The Glass Ceiling of “Feminism”

In September 2014, Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson delivered a powerful speech to the UN on gender equality, launching her #heforshe campaign. Within that speech were these three lines:

  • “It’s not the word that’s important, it’s the idea and the ambition behind it.”
  • “We are still struggling for a uniting word, but the good news is we have a uniting movement.”
  • “How can we expect to change the world, when only half of it is invited, or feels welcome to participate in the conversation?”

The answer to this last question is of course, we can’t. We can’t change the world when only half of it is invited, especially when the uninvited half is the oppressed half.

Gender inequality is different from other equality issues we face as humans. It’s manifestations are intimate, spanning a spectrum from subliminal to overt which is often sexual in nature. Men and women around the globe live in the same homes, sleep in the same beds, and lay claim to the same children. Male dominance exists from bedrooms to boardrooms, and infiltrates all races, religions, and socio-economic classes.

Each day the solution to this problem eludes us is another day the world suffers. Childhoods are stolen, virginities sold, motherhoods forced, voices silenced, bodies broken, and educations denied. These sisters, daughters, and mothers are trapped; emotionally, psychologically, and physically. A female’s innate desire to see her family thrive is routinely and often violently manipulated into the primary device of her servitude. The slightest infraction can lead to death, terrorization, or still more restrictions on her freedom.

It’s easy to assume this degree of brutal male entitlement is relegated to places like Taliban-controlled Afghanistan or the acid-throwing practices of Pakistan, but it is propagated in the US too. When Eminem released The Marshall Mathers LP, it contained a hit song about his then-wife, eponymously entitled “Kim.” In this song Eminem can be heard imitating Kim’s screams of protestation, murdering her, dragging her body through leaves, and dumping it into the trunk of his car; but not before he tells Kim how he slit the throat of her four-year-old son. The Marshall Mathers LP won a grammy for “Best Rap Album” in 2001.

According to an article in “Huff Post Women” (not sure what makes these stats unsuitable for male consumption) the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 21012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. Of this staggering number (nearly double the casualties of war) 75% of the women were murdered after leaving or attempting to leave their relationship. This constitutes an epidemic.

Men who exert control over women in their homes, in the workplace, in politics, and in religion first learn these controlling behaviors as children. These men most likely had mothers whose desire for peace, whose love of family (coupled with her lack of legal recourse) was turned into the device of her servitude. This model is what fuels the entitlement they feel to a woman’s service, and sadly, sometimes her life. When protests must occur within a woman’s own home; where will she go to get relief? How will she care for her family? It is not our lives most women fear for most, but our families.

If a woman doesn’t possess the freedom to walk out or lean in, she can only keep railing at her oppressor. In this way the term “feminism” persists as a defense mechanism. She is hoping this will make her father/husband/boss/colleague finally see her, value her. It is this dynamic that feeds oppression.

The most basic history lesson in civil disobedience proves this point further: Oppressors are sustained by the polarity they create. The movement may be uniting, but “feminism” as a term is polarizing. Any retaliation on the part of the oppressed, however just, becomes yet another arrow in the quiver of the oppressor. Worse yet, those on the sidelines waiting for their minds to be made up eventually walk away shaking their heads. They saw only bickering, and concluded that no one was beyond reproach and therefore worthy of back up. And for what? A name? Our adherence to this term costs us valuable allies every day, the same amount of time it takes for three women to be killed from domestic violence in the US alone.

So although the term “feminism” succeeds in recognizing the systemic victimization of women, it does so by employing the conquering male mentality it seeks to cure. Women are predestined to know, inherently and biologically, that life is not about conquering, but coexisting. In the words of one of my adolescent heroes, Ani DiFranco, “As long as you play their game girl, you’re never gonna win.”

Feminism Glass Ceiling

Despite the shocking stats, the fact remains that women in developed nations experience more freedom today than most any other women in history. This advantage must be what the Dalai Lama had in mind ten years ago when he surmised that western women would save the world (no pressure).

On that call-to-action note, what if we simply stopped engaging? What if we all walked away? In 1975, 90% of Icelandic women walked out of their homes and jobs for gender equality. The country shut down. Airports, schools, and hospitals could not function. Icelandic parliament became half women as a result of the strike, and passed an equal pay and paid maternity law the following year. Four years later, Iceland elected the first female president in the world.

The fight for gender equality is a giant chess game, and it’s our move. Maybe we shock the world, especially the ones who fail to grasp that their rabid hatred of “feminism” is actually disgust for their own domineering mindsets in disguise, and we walk away from this word. What will happen when we switch out our banner from the red herring that is “feminism,” and replace it with a name that more accurately represents our movement’s unalienable, unifying truth? When equality exists, everybody wins.

My bid is equivalism. It is pronounced like equivalent, and means equal value. It’s important that the word easily absorb the -ist suffix (i.e., Because I’m an equivalist, Bob! Aren’t you?). Do you have a suggested replacement for the term “feminism?” Or do you disagree with the name change? I welcome your comments.

What have we got to lose? As Emma Watson said, “It’s not the word that’s important, it’s the idea and the ambition behind it.” Let’s invite our brothers to the conversation. We need them, and they need us.


Equivalism not Feminism: Part III Privilege and Responsibility

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.


Courtesy of Women Against Feminism

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.



"It's still 1922 in many parts of the world," reads my favorite comment of this photo.

“It’s still 1922 in many parts of the world,” reads my favorite comment of this photo.


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.