Why “feminist” is not a swear word

I have a secret. Well, it’s not even remotely a secret, but it’s something I too often feel like I should keep to myself: I self-identify as a feminist.

No, wait, come back here! I want to tell you what I mean.

Feminism these days, at least my particular brand of it, is seriously misunderstood. As a matter of fact, if you’re not the sort who’s pretty well-versed in feminist theory, and may actually consider yourself anti-feminist, there’s probably one word that pops into your head when you hear “feminist.” And it’s not a very nice one. Not to mention, it’s really fucking unoriginal. So let’s just get it out of the way, first things first: I fucking hate the word “feminazi.” I hate it. It’s offensive on so many levels. If that word is in your regular vocabulary, take it out. Please. It’s awful. “Feminism” is not a swear word. That other one? Really fucking is.

I’m getting off track. I do that; sorry. I’m thinking about all the women I know, all the people, who, when asked if they’re feminists, would say “no.” Probably with some sort of disgusted face. I’m thinking about all of the female actresses and singers and authors who get asked that question in interviews, and waffle on the answer. Why are we so afraid to say yes? What is it about that word that stirs up so many negative emotions? And why am I so determined to de-curse the idea, the name even, of feminism?

Anti-feminists, or people who see feminism as a negative thing, often see it as a threat to traditional life. “Traditional” usually meaning religion, marriage, children, and a wife who stays at home while the husband pays the bills. What these people don’t see is that feminism has allowed a “traditional” life to be a choice. An option. Not a predetermined path. Not a life sentence. No one is saying that if you’re a feminist, you have to go out and get a full-time job and stay single and never have kids. It’s a matter of acknowledging that feminism has allowed women to make a wide variety of choices, including that of a “traditional” life.

For people like me, who have never wanted many aspects of that kind of life, feminism allows me to make a different choice. It gives me the option of having a full-time job, of choosing not to have children, of being able to own things that belong to me because I earned them, I paid for them, I wanted them, and I could get them without any help if I didn’t want it. And it allows you to stay home and raise your kids while your husband earns the household income. And it allows young women to write and perform songs or act in TV shows or movies, make a shitload of money, start their own production companies, and then get married and have kids, if that’s what they want. It allows women to play sports, and make scientific breakthroughs, and to hold political office (of any party), and to write beautiful or terrible things. It allows me to decide what’s best for me, and it allows you to decide what’s best for you. Feminism gives us the choice to do what we want; whether that’s climbing a corporate ladder, running a cattle ranch, raising a houseful of kids, or running off with the circus. It doesn’t force behavior on anyone. Anti-feminism does that. It says we can’t be trusted to decide what path our lives will take. It says men know best. It says be quiet, and do what you’re told. Sorry, but if I’m going to do what I’m told, it’s because there’s something in it for me. Like a paycheck, or career advancement, or personal fulfillment of some kind. Not just because some dude said so.

Lots of people are anti-feminist because they’re politically conservative. They think “conservative” and “feminist” are mutually exclusive concepts. You don’t have to be a raging liberal to be a feminist. As a matter of fact, if you’re a conservative woman who is politically active, you have feminism to thank for allowing you to even participate in the political process. If you’re the goddamned producer of Glenn Beck’s weekend show (and he has a female producer, really), you can thank feminism for even making it possible for you to hold a job where you support someone who does nothing but undermine and diminish your worth as a human being. But you have that option. Pre-feminism? Sorry, doll, but that’s no job for a woman.

There’s no shame in admitting you’re a feminist. There’s no shame in being a guy who supports feminism. There’s no shame in coming out and saying that women are people, and we should be able to make money, and influence the political process, and make decisions, and hell, even make giant, horrible mistakes. Commit crimes. Be ruthless businesspeople. Do all the wonderful and awful things that men can and always have been able to do without question.

You don’t have to be like me, or live like me, or think like me to be a feminist, too. You can disagree with almost everything I believe in, except for the fact that both men and women should have equal opportunites to be great or to fuck things up, to make money or to spend it foolishly, to create a family of their choosing, to do whatever it is that makes them feel fulfilled and important and complete. We can fight about everything else. As long as you’re OK with being beaten by a girl.

