If you were to walk by my dorm room, you would see a heart shaped sign hanging from it that reads, “Screw Patriarchy.” Originally, my roommate and I did this as a joke, but then found it as a way to provoke conversation among people who live in our hall.
The other night, while I was sitting outside of my room studying, a friend who lives down the hall came to sit with me. While talking, he asked me about our sign and I began to explain what feminism is. While explaining how feminism is a movement that benefits people of all genders, races, sexual orientations, and so on, my friend asked me why it was called feminism. “Well, if it’s meant to benefit everyone, why is it called feminism? Shouldn’t it be called humanism?” Time and time again, as a feminist, I have been asked why feminism is called feminism. Often, the name is questioned by, you guessed it, men.
Humanism is something entirely different than standing for all human rights. The term humanism was first used during the Renaissance when new ideas were being born and Europe was undergoing a major revolution of thought. Humanism, itself, actually emphasizes the importance and value in human reason, attributing human achievement and successes to humans rather than a supernatural entity. Humanism essentially focuses on how wonderful the human mind is and how humans need not rely on an invisible entity to conduct their lives. Humanism celebrates the innovative and progressive ideals that were being introduced and celebrated during the Renaissance.
So why “feminism”? Why not “equalism,” “egalitarianism” or another name with a similar connotation? Feminism is a movement centered on advocating gender equality. Not only does feminism seek to elevate the status of women in society, it seeks to bring justice to people who have been discriminated against in terms of their race, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation, and much more. Seeing that females have suffered from oppression in our patriarchal society, I think it’s okay that one movement is more associated with the oppressed gender, especially considering how it’s one of the only things we have to ourselves. Had males historically suffered the same amount of discrimination at the hands and will of women or from a matriarchy, perhaps the name meninism would be acceptable. However, males, especially white, straight males, have not suffered at the hands of sexism to the degree females have.
Feminism seeks to balance the scales, so to use fem in the ism, is to give females the boost we have been deserving of all this time, but have been consistently denied. Feminism doesn’t just seek to discover equality between all genders, it seeks to give back women everything they were denied; this is why it’s called feminism.
Many people have trouble accepting the name “feminism” because they are afraid that if they support a movement primarily lead by women, they will be targeted as enemies of the patriarchy, or the social norm. But, contrary to popular belief, feminism does actually benefit men as well, as it does all genders. Feminism is centered on equality, not to create a matriarchy. The purpose of the movement should be more important than the grammatical side to the name. Feminism originally was primarily focused around advancing the status of women in society, giving it its name centered on females.
The name “feminism” is originally derived from the suffrage movement of the early 1900’s. At that time in history, women were primarily advocating for the right to vote. Hence, the movement was almost only focused around women, because let’s face it, why would men fight for a right they already had? However, as time went on, feminism became about more than just upper class white women who wanted their voices heard. It became a movement for women of color, disabled women, women of various sexual orientations, and became an opponent to the oppressive measure of the patriarchy.
Feminism has evolved to become an all-inclusive movement for everyone, no matter who they are, as it advocates for total equality and justice for the oppression various groups have faced throughout the years. Feminism has evolved to become intersectional. Gender based issues, class issues, and racial issues are not mutually exclusive; they tie closely in to one another. Intersectional feminism recognizes that one size does not fit all in terms of oppression. There are people who suffer from various degrees of oppression that can come from racial issues, disabilities, and sexual orientation discrimination, among other things. As an able-bodied white feminist, I seek to understand the issues that affect my sisters, no matter who they are, because at the end of the day they are women. They are people. I stand in solidarity with them and fight not only for my rights but for their rights as well because I will not be appeased until all women are equal despite our differences.
Many people argue that feminism should change its name to something more inclusive, but why? Why do we need change the name of a movement, which benefits everyone, that happens to have a feminine connotation, just to appease people who cannot stand that a movement is not just focused around them? To take away the name, is to take away yet another right, to take away even more of our representation. People who demand to be called equalists, rather than feminists, are ignoring the fact that we aren’t actually equal. An equalist doesn’t fight for equality that isn’t there yet, they fight to keep the status quo of equality they simply believe is already there.
By saying you want to change the word feminism to something else so you don’t offend people essentially says you a) have no idea what feminism is b) care more about the name (semantics) than the actual movement and c) degrade the actions of countless women who fought for the rights of women. You insult a legacy, a name, a movement that evolved from just having women have the same rights as men, to becoming something that is intersectional and fights for the equality of everyone, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality.
Females have been forgotten in this world in terms of pay; safety; respect; and freedom, so to ask why it needs to be called “feminism” is to ask why we feel we need to be as respected; safe; paid equally; and as free, as men are.
Image from the Boston Feminists for Liberation organized march to End Rape Culture and Gender Inequality via Chase Carter.