This is the second post in a series of however many I feel like blog posts on the misuse and abuse of language with regard to hot-button issues. For some context, it might be helpful to read the posts in order starting with the first one. I am already looking forward to my third one, the topic of which I will leave as a surprise for now.
In our continuing journey across the etymological and colloquial battlefields of the war on words, it might be worth taking a moment to stop and consider women’s issues. After all, battlefields are generally littered with far more dead bodies of men than women, but I really like women, so I’m going to focus on women’s issues.
So what is feminism? Well, it’s a lot like reality. Really, really complicated. Just taking a quick look around, we see that there are many differing perspectives under the feminist umbrella. And if we take a look at the history of feminism, we can see how it has changed over time, which is also useful to note. The first wave, second wave, and third wave either gently wash into the shore of our social structures and create growth and life or are a tsunami of terrible destruction that wipes out all that is good and holy, depending on who you ask. There have a been a wide variety of responses to feminism from both those outside the women’s rights movement and those within it. Some within the women’s rights movement have endorsed the ideas of feminism unreservedly. Others have critiqued many of those ideas while agreeing with the goal of gender equality. Many others sought to make intellectual shifts in feminist ideas in an attempt to improve them, some to move them in a more moderate and constructive direction and others to foster the view that all men are rapists and deserve to die. There are really quite a wide range of feminist views, and it defies simplistic categorization.
Despite the complexity of feminism, folks tend to paint it with a very broad brush. Among traditionalists and conservatives, feminism is frequently a dirty word, an epithet to express the sort of liberalism that has disintegrated social structures, created a namby-pamby education system, and has promoted general moral decay. Among modernists and liberals, feminism frequently carries positive connotations. It’s viewed as a wonderful social movement that has created a more egalitarian society and helped break down oppression, leading the grand exodus out of our patriarchal past. In the men’s rights movement, feminism is frequently viewed as an ideology that perpetuates misandry and is therefore in need of elimination.
Unfortunately, our fine lexicographers helped immensely in oversimplifying our understanding of feminism by defining it as simply as possible. If you look at most dictionaries, feminism seems really easy to understand. When you crack open the dusty dictionary and mosey on over to the F section, you’ll learn that feminists just advocate for equal rights. What could be more admirable or harmless? Who’s going to disagree with equal rights?
Misogynists, of course. For those who don’t know yet, misogyny is defined as the hatred of women. Depending on who you speak to about it, being a misogynist could be as difficult as saying that all women are so inherently depraved that they should be beaten regularly and may be killed after they have made men enough babies and sandwiches to make room for them to have younger women. Or it could be as easy as suggesting that the way some feminists view women as a victim class and men as an oppressor class is overly simplistic and ignores a lot of scientific information about human behavior. So how does it get so easy to be a misogynist in some cases? Well, it goes back to the dictionary. If you disagree with important aspects of what a person considers to be feminism, it’s easy for them to see your disagreement as an attack on feminism. And if you don’t like feminism, clearly you just don’t like equal rights for women, because that’s what it means in the dictionary. Unfair? Certainly.
But all is fair in love and the war on words these days. And nowhere else have I seen the intense amount of rancor in the war on words as in matters of gender and sexuality. In fact, sometimes you risk getting ostracized, censured, or even slapped in the face if you do discuss the issues surrounding gender and equality. Ah, sweet equality.