Does word choice matter? The recent rash of “I don’t need Feminism” articles such as this one, with over 1.5 million views, answers with a resounding YES.
Imagine those placards with the word “Equivalism” (meaning “equal value”) replacing “Feminism.” They would look absurd. To anyone who understands Feminism, the signs look absurd as is, but here’s the rub: We don’t need to reach those who get Feminism. We need to reach, and reason with, the ones who don’t.
Let me back up and say a few words about my courageous, battle-tested old friend Feminism. Feminism fought for me to vote, has my back when I disagree with my husband, sits next to me as I devour a book, and helps me choose what clothes I want to wear. Feminism has opened the doors of universities and office buildings for me. Feminism has empowered me to have control over whether or not I reproduce and how I give birth.
And with this image in mind, I know Feminism swims beside me whenever I choose to forgo the buoyant accessory of a full length dress.
Feminism is our matriarch, whom I will forever honor, and to whom I am forever indebted. Changing a name doesn’t mean changing a movement. Sometimes changing a name is necessary for growth and refocus. MLK Jr.’s contributions to the civil rights movement are no less valuable because he employed the now-outdated term “Negro,” as in this poignant line:
The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt.
Similarly, should we change the name of the gender equality movement, any and all previous uses of the term “Feminism” would carry the heft of historical as well as present-day significance. Our mothers and grandmothers fought in the battle of Feminism. They put women on the map. Now that we are on the map, the new front to defend is Equivalism.
I recently listened to This American Life‘s podcast entitled “Got Your Back” in which an Afghan woman, Hamida Gulistani, relayed the story of how she was unwittingly thrust to the forefront of women’s rights advocacy in Afghanistan. Formerly a nurse at a clinic in Ghazni City, where “patients arrived all the time, in burkas, with bruises and broken bones,” Gulistani recounts (via interpreter) the fateful exchange which occurred during the height of US presence there in 2005:
As she lay down, I noticed that she had these brown dark spots around her eyes. And then also, as she lifted up her arm, I could see she had all these scars. And I asked her what happened. She wouldn’t tell me at the beginning. She said, oh, I fell.
Well, I just joke with her. I said, oh, I fell once too, and I was also hurt. And then she all of a sudden starts crying. She had guests over, and somehow she had messed up the food. And the husband had beaten her up. And she lost her baby when she was two months pregnant because of the beating.
With US presence came US news media outlets. Sensing a new source of support, Gulistani encouraged and somehow convinced this young woman to speak out in an impromptu press conference at the clinic about what happened to her. Can you imagine the desperation and courage involved in the leap between hiding domestic abuse details from a female healthcare provider, to sharing them with the world?
What women in the US don’t understand is that it is far too costly for us to quibble over issues of nostalgia and bravado where the gender equality movement is concerned.
From what I gather, Feminists are not willing to change the name because they see it as an accommodation, and women have done quite enough of that, thankyouverymuch. Anti-feminists (see above article) don’t want to change the name because it’s essential to their assumed male bravado, or they are completely ignorant of the worldwide plight of women, or those two things are actually the same.
The tenacity of the term “Feminism” gives me the defeatist notion that privileged people actually feed off the conflict more than the solution.
The ability to empathize is strong in women. If we could transmute our internal quibbling into empathy for these women in Afghanistan, still not permitted to vote, read, autonomously dress, disagree, or make mistakes without fear of physical harm; wouldn’t we make significantly stronger, longer-lasting progress? Honestly, how on Earth are these women supposed to take up the mantel of something called “Feminism”?
Women need safety, women need education, women need equality, women need influence. Not more than men, but the same. Not just here, but everywhere. If we are privileged enough to live in a country where we can make these statements, let’s make sure we are making them clearly.
Equivalism not Feminism. It’s time.