that women are different to men and the differences should be celebrated. Of course being equal and being the same are a very, very different thing, I’ll leave that debate for another day though.
But what I found even more shocking than the Netmums survey was the recent statistics from Stylist – a magazine filled to the brim with brilliant pro-equality and dare I say it feminist features. They found that a third of their readers don’t describe themselves as feminist.
A change of name?
So should feminism be given another name? If it was called something else would the negative connotations be left behind, would it be more accessible and less scary to people? Would it be more inclusive for men? Would it stop people saying "I'm not a feminist but..."?
If so, what they heck do we change it to? That’s a question that journalist Viv Groskop asked the other day. “Feminism does not equal 'women taking over the world’ + ‘killer heels’ + work emails with masses of kisses. Feminism = gender-blindness” she tweeted. Viv’s bang on.
She asked what the alternatives could be and got a range of responses. There was gender irrelevance (from yours truly), genderism and even chromosomal indifference (suggested by a scientist, of course).
But the name most often suggested as an alternative to feminism is, drum roll please….equalism! It definitely gets the true meaning of feminism across, and surely anything that helps people to understand what feminism is and puts more people behind the fight is good, right?
It’s a tricky question, and one that I haven’t found the answer to yet, because to me the idea of ‘rebranding’ feminism just seems a bit cheap, patronising and demeaning to the cause. It feels a bit like a step back, or worse, giving up.
Maybe I’ll do a second experiment, with another room and another bunch of people. Everyone who wants to keep the name feminism can stand on the right, those who want to change to equalism can stand on the left. Any volunteers?
Article Plan Should we scrap the word 'feminist'?