The F-word?

By Laura Fuentes Gómez, LUX1 S7ESA

Asking someone if they’d consider themselves a feminist is often met with hesitation, a deep breath, followed by an answer along the lines of “well, I believe in equality…”, or “I want gender equality, sure, but I wouldn´t call myself a feminist”. It’s very rare for the answer to just be “yes, I’m a feminist”. Why is it that we’ve become so afraid of this word? Why is it that people who identify with the values of feminism don’t want to call themselves “feminists”? Has it become a taboo word?

Feminism, at its core, stands for political, economic and social equality of genders. But it has recently become a word with negative connotations; even if historically, it has been a tool of liberation and emancipation. This process of gradual worsening and depreciation of a word’s meaning is called pejoration, when a word with a positive sense is deteriorated into a negative sense.  

How have we managed to turn the beautiful and powerful idea of feminism into: “if you’re a feminist, you hate men”, “you think women should always be in charge”, “you’re a feminazi”, “you can’t wear make-up or heels”, “you hate pink”, “you don’t shave”, “you don’t have a sense of humour”, “you’re always angry”, “you can’t find a husband and will probably die alone as an unhappy spinster”. These ridiculous notions are used very humorously by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the writer of We should all be feminists, who, after facing all the negative connotations of the word “feminist”, decided to call herself a “Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men”.

While we’re on the subject of labels, if feminism is about being equal, if it’s meant to benefit everyone, why isn´t it called egalitarianism? There are many reasons. First and foremost, egalitarianism has a lot of historical baggage. It popularized masculinity and brotherhood: equality, but only for men. Egalitarianism first appeared after the French Revolution with the slogan “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (“Liberty, equality, brotherhood”). In August 1789 the French Constitution made the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, but again, the key word here was “man”. Only men were to enjoy equality. The “United States Declaration of Independence” in July 1776 had the same problem, an affirmation of equality for men (“All men are created equal”), but not for women, who were denied their human rights. This has made egalitarianism an ideology enjoyed exclusively by men. A concept that denied women personhood cannot be used to define the feminist movement, which seeks to give back to women everything they were denied for centuries.

Not only does the word “egalitarianism” hold these historical connotations, preventing it from replacing feminism, but even the modern definition has its problems. Assuming we could remove its historical value, it’ s still not fit to replace the word feminism, since it’ s much too broad. As Adichie explains, using the term “human rights” is too vague of an expression; it would be “dishonest”. “Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general — but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women”. The problem is not about being human, but specifically about being a woman. “For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It’ s only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.”

Substituting “feminism” with “equality” or “human rights” would be overlooking the centuries of struggle and diminishing all the work done to get to where we are now. The same goes for the question Adiche poses and then explains: “Why does it have to be you as a woman? Why not you as a human being?”. Because that would be ultimately undermining the specific things a person has faced for being a woman. People who demand to be called egalitarians and other terms rather than feminists are ignoring the reality that women aren’t actually equal, not in the past and still not today. Yes, we still need feminism, contrary to some opinions I have heard with horror. We do not live in a post-feminist society! What about economic and social equality, what about representation and real power?

Finally, all that I just stated does not mean that feminism does not fight for other issues: associating it only with equality for women defeats its purpose. It also addresses issues of sexual orientation, disabilities, racial discrimination, social class, etc. It works to liberate men from the toxic stereotype of masculinity. Equality promoted through feminism benefits both genders! Feminism has never sought to alienate men, and never should. Men should not feel like feminism is only for women, they must participate too!

All in all, the “F-word” is not just a word. Feminism still stands for the equality of the genders, liberation and emancipation. It still sends a positive message. It’ s not about man-hate, or women being better than men. It can’ t be replaced by any vague term just because some people feel uncomfortable using a word they clearly do not understand. Trying to change this word for another or saying mockingly that we are equal now and don’t need feminism anymore is just another way to take women´s power away, silencing specific experiences, and slowing down what’s imminent. And as hard as some may try, it’s impossible to erase our entire history of discrimination, oppression and struggle all around the world and all throughout history. So, I invite you all, men and women, girls and boys, to say: “Yes, I’m a feminist”. Our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers deserve it!

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