Words are fickle things. If used by enough people in a certain way, to convey a certain message, they can change meaning entirely. That’s how language works… how it evolves.
But sometimes this can be problematic, and no more so than with the word ‘feminism’.
In a Guardian article back in August 2016, Olympic cycling powerhouse Laura Trott was quoted as saying ‘No, I wouldn’t call myself a feminist’, despite being the public face of a campaign by Always to promote women within sport and saying ‘I’m about pushing for girls’.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore Laura Trott and am utterly in awe of her colossal achievements, but I must admit that – in saying this – she epitomised one of the major problems facing feminism today: the word’s meaning has gotten completely lost somewhere.
Technically, the word ‘feminist’ is supposed to encompass any individual who desires equality amongst the genders. It does not mean the advancement of one gender above another, just pure and simple equality.
The best way I’ve seen this issue summed up was by actor Maisie Williams, who said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that ‘we should stop calling feminists “feminists” and just start calling people who aren’t feminist “sexist”.’
As an ambassador for encouraging girls to reach their full potential, Laura Trott is most certainly not sexist. Yet, sadly, she felt the need to deny being a feminist. This shows just how disastrous a semantic transformation the word ‘feminism’ has made.
In her interview, Trott went on to say that feminism is ‘a funny word’, which is most certainly true. ‘Feminist’ is a word that has suddenly been stuck with a myriad of negative connotations, brandished about as an insult to the extent that many now shy away from openly admitting that they are one.
And this is something that I see everywhere.
I work for a digital media company and, as such, spend a lot of time hovering in the darkened pit that is the YouTube comment section, and what I’ve seen is so desperately disheartening.
Let me give you an example:
I watched a review of the most recent season of Game of Thrones, which was a discussion between a male and female presenter. At one point, the female presenter made a brief comment about how uplifting it was to see more female characters achieving positions of power within the show, a point which her presenting companion cheerily agreed with. But this was too much for many members of their subscriber base, which mainly consists of young, teenage boys. Many of the comments referred to her ‘feminism’ as ‘a real turn-off’ and called her a ‘feminazi’ (*shudder*).
Now, I seriously doubt that all of these commenters are sexist. Call me naive, I just don’t believe that the majority of these commenters truly wish for their sisters to be offered lesser educational opportunities, or their mothers to receive lower incomes.
I believe that these commenters are simply symptoms of a disease of misunderstanding. They are just following a worrying trend of belittling a serious and necessary campaign for equality, without realising the implications of what they’re doing.
If you were to write a short article on, say, how the meaning of the word ‘feminist’ has been distorted beyond its initial definition, you would be likely to face a degree of backlash. People may comment about you ‘pushing a feminist agenda’ or being a ‘Tumblr feminist just wanting to jump on the latest self-righteous craze’ (both of which are comments I have seen online).
But the people who comment these things are actually helping to prove my point. The connotations of feminism have become so negative, which is bizarre considering it’s a campaign to improve the wellbeing of both men and women.
I do realise that what I am saying is not revolutionary; many have spoken up on this issue before. I don’t mind, though. My only aim is to be another voice in this discussion and to help spread the word of what feminism really means. Because – maybe – if enough of us use the word in our certain way, to convey our certain message, we can claim this word back from those who threatened to tarnish it.
To be a feminist is not to be hateful, but quite the opposite… to be a feminist is to not be sexist.