Reclaiming the word ‘feminism’

Ruby Hinchliffe discusses why we shouldn’t be afraid of the word ‘feminism’

Men, and most worryingly woman, need to stop stigmatizing the word ‘feminist’.

First and foremost, let’s address the self-identifying women who have decided to reject feminism. Kelly Clarkson said it was “too strong” a word to define her views, Lady Gaga could only admit she was “a little bit of a feminist”, and Katy Perry triumphed with one the greatest oxymorons of all time: “I am not a feminist but I do believe in the strength of women.”

Beyoncé quotes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s definition in her song Flawless: “Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes”. There you go, an accurate definition which clearly states the emphasis on equality of the sexes (NOTE: not the supremacy of women). By disassociating ourselves from a word defined thus, it suggests that this equality is not an easy given in today’s society. If you disagree with the way the word has been defined by some, then take action to redefine it and set the dictionaries straight like Adichie did in her TED talk.

There is this modern myth that you have to reject feminism in order to receive kudos from men. But in fact, it’s no more than a sad attempt at standing out from the crowd. Who can say they are ‘too cool’ for feminism? It’s laughable – tragic in fact, that this word, an unequivocal word, is so misconstrued.

Remember when Barack Obama clearly stated that he was a proud feminist live on air? He was in no way afraid to admit it to the world. Back when David Cameron was our prime minister, he was asked, also live on air, if he too would identify as a feminist. Unlike Obama, Cameron hesitated. He felt the need to define the word on his terms before associating himself with the movement. This word ‘feminist’ shouldn’t be shrouded in such controversy, and our ex-prime minister should not have shown terror, genuine terror, when being asked to identify himself as a feminist. Unfortunately, he did what many other people find themselves doing: justifying a word that should not have to be justified. I’m doing it right now. This word should be understood universally, for what it really is: equality of the sexes, and nothing more.


I do not deny the negative connotations some people have attached to the word, but by rejecting the label outright you are only surrendering it to yet more negativity. It’s about time we reclaimed this word ‘feminism’. Rise above the white noise of ‘man-hating’ and ‘sexist-sensitivity’ that we seem to be permitting wherever we turn our heads. Don’t be ashamed to call yourself a feminist, and don’t flinch when people say the word because you’re worried it could be alienating. It’s not. We should be pre-empting these anxieties by bandying the word about without any hesitation. Women who claim supremacy over men are not feminists, and they never will be. By its very definition ‘feminism’ cannot be applied to their motives and actions, so rise above the apparent controversy and reclaim the word.

My final message to you all is this: stop fearing the word ‘feminist’. As Justin Trudeau preaches to us: “We shouldn’t be afraid of the word feminist, men and women should use it to describe themselves any time they want.” If we were to replace it with synonyms like ‘gender-equality’ we would not be so quick to distance ourselves from it. We use ‘feminism’ as opposed to ‘humanism’, because it is women who have been and are underprivileged. Feminism carries a history with it, it unifies not only the great women who battled for equality after World War 1, but also the worldwide waves of feminism that both preceded and followed after it. They are all part of the its global symbolism. The word connects everyone who has ever wanted more for themselves in a world where gender discrimination has plagued most of its existence. Far from a movement that fights only to benefit self-identifying women, the word feminism unites a concerted and international effort to dispel the myth of gender binary, deconstruct toxic masculinity, and gain equality for all genders.

So readers, please stop vandalising a word so beautiful and organic. It’s up to us to shape the word’s meaning, so let’s preserve the very peace it sets out to achieve.


Images by Isabel Kilborn




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