Every feminist and her cat (because bitter old hags that “want it all” just end up getting a cat, amirite lol!?) has something to say about Joss Whedon’s speech extolling the virtues of switching out “feminist” for a less abrasive word like “genderist.” Whedon’s controversial diatribe suggested that feminism needs a makeover–something that with Elle’s recent attempt to “rebrand” feminism, has been a hot button issue for women’s rights advocates.
Here’s the thing–Joss Whedon is both right and wrong. As our generation’s foremost (and possibly only vehemently vocal, or at least most consistently heard) male feminist, he makes a valuable point that we shouldn’t ignore. The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman suggests that Joss is “mainspaining” the feminism, and she’s not wrong. But, and maybe controversially, I think feminism needs mansplaining–not to women, but to men.
Women don’t need a feminist rebrand, but it’s possible that men do. And I can certainly see how a term like “feminism” can be alienating to a generation of men who are sympathetic to gender inequalities, but haven’t been brought up or educated in the historical semiotics of the feminist movement. Women have built this house called feminism, and with 50% of us already clamouring over each other to get inside, there’s little room left for the other 50%, the men. Perhaps what we need is an addition to the house–a granny flat out the back, or a second floor–a place to accommodate the newcomers.
Feminism is a scary word for a lot of men, and in my experience, a lot of my male, educated, 20 and 30-something friends still don’t get just WHY it is an important movement. These are men who want and believe in equal rights and treatment for women, but who only understand feminism insofar as “equal pay” or “the right to vote.” They aren’t especially well versed in the deep seated, intricate and institutionalized inequalities that still exist on a daily basis for women. Our experience is not their experience, and instead of screaming a dogmatic version of feminism, maybe it’s time we became more flexible in a bid to educate those who want to support the feminist cause, and shape something out of the feminist clay that is more suited to our newer members.
From this perspective, I think Joss Whedon is right. I think that men need something other than the word “feminist” in order to embrace feminism. We have to be OK with that, because whether it’s “genderism” or “feminism” all that matters is that ongoing battle for equality is fought with passion by a constantly growing army. And much of that battle has to do with re-educating men–so it seems like cutting off the nose to spite the face if we’re not willing to adopt more inclusive speech for a broader dialogue. We have to start somewhere, and if making feminism more accessible to men is that somewhere, then I’m all for it.
It doesn’t mean that we’re pandering to men or changing our vision for them–it means we’re cutting out the rhetoric that makes it difficult for men who haven’t necessarily been immersed in feminist philosophy can participate. If feminism is going to succeed, it needs everyone–men inclusive. The idea is that one day we won’t need to fight for our rights anymore, and I don’t think we can do that unless we start seriously working at assimilating our ideas and demands with the entire community, in a language that can be absorbed by all. We can’t keep being so precious about our feminist martyrdom. It’s beneficial for us to share the foundational tenets of feminism, even under the guise of “genderism.”
Now, when it comes to women needing a feminist rebranding, I think Joss Whedon is dead wrong. Women don’t need a rebrand, women need a kick in the ass. Women don’t need something new–we need a renaissance. We need to remember the women who fought for us in the 60s and 70s, and we need to adopt some of their radicalism. We need to be less apologetic about our beliefs and about shouting down injustice. We need to look backwards, at something daring and courageous that already existed and that needs to be rejuvenated, because we don’t need something new–everything we need is already there, we just need to shake it back to life.