There are plenty of ways of laying waste to words. One is spending too many of them on something like this.
Look, if Time’s online polls actually had some kind of “1984”-level authority when it came to the use of words, that would be one thing. I am relieved to say that they do not. (I think. Minitrue has not returned my calls, doubleplusungoodly.)
That does not mean that we should not take these things seriously, of course.
You know what they say. “First, they suggested banning the word ‘feminist’ in an online poll, and I did not speak up, and then they suggested banning ME in an online poll, and — no, everyone was still there and able to speak up if he or she wanted to, because banning a world in an online poll has NO IMPACT WHATSOEVER (except to generate hits for the hit mill that powers almost all online endeavors, and indignation for the indignation mill that powers yet more).”
Putting “feminist” on a list of words to “ban” is not exactly subtle. It is about as subtle as draping yourself in cat videos and sprawling on a bear rug in front of an open fire, murmuring, “Click me” in a low, sultry voice. But it certainly does the job. There are better, less easy, more responsible ways of generating these hits, and it would be nice if editors sought out those instead, as Roxane Gay touched on on Twitter.
Let’s talk about feminist for a second, though. It’s had quite the year. Every female celebrity is now claiming or disclaiming it in interviews (many of them, as my colleague Mark Berman points out, conducted by Time), to online acclaim or backlash as the case may be.
Sometimes, I worry that the impact of all this discussion and backlash has simply been to shift the default from “I’m not a feminist, but” to “Sure, I’m a feminist, but.” I want more than that.
It is so easy to be a feminist on the Internet much of the time — there is such an immense community and it is so possible to swaddle yourself in an echo-chamber cocoon on Twitter — that you can sometimes forget how hard it is to be a feminist outside of the confines of the screen.
But the good news is that “feminist” is becoming a default question and a part of the conversation. It’s on Beyonc‘s “Flawless” and behind her in bright lights. Taylor Swift’s laying claim to it, now that she knows what it is. It is, in short, having a moment. Even if you’re cynical about it, it powers clicks.
And now comes a kind of backlash. To look at the list of words that Time has assembled is to see words that have been so omnipresent that they have started to cloy. And say what you will about feminist (“what you will about ‘feminist'”), it has definitely been much with us, lately. Is that hurting it?
You can destroy a word by literally banning it, but that almost never works. You can also destroy a word by diluting it until it loses its defining power. If everyone’s a feminist, is no one a feminist? If it’s a box we all check off readily on command, has it lost its sting? Well, no, hopefully not. Hopefully that means everyone has simply realized that being a feminist should not be a radical controversial stance in ANY way, shape or form, and then we can get matching sweatshirts.
Either way, so long as the Internet thrives, there’s no danger of the word being shushed out of existence any time soon.
I would say that we are wasting our indignation on this, but there is always enough indignation to go around. It is limitless and renewable, like wind. It spins the windmills at which we constantly tilt.
In the meantime, let’s ban kale instead.
Here are the clicks you wanted.