Merriam-Webster’s 2017 word of the year was feminism.
It isn’t difficult to see why. The year began with anti-Trump Women’s Marches, picked up speed with the installation of the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street, chugged along with the release of the Wonder Woman film, and finished off with #MeToo.
The word feminism was a “top lookup throughout the year,” a fact that initially surprised me because it suggests that a large number of people aren’t clear on the word’s meaning. Yet the more I thought about its complex history and varied connotations, the more I came to understand why people would reach for their dictionaries when confronted with it.
What does feminism mean?
Merriam-Webster did its best to nail down two definitions for this slippery word: “1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. 2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”
These definitions are unhelpful because they contain squishy words that are subject to — that in fact require — interpretation themselves. Their subjectivity renders them almost meaningless.
One word that stands out in this regard is equality. By no means is equality a straightforward concept when comparing things that are as fundamentally different as men and women. The sexes have different biological functions, different needs, different priorities, and yes, different ways of thinking. If men and women didn’t think differently “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” would not have sold fifty million copies and been translated into forty different languages. Yes, it’s a silly pop psychology book, but its popularity is a testament to the fact that most of us find the opposite sex’s thought process is at least somewhat mysterious.
Given feminism’s innocuous dictionary definition, it’s a wonder that it doesn’t have more adherents. According to a 2013 YouGov poll, large majorities of both sexes reject the feminist label. Only 23% of women and 16% of men described themselves as feminists.
An interesting wrinkle: The poll also asked if respondents believed in political, social and economic equality between the sexes (Merriam-Webster’s first definition) without using the word feminism and found 82% in favor. The obvious inference to be drawn here is that a majority of Americans believe in feminism — or at least in Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word — but don’t want to be called feminists.
Clearly, feminism has an image problem.
But why? One possible explanation is that feminism is a movement and, like most movements, it has a cadre of opinion leaders who interpret it for the rest of us. They decide what equality means and if you don’t agree with them, they will revoke your feminist card.
Case in point: During last January’s Women’s Marches, organizers excluded a group of Texas-based feminists because of their pro-life stance. The organizers had to enforce orthodoxy, you see, and their orthodoxy is so narrow that it would exclude the famous suffragette Susan B. Anthony if she were alive today. I can only conclude that the continued legality of killing children in the womb is a nonnegotiable precept of feminism. Get with it or get out.
The cadre’s interpretations have gotten progressively crazier over the years to the point that that most rational people — even most women — now find feminism grotesque and want nothing to do with it.
Here are two examples from just the past two weeks that illustrate some of what ails feminism.
- A topless feminist by the name of Alisa Vinogradova bum-rushed the Vatican’s nativity scene on Christmas Day in an attempt to steal the baby Jesus. Thankfully, she was stopped by guards. Vinogradova reportedly screamed “God is a woman!” and had the same slogan painted on her back. She belongs to FEMEN, a feminist group whose stated goal is “complete victory over the patriarchy.” Her attempted theft was a protest against the Catholic Church’s teachings on contraception and abortion.
- Huffpost editor and self-described feminist Emily McCombs tweeted that her two New Year’s resolutions were “cultivating female friendships” and “banding together to kill all men.” She has since deleted the tweet in a lame attempt at a cover-up. She will nonetheless keep her job because bloodthirsty misandrist rhetoric is fashionable among feminists.
Both of these examples illustrate the oppositional posture that has come to define feminism. Feminists are recognized more often by what they’re against than by what they’re for.
In the first example, Vinogradova was raging against feminism’s eternal bugaboo — religion. But most women don’t perceive religion as an oppressive force. The several hundred million women around the world who subscribe to the Christian religion see this bare-breasted ninny’s stunt as an attack on their Savior and, by extension, an attack on them. They don’t need Vinogradova’s advocacy and wish she would stop.
The second example indicates that today’s feminism is at least as anti-male as it is pro-female. If it weren’t, McCombs would be drummed out of respectable feminist circles. The fact that she hasn’t been tells me that feminist opinion leaders think comments like hers are cute and funny.
Killing men! Ha! Ha!
Miserable wretches like Vinogradova and McCombs are the reason feminists can’t get even one quarter of American women to self-identify as members of their movement. Feminists are perceived as a small group of discontented women revolting against one thing — family life, with family defined in the traditional sense.
Feminists hate religion because it is the guardian of the family. They hate men because they are women’s partners in the family enterprise. And above all, they hate children and wish to maintain the legality of killing them in the womb because children complete families. Feminism, at least in its modern incarnation, is grounded in hate and violence.
While their hatred of family life may be regrettable it is not inexplicable. There has always been a tension between women’s career aspirations and their roles as wives and mothers. Women who wish for careers must often put families on hold while they accumulate the proper education — a process that, depending on the field, can last into a woman’s thirties.
Once women leave academia for the workplace they find that they can’t so easily take a break for child bearing and nurturing, at least not without falling behind in professional standings. Women often seek to offload their maternal responsibilities onto someone else — their husbands or paid child care providers — only to discover that these alternative arrangements are both unworkable and poorer than the real thing.
In short, some women harbor resentment against the family because its obligations fall disproportionately to them. Feminist doctrine blames “the patriarchy” for this state of affairs though nature is the more likely culprit. Women have always played a more active role in perpetuating the human race, and they always will. It’s not fair; it’s just reality.
Feminists cannot accept this reality so they rail against the big-S “System” that they believe was created by men to keep women down. The feminist ideal is to liberate women from the traditional family model so that they can be themselves. Think of feminist adage “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” That’s feminism — women doing it on their own without the strictures placed on them by the family unit. If they need a support network they should rely on other women.
It aggravates feminists that so many women still enjoy wearing the nuclear family’s straitjacket. What woman in her right mind would want to be tied down to home and children?
Clearly, many women find value in the traditional family. It has many benefits, not the least of which is the harmony it brings to the sexes. When men and women are united in marriage and later in the raising of children they are yoked together in a mutually beneficial partnership. Humanity’s two roughly equal halves rely upon each other for their daily needs and to provide for the children, the weakest and most vulnerable of our society. Neither side can afford a battle of the sexes, and for the kids it can be traumatic. A truce is therefore declared, not just in the home but in society at large.
This truce cannot survive feminism because feminism encourages the female component to forgo obligations in favor of selfish desires. It foments acrimony between men and women and between women and their children. It spurs both men and women to withdraw to their own separate bunkers while children are left to fend for themselves. There are no winners in a fight like this.
Even as we wrap up the most feminist year on record, the movement still struggles to gain credibility among the population at large and even among the population it professes to help. Feminism has an image problem and it is entirely feminists’ fault.