I feel physically ill every time I read an article about another prominent female celebrity who says “I hate the word feminist.” Not because I disagree with her, but because her reasoning is always just a hair’s width away from the actual problem. They always say something ignorant like “Feminist is just another way to say man-hater,” or “Feminists want to be manly and I want to embrace being a woman.” It ends up coming across as “I like the color pink and wearing skirts so there’s no way I can be a feminist.” The major problem with that argument is that the most commonly agreed upon definition of feminist is “one who believes in equality across the entire gender spectrum” so no matter your clothing preference, gender, sexual orientation, tax bracket, or any other goddamned construct – you, too, can be a feminist!
But here’s the rub. I hate the word feminist. My problem isn’t that I like wearing skirts (I do), but it’s my problem with the relationship between the word “feminist” and other, rhyming words. Racist. Sexist. Classist. My problem isn’t with the “fem,” but with the “ist.” Simply put, it’s just a problematic, fucking word. The suffix “-ist” covers too wide a definition. It can mean someone who is performing an action (“Cyclist”), someone working in a given field (“scientist”), someone who believes in a specific doctrine (“communist”), someone characterized by a certain trait (“optimist”), or someone who is prejudiced against a certain thing (“ageist”).
Obviously, feminist doesn’t mean “someone who is prejudiced against females,” but which of these “ist” definitions best fits a feminist? I suppose the answer is “someone who believes in a specific doctrine,” that being the doctrine of equality across all genders. That being the case, then the word isn’t terribly inclusive. “Fem” is a feminine prefix, so to be inclusive of all genders we would need to change the word. “Equalist” is a more accurate word, but to change the word is to downplay the systemic sexism that the word historically fought – and still does fight – against.
So the punchline is this – there is a literal* definition of feminist (One who believes in female equality) and the contemporary definition (One who believes in all gender equality) and, generally speaking, those who believe in one also believe in the other. But many still have a problem with the word – not because they have a problem with the doctrine – but because they are being too exclusive with their definition. Like a Shakespearean tragedy, the entire tragic ending could easily be changed if the fool got to the punchline just one minute sooner. So one fool putting the right words in the right order at the right time would change the entire narrative. So let me put it into my foolish words… The WORD “feminist” sucks, but sexism sucks worse.
*and yes, I know the word “literal” doesn’t even mean “literal” anymore.