The F-Word

by Ruth Payne

Beyoncé,_2012So last time I talked about the f-word I looked at how I think feminism is failing. One way I am measuring this is that the great majority of women don’t want to call themselves feminist any more because it seems unnecessarily difficult – both in reputation and in practise. I’ve also had a man say to me that “I consider myself a feminist but I don’t know much about it”.


This leads me to wonder – do people think feminism is solely academically-derived feminist theory? It’s pretty clear to me that the belief in equality and freedom of choice is widely held, but there is something that is stopping people from using that handy little word to identify those beliefs.

I think it is feminist theory, with its esoteric debates and dense vocabulary that has scared people off. Maybe the discussion seems simple for those who are relatively well educated and keep up with the play, but I would suggest that the complexity of that discussion is what has lost the attention of the mainstream.

Something my friend Beyonce has said demonstrates this confusion around the theory/practise divide. In this story she’s quoted as saying she’s a “modern-day feminist” but not before she notes that the word can be “extreme”.

She was harshly criticised for that comment but I think it’s a good example of an extremely media-savvy person distancing themselves from a word that has connotations that might reduce her popularity, i.e. – she might become less popular if the mainstream media start closely associating her with that  particular ‘extreme’ word.

As part of the ‘modern-day feminist’ quote, Beyonce makes clear that she believes in equality. That’s pretty obvious in her work too – many of her songs are stories of empowerment of women (no, maybe not Single Ladies, but humans are contrary creatures). This article says it better than I can but I think it makes clear the most important thing – people shouldn’t be shot down for not being academically-minded about feminism.

It would be super duper amazing if Beyonce felt comfortable to say she’s a feminist. At least she can say the word without it being preceded by ‘not’. A big problem is that a lot of high-profile women are in quite a rush to say they’re not feminist, e.g.-Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, this British lady. If Beyonce (or any of those women mentioned above) could distinguish between the real-life goals of feminism and the more negatively-perceived theoretical vocabulary, more people would understand that it’s not about hating men or hating other women or being sexless and boring. Beyonce’s a great example of both power and complexity.

Feminist theory and analysis should most certainly be used to help back up demands for a more equal world, but it’s not the right tool for the job of communicating the goals of feminism. We can and should talk in terms of ‘fighting structural inequalities’ where appropriate, but I think we need to more openly embrace the simplicity and positivity of feminism.  At its heart, it’s about equality and freedom of choice. That’s something that’s easy to communicate.


You may also like


Johanna Knox June 9, 2013 - 10:04 am

Oh, that’s a good point! I hadn’t thought about it before, but I think you’re right that for some people one trouble with the word ‘feminist’ might be its possible ivory-tower connotations. I so agree that there has to be space for completely accessible feminism.

In a comment on Morgan’s post someone suggested A Mighty Girl as a great resource – … I reckon that organisation’s work is relevant here. I suspect that when we start to think specifically about how to create a positive, opportunity-filled world for young people – our daughters, grand-daughters, nieces, and young friends – we can’t help but look at the issues with more raw emotion and start to express them in emotional terms – which tend to be accessible and broadly appealing.

Perhaps also thinking about our girl-children encourages us to constantly consider how to express feminist ideas to young people, which again forces us to look at the accessibility of what we’re saying.

Ruth Payne
Ruth Payne June 10, 2013 - 8:08 pm

Absolutely – we need to think of feminism as a practical, real-world thing. Because it is practical at its heart . Morgan’s post and all the comments illustrate perfectly that fighting for and defending freedom of choice for girls is critical, and that fight can take place on a very practical level.


Leave a Comment