Does "Feminism" Mean Anything, Anymore?

A friend on mine posted this on FB:

liberalism is a wild ride.

pornhub advertises for breast cancer awareness, monsanto is a “LGBT-friendly” place to work, “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirts are being made by impoverished bangladeshi women for cents a day.

what is it going to take for people to wake the fuck up and realize that this is not what “progress” looks like?

It was this, in conjunction with the two “creepy fauxminist” threads (1,2) that got me thinking. Much of the discussion in those two threads seemed to converge on whether men should even self-identify as feminists, at least publicly. I followed some of the discussion and even made the argument that if you identify a certain way internally, then you should identify that way externally, but that was a broader idea.

I’m personally not a feminist. I used to identify as one, and nowadays, I mostly see it as a very white, relatively wealthy, affectation that, in order to present properly, requires more intellectual capital and labor than a lot of people are able to provide. In my eyes, within “feminist” communities there is a recapitulation of the same old shitty dynamics that I see everywhere else in the world, with many of the same consequences. To be clear, since complaining about feminism on the Internet has certain tendencies, I’m not complaining that feminism has flipped the tables to disadvantage men, but that I’m not sure it serves its own purported agenda–especially with regards to poorer, browner, non-English speaking women.

T-shirt feminism is sort of the symbolic height of what I’m talking about here: Buying a t-shirt to express your feminism that was sewn by a 12 year old girl. Of course to some extent, especially if you don’t have money, all your clothes are sewn by poorer people, and that’s not always a trap you can avoid without risking exposure to the elements. Here, it’s the lack of self-awareness that matters.

This is where you can argue “no-true-feminist” I suppose, but I really think the term has undergone significant dilution over the years. I don’t know “what a feminist looks like.” I don’t trust people who call themselves feminists of any gender-- not because they call themselves feminists, but because to some extent, everyone calls themselves a feminist now. I also don’t care to police terms. That’s a waste of everyone’s time, and leads to several dynamics I despise. Term policing just turns into one-upsmanship, and has this convenient way of shutting people up who are constantly already told to shut up–in gentler “progressive” form. But I don’t see a meaningful way to separate the large number of people who self-identify as feminist, from predominant and ubiquitous behaviors that I want nothing to do with, and which I suspect, neither do a lot of “feminists.”

Anyway, I’ve prattled on about this long enough, the point was to open the floor to the question of whether “feminism” is a useful term, and are we (yes this is an obnoxious term, but I think we can agree I’m not using it in the usual sense) post-feminist?

(And if anyone restarts that crappy discussion about calling Conway “ugly” I will come to your house and cut you. I will. I mean it.)


Feminism to me means that those who are not male are people, too.


I think you’re describing a particular subversion of feminism rather than feminism itself. Like what happens when people try to repackage feminism as a non-threatening assurance of relative privilege for certain women, palatable to the status quo since it doesn’t materially threaten it, and structured such that it will sell a load of self-help books and assorted paraphernalia.

To me, that doesn’t discredit feminism as a core concept any more than Kanye West’s existence discredits the Black Lives Matter movement.


What is feminism as a core concept? And who are you to define it?

I think that this partly a discussion of semantics. If most people use a word a certain way, then does it mean what a minority of “true believers” think it means? If so, why? Lexical shift happens with every other word in a language, why do we take for granted that it can’t happen to words we like using a certain way?

But how does a lexical shift work when we’re talking about a political movement with waves?

First wave feminism looks nothing like fourth wave feminism. But they’re still both feminist movements.

You seem to want a dictionary meaning of a word, and I don’t think you’ll find you you’ll be satisfied with.

Feminism to me, and I do identify as a feminist, is about equality of the sexes. Thats it. Thats all.
You seem to be describing a certain type of protester that you find distasteful, but they aren’t “feminism”, they’re just people you don’t like.

And with that, I’m out. Sorry, not interested in debating the cons of a the only movement that puts the needs of women forward. Are there cons? Not so sure. But if there are, the pros vastly outweigh them. Ta.

also what is up with all the threads started by dudes complaining about feminism? seriously, no lady is going to want to talk about this when start with “this is why this thing is bad, debate me!”


With feminism, though, there are active efforts by people acting in bad faith to speed and direct that drift, by associating the word with the most hostile and outrageous fringe elements, and dismissing the mainstream-acceptable aspects.

