“If it’s about equality, why is it called feminism?”
If I had a dime for every time I heard this sentiment, I’d write this rant with golden ink on the backdrop of Beyonce’s next concert.
When discussing feminism with friends, contemporaries or total strangers, I’m often explaining how the movement aims to benefit people of all genders, races, sexual orientations, etc. When I say this it’s almost a guarantee these individuals will express their discomfort with the title ‘feminism’. “If it’s about equality, why is it called feminism?” This darn phrase haunts me in my sleep.
So I will try, as plainly and succinctly as possible, to explain why it’s called feminism.
We are not going to call it ‘humanism’.
Let’s be clear: humanism is completely different than standing for human rights. The term humanism was coined during the Renaissance Period when Europe was going through a shifting from one school of thought to another. Humanism literally means an emphasis on the value of human reason. Humanism attributes individual and community successes to people rather than supernatural entities. In a nutshell, humanism celebrates the human mind and encourages humans not to depend on deities to conduct their lives.
So humanism, though super cool, is not interchangeable with feminism. One is a school of thought that celebrates the mind and self-determination, while the other is a movement that fights for gender equality. So you can be both a humanist and a feminist, but one can’t be swapped for the other. That’s simple enough; let’s continue.
Why it’s not referred to as ‘egalitarianism’.
Feminism is a movement focused on advocating gender equality. It aims to create a paradigm in which males and females are equals, enjoying the same privileges and opportunities. So if it’s helping everyone, why not call it egalitarianism? Because not all genders are equal. Feminism was borne out of an unequal society, and as a result, it works to even out the very uneven scales of patriarchy. The movement gives feminized people the lift needed to be on equal footing with males.
So the ‘fem’ in feminism is giving a gender something it has been denied for decades. Yes, feminism seeks to create equality between all genders, but in order to achieve this it must empower females who have been disempowered for generations. Females have suffered from a patriarchal society for centuries, so it’s only logical that the movement is associated with the oppressed gender. If males had historically bore the same severity of discrimination in a matriarchal society, then calling it ‘meninism’ or ‘male-ism’ would be completely acceptable. However, as I hope we can all admit, male has not been the oppressed gender.
A feminist is someone who fights for gender equality, under a paradigm in which females are oppressed. An egalitarian/equalist is someone who fights to maintain the status quo of equality for all. Feminism is centered on equality. Just because it is focused on one gender, doesn’t mean it is out to establish a matriarchy.
Why it should remain as feminism.
So humanism is something completely different, and egalitarianism neglects the inequities of genders. So why feminism? Why not equal rights promotion or the likes? Because that would be depreciating the issue of gender. Feminism is most certainly a part of a general human rights movement; it aims to empower all people who have been deemed lesser by society based on race, ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, etc.
But if we were to adopt the title of ‘human rights’ we would be sweeping the unique issue of gender right under the big rug of discrimination. Just like racism or ableism, feminism is an enormous issue riddled with complexities and intricacies. To hide it under the umbrella of human rights would be to demean the fact that women, for centuries, have been oppressed. It would be to ignore that the issue of gender disproportionally hurts women.
Since the beginning of time, society has divided human beings into groups based on gender, excluding and oppressing one group. Feminism, a movement seeking a solution to this, deserves the right to acknowledge that problem in the first place.
What your discomfort with feminism means.
Many argue that feminism should change its name to something more inclusive. Why? To appease those who are uncomfortable with the reminder that society is unequal? To include those who feel left out because a movement isn’t focused on them? By saying you want to change the title feminism says a few things about you. It says…
- You have no idea what feminism actually is.
- You care more about the terminology than the activism.
- You disregard and disrespect the roots of the movement, where our ancestors fought tirelessly for the rights of women.
When we live in an egalitarian utopia, where all genders are rid of prejudice and oppression, no one will be happier to change the movement’s name than feminists. We will be too busy running through fields of flowers and chasing rainbows to care if you call it equalism, egalitarianism, human rights promotion, or whatever you darn please.
But until then, let’s not have this conversation again.