I have a friend who hates the word “feminism,” because she sees it as a certain kind of narrow view of white privilege where white women’s viewpoints are prioritized over all other struggles. She uses the “Say Her Name” test. If a person says she supports women’s rights, but does not consider police brutality against black women or the high rate of unsolved violent crimes against trans women her concern, then she is a feminist. (She and I both acknowledge that not all self-proclaimed feminists subscribe to this view.)
I have always called myself a feminist, because I believe in equal rights for all women regardless of race and how they define women for themselves. But I understand what my friend is saying. I remember reading Alice Walker’s essay about womanism, and how it is an inclusive version of feminism. I have seen many other people in many other places say that the word “feminism” does not feel inclusive to them.
My friend’s broader point is that you can’t fight for women’s rights without fighting for all people who are oppressed under our patriarchal system. I found the word “feminism” in college. I went to a majority white private college. I believe my original experience of feminism is white-centered. I learned some really positive things from my early forays into feminism, but I know more now. It is not enough.
So today, I revised the word feminism out of my MS. I make a joke about how nearly failing calculus made me feel like I betrayed feminism. Instead I wrote about how nearly failing calculus made me feel like I betrayed everyone who fought for women’s right to an education before me. Not only does this revision keep me from using a word that people find problematic, it gives me an opportunity to be more specific and informative.
Cliches, shortcuts, and stereotypes are an opportunity to go into more detail, to make your writing stronger and more specific. Tell me, would George Orwell shoot you like an elephant (for the words you use)?