It’s not some grand coordinated campaign by alt-right assholes and MRA whinybabies, of course, but it’s a real thing.


To me, feminism at its core means that the world would be a better place for everyone if men and women equally shared power. And the study of it is an attempt to shift power.

I think one of the concerns that has come up is that women in America, at least, do have voting rights. The women’s march was pretty incredible. I think we DO have power but do not assert it, and that is for a variety of ingrained reasons which feminists have tried to illuminate - why women buy into the fiction that men are better leaders, or that men have a right to control their bodies.


If that’s how you see the thread, then I think that’s unfortunate, but I didn’t set it up as a debate.

You have to see that we’ve had a few threads recently by dudes about why don’t like “feminism” - do you not see why that may be perceived as a not good thing by the female posters here? How that can be maybe not so welcoming? The ladies seem to stay away and not engage in these types of threads for long… does no one wonder why that is?


Does the Constitution mean anything anymore? Doesn’t Education mean anything? Marriage? Religion? The value of a dollar? Doesn’t the “Family” mean anything anymore?

Is this really about feminism? Or is the problem our culture of facebook “likes” and instagram personas?

Did the person who posted this follow up with any meaningful action or plan? Because if they didn’t, they might as well be wearing a bangladeshi-made t-shirt.


Yeah but for a man to broadly dismiss feminism, and without at least directly asking for input from women first – not the smoothest move, dude.


Not for nothing that is a quote from a tumblr post from 2015…

edit to add: a tumblr post written by an teen woman of colour of no less.


So much this. We’ve explained our views so many times that it’s exhausting to have to do it again. That is why feminism is important.

To the collective you: Just because you haven’t experienced something doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. Just because you disagree with someone, doesn’t make them wrong. And if you are going to ask for opinions, you sure as hell need to ready to accept the answers – especially those from people with more knowledge and first-hand experience than you.


We’re right back to a failure to listen, aren’t we?


I don’t need to define it. The dictionary already has that covered.

the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.


I didn’t broadly claim that “feminism” is bad or even that it lacks specific merits. I’m raising the issue of whether or not the word that describes a collection of concepts has been successfully coopted. That popular culture seems to have embraced “feminism” with a suspicious zeal. I’m asking if it’s time to call it something else, or if more need a to be done to stake a claim on the word (which I think is sort of futile.) I’ve said that my maximal exposure to the word seems to present certain systemic features that hardly align with any notion of justice. If that’s how most people encounter the word and up associating it with these systemic features… then that’s a problem for feminism by whatever word you use to call it.

How is this an attack on any part of what most people here call “feminism?” Unless “feminism” really is supposed to be white and privileged. In which case, yeah… I want nothing to do with it.

Feminism is working for equality between men and women, and especially to ensure women are understood to be people.

Fuck the t-shirts and everything else. THAT is the core concept.

That’s why “everyone” calls themselves feminist these days. The bar for entry really is that low.

It seems to me a lot of the noise is generated because the core concept is so basic, yet still hasn’t been achieved. That’s why we have people saying shit like, “I’m not a feminist. I just believe in equality between the sexes.” 'Cos feminism must be about a lot of other stuff, or else we would have done it already, right?

No, we haven’t, and that’s why there’s still feminism.

So, if you’re not a feminist because you don’t think women are people and that they don’t deserve to be treated as people, then yeah, you’re gong to get people pushing back at you.

This is most decidedly not an abstract, academic discussion for a lot of us. This isn’t some fun discussion about language and culture. This is stuff that affects us directly every day.


Have you seen this?


Okay, I won’t rehash the arguments I made in the SNL thread. I don’t use the label for myself unless I know exactly what it means to the listener, because I don’t have my own personal definition. I’m a little wary of guys I don’t know who call themselves feminists because they could be doing it to hide or excuse in-egalitarian behavior. But I don’t accept that the word has been co-opted just because it’s been used by cynical capitalists to turn a quick profit. Capitalism co-opts everything it can sell to someone. It doesn’t de-legitimize the people for whom it has real meaning. So even though I don’t call myself a feminist, and I’m wary of rando guys and male gurus who do, I’d be swinging my own male privilege around if I were to dismiss the word’s usage in general.

One other thing: just because bigots of various descriptions and/or people who don’t know where their cheap threads come from call themselves feminists, doesn’t make feminism either as a catch-all term or as a range of political movements racist, classist, ableist, homophobic, ect…