Hi everyone: welcome to this, the meeting in which we aim to rebrand feminism, an exercise that countless people have insisted is vital. As a feminist, I’m often told that the word needs to be changed, or that feminism’s image must be improved, and because I’ve heard the phrase ‘rebranding feminism’ at least seven hundred times over the course of 2014, I thought 2015 should be the year we roll up our sleeves and get on with it.
Please take a seat, help yourself to coffee, and try not to fight over the chocolate biscuits.
Point 1 on the agenda: does feminism need a name change?
Lots of people have brought this one up, because ultimately ‘feminism’ does sound a bit woman-y, doesn’t it? Although – wait a minute! – maybe the word is doing exactly what it’s designed to – highlight issues which disproportionately affect women?
I suspect that’s the case. While the structures in which we live harm everyone by putting them in a set ‘place’ based on whether they’re perceived to be pink or blue, they do disproportionately harm women. The word is actually pretty damn useful because it highlights the fact that, well, feminism is going to struggle harder for women’s rights than men’s rights in most cases. Not because men don’t deserve the same rights over e.g. their own bodies, their right to education, to political representation etc, but because in many instances they already have them.
So… name change is a tricky one, but let’s take some suggestions from the floor. Any ideas as to what we should call it?
Point 2: should feminism really be called ‘equalism’?
No – motion denied by the senior committee of… well… me. Apart from being an extraordinarily ugly word, we have a word for ‘equalism’ already – it’s ‘equality’. And we actually do use that word a hell of a lot – not just when we’re fighting for women’s rights but also when we’re fighting for equality regardless of race, sexual orientation, etc etc. If you’re repulsed by the word ‘feminism’ then please feel free to use the word ‘equality’ if you like. I’m not going to stop you.
However, I’d question why you feel that it’s so gosh-darn-it vital that you insist I never use it. We have specific words and phrases to describe other areas of political struggle, because it’s important to recognise when we’re fighting for rights that have traditionally been denied to certain people, or when we’re campaigning against something that disproportionately affects a particular group.
If you’re insisting not just on calling it ‘equalism’, but eradicating any word that hints at the specific struggle for the rights of women, I’d question what your motivations are for doing that: are you insisting on equalism because you believe – against all available evidence – that the patriarchy harms men to exactly the same degree?
Patriarchy does harm men – I’ve done this one before. But we generally measure ‘success’ and ‘harm’ by who has power and wealth and freedom and rights, and in most countries in the world, men have the lion’s share of those things. They are harmed by the patriarchy, but not in the same ways, or to the same degree.
There are some who think we should throw out all structures and start again. I’m not one of these people, and I suspect if you’re advocating a mealy-mouthed ‘equalism’ then you probably aren’t either. So if you want to keep our current political structures yet fight for ‘equalism’ you have to recognise that these structures have, historically, harmed women more than men.
Having a word that highlights this point doesn’t feel like a ludicrously ambitious request to make, to be honest.
Next point of order:
Point 3: if not equalism, then what?
My actual answer, if offered the task of renaming feminism, wouldn’t be to change the word to focus on including the dominant group, but changing it to be more inclusive of groups which have traditionally been marginalised even within feminism.
Feminists aren’t perfect. In fact, some of them are arseholes (myself included). Like all dominant groups, groups of feminists with the loudest voices often have a tendency to drown out the voices of a whole bunch of other people, and the way our society is structured means some tend to be amplified more than others. So rather than renaming feminism to something that will please (or at least try to avoid offending) members of a more dominant group, why not rename it to something that is more demonstrably inclusive of the groups whose problems feminism has traditionally marginalised? Women of colour, trans women, disabled women, women who live in countries which don’t allow them access to education or healthcare, women who don’t happen to have a giant blogging platform on which to bang on about their tedious opinions… etc.
Answers on a postcard to this one, but I think it’s a much stronger suggestion than that proposed by ‘equalists.’
Question from the floor: how about we start ‘meninism’ as well?
Thanks, Mike from accounts. Great question. The answer is: because that’s bollocks.
Name me a specific, proven issue that disproportionately affects dudes, and I’ll show you how and why many feminists care about it. Saying ‘we need meninism’ is a bit like trying to ringfence a portion of the meeting biscuits onto your own special plate. I bought the biscuits for everyone, Mike, and you’ve already had three. You’ll still get biscuits in future meetings, it’s just that they won’t specifically be called ‘Mike’s biscuits.’
Another question from the floor: aren’t you worried about turning people off being feminist?
