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Gender Neutral Language and the Word Feminism

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I am a cisgendered woman. I prefer the pronouns she, her, and hers. But I am not a feminist.

The word feminism came from the word feminsime, coined from the socialist Charles Fourier. It was first used in English in the 1890s. That was a long time ago.

Many things have changed for women since the 1890s. We have the right to vote, drive a car, and work outside the home. Going to college is no longer just for men either. But it took energy and effort to help these changes along. Women and their male allies began pushing the issues and from that evolved a movement. The feminist movement. This movement was not always met with open arms. There was push-back. Society felt that if you were a feminist, you were a man hating, bra burning lesbian. The word took on an ugly association with resistance.

So the question is. If this word is met with resistance and disdain by a large number of people, why are we still using it? More importantly, does it carry with it the same meaning? Back in the 1890s we lived in a very distinct binary. Men. Women. There were not terms for gender fluid, gender variant, gender neutral and transgender. People may have identified as this but it was not expressed very loudly, if at all. Thus the predominant binary. You were either male or female. Forever.

We are moving past that. We do not live in a gender binary. In fact, we are moving so far from the binary that we are changing the shape of our language to match these identities. We are doing this so to not offend others. Just recently, the word "they" can now be used to mean singular. This is to steer clear of the use of pronouns such as she, her, him and his. Even condoms are being reclassified. First we had male condoms, then female condoms. But it became evident this is not gender neutral. So now we have inside and outside condoms. There is a current uproar (and rightfully so) about gender neutral bathrooms. As a society we are trying to not pigeonhole people, concepts, places and even colors into a gender binary.

This is why it is puzzling to me that we still use the word feminist, or feminism. It denotes and relates to a very strict binary. To me, it means that there are men and there are women. It also means that they (meaning men and women) are treated differently, paid differently, respected differently and separated out from each other. And while these things occur in society, I do not think the word feminist is the word we need to continue using.

The word feminist contributes to the binary. It focuses so clearly on the differences between men and women that it does not pull us together. In fact, it pushes us apart. It does this by focusing on differences. When all we focus on are differences, we are not able to see similarities. Because of this it is difficult to come to the middle. The word feminist is not only gender specific language, it is polarizing.

Women deserve equal pay for equal work, no more, no less. But is it really about gender or is it more about equal treatment? Everyone should be treated equally. If equality is what we are after, then equality is the word we should use. Remember the marriage equality movement? It isn't gay marriage. It is marriage equality. One word, one concept. Level playing field.

If we stopped using the word feminist, it would not mean that we devalue women. It would not mean that we think the feminist movement did not have value. It would mean that we would embrace a new concept. A word that embraces all people in all of their struggles. It would allow us to classify the concept of discrimination with one word. What is that word?


Yep, that's right. Equalist. It doesn't subscribe to a binary, it is gender neutral and it is pretty clear about what the goal is. That is why I am an equalist.