Joss Whedon Thinks Feminism Needs A Rebranding, Makes Some Good Points

Joss Whedon gave a speech at an Equality Now dinner and discussed the word “feminist” all the way from how the word sounds, to what it means and what it suggests. Full disclosure: I struggle with the word “feminism” everyday that I declare I am a feminist.

It’s not because I don’t believe in feminism: I believe all men and women (and any other gender a person identifies as) are created equally. I believe they are entitled to basic human rights but most of all the same opportunities to full fill their aspirations and reach their highest potential. Right now the world wholly is struggling with making this possible. We’re working on it.

Joss Whedon’s speech so perfectly captures our issues with gender and language and I encourage you to watch or read the entire speech at Jezebel. Whedon says:

” Ist [The -ist in feminist] in its meaning is also a problem for me. Because you can’t be born an ist. It’s not natural. You can’t be born a baptist; you have to be baptized. You can’t be born an atheist or a communist or a horticulturalist. You have to have these things brought to you. So feminist includes the idea that believing men and women to be equal, believing all people to be people, is not a natural state. That we don’t emerge assuming that everybody in the human race is a human, that the idea of equality is just an idea that’s imposed on us. That we are indoctrinated with it, that it’s an agenda.

And that’s when I realize what my problem is (well, one of my problems). My problem with feminist is not the word. It’s the question. It’s the question. “Are you now, or have you ever been, a feminist?”… This question that lies before us is one that should lie behind us. The word is problematic for me because there’s another word that we’re missing. That words have failed us. And I’d like to use as an example race.

In the public discourse, there’s one word to deal with race. Racism. That is the word. And it implies something very important. It implies something that we are past. When you say racist, you are saying that is a negative thing. That is a line that we have crossed. Anything on the side of that line is shameful. Is on the wrong side of history. And that is a line that we have crossed in terms of gender but we don’t have the word for it. People are confronted with the word feminism and it stops them; they think they have to deal with that. But I think we’re done with that as intelligent human beings. Being on the wrong side of history in terms of the oppression of women is being on the whole of history, all of recorded history, you’re on the wrong side.”

So what’s my problem with the word feministThe word has completely lost its meaning throughout history because there are far too many incarnations of the word. How many people know the difference between first, second, third and fourth wave feminism? How many people know that feminism is about equality and not hating men? How many people understand racial intersectionalism and how feminism once excluded women of color and poor white women in favor of middle class white women? How many people have a thorough understanding of what feminism means, how it has transformed over time to be the most inclusive it has ever been? Many don’t. Many remember it to be a medium for “manhaters” or even, an ideology that slut-shamed women who wore makeup or short skirts?

The term, feminism, to me, has become convoluted, it has lost its meaning because it has had so many meanings. Yet, I call myself a feminist because I believe in equality, in humanity, in human potential. Is there a need for us to latch onto that word? To cling to it because it’s what we have called ourselves so long and letting go of it feels like a forfeit to those who have dismissed us for so long?

Well, I am not that petty. I am not so petty that I need to cling onto a word that for so many people sounds off putting and places limitations on who can be a feminist. I want the most equality for the most people in the most places, for that reason, while I will declare myself a feminist to the very end, if we must begin to call ourselves something else, then I will.

If it means more women can choose without judgment whether or not they want to wear a burqa then I choose a new name. If it means my nieces can excel in STEM without facing misogyny and pretenses that suggests women are bad at math and science, then I choose a new name. If it means we get justice for rape survivors and come even just an inch closer to ending rape culture, then I choose a new name.

It is not worth it to remain stagnate, to keep explaining, “No, I don’t hate men, I’m a feminist. I believe they are better, smarter, more dignified than the sexually-driven, selfish, condescending pigs portrayed in mainstream television. I believe people are better than what is expected of them.”

If there is a new word, if there is a new ideology (that is just the same old ideology) then maybe its time we let that word go. Maybe its time we let feminism go and rebrand this bitch, Don Draper style—just change the name because people’s associations with our brand are negative, bad and confusing.

We want our message to be clear as feminists but it is just not. If no one knows WTF we are talking about how can we even have a conversation?


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