Some amazing and thought-provoking things to read:

Tomato Nation: Yes, You Are
Fucking Dumb Blog: Men are people and women are women
Feminism 101


8 responses to “Why “feminist” is not a swear word

  1. I think the term femnazi got coined because of the über-crazy few that get all uppity manufacturing reasons to be offended.

    If some guy says on his blog that he prefers women bleach their mustaches and shave their pits, the femnazis are there, screaming that he’s being a misogynistic asshole. If some woman believes it’s best for mothers to stay home with their kids, the femnazis are there, screaming at her that OMG WE HAVE A CHOICE!!!

    You can’t express an opinion around a femnazi without her being offended. Femnazis and feminists are completely different. Feminists are rational. 😀

    Femnazis are, unfortunately, the few who make the rest look bad. That’s really the problem, IMHO.

    • I have to disagree. First the word “uppity” is problematic for all sorts of reasons that aren’t exclusively related to feminism, really by making the statement that by expressing a strong opinion, certain groups (women, minorities) are overstepping what society at large is allowing them to do. Problematic. Also, there are radicals in every movement: feminism, conservativism, the child-free, environmentalists, and we somehow manage not to call them Nazis. Call those people you object to feminist radicals, but why is the word “Nazi” necessary? People seem to have either forgotten, or they just plain don’t care, what weight that word carries. Feminists who think on the more radical side of the spectrum aren’t rounding up groups of people to systematically exterminate them; they’re disagreeing. With words.

      And, typically, anyone who falls outside of the default (for our society right now, that would be white, male, and middle- to upper-class) who questions the reasons why that default exists is told they’re “manufacturing reasons to be offended.” This is just a symptom of the fact that we are not, in fact, a post-feminist, post-racial society. In a way, calling radical feminists “uppity,” calling them “Nazis” for having strong opinions that contradict the norm, and saying they’re “manufacturing reasons to be offended” when they question the status quo, is just another way of marginalizing women; of telling them to shut up and do what they’re told.

    • “Feminazi” was coined by Rush Limbaugh. That ought to be your first clue. Second clue: where are the death camps, exactly? Third clue: most of what gets attributed to those ‘crazy few’ is often complete and utter bullshit that the people so eagerly tossing it around never bother to check, because they just adore being able to slag off some women.

  2. I’m all for equal treatment, but a lot of the time I see people screaming their heads off without a real reason to do so. Using my first example above, if one man on the planet has a personal opinion that he prefers women to shave their armpits, is it really necessary for a bunch of women to call him a misogynist? He’s just stating what HE likes. If he had said women who don’t shave are not as good as women that do, then there would be a reason to get ticked off. Maybe I’m missing something here, but I don’t see why anyone would get bent out of shape over something like that, and yet I have seen it. That, to me, is manufacturing a reason to be offended.

    I’m not saying the word needs to be used, but I am saying there are some people who care way too much about other people’s likes and dislikes and call it being anti-feminist if you don’t agree with them.

    Or, maybe I’m missing the point entirely.

    • I don’t think you’re missing the point at all! I don’t object to anyone having a problem with radical feminism; that’s their right. It’s just the word “feminazi” that I hate more than anything. It’s the name, not the concept I take issue with.

  3. Okay, I can totally see that. I do agree that a lot of the tarnish has come off that word. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing.

    In general, the overly-frothy rabid screamers in any group kind of make it bad for the rest. I’m a fairly vocal childfree person, but there are some out there who make me look like a fencesitter. I mean, I’ve seen some people get offended if they even have to LOOK at a child. I don’t want to be painted with that brush, but since those are the people who draw attention to themselves, that’s usually what happens. Same thing with the radical feminists – I’d say I’m a feminist in the sense that yes, I’d like everyone to be equal, but I don’t want to get painted with the radical brush, so I tend to not use that term to describe myself.

  4. Taking slight issue with the bit “There’s no shame in admitting you’re a feminist. There’s no shame in being a guy who supports feminism.” Guys who believe in equality aren’t feminists?

  5. Feminist is not something I’d readily identify as… I mean it sounds nice in theory, but so many feminists (straight, white, cis, childfree, etc…) are in it for themselves. They want the support of others, but fall eerily silent on issues affecting other women and their rights (or lack thereof). Worse, they see fit to judge how we should live our lives or their lives are negatively impacted by us (just for existing and having needs!) for not joining in solidarity… ugh.

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