Why To Keep Using The Word “Feminism”

We’ve all run into someone who says things like, “Yeah, I agree with a lot of feminism, I just don’t like calling myself a feminist because [XYZ].” One common reason given is that feminism is (supposedly) just about improving women’s living conditions, while the speaker considers him/herself a humanist, someone who wants to raise all of humanity.

Which is a nice idea, but there are, in fact, specific reasons to describe oneself as a feminist. And no, they do not include hating men.

The brilliant blogger Spacefem describes her reasons for doing so in a blog post here. Here are some highlights of why the “I’m a humanist and therefore refuse to engage with feminism” rhetoric drives her nuts (her words in italics, my commentary following in plain font):

You’re acting like every gain for women must be a loss for men, like equality is a glass of water and we can only give it to women by unfairly hurting someone else.

This is a great point: men’s and women’s rights and roles are often constructed oppositionally, as though a win for one is a loss for the other. I trace this idea back to the West’s legacy of dualism, which is still influencing how we perceive gender, sexuality, and other aspects of social life.

You’re not adding what you have to the label. We need perspectives from all races, economic backgrounds, countries, religions… you are taking your toys and going home. Why?

This is the point of intersectionality, folks. Various aspects of our identities interact and jointly oppress us. The more perspectives we have on the table, the better. The more people who identify as feminists – regardless of their ethnicity, sexuality, class, religion, and even their gender (yes, there can be male feminists!) – the better for the strength and diversity of the movement.

The overwhelming majority of trafficked slaves are women and children. Nearly 90% of injured victims of intimate partner violence are women. You really don’t think it makes any sense to ask what is it about society’s attitudes towards women that causes this?…There are many countries where women & girls are treated horribly, both from a cultural and a legal aspect. The work of feminism clearly is not done.

Feminism draws our attention to problems that affect women disproportionately, such as trafficking, domestic partner violence, and sexual assault. Many of these issue also affect men, and we’re not saying that we shouldn’t also try to help men who are affected by them. Rather, we’re suggesting that something is seriously wrong with the ways in which women are treated in many cultures, and we should do something about it. This doesn’t negate our ability to also help men.

Being a feminist doesn’t stop you from doing other wonderful things and helping everyone. It just means you’re on our team too.

Again, we see dualistic thought at work: if you are This One Thing you cannot be That Other Thing too. This is clearly false. Feminism is not a two-party system. There can be degrees of feminism, or a spectrum of feminism. Maybe you manage to accomplish an awesomely feminist act one day but not the next. That’s fine. We’ll take what help we can get.

Spacefem clearly articulates a lot of reasons why the feminist label shouldn’t be feared or eschewed. I’m not sure if this’ll convince anyone who’s already set in their ways, but if you’re not into feminism, it’s worth giving some thought as to why, and maybe being a little critical with yourself as to the answers you find.

About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.