I know that title is cliche and overdone - everyone even remotely involved in feminist circles knows that feminism is a "dirty word" to those who don't self-identify. It conjures up images of radical, petty, bra-burning, hairy-legged lesbians ("what's so wrong about that?!" says the radical, hairy-legged women's studies major). I've been thinking a lot about THE WORD recently, because of my most recent endeavor, a feminist magazine startup here at Syracuse University, Medusa. (Check out our blog!)
We decided (or maybe we didn't decide, maybe it just happened organically) to overtly identify our magazine as feminist. We labeled it as a "feminist publication," and we made one of our goals to "demystify the word." We want women to recognize that their goals are in line with feminism and "convince" women that feminism isn't scary, and explain how the reasons we find it threatening are related the same forces that keep women oppressed in the first place. But even with all that talk, I get confused as to why the word is important. And I need to bear in mind that we don't want to indoctrinate people or try and "convert" them to feminism; that wouldn't solve anything either.
It gets confusing! And it's easy to get lost in the rhetoric, and to get caught up in the controversies. That's why it was refreshing to see this analysis of the word, among other topics. At a recent PPNYC event, three awesome feminists had a panel-type discussion that touched on these exact issues.
I especially like Jessica Valenti's takedown (I tend to think that everything Jessica Valenti touches turns to gold)
Valenti said she embraced the word [feminism], and that there was no point in picking another, less loaded term because "I think any word you use to talk about women's rights is going to become a dirty word."It's kind of sad to think about, but I think it's true. It can't be a coincidence that the word that many of the strongest, most empowered and autonomous women I know identify as is also a bad word. It keeps people from embracing those ideals, and that framing is what keeps women apart, keeps women pitted against each other.
To paraphrase Valenti, any word you use to talk about a woman's control over her own body is going to become, for some people, a dirty word.I am still working this out, and trying to balance out my own beliefs about feminism with running a feminist magazine. And figuring out how to explain to people why feminism is amazing, and not something to be feared. And while I work all this out, I'm going to keep identifying as feminist, and hopefully changing peoples misconceptions about what that means. (h/t Hannah Warren, my amazing Medusa co-founder and editor-in-chief; I'll keep everyone posted when the first issue drops next semester!)