We’ve broken down some words you should know when discussing feminism or other gender topics.
This story was originally published in 2017.
Like any “ism,” feminism is rich with jargon, which can lead deeply personal conversations to turn unnecessarily dense. While some terms are entrenched, others are contemporary additions to an evolving lexicon. To help you break through, here are definitions for everything from “feminism” and “misogyny” to “bropropriated” and “feminazi.”
Feminism: Belief in and desire for equality between the sexes. As Merriam-Webster noted last month: “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” It encompasses social, political and economic equality. Of course, a lot of people tweak the definition to make it their own. Feminist activist bell hooks calls it “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”
Patriarchy: A hierarchical-structured society in which men hold more power.
Sexism: The idea that women are inferior to men.
Misogyny: Hatred of women.
Misandry: Hatred of men.
A little deeper
Hostile sexism: The one most people think about. Openly insulting, objectifying and degrading women.
Benevolent sexism: Less obvious. Kind of seems like a compliment, even though it’s rooted in men’s feelings of superiority. It’s when men say women are worthy of their protection (off the sinking boat first) or that they’re more nurturing than men (therefore should raise children). It’s restrictive.
Internalized sexism: When the belief in women’s inferiority becomes part of one’s own worldview and self-concept.
Misogynoir: Misogyny directed toward black women.
LGBTQ: The acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.” Some people also use the Q to stand for “questioning,” meaning people who are figuring out their sexual or gender identity. You may also see LGBTQIA. I stands for intersex and A for asexual/aromantic/agender.
Cisgender: A term used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth.
Transgender: A person whose gender identity differs from the cultural expectations of the sex they were assigned at birth.
Transphobia: Prejudice toward trans people.
Transmisogyny: A blend of transphobia and misogyny, which manifests as discrimination against “trans women and trans and gender non-conforming people on the feminine end of the gender spectrum.”
TERF: The acronym for “trans exclusionary radical feminists,” referring to feminists who are transphobic.
SWERF: Stands for “sex worker exclusionary radical feminists,” referring to feminists who say prostitution oppresses women.
Gender fluidity: Not identifying with a single, fixed gender.
Non-binary: An umbrella term for people who don’t identify as female/male or woman/man.
Women of color: A political term to unite women from marginalized communities of color who have experienced oppression. It could include women of African, Asian, Latin or Native American descent.
Title IX: Protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.
Victim-blaming: When the victim of a crime or harmful act is held fully or partially responsible for it. If you hear someone questioning what a victim could have done to prevent a crime, that’s victim-blaming, and it makes it harder for people to come forward and report abuse. Groups working to eradicate abuse and sexual assault are clear: No woman is guilty for violence committed by a man.
Trigger: Something that forces you to relive a trauma.
Trigger warning: A statement that someone is about to experience challenging material that could potentially be disturbing (graphic, racially-insensitive, sexually explicit, etc.). The practice is controversial on college campuses.
Yes means yes: A paradigm shift in the way we look at rape, moving beyond “no means no” toward the idea that consent must be explicit.
Male gaze: A way of looking at the world through a masculine lens that views women as sexual objects.
Privilege: The idea that some people in society are advantaged over others.
Sex positive: An attitude that views sexual expression and sexual pleasure, if it’s healthy and consensual, as a good thing.
On the Internet
Bropropriating: Stealing an idea from a woman and putting it into the world as your own.
Mansplain (verb) mansplainy (adjective): When a man explains something to a woman in a condescending way when he either 1) doesn’t know anything about it or 2) knows far less than the woman he is talking to. Sorry, if you already knew that.
Manterrupting: When a man interrupts a woman, especially excessively. Examples: During the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards when Kanye West grabbed the mic from Taylor Swift, who had just won an award and was trying her best to accept it, to let everyone know “Imma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” Or, during September’s presidential debate when Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton 22 times in the first 26 minutes. Or when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell interrupted Elizabeth Warren’s recitation of Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter against Jeff Sessions, but allowed Bernie Sanders to read it the next day.
Manspreading: When men take up excess space by sitting with their legs far apart. This is such an actual thing that in 2014 New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority launched a campaign to get guys to close their legs to make more room on the subway.
Woke: Rooted in black activist culture, it means you’re educated and aware, especially about injustice. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Ca., has told young people to “stay woke.” If you’re thinking about it in the context of women’s rights, look at the #SayHerName campaign, which works to raise awareness for black women who are victims of police brutality.
Woke misogynist: Nona Willis Aronowitz paints an all-too-familiar picture of the guy who acts like he’s all about gender equality, but then turns around and demeans, degrades and harasses women. His misogyny may not always be overt, but it’s there. He’s a feminist poser.
Emosogynist: Zach Braff in Garden State, according to Jezebel. He’s emotional, full of angst and seems like a feminist, but what he really wants is a real-life manic pixie dream girl to manipulate and eventually discard after he finds himself.
Whimpster: Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything… A white, wimpy, emo guy who uses his male insecurity to prey on women who want to nurture.
Feminazi: A derogatory term for a radical feminist.
Types of feminism
Intersectional feminism: If feminism is advocating for women’s rights and equality between the sexes, intersectional feminism is the understanding of how women’s overlapping identities — including race, class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and disability status — impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination.
Transfeminism: Defined as “a movement by and for trans women who view their liberation to be intrinsically linked to the liberation of all women and beyond.” It’s a form of feminism that includes all self-identified women, regardless of assigned sex, and challenges cisgender privilege. A central tenet is that individuals have the right to define who they are.
Women of color feminism: A form of feminism that seeks to clarify and combat the unique struggles women of color face. It’s a feminism that struggles against intersecting forms of oppression.
Womanism: A social and ecological change perspective that emerged out of Africana women’s culture and women of color around the world.
Empowerment feminism: Beyoncé’s Formation comes on at the club, and you and your friends hit the dance floor hard. Empowerment feminism puts the emphasis on “feeling,” though some feminists would argue feeling amazing is not a great gauge of how society is actually supporting your self-expression and flourishing. Sheryl Sandberg’s perpetually controversial Lean In, which focuses on how women can make changes to achieve greater success in the workplace, is another example of empowerment feminism.
Commodity feminism: A variety of feminism that co-opts the movement’s ideals for profit. Ivanka Trump has been accused of peddling this brand of feminism, using her #WomenWhoWork campaign to sell her eponymous lifestyle brand.
Equity feminism (conservative feminism): Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, is a champion of what she calls “equity feminism.” In her view, “equity feminism” is focused on legal equality between men and women, while “gender feminism” focuses on disempowering women by portraying them as perpetual victims of the patriarchy. In the words of President Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway: “I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances, and that’s really to me what conservative feminism, if you will, is all about.”
Waves of feminism
*Some feminist scholars are moving away from “waves” since it can give the appearance that feminists aren’t always actively fighting inequality. But if you see them, here’s generally what they’re referring to:
First wave feminism: Kicked off with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention to discuss the “social, civil, and religious condition of woman” and continued into the early twentieth century. It culminated in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote, though some states made it difficult for women of color to exercise this right until well into the 1960s.
Second wave feminism: Began in the 1960s and bloomed in the 1970s with a push for greater equality. Think Gloria Steinem, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Betty Friedan. It was marked by huge gains for women in legal and structural equality.
Feminist activist Gloria Steinem explains what keeps her up at night in today’s political climate.
Third-wave feminism: Beginning in the 1990s, it looked to make feminism more inclusive, intersectional and to allow women to define what being a feminist means to them personally. Also, Buffy.
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