I wouldn’t blame anyone for being sick of the discussion around the word “feminist.” The conversation is extremely fucking overwrought, when it shouldn’t be. I agree with Joss Whedon, who says in the video above, that you either believe that women are human beings equal to and deserving of the same opportunities and respect as men, or you don’t. But Whedon said something else when he spoke earlier this week for Equality Now at an event called “Make Equality Reality.” He said that he hates the word “feminist.”
Joss Whedon doesn’t hate feminists themselves, mind you. He realized, he said, he hates how the word ”feminist” fits into our lexicon. As he explains in this 14-minute long speech (you can read most of it transcribed on Jezebel), Whedon says he doesn’t think we should have to describe ourselves as believing in equality the way we would with other “-ists,” like, say, being a Baptist or a Communist. Equality for all is so basic; it should just be presumed that of course we believe in it without having to be taught that it’s the right way to be. After all, we don’t say, “I’m a not-racist.” We just assume that racism is wrong and have a negative word, “racist,” to describe those people. So why does needing to say we aren’t biased against 51 percent of the world’s population require explanation?
Ultimately, Joss Whedon proposed that we come up with a new word. The new word should describe those who are biased against other genders the same way a racist is biased against other races. He suggested “genderist”:
“So unless somebody comes up with a better one – and please do – my pitch is this word: genderist. I would like this word to become the new ‘racist.’ I would like a word that says there was a shameful past before we realized that all people were created equal. And we are past that. And every evolved human being who is intelligent and educated and compassionate and to say I don’t believe that is unacceptable. And Katy Perry won’t say, ‘I’m not a feminist but I like strong women,’ she’ll say, ‘I’m not a genderist but sometimes I like to dress up pretty.’ And that’ll be fine.”
Deep. Philosophical. Conceptual. Alas, it will involve people truly understanding what “feminist,” “misogynist” and “sexist” mean, and why those words are different from “genderist.” (“Misogynist,” Whedon says, involves an active hatred of women as opposed to a bias and thinks the concept of “sexism” is too fuzzy.) I’m not particularly optimistic about that. It also doesn’t take into account the criticisms that many women of color have with mainstream feminism, both historically and in recent times. It doesn’t take into account the criticisms that LGBTQ folks have with mainstream feminism, either. I agree with Whedon that humans should examine these concepts as a general principle, but more important than introducing a new word into the lexicon might be addressing issues that women of color and LGBTQ folks already have with feminism. As well-meaning an ally as Joss Whedon may be, the priority for feminism in our culture should be addressing the complaints of racism and heteronormativity not using a thesaurus to find a new label. There’s a reason many people intentionally call themselves an ”intersectional feminist” and/or a “womanist.”
What do you think about Joss Whedon’s speech? Let us know in the comments!
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