The Word “Feminist” Isn’t Overused — It’s Winning


Time is asking its readers to vote one overplayed word or phrase from 2014 off the island (“voting off the island” should definitely have been voted off the island back in 2006), and is conducting a poll to that end. Along with such currently-ubiquitous slang as “bae,” “basic,” “obvi,” and “I can’t even,” Time included as an option the slightly older word “feminist,” which indeed got a brisk workout in 2014.

Surely, this couldn’t backfire in the age of #GamerGate. But really, who would downvote “feminist”? Time claims it isn’t catering to MRAs, but rather to the type of person below:

You have nothing against feminism itself, but when did it become a thing that every celebrity had to state their position on whether this word applies to them, like some politician declaring a party? Let’s stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade.

You say “ticker tape Susan B. Anthony parade” like it’s a bad thing, Time! But seriously, the underlying point isn’t wrong. Many of us feminist-minded art critics have also gone on the record agreeing that it’s annoying when celebrities, or pieces of art even, are asked to run the “are you or aren’t you a feminist?” gauntlet. Indeed, it would be so much better to ask interviewees more specific questions about being a woman in their industry, or what obstacles they think gender creates for artists or in American life or whatever.

And yet, putting “feminist” on the list ignores (or merely fails to perceive) the sea-change in discourse around the word recently. You know what I’m talking about:

Yes, it’s Beyoncé’s feminist coming-out party at the VMAs.

But it’s not just that. There was also, of course, Taylor Swift, one of the celebrities whose rejection of feminism was most irritating in the past, coming around to Team F-word. Turns out that once she understood it was about equality and stuff, she realized that she had, in fact, totally been one all along.

Basically, “feminist” has gone — over the past few years, but specifically in 2014 — from a frustrating “gotcha” question incessantly asked of female celebrities to a cool label that the hippest of the hip are actively claiming. So, now that we can suddenly ask actors, actresses, and singers, “Hey, are you also a feminist like the two biggest pop stars in the entire universe, say they are?,” why the heck would we choose this moment to get rid of the word? Instead, let’s ride this (fourth? fifth?) wave past all the inevitable backlash and use feminism’s new cachet to try to get some progress made on, oh, you know, concrete, real-life equal rights.

As a coda, I’d like to address the Time reader who’s voting for feminist to get the axe: If you’re getting tired of hearing the, “Is X feminist? Is Y feminist enough?” debate, try actually being a feminist. You will have that debate with yourself and your friends every waking minute of your life. Then see if you get tired of it.

Obvi. I mean, I can’t even…