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  MLK Jr.’s contributions to the civil rights movement are no less valuable because he employed the now-outdated term “Negro,” as in this poignant line: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.

Equivalism not Feminism: Part II A Sterling Reputation

[Equivalism is the word I am using to describe the tenets of Feminism.  The name change is etymologically based (from the latin roots for “equal” and “value”) on the belief that the world would be better if women had equal influence.  It was chosen for reasons outlined in this post as well as posts forthcoming.  It was chosen because I’m a musician, and the sound of a word matters to me (say the word “equivalent,” then change the ending to “ism” or “ist” as needed).]

Although I do not own cable or watch TV, I have been fully inundated by reports of the Donald Sterling scandal via Facebook friends and community conversation.  My favorite op-ed piece was penned by Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and contains the following:  “So, if we’re all going to be outraged, let’s be outraged that we weren’t more outraged when his racism was first evident. Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. Let’s be outraged that whoever did the betraying will probably get a book deal, a sitcom, trade recipes with Hoda and Kathie Lee, and soon appear on Celebrity Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars.”

Donald Sterling is (finally) beginning to reap his just reward, racism will not be tolerated.  The last line of Jabbar’s words, however, continue to haunt me.  He’s absolutely right:  The praise and celebrity that will undoubtedly be lavished on “girlfriend” V. Stiviano is the sexist equivalent of the NAACP taking money from Donald Sterling while turning a blind eye to his racism.  If Stiviano actually does appear on one of the few female-influenced shows (Ellen, the View, Hoda and Kathie Lee, etc) then I will know how doomed we all really are.  Here is a woman who abused her power, just like Sterling.  Here is a woman, of mixed race herself, who carried on an inappropriate relationship with a married man, a known racist, and received four cars (including not one but two Bentleys) and a 1.2 million dollar LA duplex in the process.  Here is a woman with five aliases, who used illegal means to create a scandal by breaking news that had already been broken many times.

Why is this abuse of power acceptable when Sterling’s isn’t?  Is it because Stiviano is an attractive woman, providing what appears for all the world to be some sort of sexual satisfaction to an elderly man?  Is it because, after three and a half years together, she decided to “uncover” his racism for her own personal gain, even though that racism was available for all the world to see in the form of multiple, public, court-settled discrimination charges?  Though Sterling got what he deserved, Stiviano won’t.  She will be praised.

I ask you, what does that praise communicate to young girls right now?  As long as you stay attractive and available for the taking, you can amass wealth and fame, adulation even, through dishonesty and deceit.

Stiviano and Sterling: birds of a feather

Stiviano and Sterling: birds of a feather

I dare you to listen to the tape again, and this time focus on Stiviano.  Tell me you are not listening to the yogic voice of a practiced sociopath.  Jabbar nails it again: “Man, what a winding road she led him down to get all of that out. She was like a sexy nanny playing “pin the fried chicken on the Sambo.” She blindfolded him and spun him around until he was just blathering all sorts of incoherent racist sound bites that had the news media peeing themselves with glee.”

Is there any reason, besides corruption, that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would accept money from a known racist and in turn bestow him with humanitarian awards?  (Confidential to all non-profits: if there are strings attached to a donation, it’s not charity, it’s money in exchange for your morals.)

Is there any reason, besides corruption, that women (and men) would seek to empower and further the field of influence for V. Stiviano, rather than bring her to justice?

On May 15th, the NAACP planned to bestow Donald Sterling with another humanitarian award, this one for “Lifetime Achievement.”  Following the tape release, LA’s NAACP chapter president Leon Jenkins cancelled the upcoming ceremony and issued the following statements to CNN: “The mission of the NAACP is to eradicate discrimination and racial hatred in all its forms, and each year our executive board votes on who we decide that we are going to honor.”  Jenkins continued, “Mr. Sterling has given out a tremendous amount of scholarships, he has invited numerous African American kids to summer camps, and his donations are bigger than other sports franchises.”

“That is something that shows that there is a consciousness of the plight of African Americans in this country,” Jenkins concludes.

Unless Jenkins lives under a rock, I’m sure he was aware of the high profile discrimination charges filed against Sterling, for which he was found guilty, repeatedly demonstrating the exact opposite of “a consciousness of the plight of African Americans.”  I’m sure the NAACP is also aware of the media construct known as a “PR stunt.”  Perhaps Sterling’s money sent some deserving kids to camp, but what about the determination of his former tenants and their families, who persevered for justice to the point of taking a powerful mogul to court, only to watch hopelessly thereafter as he was continually honored by the very institution entrusted with the task of advancing them?  That degree of injustice smacks of a Kafka novel, it reads like fiction.

Who will hold the NBA and the NAACP accountable for essentially harboring Sterling, in effect protecting him as well as his bigotry?

Similarly, what can be done to stop the glorification of V. Stiviano?   How can we ensure that no more of this blood gets on our hands?  How can we expect to get a woman into presidential office if we are still playing against our own values?  Maybe women have permeated more and more male dominated realms, but what good does that do us if, once there, we keep snapping to the attention of the old rules of engagement?

We are not bound by those rules.  I am reminded of a scene in Anchorman 2, where Ron Burgandy cuts to a live feed of a car chase in order to subvert rival Veronica Corningstone’s interview with Yasser Arafat.  When the car is finally pulled over, the driver is revealed to be an elderly, senile man.  In the movie, this calculated move is directly credited with the downfall of modern media.

Must we all continue to suckle the teat of this train-wreck?  Where is it getting us?  Who can change it?

What would it communicate to the international female community, especially those without free speech, if all female anchors in free nations refused to interview V. Stiviano on account of her abuse of freedom and power?   What if they instead spent that time talking about the importance of rooting out individuals who would undermine the cause of equality, as everyone is now wishing the NAACP and NBA had done with Sterling.  That is influence.  That is news.  That is power.

What the hell, in the spirit of equivalism, why doesn’t everyone snub Stiviano?  How about, instead of Bill O’Reilly ogling her décolleté, he declines the interview and comes tearfully clean about his mommy issues.  Between sobs he will tell us, that it’s women like her (“a sexy nanny playing “pin the fried chicken on the Sambo””) that make him scared shitless to consider a female president.

In these tumultuous times, when hair-trigger reaction seems to be the norm, I am grateful to Doris Kearns Goodwin for her comprehensive look at Lincoln in Team of Rivals, in which she is careful to include male and female influences.

When Lincoln spoke to a crowd of fifteen hundred at Cooper Union in 1860, shortly before receiving the Republican nomination, he was greeted with palpable tension between pro and anti-slavery factions.  Putting his previously-delivered temperance speech to the test (a quotation from which begins my last post) he refused to meet denunciation with denunciation.

“Let us do nothing through passion and ill temper,” he implored the anti-slavery northerners, “Even though the southern people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider their demands, and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of our duty, we possibly can.”

Inspired by Lincoln’s wisdom, MLK Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the foot of the Lincoln memorial.

Both men sensitively and consistently nurtured, rather than aggressively demanded, the progress of a nation.  It is the dream, not the anger, that needs feeding.  This is why I am in favor of employing “equivalism” over “feminism.”


Sadly this approach could not prevent war, but I’ll bet it had something to do with winning.