Maybe. Maybe I’m turning off some people who already hate the word feminism. But to be honest, if you hate the word ‘feminism’ because it puts too strong an emphasis on the rights that women have traditionally been denied, you probably aren’t going to be excited about fighting for those rights.
If you have genuine concerns about what feminism is, or does, I’d much rather spend time tackling those actual problems than coming up with a word that will obscure them.
Point 4: what does feminism stand for? What do feminists want?
We’re obviously struggling to come up with a new name for feminism here, and I’m not sure we’re even clear on whether it needs one. Let’s put that to one side for now and focus on the rebrand itself.
Can we at least agree on a list of things that feminists want? Hmm.
Feminism is not a massive club where we all sit round having these actual meetings. We don’t gather together in a town hall, let Caitlin Moran make a short speech about the agenda, vote to ban page 3 and internet porn, then pop home before the patriarchy notices we don’t have its dinner on the table.
Feminism is not a group of people studiously beavering away to tick off a set of universally agreed goals. Feminists are united by an idea: the notion that everyone is equal regardless of gender and that on this basis, equal rights are worth fighting for. Within that common idea there are myriad different goals, from getting Jane Austen on a tenner to achieving educational equality. Some of these goals are amazing, and the kind of things I am 100% behind. Others are, I think, misguided and/or badly done and/or entirely missing the point of what I think feminism should be about.
But that’s cool, because – as mentioned above – this is not actually a unified movement: there are no meetings, and I’m certainly not the goddamn leader.
Going back to the point above – if you think feminists should stop whining and all agree on a common cause, you’ll end up with a ‘common cause’ which writes off a whole bunch of people whose voices have traditionally been ignored. And, come to think of it, isn’t agreeing on a new ‘brand’ for feminism just a more ‘marketable’ way of doing exactly that?
It’s starting to look like we shouldn’t rebrand at all, to be honest.
Point 5: why feminism and nothing else?
Maybe feminism’s just too hard to rebrand. I mean if these pesky feminists can’t even agree on what their next campaign is, how the hell are we going to get them to vote on a logo?
My fifth and (I promise) final point addresses the thing that pisses me off most: the notion that not only should all feminists agree on whatever our ‘goal’ or ‘brand’ is, but that we should settle upon something which is not distasteful to those in power.
“Oh the problem with feminism is that it conjures images of angry femi-Nazis,” warbles the ex-editor of Loaded magazine, trotting out the tired ‘all men are rapists’ quote without a trace of irony. “I know feminism isn’t about misandry, but so many people think of it that way,” garble the people who are predominantly responsible for making others think that way.
Look: just because you have misconceptions about something that does not mean that everyone engaged in that thing needs to leap through new communication hoops to prevent you from having a cry about it. We can try, of course, and engaging new people is important, but don’t tell feminists to rebrand in the same breath as you explain why feminism isn’t *really* about man-hating. If you know it isn’t (and of course it isn’t) then give other people the credit to recognise that too.
More pressingly, why on earth is this kind of criticism only ever levelled at feminism?
Are we going to rebrand Utilitarianism because a bunch of people don’t know what it means? Shall we ditch the toxic word ‘Christianity’ because of the Westboro Baptist Church? Do we insist that capitalism be renamed to ‘not as bad as you think-ism’ because its image has become a bit negative after the financial collapse?
Is there any large political or ideological movement in which everyone agrees? And, perhaps more pertinently, is anyone waving their flag and demanding these other movements all rebrand themselves because they don’t reflect differences of opinion or have names which actively seek to challenge misconceptions? No.
Over to you: rebranding feminism
If you want to identify as a feminist: great. If you don’t: don’t. The only time I’ll realistically care is if you say you’re a feminist while actively fighting for something that holds back gender equality. My problem isn’t with how anyone else identifies, but how people dictate what I call myself. Within the broad scope of Any Issue That Touches On Gender Equality, I’m well up for a debate. Let’s talk about the problems different people face, and how best to solve them. Let’s work out what we want to do next to highlight a particular issue, or campaign for a fairer law. Let’s try and reflect on what’s good about feminism and what’s bad, and not disappear head-first up our own arses in an attempt to placate those who’d never have joined in anyway.
So, my conclusion from this – the Meeting Where We Talk About Rebranding Feminism – is that I refuse to slap a new name badge on something I’ve called myself for years, or insist that we all agree on the Feminist Agenda for 2015.
If you disagree then the floor is yours. I’ll be here in the corner, scowling at the word ‘equalism’ and eating the last of the biscuits.