Does "Feminism" Mean Anything, Anymore?


I get what you’re saying, I think. Feminism (meaning that women should be equals with men) should be the default state, plus many claiming to be feminists only apply that mindset to well-off white women? If so, then there’s a problem with people never seeing things from outside their own point of view, so they want equality for themselves but don’t really care about equality for other people. That’s more a problem with them than with any ideology, although it’s something that anyone who really claims to be a feminist will have to seriously think about. The future iterations of feminism will have to address this.


When you say “I’m not a feminist because feminism means being white/privileged/judgemental and not what the dictionary says it means” then yeah, it kind of comes across as an attack.


That was my first thought, too, when seeing this thread. The term “feminism” is like the term “liberal” or “politically correct”…how it’s used tells you an awful lot about the speaker’s politics and philosophy of life. And, even more tellingly, is MORE LIKELY to be used by someone who ascribes, as you say, “hostile and outrageous” motives to the term.


That time when Emma Watson and Kim Kardashian forgot their burlap sack…

ETA: If I were going to own a personal definition of feminism, it wouldn’t just be my belief that women deserve equal rights and opportunities, it would be that every woman deserves the right to self-determination, because without agency, equality is worth squat.


So that quote, independent of the rest of the blog post, which doesn’t link to an original post anymore, has been floating around the internet for 2 years now, probably reposted hundreds of times. I doubt the author intended it to be used as an argument against feminism.


I should say that I think I failed on form. I think that by stating, “I don’t call myself a feminist…” I inadvertently created the tone of antifeminist missives we all know and love:

I’m not a feminist because I’m more of an equalist and here’s why you’re wrong.

I don’t identify as a feminist because I don’t think it gives people useful information, in part because of the issues I’m raising. I’m not saying that I don’t identify as a feminist because “feminists are wrong.”

I actually thought this would spark a lively discussion on the politics of cooptation, capitalism, and intersectionality (and lack thereof in certain circles.)

To that end, I’m asking what feminism really means to the majority of people and how that helps or hurts it. I really didn’t see controversy coming even a meter away. I mentioned this in part because of some contributing triggers which I cited to seed discussion, including a very complete discussion of whether men identifying as feminists is an issue… hence “I don’t identify as a feminist because…”

And this is where I think I lost people.


Yup: I hate Obamacare, but don’t take away my ACA coverage.

I think @ActionAbe is asking a ‘small’ group of people he feels is more likely to take this discussion seriously than trying to ask in a more public arena, and I think this is the point he’s trying to make: that the term “feminism” has been so co-opted now to say negative things that the average Joe on the streets not only doesn’t know what is really meant by this term, but actually thinks it means something very different (and bad). So, is it time to come up with a different term, or reclaim it?

There are so many words now that mean the opposite of what the dictionary states that while I don’t know what the answer is, I do think the answer has to encompass the entire problem, not just concentrate on salvaging each term one by one.


I think the thing that is being discussed here is the phenomena of “White Feminism” - which has been written about a lot in the last few years. And this isn’t about the meaning of the word “feminism” - its about racism. And how white women benefit from the structures of race and class. Its a much larger and wider topic than “what does this word mean” - and trust me when I say this; this is a conversation that is happening a lot in feminist circles.

If people are unaware that this is a conversation that is happening it doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t happening.


I do think I neglected to consider the “anything you say on the Internet is with a bullhorn” element, yes.

And why can’t we have it here, too, though? But also, “feminism” has become a stand-up for “social justice” in a way that has far reaching implications. I do think “feminism,” writ large is seen as spearheading things like antiracism, and that’s an issue if it’s white. Also, I wanted to ask if anyone else has noticed the phenomenon where feminism is indeed a sort of spearhead for social justice.




We can have them here, but again, this is a thread that started off badly. Like the other “the problem with feminists” or even the dating advice where “all women under 50 are dumb and boring” - there is a lot of generalizations going on about women, about “feminists”, and yet all the women have to trip over ourselves to frame things with #notallmen lest we set someone off.

Its just so frustrating that #yesallmen feel free to make sweeping generalizations about women, feminists, or feminism but I have to tiptoe through a minefield of man-feelings and drop caveat after caveat so I don’t offend the men here.

Add to that so many of these conversations turn into Feminism 101 lectures, and most of the ladies here are specifically disinclined to yet again spend time and energy attempting to educate someone on the facts of our lived experiences, but for whom this is just an academic exercise and who often in the end is “just playing devils advocate”.

