Feminism and letting go of language

| categories: politics, feminism | View Comments

The internet wants to ban feminism.

Understandably, this has made a lot of people very, very angry. I'm sure 4chan is pleased. I am ultimately confused.

I've been frustrated for awhile with progressivism's awkward relationship with language, and ill-defined championing of some strange form of linguistic prescriptivism. The whole progressive movement seems caught up in the idea that words have meaning. Words don't have meaning, meanings have words, and feminism has other words.

Say "feminism" out loud for a moment. Pay attention to what you are doing; the inward curl of the lower lip for the opening fricative, the clenching of the pallate for the long "E", the gentle rushing of air over the "s."

Which of these things you just did with your mouth is necessary to improve the stature of women in western society?

I'm being dramatic about it, but it's hobbling the movement. How many well-meaning articles do we read that tell their audience "feminism doesn't mean what you think it means?" How much affect do you think these articles have? Your opponents aren't going to let go of their definition of the word any more than you are, and by trying, you've acknowledge a central fallacy in the way the debate is carrying on: you and they do not agree on what feminism means. There's no common language, ergo there is no discussion. You've never actually talked to the people that disagree with you.

Try it my way: next time someone says "feminists are just hairy ugly women who want to castrate all men and take their jobs," just say "fine, we can go with that. Also, I'm not a feminist by that definition. Also, I contend that no feminists exist by that definition. Now that your bogeyman has vanished, can we talk about woman's ownership of her own body?"

You have nothing to lose by the banning of the word feminism. Does saying "I support equal rights for women" really make you sound any better? Moreover, doesn't making your opponents say "I don't support equal rights for women" rather than "I don't support feminism" expose them all the more quickly?

I'm indifferent on the word feminism. I am a feminist when and only when my audience understands the word "feminism" the same way I do. I'd much rather agree to use the same terms whatever those terms are, and move on to more substantial discussion.

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