When you’re trying to convince someone that the goal of the feminist movement is equality between the genders, the thing they have the most difficulty grasping is, “why feminism?” As if the name of the movement being called after women, or the female gender, is somehow a hindrance to what it has achieved in the past, and still continues to achieve in the present day.
I’ve always thought that the naming of the feminist movement comes from the fact that women need to be emphasised within the movement. Though we are fighting for equality between the genders, this equality means focusing on the discrimination that women face. It means attempting to restructure society in a way that destroys gender roles that harm everyone, but with a focus towards women.
In present day, feminism has tried to evolve from its uses since its conception. Though the core of the feminist movement is still equality between the genders, many branches of it attempt to be more inclusive of different gender and sexual identities across the board, aware that they face discrimination that heterosexual men often don’t. This means that a more inclusive feminism doesn’t just emphasise discrimination against cisgendered women, but also trans* women and men, those who identify as intersex, genderqueer, genderfluid, so on and so forth.
So why hasn’t feminism changed its name? In many ways, it has. Feminism has become such a vast movement that the single term, feminism, can’t contain it. Feminism has multiple branches, each of them with differing beliefs, and yes, differing names! Moreover, feminism is rooted in an important history of women’s rights. The feminist movement itself has important figures throughout history. It has made important changes all over the world. Starting a new movement away from this history would be detrimental to everything that feminism has achieved. Feminists want to continue making strides in society, but that shouldn’t cost us the strides that our predecessors have made in the past. Because it’s our past that has gotten us to where we are now.
Many people who counter the name of feminism, suggest humanism or egalitarianism as alternatives to the term feminism. But just a quick search on Google will tell you why feminism is a better term than either of those. Humanism, first of all, is a philosophical school of thought that emphasises the value of human beings. Egalitarianism, similarly, is a school of thought that believes that all humans are equal. At a contrast, feminism is an established political movement.
We have previously established our own definitions of feminism, now why don’t we take a look at the definitions of egalitarianism, and humanism? I sometimes get confused between all of the fancy language.
Egalitarianism: the doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.
Humanism: An outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.
Both of these terms seem to have a good ideology. Now in theory these two would be great; being able to look at all people as human beings who deserve equal rights. However, in my perspective that’s the problem. We currently live in a society where many people/communities are not viewed as equal (we know this), but the problem arises even more when a certain group of people becomes lost in the ‘whole of humanity’; when there is an attempt to say that ‘regardless of gender/culture/race/etc, we’re the same (because it doesn’t matter)’. That’s part of the problem; like when folks say “oh I don’t see color”, which is bullshit, because of course we see color and any attempt to say that you don’t is a direct attempt to erase a part of our identity, experience, and history; however, I digress.
Humanism and Egalitarianism are about people as a whole group, without understanding the diversity (at least from my small understanding) that lies within human society. Feminism is called feminism because it stresses the importance of taking a focus on women in a society where women have been and continue to be oppressed (I say this knowing that in varying societies/cultures the oppression looks different). Feminism is meant to be a broad umbrella that encompasses many different forms of women’s identity, i.e. intersectionality.
Feminism has an understanding of the complexities of gender, and how folks who identify as a woman fit into that community. I’m talking about the inclusion of queer women of color, transgender women, folks who are gender non-conforming, genderqueer, etc. Feminism also takes into account the complexities of race, culture, ability status, spirituality/religion and all the other parts of our identities as people (as I mentioned in a previous post). It’s called Feminism because it focuses on the experiences of women, ALL women, throughout history; especially in regards to the identities that society has tried to erase.
Feminism is History.
History that is often left out of the textbooks. It is real, living and breathing, and constantly changing; integrated and woven into the story of women throughout time.
Feminism is Herstory.
For the same reason it doesn’t make sense to have a heterosexual pride day or to say ‘white lives matter’. When we give a word to a struggle, that word is supposed to embody the experiences of that particular group. Historically women have had less rights than men, they couldn’t work, vote or have an education. While some of those rights have been gained in certain countries, the right to equal pay and complete control over one’s body is still an issue.
The rate of domestic violence and rape is too high to be ignored. Cases of sexual harassments are not rare but too frequent. As long as women don’t get the justice for the violence they experience we will continue the feminist movement. By replacing the word with humanism or egalitarianism you are essentially missing the point. As neither of those words address the specific problem, this only makes sexism a hidden issue in our society. How can we address an issue if we give it general term? How do we ensure that people know of women’s suffering if we don’t call it Feminism?
Words are powerful and Feminism has a long history of resistance that we can build upon. To change a concept that has won many victories would be disadvantageous. Having said that, Feminism has evolved to include concepts such as intersectionality, a term that addresses not just white women’s oppression, but women of colour, disability, class, religion, gender identity and sexuality. These concepts are essential to spread awareness and to ensure that one-day all women and men can live side by side in a safe and secure society that doesn’t define you as less worthy because of who you are. By calling it Feminism you are acknowledging the many obstacles that face women. You are telling the world that you are paying attention.