I think you underestimate just how exhausting this all is.


Oh, lordy…

Any word only has much meaning as society is willing to attribute to it.

Overuse and abuse tends to diminish the impact of a word; no matter what it is.

Merely having different variations of the same conversation won’t lead to a deeper level of personal understanding, at least not in my experience.

And that is all, because Prince was wrong:

There is no “joy in repetition.”


This feels liken a very broad brush stroke, almost to the point of being a falsehood by reason of oversimplification (I know this isn’t your intent, I’m just saying that’s the effect as far as I can tell). I mean sure, sometimes feminism is the vanguard of social justice. But just as often it’s getting sent to the back of the bus.

If I may: I think you got polite push-back from friends because your original post took a very generalized approach that a lot of people (and I would guess especially women) perhaps feel ignores the words meaning in their lived experiences. When a word associates strongly with a legacy one’s self and one’s fore-bearers have spent blood, sweat and tears building, one might be incredulous and maybe even a little bit outraged when someone who is an ally but not actually among those to whom the legacy belongs questions if the banner still belongs to the people who spent lifetimes fighting under it’s aegis because some fauxminists and capitalists copied the form without the substance.

ETA: And as someone who’s stepped in it more than a few times myself, let me caution against misinterpreting push-back as attack.



I actually liked Joss Whedon’s take on this one. For people who haven’t watched the video recently:

He pointed out usually social justice “ism” words focus on the the societal norm they seek to point it and protest. Hence “racism” is about how discriminating based on the artifical social construct is wrong (not to mention pointing out it is a social construct, since the Darwinian psychologists haven’t got the memo yet). Sexism is about discrimination based on sexual identity norms, and so on.

Feminism is weird because it’s constructed the same as those words representing things we want to critique, but it’s something we want to support.

Maybe that’s why it’s so easy for its detractors to co-opt and distort it.

Whedon suggested “genderism”, which I quite like, but it hasn’t caught on.

ETA the Youtube link. Second time this week I’ve linked to this thing on BBS:


Whatever the solution is, I don’t think “redefining ourselves to appease the opposition” is a winning tactic. Some people will always try to twist basic definitions and terminology to make progressive causes sound sinister. We just have to keep pushing back.

“Don’t say you support public services, that makes you a communist!”
“Don’t call yourself a ‘feminist,’ that means you hate men!”
“Don’t say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ that means you’re an anti-white terrorist!”


This is something I, as a male, try to be conscious of: there’s a big difference between calling myself a feminist, meaning someone who believes an ideal society is one in which all sexes are equal, and a woman calling herself a feminist.

For me “feminist” is an abstract concept informed by philosophy; for many women “feminist” includes personal experience.

I’m not sure what else I can or should add to that except to say that it’s a reminder that, if asked, I can offer suggestions but not directions.


Yeah, I saw her talking about it in a little video clip.

I grew up when Ms magazine was big and the idea was that we weren’t supposed to display our bodies for the patriarchy. It’s been really challenging to me this younger generation that’s proud of their bodies and wanting to dress sexy. In the yoga world, there is a really pretty blonde lady, Kino MacGregor, who is also very advanced with her physical yoga practice. Here’s a pic of her. She pretty much wears bathing suits to practice, and, guess what? that’s what male yogis who practice at this level also wear. But of course every time someone shares one of her pics, she is totally slut shamed.

I’m coming around to the idea that we do have beautiful bodies and can celebrate them, but I do feel that there is something about these conventionally pretty women claiming their bodies that also … needs mor other women’s bodies.

BKS Iyengar wearing next to nothing

Kino MacGregor wearing similar attire


Exactly. Evil isn’t always stupid. If we allow our opponents to re-write the dictionary, they’ll just re-define every word to serve them.


I think it must be a coordinated campaign of some sort. I don’t claim to understand the MRAs, but if I had to, I’d say that they have issues they need to work out, and instead of putting forth the effort to honestly work through these issues, they blame all of them on some kind of straw feminist that only exists in their minds. And that’s being charitable to them.

This is part of the reason why some people are feminists but don’t want to call themselves feminists, but:

Is another part.

Reclaim it.

There have been many waves to feminism, and this next one will have to focus a lot more on equality for women everywhere, especially minority women and women living in poverty. The current iteration of feminism certainly is less about privileged white women (and a lot more sex-positive) than second-wave feminism, but there’s still work to be done.

Also this: