Opinion: Was ‘feminist’ <em>really</em> the most annoying word of 2014?

Beyonce has threaded themes of feminism into her music and performances.
Beyonce has threaded themes of feminism into her music and performances.
(Michael Buckner / Getty Images)
Guest blogger

This week, Time magazine included “feminist” on its fourth annual list of suggested words to ban in the new year. Readers can vote on trendy slang words like “bae” and “obvi” but so far, it’s “feminist” that’s leading the pack. I have a suspicion that Time is trolling us, stooping to provocation in an effort to get page views.

Whatever the case may be, it’s deeply troubling that a news organization like Time would suggest banning a word that means something as basic and seemingly uncontroversial as “all humans deserve the same rights regardless of their gender.” Apparently, we need yet another reminder of why anti-feminist rhetoric like this needs to end.

Not a week goes by it seems without another story underscoring the pervasiveness of misogyny in American culture. From the kinds of street harassment seen in recent videos online, to the threats women face for speaking up about gaming culture, we risk our personal safety when we have a public presence.


But sexism doesn’t end when we cross the thresholds into our homes -- our private lives are also not entirely our own. Women’s most intimate decisions are being policed as we fight to retain the right to control our reproductive destinies, rather than continue to be seen as merely vessels for fetuses. And while there are signs that the problem of rape on college campuses is being taken more seriously, some universities and college administrators haven’t yet risen to the occasion. And transgender women continue to face violent attacks and murder at a disproportionate rate.

So, whether it’s online, on the street, on college campuses or in our own homes, women know that we can experience harassment, hatred and violence in any place and at any time.

Time asks that while banning the word feminist we should “stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade.” First, sign me up for that Susan B. Anthony parade. And second, why can’t we address “the issues” as feminists? The label helps us acknowledge that these issues are related, part and parcel of a social structure that devalues women’s labor, that denies women control over their bodies and that reduces women to sexual objects.

Since the 1800s, the word “feminist” has been used to unite women and men in pushing for a more just and equal society. By lumping the word with flash-in-the-pan terms like “literally” and “influencer,” Time is playing into the misguided idea that feminism is a fleeting fad, rather than a long-standing social movement.

Maybe the folks at Time are irked to see celebrities weighing in on the idea of feminism as if it’s some kind of fashion trend. But so what? Considering the state of things for women all over the world, shouldn’t we be fighting tooth and nail to spread the ideas of feminism far and wide until its core principles become more prevalent than misogyny?

Feminism is not slang or some kind of passing fancy. So vote to ban “feminist” all you like, but it’s not going anywhere.


Susan Rohwer is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @susanrohwer.

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