Approx. a 10-minute read.
Hopefully, this will be one of the few times that I write on whether to change the name of feminism to egalitarianism. Frankly, the debate holds very little value in comparison to the deeper issues that gender studies represent. The name is not the point of the movement and is reminiscent of choosing a new pretty box to put feminism in. Changing the name is just a way to avoid talking about the uncomfortable issues. It doesn’t get to the heart of the matter and if that’s where the conversation and change ends, then we have a problem.
I have come across many people, on the internet and in person, who believe that it would serve feminism to switch over to a term that covers everyone. Feminism technically does not cover everyone. Feminism contains the Latin root fēmina, meaning woman, and the Greek suffix –ism, which is used to turn an active verb into a noun. Clearly, “woman” is not a verb, but perhaps we can derive some meaning from this. Womanhood has historically been defined as passivity and a static nature whose job is to maintain life, not create it (Simone de Beauvoir, “The Data of Biology”, The Second Sex). Women stay at home caring for the children once they become impregnated by men. They perform menial repetitive tasks that give them no sense of creativity, autonomy or innovation. The very point of turning the word fēmina from a noun into a verb is to evoke a sense of movement and to challenge this very narrative that barred women from doing anything to change their social, political, and economic positions. For the suffragettes, becoming active was the whole point.
To change the name of the movement to egalitarianism is, I think, just a reflection of a trend within feminism that emphasises its marketability to consumers. Feminism has become a movement whose main focus is garnering support from all corners and, to do that, feminism has had to become less exclusive. As Linda Zerilli points out in her article “Doing Without Knowing”, being political involves making a claim which is, by its very nature, exclusive. Therefore, in the vein of Jessa Crispin’s book Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, there is no political power to a movement that does not make a claim, and, subsequently, does not do anything. There is no bite when we focus on making the movement for gender rights into a badge that we proudly wear on our t-shirts. And, conversely, wearing the proud feminist badge often sparks judgement that you want to raise women’s morale at the expense of men simply due to the word “feminism” which is exclusive. Hence where the argument for egalitarianism comes from: it is the movement of complete equality. To help women without hurting men.
Funny thing is: a lot of feminists agree with that statement. Personally, I do not want to take part in a feminism with the goal to reverse the power dynamic of the patriarchy. I believe that everyone should be treated equally. I believe the power structure needs to be disassembled. I also believe that women contribute to the patriarchy and oppress others. I don’t think women are more special than men. I believe we are all just people.
However, two reasons I have encountered for people jumping ship to egalitarianism are that feminism gives people the wrong idea about the movement and it involves focusing on women at the expense of men. These two arguments focus on an inessential and distracting element of feminism: marketing issues. We are scared to leave people out and we don’t want to be assholes. We want a feminism that isn’t threatening or exclusive.
But how does becoming non-threatening and overly inclusive help the movement? Feminism is all about being active and invoking change. A feminism that isn’t creative with the power it acquired in the last century and, even worse, desires a reversal of a power structure that continues to oppress individuals around the globe is useless to human rights activism. A non-threatening feminism that wants to keep everyone feeling comfortable and empowered doesn’t do anything. As I said earlier, when we enter into politics, by the very nature of being political, we inevitably exclude people. The remedy, however, is listening and learning to tolerate dissent and debate. We don’t need to pacify everyone.
These marketing concerns speak to a broader issue within a culture that values popularity over authenticity. This is a culture that encourages the self-commodification through constant self-performance on social media and discourages genuine individual expression. This is a culture that fears free speech while protecting that right vehemently. We are scared that we will not be accepted by our peers if we declare unapologetically that we support feminism. We are scared to lose friends over politics. We go with the tide to avoid pissing people off.
While having universal support for feminism’s goals may seem like a good thing, it is not when it comes at the expense of any real dialectical exchange occurring. Being universally accepted at the expense of being unimaginative, unprogressive and, frankly, boring is not what feminism has stood for in its long history. The point is to engage with the mainstream and challenge it. Attempting to rid the image of feminism of these so-called “man-hating feminists” by jumping to egalitarianism seems to me a cowardly move to avoid confrontation with people who don’t agree with you. There doesn’t seem to be many feminists willing to defend feminism itself from people who buy the $50 t-shirt and expect a parade in honour of their sacrifice and who describe their male peers using words like “fuckboy” and “softboy”. No one seems to want to disagree with a fellow feminist. The only way to get out of that, it seems, is to just cut off any affiliations and go move to the land of pure egalitarianism (no feminism allowed!).
These marketing issues will follow you to egalitarianism. It is no utopian safehouse from the misandrists who have supposedly taken over feminism. Egalitarianism will have its own problems with representation, with what its goals are, with how to achieve them, etc. Egalitarianism is not paradise.
Another reason people have brought up is that feminism does not represent all the victims of the patriarchy. While this is a valid point, it ignores the benefit of having a multi-faceted approach to social change, rather than one where change comes from one egalitarian mouth. The different perspectives in a debate are invaluable to change and achieving real equality. Sameness is not the same as equality. Having one mouth for all movements is not conducive to equality.
The patriarchy benefits no one. A power dynamic wedded into our culture benefits no one. However, a universal feminism disguised as egalitarianism, I believe, benefits no one as well. A universal egalitarianism that covers everything from women’s rights to lgbt+ rights to men’s rights to civil rights, worker’s rights, Black Lives Matter, etc., is misleading and hurtful to all movements whose very point is a unique perspective challenging the status quo. These movements are all human rights battles. They are all about human beings.
This is why the label “feminist” drives people insane. People assume that feminism is about one group and only one group. Truthfully, feminism only exists in relation to other perspectives. It is a perspective that challenges the status quo from a specific angle. Feminism is not everything. Feminism is not a label to slap on and then go about calling yourself an angel. There are racist feminists. There are money-grubbing feminists. There are hypocritical feminists. There are man-hating homophobic feminists. Being a feminist does not make you untouchable and perfect.
Having said that, feminism is vitally important, just like all other social movements are. All these nuanced perspectives should not (and cannot!) be blanketed with egalitarianism. Women have, in the past 150+ years, fought hard for the right to be recognised as a human being. Non-cis and non-straight people have fought in the past 30+ years to be recognised as human beings. The list of brave people who have fought for the recognition of their rights goes on. We are still fighting because the system was not built centuries ago by listening to all human beings. Our patriarchal capitalist system was built without the experience of more than half of its participants being recognised. The unique experiences of those who were left out are important and should remain unique and differentiated. We all know we are fighting for the same end goal: equality and respect. That should be enough for us. We don’t have to let our insecurities get in the way. We don’t need to appropriate all voices under the same umbrella. Disagreement is not the same as an all-out war.
Focusing on the lost voices is important. Thinking about the ways that our society does not enable people is vital. Feminism should not have marketing issues. Feminism should be focusing on its objective of social and political equality. Feminism should refocus on the critical thinking aspect that interrogates society, our relationships and ourselves and ask: How much of this is bullshit? How much of this is authentic? Am I treating myself and others with respect and dignity? Do I have unfair expectations of myself and others based on their gender or my gender? Do I take my genetic makeup and my upbringing for granted? Am I listening or am I just talking loudly at people?
At the end of the day though, I don’t care what you call yourself. What matters, whether you are a feminist or an egalitarian, is that you give a shit and you are willing to learn, be uncomfortable, listen, and change. What you call yourself doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
Now, let’s move on to the more important topics.