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Can We Rebrand Feminism?

Or is it time to reject the label as an anachronism?

by
Leslie Loftis

Bio

November 14, 2013 - 5:00 pm
britney-spears-work-bitch-video-still-13

From Britney Spears’s video for “Work B*tch”

Feminism needs a makeover, or so many feminists think. Unnerved every time some starlet, superstar, or rising professional star shuns the term, feminists wonder why all women don’t automatically claim the description.

They assume women must not know the meaning of the term. So they launch various education and rebranding campaigns. Recently, Christina Hoff Sommers tried to get “freedom feminism” to take in the pages of The Atlantic, and UK Elle launched a straight rebranding PR campaign. Hanna Rosin wondered if it was worth rebranding since it has proven so divisive. She has gotten closest to the actual problem.

If someone as smart and successful as Mayer, someone who tours the country speaking to young women, can’t comfortably call herself a feminist, then maybe we need to take her objection seriously. Maybe there is a reason why that PBS documentary was so much better on the history than it was on the modern era. Maybe feminism is a term too freighted with history and it’s time to move on.

To gain new feminists, the movement will need to do more than rebrand. The term “feminism” has bowed, as words do, to the dominate cultural practice, which despite what the rebranders think, has little to do with the hairy leg stereotypes of old. Right now feminism is defined by the old line political feminists, who have no intention of releasing their grip on the term. Any attempt to make feminism more popular will have to confront and break this hold.

Currently women who claim feminism fall into two major factions (and a host of minor factions too numerous to go into here). I call them the equal opportunity feminists and the political feminists.

The first holds that women should be free to make their own choices without external limitations. This feminism focuses upon equal opportunity and individual autonomy and enjoys broad support across the political spectrum. In almost every casual feminist discussion, someone will claim this is The One True Feminism. Some claim it with grace and passion in blog comment threads, while more popular proclamations declare we are all stupid if we don’t get it, like this helpful visual from HuffPo that I found in my Facebook feed:

Youreafeministflowchart

It is a simple sentiment and the one that the rebranding efforts reach for, but it is not the dominate feminism today.

For the past four decades, high profile feminists have co-opted the term for specific policy positions. These are the feminists who mistook the means for the ends.

feminism4_0

This is one of the Feminism 4.0 ads from UK Elle. It is the opposite of Meredith Brook’s hit song, I’m a Bitch. I’m a Lover. (I’m a Child. I’m a Mother. I’m a Sinner. I’m a Saint. I do not Feel Ashamed…) By either, apparently to be a great modern woman is to be a collection of contrasts, undefinable. The suggestion is of an empty vessel we each fill, which sounds great when we are 20, but over time it sends us to confusion, paralysis, and/or exhaustion.

Second Wave feminists of the 60′s wanted it to seem normal to have women in the office to disprove the prevailing assumption that women shouldn’t work so they prodded as many women into the office as quickly as they could (namely by insulting housewifery and insisting that volunteer work was for dilettantes). When women in professions became typical much more quickly than expected then these feminists morphed what was a route to equality into the measure of equality. They obscured the difference between equal opportunity and equal outcome. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Lean In fame, is just the latest example of a woman claiming that the revolution will not be finished until we have perfect 50/50 parity.

They tethered women to a ratio. They typically advocate only for policies that advance the goal of boardroom parity. Hence, the Get to Work attitude, hook up culture cheerleading, delayed motherhood and institutional childcare calls, and pro-choice piety. They know that the constraints of female biology will prevent perfect parity, so all policy positions aim to negate those constraints, to relive us of the burdens of motherhood. This feminism is not about choice (outside of abortion) and tends to focus upon the plight of wealthy, elite-educated, white women, who are closest to perfect parity. For good measure, they excommunicated any feminists who did not agree with the agenda, most notably the pro-life feminists, and they mock feminist housewives to keep them outside the movement.

In sum, they treat our lives as if they are only about work. When women reject the label “feminist”, we might express our objections differently—anti-men, anti-mothers—but distill the rejections, and women are shunning the one dimensional life that political feminism offers, in which a woman should be an island, completely independent and self-sufficient. Yes, that seems a risk free, safe plan but nothing risked, nothing won. And islands are lonely. Most women want a full life, with love and learning, family and friendship. And we don’t see it in the women who lean in.

To win new members, feminism needs more than mere rebranding. It needs a wider scope. But the odds of this aren’t favorable.

NOW_Logo

The political feminists have set their sights on more women in the boardroom. Or more sharply, they are the obstacle to a more inclusive feminism.

The equal opportunity feminists, however, are in denial, isolated, and defensive. They generally have forgotten that this battle for feminism’s soul was fought and lost in the 70s, about the time Gloria Steinem ousted Betty Friedan from NOW, and so they are hampered by the notion that the mantle is theirs to defend. It’s not. It is theirs to reclaim, which calls for a much more active strategy.

Equal opportunity feminism is also where most of the minor feminist factions live. The variety of pet issues makes it hard for them to find common practical goals. Furthermore, many have chosen domesticity and are currently too busy and overwhelmed to do anything other than career and/or motherhood.

Worst of all, they tend to buy into the notion of work as the measure of a woman. With every stay-at-home-mother’s comment about what “thinking women” do, they project: the working woman has a brain, the housewife doesn’t. She has to tell you that she thinks. It isn’t the default assumption. Only now the silly-little-housewife-has-nothing-of-import-to-say idea is perpetuated by women, not the patriarchy.

A side note, at a recent girls’ night, two of my friends told of problems they’d had polishing up their resumes after a few years of at-home mom life. One had attended a seminar in New York and another had hired a consultant, but they both learned the same thing: women routinely discount any work they have done while homemaking. They needed others to tell them how significant and worthy of inclusion on their resume some of their unpaid jobs were.

