The Washington Post

It’s time for women to take back the word ‘feminism’

“Feminism” is not a dirty word.

But some people think it is. A staffer at Beliefnet, a spirituality, inspiration and emotional wellness Web site, told Minnesota playwright Kristine Holmgren that readers had issues with the word “feminism.”

Holmgren, who planned to use in the word in the title of her new blog for the site, shared an email from Beliefnet’s marketing and business analyst Sharon Kirk with media writer Jim Romensko on his Web site.

“­I would suggest changing the tag line or deleting all together as I’m concerned about the negative connotation that our readers may associate with the word feminism,” the email read. “In addition, we’ll want this blog to focus more on Christianity/spirituality as opposed to issues related to feminism. What do you think of simply ‘Sweet Truths with Kristine Holmgren’?”

Holmgren, who is also a Presbyterian pastor, told Kirk, “Please phone me.” In their ensuing discussion, Holmgren says, she asked whether Kirk was troubled by the word “feminist.” No, Kirk reportedly answered, but the Web site’s readers were. Holgren then told the Web site she didn’t want to write for it.

Have conservatives so corrupted the word “feminist” that is now tainted like the word like “liberal” or “environmentalist”? The fact that this is even in the realm of discussion in 2013 makes my head ache terribly — and makes me angry.

Feminism, in its simplest definition, means women – and men who align with that philosophy – who want equal rights for women. Who believe women should have equal pay, legal, voting, education and reproductive rights and protection from domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment. And no, you don’t have be a militant and burn your bra to be a feminist. But you can if you want to.

When I was growing up, my mother, who was of the generation where women married after high school, took their husband’s name and had babies, always told me that I could do anything a boy could do. I sometimes doubted that in the 1970s South, when girls were still dressing in frills to attend cotillion and enter beauty pageants. But I gave it my best shot. I skateboarded, popped wheelies on my bike and played baseball – not softball – with the neighborhood boys. And like the boys, I suffered skinned knees and bruised arms (mine were visible when I wore my sundresses). I felt equal, if not at times better, than they were.

Some 20-something, millennial women say that feminism has corrupted their femininity and their wish to stay at home and raise children. Not at all. Feminism is about the opportunity for a woman to choose whatever path in her life she wants, but, also to have the same rights as her male counterparts, whether in the boardroom or the bedroom. If men feel intimidated by this modernity, it’s their problem.

And plenty do.

The tainting of the word “feminism” has a lot to do with Rush Limbaugh, who has made it his mission for the last 20 years to try and put women in their proper place. In the early 1990s, he repeatedly used the term “feminazi,” a slur to describe a dozen or so women – Gloria Steinem, Anita Hill and Susan Sarandon – whom he found repulsive for their beliefs. Limbaugh later adopted the term to describe any woman who supported abortion rights or, essentially, who he didn’t like.

Not many years ago, the term “queer” was used as anti-gay hate speech. But many millennials have embraced that word, and added “Q” to LGBT to break down boundaries. Popular television shows such as “Queer Eye” and “Queer Folk” have even adopted the term in a positive way.

Kudos to Holmgren for standing her ground on “feminism.” In the ongoing war on women in this country and around the world, it’s time to take back the word proudly.

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker










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