When Time Magazine's universally pissed on "Which Word Should Be Banned in 2015?" poll included the word "feminist" among such cutesy irritants as "yaaaassss," "bae" and "obvi," I tried not to take the bait.
In a digital media climate like ours, it's hardly rare to trade level-headed thinking for clicks -- and, judging by the furious defense of "feminist" in response to the article, Time's strategy appears to be working. Still, I couldn't help but be skeezed out.
The proposal to ban "feminist" is just so typical of the conservative straw-man strategy on social issues: skewer progressive positions by disingenuously warping their meaning.
Time Magazine is no stranger to this op-ed tactic. In March, the publication ran a piece by Caroline Kitchens, an employee of a right-wing think tank, called "It's Time to End 'Rape Culture' Hysteria" that betrayed a serious confusion about what rape culture actually is.
Rape culture is a way to describe the various cultural factors that push women's boundaries and normalize rape -- but in Kitchens' retelling, it's looney feminist fiction that casts men as obedient vessels taking behavioral instructions from pop culture.
She counters rape culture theory by asserting that songs like "Blurred Lines" don't turn men into rapists, as if that is remotely close to what feminists argue.
"Rape culture" refers to the effects of widespread misogyny, not the fact that individual rapists have no control over their actions. By swapping these two very divergent concepts, Kitchens' piece completely shifted the framework of the discussion.
Time published another such piece by Princeton student Tal Fortgang in May, "Why I'll Never Apologize For My White Male Privilege." Once again, the piece made an anti-progressive case by redefining the terms of the argument.
In his take-down of male privilege, Fortgang brought up his tragic family history to make the irrelevant point that, see? White people face hardship, too!
Fair enough, except that the idea of white privilege has never implied that all white people lead easy lives. To pretend that's what it means is a completely chickensh*t way to engage in debate.
Go ahead and take a stand against rape culture or white privilege, if you must. But please, do so with a realistic acknowledgement of what these concepts actually are.
So when Time comes along and pitches banning "feminist," I couldn't help but think, here we go again. Anyone who reads feminist writing on the Internet has run into piles of junk whining about the use of the word and the movement itself.
And the vast majority are moronic rants against an imagined idea of what feminism must be if you already know that you hate it.
The result is a cringe-inducing love child of straw-man tactics and confirmation bias. And I'm sick of Time Magazine giving this mumbo-jumbo a prominent platform as if it's an intellectually legitimate volley.
Sure enough, I caved and read the article. Here's the explanation for the inclusion of "feminist" on the "Words to Ban" Poll:
You have nothing against feminism itself, but when did it become a thing that every celebrity had to state their position on whether this word applies to them, like some politician declaring a party? Let’s stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade.
Yup, there you have it. A completely batty justification that couldn't be more guilty of missing the point. Let us count the ways:
"You have nothing against feminism itself, but..." sounds a heck of a lot like "I'm not racist, but..." If you've got to make that kind of a qualification, chances are you're about to say something that hella contradicts it.
You don't get to "have nothing against feminism itself" and simultaneously be pissed off when people talk about it.
Any supporter of feminism and the ideals it espouses welcomes the increased visibility of the movement. When celebrities discuss feminism, it beckons others to consider the role it plays in their own lives.
Complaining about the ubiquity of the word in celeb interviews also dismisses the fact that this is so often a direct response to the fact that celebrities discussing it tend to cast feminism in the same bizarre light as Time does. (Remember when Shailene Woodley denied being a feminist since she doesn't hate men? Ugh, please.)
Oh, and don't get me started on the bone-headed Susan B. Anthony metaphor. It's as if the fabled suffragette was drudged up specifically to say, "Ladies, you can vote now. So what's the damn problem???"
Writer Katy Steinmetz had this to say about the Poll on Twitter:
@RebeccaSchinsky Please see the blurb for context. The inclusion is responding to trends in the media, not feminism itself. — Katy Steinmetz (@katysteinmetz) November 12, 2014
Welp, OK. But here's the thing: Those aren't two different things. Feminism is a movement that seeks to give women agency and power over their lives by combating the structural obstacles they face. Culture is a huge part of that.
Women are constantly bombarded by damaging messaging in media, and it affects the way we see ourselves, and how we live and think.
Critiquing these representations is one of feminism's major projects -- and that's why we won't pipe down about rape culture, ridiculous beauty standards, sexist tropes or anything else that communicates to women and girls that their bodies and lives are not their own.
And the only way to push back against that crap is to talk about it. If feminism is some annoying "trend in the media," then you're propping up sexism as the implicit default. Sorry, Steinmetz, but you don't get to support feminist ideology and also advocate for its erasure from the zeitgeist.
So yes, let's all "stick to the issues" and ban shutting up. Let's stop launching conservative debate grenades that address nothing whatsoever about what they're addressing.
And let's hope that in 2015, people continue to see feminism as something worth talking about.