Is “Feminism” a Dirty Word?

by Melissa Coci

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you consider yourself a feminist. There’s also a good chance when you tell someone you’re a feminist you then have to launch into a pre-packaged spiel about what exactly that means (“No, it doesn’t mean I think females deserve more rights than men, it’s about equality blah blah blah…” ) 

Sound familiar? Then please read on!

Abigail Rine, a college professor who regularly teaches courses in a women’s studies program, has written an excellent manifesto on “The Pros and Cons of Abandoning the Word ‘Feminist’

You may very well find yourself nodding throughout the entire piece and at the very least find your brain whirring with ideas.

Rine explains how she has found herself eschewing the word “feminism” when talking about feminist ideals, in both her private and professional life.


So why does a proudly feminist woman feel the need to avoid the “F-Word” ?

Rine says, “It is exhausting to preface every conversation about combating misogyny with winsome, disarming anecdotes about how I actually do like men—enough to even marry one! —and how I actually haven’t burned any bras (and probably never will, because they are so expensive). I’m tired of doing this myth-debunking dance, and, weirdly enough, the conversation often goes more smoothly if I just avoid the ‘F-Word’ entirely.”

I hear ya, sister! I have forgotten how many arguments I’ve had with people (I must admit, usually males) about the meaning of the word “feminist”. Here is a direct quote from a male friend, age 25. “I’m anti-feminist, pro-equality. Feminism is the antithesis of equality.” Another male friend, same age but in a completely different hemisphere, echoed the same. “Feminism is biased. I am into equality, no sex is greater than the other”.

Now, I am a feisty girl and I must admit I usually lose my cool at this point and go off on a rant about how feminism is ALL ABOUT EQUALITY. But can we really blame people for being confused about the meaning of the word feminism? The whole “fem” bit is a touch misleading.

Rine explains this much more eloquently: “When I speak, write, and talk about feminism to a non-feminist audience, I often feel more like a beleaguered PR rep than someone creating productive discussion about how to cultivate social equality between men and women.” As such, “In conversations with non-feminists—which are arguably the most important—using the word “feminism” rarely opens doors to deeper dialogue. Instead, it often acts as a barrier to the very ideas that word represents.”  says Rine. 

When I told people I was moving from Australia to New York to do an internship at BUST Magazine, they’d inevitably ask “What type of magazine is that?” I’m not proud to admit that I tried to avoid the “feminist” word, frightened it would make people think I was working for an extremist, man-hating workplace, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometimes it can be exhausting trying to explain that feminists aren’t crazy, that you don’t need to have a major in gender studies to be a feminist and that you don’t have to stop enjoying sex or shaving your legs or wearing push-up bras to be a proud feminist.

My friend Jess, age 23, has summed it up nicely. “It’s such a hard line because nowadays admitting to being a ‘feminist’ seems radical and psycho and bra burning and full of rage. When all it really is, is peace and equality among genders.”

So how do we get this message across?

Does “feminism” need to be re-branded in an effort to keep the movement relevant and accessible in the 21st century?

Rine admits she does not know. “I am concerned that feminists are too preoccupied with making our brand more palatable. Perhaps that energy could be better spent forging partnerships with potential allies in the struggle toward equality, whether they feel an affinity with the label or not.”

Rine is not sure what needs to happen next, whether feminism, “a galvanizing but hopelessly divisive word” should stay or go, but believes opening this topic to discussion is a great start.

I couldn’t agree more.


Images courtesy of,,

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