Editorial: Feminism—when did the meaning of this word change?

Feminist. In 1895, the Oxford dictionary defined feminism as “advocacy of the rights of women (based on the theory of equality of the sexes).” It is now the year 2013 and although at its core, feminist principles have remained about the rights and equality of women, the connotation of the word has changed.

Groups like men’s rights activists believe that feminists paint a negative portrayal of men. Just recently, a men’s rights group in Calgary started a “Don’t be that girl” campaign wherein they created posters advocating things such as just because a woman doesn’t remember having sex doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual. These groups wish to dispel the idea that men are responsible for rape and many of their websites disparage feminists as “man-haters.”

However, it is not only men’s rights groups that have this misconceived notion of feminism. Maria Peluso, who has taught several classes where the focus is on women, noted that many of her female students say they liked feminine thought but did not want to be labeled as feminists.

Writers Beth Larson and Lara Orlandic of the University of Illinois’ paper The Online Gargoyle feel that one of the reasons why the title ‘feminist’, has a negative connotation has to do with the idea that men and women are already equal in North American society and therefore feminists are just complaining needlessly.

“Since the Women’s Liberation Movement changed women’s status in society so drastically, people tend to overlook the present-day gender inequalities. Even though men and women are considered to be politically equal, there is a long way to go until both genders are socially and economically equal” (Larson and Orlandic, “Our favorite “f-word”: The misconceptions of feminism in Uni and mainstream culture,” The Online Gargoyle. Nov. 29, 2011).

At Concordia, we are fortunate to have The 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy and the newly created Sexual Assault Centre working tirelessly to promote awareness of gender issues and advocating for an end to sexual violence. The centre’s latest workshop series, “Another Word for Gender,” is an example of how even though many of the events focus on issues facing women, these issues are not exclusionary to men nor are they meant to blame men. Rather, these workshops look at constructive solutions to problems such as gender oppression and sexual violence. The workshops are pegged as “an intro to feminist organizing and action,” and yet they in no way support the negative connotation associated with the word. Instead, these workshops support the official definition of feminism by promoting equality for all genders.

Nevertheless, women and men hesitate to call themselves feminists. The hypocrisy of media has had a strong influence on the millennial generation, convincing many that to call oneself a feminist is to align oneself with bra-burning extremists. Although people like this do exist, they do not represent all feminists.

The key to defeating the stereotypes surrounding feminism is education. As previously noted, Concordia has excellent resources for this and perhaps by taking the opportunity to learn what identifying oneself as feminist really means more people will proudly declare themselves as such.



  1. I used to call myself a feminist and I think that I fit the definition of a feminist that I saw in a 1970’s dictionary (I don’t remember which one). I’m for treating both sexes equally but it is sexism is deeply entrenched. I certainly have been a victim of sexism.
    Frankly I wish that I had cut my penis off when my younger sister got her braces in order to protest sex discrimination by my parents. My teeth are a mutilated mess because of damn things between my legs. My sister received proper orthodontic care at an early age for being a girl, however a (probably alcoholic) dentist delt with my severe overcrowding problem by cutting my teeth down in size by stripping off all of the enamel and some of the dentin between many of my teeth. In addition my lower front teeth were ground down in height. The net result is chronic dental pain. Somebody else did sue that dentist and my late father was the defense attorney (he lost the case).

    It seems as if having perfect teeth in perfect alignment is regarded as a female secondary sex characteristic in our culture.
    I have “outed” myself as having cerebral palsy and gender dysphoria elsewhere on the web. I don’t know if the cause of my cerebral palsy is iatrogenic, however the condition certainly of my teeth is. I have complained on the web that there has never been a study to ascertain whether there is a correlation there is a correlation between cerebral palsy and gender dysphoria.

  2. “Feminism” is not a definition, but an objective reality -a set of practices embodied in both individual behaviors and social institutions.

    When you consider that feminism is built very largely upon false information, it is easy to develop the necessary mental filters that will block the feminist narrative and reveal the pervasive, underlying truth of things.

  3. Active feminists are not really interested in objective information – typically. They don’t see to entertain what the evidence tends to show. If it doesn’t jive with their political perspective, it is to be eschewed.

    1. Which makes them like every other political group on this planet, including the MRM. Why does feminism draw so many negative connotations compared to all the other movement’s out there? It’s not to say that it’s a perfect ideology, but mention the word feminist in most places around the web and you might as well as say Nazi.

  4. Curious… This seems like a much better MRA bait but we’re not cats. You can simply ask.

    First of all we wish to clarify that men are not sole perpetrators and shine some light on false accusations. No one is attempting to shift responsibility or blame from actual rapists. “Don’t be that girl” campaign simply points out that there are false accusers. Interpreting it as anything else is hypocrisy since it is a mirror image of “Don’t be that guy” campaign. Unless original campaign had different intentions, both messages are simple: Some men rape and some women lie.

    Feminist reaction to that campaign is unpleasant to say the least. There are hypothesis this reaction stems from inability to maintain dominance over discussion of rape or disillusion over monopoly of victimhood. Point is simple and it shall stand. Some men rape and some women lie. If feminists are unhappy with MRA message, they should take a closer look at original campaign.

    If you wish to dismantle stereotypes about feminism, perhaps it would be wise not to create illusions about MRM.

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