Why I’m a Feminist, Not an Equalist

An answer to a question I hear a lot.

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“If it is about gender equality, than why is it called feminism? Why isn’t it equalism?”

This is a question I hear a lot amongst detractors of the feminist movement. In their view, the fem in feminism can only mean that it is a pro-women movement, that isn’t seeking equality but rather supremacy over men. I find this fear of a reversal of hierarchy, the concern that men will be the ones left behind, quite revealing. It is an acknowledgement of the undesirable situation of women, and at the same time a selfish desire to keep things as they are so as to avoid things being flipped on their head.

Women suffer most from gender inequality. The movement must start with them.

In reality, feminism is seeking gender equality, but in a situation where women are the ones who are disenfranchised, holding less political and economic power than men, and subjected to violence at their hands, the movement for gender equality must begin with empowering those suffering the most from inequality. It must begin with women’s empowerment. The word feminism recognises where the fight must begin. To remove it is a way of silencing women, again, and of taking attention away from women’s issues.

Feminism today is part of a long history

The word matters, too, because it ties today’s feminism in to a long line of movements for women’s political and social empowerment. This history matters because it shows how far we have come and how much we have left to do. We owe a debt of gratitude for some of the victories our foresisters acquired, and we must also keep a critical mind over those things that they overlooked, or the feminists that were silenced within the white-dominated movement.

Equalism is too vague

The word equalism can refer to anything, anyone can say they adhere to it in principle, whether or not they actually believe that women deserve more rights. This fact must be implicit in the language we use. Words have power, they give meaning to movements and shape the way we see our struggles. By taking women out of the word, we are diluting its meaning.

People also often defend the word humanism rather than feminism. The problem with this is that humanism is already taken, and it doesn’t mean a movement that is seeking the empowerment of all humans, but rather a system of thought that attaches importance and value to human reason above superstition or religious belief. The word doesn’t refer to humans or equality or how to make the world a better place for individuals and communities. It is more of a scientific term than a social one. I mean, sure, we could change the meaning of the word, give it a new one entirely. But before we can use the word humanism to refer to the advancement of all, we would have to first fully acknowledge, as a society, the humanity of women, people of color, and other oppressed groups. And we aren’t there yet. This humanity is systematically denied.

The word ‘feminism’ isn’t really what detractors have an issue with

When it boils down to it, the question of saying equalism or feminism is a bit of a red herring. This comment is usually made to me by people who know nothing of feminism, and have no genuine interest in equality. They are frightened by the word feminism because they don’t actually want women to gain too many rights.

It is similar to the way in which “Black Lives Matter” triggers some people. They respond “All lives matter”, even though the first statement never contradicted the second. But Black lives are the ones that are being called into question. Drawing attention away from the real issue at hand just serves to silence the anti-racist movement. And in reality, the reason Black Lives Matter triggers certain people is because they don’t actually belive that they do.

In the same way, people asking me “why is it called feminism, why not equalism,” aren’t really interested in semantics. They don’t really care about the word, they care about the content of the movement. They want to regain control over it, by renaming and redefining it by what is acceptable to them.

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