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.”
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.