The BuzzFeed Feminism Survey was taken by more than 300,000 people last week, and though admittedly the anonymous nature of the poll means the conclusions aren’t unimpeachable, the data we collected offer some insight into the health and perception of the movement.
We’ll be taking a look at the broader results of the survey in another post, but I wanted to respond to one of the bigger talking points: despite the fact all but a handful of respondents believe in gender equality, a majority also believe that the name “feminism” should be replaced with something else.
As the above charts show, the equality of the sexes is a basic value held by many of us. When the 99% who agreed with the very definition of feminism were asked if they identified as feminist, only 69% of respondents said yes.
Of those who who answered that they don’t identify as feminist, the majority said it wasn’t that they didn’t believe in gender equality, but because they don’t believe feminism accurately represents their views.
Later in the survey, when we asked if the terms “feminism” and “feminist” were the right names for the movement and its proponents, 56% of respondents said the movement needed a different name.
Respondents of both sexes backed up this view in the comments. Feminism, they opined, was tainted, emblematic of radicals and a rallying cry for male subjugation.
Members of both sexes offered alternatives, such as using “Humanism”.
This basic misunderstanding is characteristic of the disparity between those who believe in the tenets of feminism but disagree with the name.
Humanism, by definition, has nothing to do with gender equality. It’s an anti-theistic movement, valuing the importance of human achievement over the spiritual or divine. From the Oxford English Dictionary:
To reiterate, this is the definition of feminism, again from the Oxford English Dictionary:
This is not a new criticism, but it’s certainly one we need to retire. A quick google search for “why is it called feminism?” coughs up a number of explainers, many more erudite and succinct than I can muster here, such as this one from reddit.
Feminists believe that the reason for all sexism (be it anti-female or anti-male) is gender roles. These gender roles are skewed towards creating a male-dominated society.
Because our society is dominated by men and for the most part it is women who are victims of sexism the movement is called feminism.
The name feminism reflects the fact that is the female gender who have suffered most harshly from a patriarchal society. Men too are victims.
One of the problems with this focus on the name is that it deflects conversation and debate away from the central issues, and actively damages the cause.
As a commenter notes underneath the survey, rejecting the name feminism “supports the idea that being female or in any way associated with anything female is a bad thing.”
Choosing a new name for the gender equality movement would imply that feminism was somehow wrong, dirty, and shameful even, for negligible positive gains.
A new name wouldn’t get us any closer to gender equality, and would lessen the contribution and impact of those feminists who came before us, and the great work that has already been done.
As Roxanne Gay writes in her book, Bad Feminist:
Feminism’s failings do not mean we should eschew feminism entirely. People do terrible things all the time, but we don’t regularly disown our humanity. We disavow the terrible things. We should disavow the failures of feminism without disavowing its many successes and how far we have come.
Feminism is not the Washington Redskins. It does not need rebranding.
So what to do about the disparity? Well change is already happening. Here’s another outtake from the survey:
Many more people are identifying as feminist than were a year ago. The perceived PR problem fixes itself the more open dialogue we engage in, the more diverse voices are given platforms, the more people start to identify as feminist.
There is no perfect solution for gender inequality. Feminism is an umbrella under which many voices and ideals are gathered, and a far more pressing concern is to make sure those voices are included and heard, across boundaries of race, class, and gender.
In a perfect world we wouldn’t need feminism. We can all agree that’s not the world we live in. This imperfect solution is the best we’ve got. It is what we make it. Thanks to the tireless work of generations, feminism is more open and inclusive than ever.
Another commenter noted they find modern feminists to be overly-aggressive man-haters. I’m a modern feminist. I don’t hate men. And if that’s your idea of feminism, then you need to meet some more feminists. Hold a coffee morning, invite some feminists. Feminists love coffee. And by feminists I mean me. Buy me coffee.
People are who they are, and they bring that to the movement. If you meet a feminist that’s a dick, tell them to stop being a dick. If you meet a thousand feminists you think are dicks, it might be time consider if you’re the one with the problem.
I don’t attempt or pretend to speak for all feminists, but I’m happy to speak for reason. Asking for feminism to change its name is unreasonable. Asking for equal representation of the sexes is not. Let’s focus on the latter.