Feminism: Welp, I Guess It's Time To Rebrand Everything!

[Content Note: Stereotypes and othering; Misogyny; Racism] 

Tom Jacobs at Pacific Standard has read new research in the European Journal of Social Psychology titled "The ironic impact of activists: Negative stereotypes reduce social change influence" which reveals the shocking (read: Totally Not Shocking) twist that lots and lots of people sort of generally support things like feminism and environmentalism as long as you don't use those words because popular discourse has succeeding in painting feminists and environmentalists as humorless austere assholes who hate fun.

In an article which appears (according to the hyperlink) to have been originally titled "Feminism? Maybe. Feminists? Ewww." and which is now titled "Environmentalism? Perhaps. Environmentalists? Ewww!", Mr. Jacobs dispenses advice to us icky feminists which I think we can all agree with, which is that we need to be nicer and smile more. (And would it kill you ladies to show a little cleavage? I mean, really. Etc.)
In one, the participants—228 Americans recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk—described both varieties of activists in “overwhelmingly negative” terms. The most frequently mentioned traits describing “typical feminists” included “man-hating” and “unhygienic;” for “typical environmentalists,” they included “tree-hugger” and “hippie.”

[...] So the message to advocates is clear: Avoid rhetoric or actions that reinforce the stereotype of the angry activist. Realize that if people find you off-putting, they’re not going to listen to your message. As Bashir and her colleagues note, potential converts to your cause “may be more receptive to advocates who defy stereotypes by coming across as pleasant and approachable.”
I would like to maybe make a suggestion to Mr. Jacobs. Before you decide that the problem with stereotypes is that the victims of those stereotypes need to stop being so darn stereotypical, maybe you should do some studying up on how stereotypes actually work, and maybe also to read up on something called confirmation bias. Because, the thing is, Rush Limbaugh leveraging his media platform for decades in order to hammer terms like feminazi into popular consciousness wasn't just him politely pointing out some kind of established fact that Feminists Hate Men, and now we all need to accept his tough-but-fair criticism and reevaluate our man-hating platform because that's the one thing driving people away from the feminist brand. Nope!

One of the fun things about being a marginalized person (and especially being an activist for your own marginalized group) is that right off the bat, you have to spend a not-insignificant amount of time just coming up with an affirming name for your marginalized group, because centuries of language loaded with hurtful stereotypes have made a lot of the candidate words into either slurs against you, or words with triggery and negative connotations. And then once you do find a nice word for your marginalized group, the members of the privileged culture who resent your efforts will do their damndest to smear that word too -- as harshly and as quickly as they can. In a political piece I wrote last year about white racists whinging about the term "colored people" in the NAACP organization name, I said:
And if you've never had to expend a moment's thought about what to call yourself that hasn't been used as a slur or derogatory term by someone somewhere, well, that's the beautiful warmth of Privilege that you're feeling.

[...] Demanding that an organization for marginalized people change their name after the terms involved were deliberately ruined by privileged people?

Yup. That's racism. It's also bullying.
Feminism isn't going to be any more warm and fuzzy for privileged people if we rebrand the movement and order new t-shirts and coffee mugs. And feminists aren't going to be suddenly accepted by privileged people under that label just because they Smile More. Because the problem society has with people who use the word 'feminist' aren't that their actions are just sooooo man-hating and everyone logically noticed that with their superior Vulcan Logic.

No, the problem society has with people who use the word 'feminist' is that the people controlling our social conversations have worked long and hard to make sure that all of us know that a Feminist is a Very Bad Thing To Be, even as they carefully avoid giving meaningful airtime to what feminism is about. Which is why a lot of us grew up knowing that Feminism was a bad thing even as we identified with goals and ideals which are usually associated with feminism. The problem wasn't that we'd encountered real live feminists who left a bad taste in our mouths; the problem was that we had absorbed the surrounding cultural message that Feminists Are Bad.

Or, to put it more succinctly (with much thanks to Liss!): the problem isn't that we are reducing our own influence to effect social change; the problem is that we are operating within a system that already hates us.

The solution to that, Mr. Jacobs, isn't to turn around and waggle fingers at the feminists for being insufficiently smiley (and in doing so to reinforce the false assumption that feminists are... what was the word? "Overwhelmingly negative"?). The solution is to instead push back against the people trying to use their privilege to control the conversation; to push back against the many, many people who use their political, media, and social power to smear the name of feminism in order to intimidate people from claiming that term for themselves. There's even a popular discourse term you can use to describe that very phenomena when you eventually decide to write that article. You're welcome!

But I can understand why you might not want to write that article. After all, those same privileged people controlling the social discourse might turn around and use their media platform to tell everyone on earth that you are "overwhelmingly negative" and "unhygienic" and then it would be both magically true and your responsibility to fix. 


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