Such insecurity is not the foundation of a successful movement to reclaim feminism from the women who lean in. It is hard to argue for your position when you secretly believe the other side is right.

pro-choice-vs-pro-life1

Of course, equal opportunity feminists could ally with women of the right. We are vigorous advocates for, and practitioners of, the equal opportunity concepts of feminism. Together we might be able to wrest the term from the political feminists and restore the diversity of ideas the movement once had. But fear of this alliance, I think, is why political feminists insist on pro-choice adherence.

Just the hard tie of the word “choice” to abortion is effective.  I struggled in writing this piece to describe the non-political feminists. It’s probably why Hoff Sommers suggested the a-bit-too-earnest “freedom feminism” as an attempt at a common banner. The easiest description is something about choice, but any use of the word “choice” in politics or culture instantly calls to mind our greatest, and sometimes only, policy difference, abortion. It pulls us to our arguments before we can even start discussing our common ground and thereby secures the political feminists’ position by keeping women of the right and left politically isolated from each other.

As for the women of the right, we care a great deal about equal opportunity and individual autonomy, but we hardly need the term “feminist” for that. Plus, political feminism has spent so much time trashing us that the only reason some of us might claim the term is to provide a common banner with equal opportunity feminists while we both try to break the worker-bee life plan for women. But, again, thanks to that pro-choice wedge, they don’t want an alliance with us. (I have tried to find some possibilities for cooperation, but my experience has not left me optimistic.)

So I suspect that many women will continue to disavow “feminism” as the label for a life of work.  As women plan for more in their lives, the term will diminish and fade, an ignominious end to a once-powerful historical label.

Leslie Loftis is a recovering lawyer, a housewife, and a mother of 4. She is also a serial Texpatriate, most recently returned from London, England.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
So, what kind of woman am I? I see no need for Feminism of any kind. What are women fighting to achieve? I really have no idea. It all looks like wasted time and effort to me.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (15)
All Comments   (15)
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Ditch it. It's always been a movement based on flawed beliefs about men and women and with its relentless focus on women-as-victims it infantalizes women while demonizing men. You want to believe in equal rights under the law? There's a word for that. If you want to be a civil libertarian and specializes in women's issues, or men's issues, or whatever, then call yourself that.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Re-branding "Feminist" as "Stalinist" works for me.

But I guess it's just because I believe in truth in advertising.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Rebranding? Changing the logo and the package color? Yep, that will work.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh, the term feminism will be used for decades to come by the victimhood-mongers. You left out an important aspect of feminism - that it's also another front for crypto-socialists.

Old statists never die.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have new names for the new feminists:

Misandrists
Gender Animus Wave
Hate-speech
Privilege Painters
Anti-Capitalist, Patriarchal, White, Male, Heterosexual, Racist Concern Morons
Breast Comrades
Unluckiest People In History
Cis-Sis
Cultural Appropriation Colonialist Warriors
Intersectional Justice Brigade
Complain and Blame Until Spots Appear On The Sun and It Implodes
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Gynosaurs.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
But at least you're not as obnoxious as liberal men who refer to themselves as "feminists".
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Are you aware that your bombastic rants against women - and others - make you seem like a charicature of the fabled Right Wing Bigot? You may not be, but the anger you direct at all women, even conservative women, is enough to make me feel sympathy for feminists - and that's something I always thought was an impossibility!
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
All women? False. Women are the greatest thing on this planet. Have you read Donna Haraway? I have. Have you read the essays at ADA? I have. bell hooks, Melissa Harris-Perry, 3rd wave intersectionalists?

Laughing at a group of fringe lunatics is an awful long way from being a bigot and in the same way making fun of UFO creeps doesn't make me a hater of humans or a representative of a fifth column fronting for aliens.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
And not to give fuel to the fire that all women are stupid, I'm aware that I misspelled the word "caricature" and was unable to edit and change it.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Much like a union label is a stain on the brand of any product or service, "I'm a Feminist" is quickly followed by "Check, please!". Thanks, but no thanks. "You GO! Grrrl! Away, that is. Now, please."

Feminism has become the laughingstock dreamed up in "Animal House", as has every other "Progressive" fantasy. The *last* think that feminism is about is equality.

If feminism were actually about equality, there'd be the demand that women who commit crimes are prosecuted and sentenced to the same extent that men are, to say that women can take their lumps like men do. Instead, feminism is just the pretty face of the Sisters of Perpetual Victimhood, who've discovered there's money in them thar grievances, contrived or real.

Feminism's "image" problem won't go away until the bullsh!t does.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
It "seemed" like a good idea way back in the 70's.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
How about we start doing things like teaching that selfishness is bad and that biology is an important part of human nature? Yes, we teach this to boys as well.

Here's something to ponder: If young males are taught that females are different and that they have an obligation to protect them will young females be happier than if the males are taught that females are really not that much different and that they don't really need them that much anyway?

And will the young males say "oh woe is me, what a bitter life I face" or "Whatever. Let's Party"?
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ditch the word "feminism" which irrationally means government forced equal outcomes with men, and stick with the word "feminine" which rationally means natural equal value to men and therefore equality of rights and equality under law with men. The law of nature and nature's God has fixed this in our essence and written this into our DNA: women (feminine) and men (masculine) are naturally unequal in their attributes and functions, but naturally equal in their value.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
So, what kind of woman am I? I see no need for Feminism of any kind. What are women fighting to achieve? I really have no idea. It all looks like wasted time and effort to me.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
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