For the last four years, TIME Magazine has had an online poll for what word should be banned the next year. Past victories have gone to the likes of twerk or YOLO, but this year, there has been a particularly nefarious word that managed to rack up almost half of the total votes: feminism. That’s right, the signifier of the radical idea of gender equality is the word the internet wants to ban in 2015.
TIME’s justification for feminism’s place on the list is as follows:
“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.”
So basically, fighting for equality is fine, as long as the mainstream media doesn’t get too involved. The fact that feminism is talked about by high-profile artists and actors is something to be celebrated. It’s slowly working against the stigma that “feminism” is some kind of dirty word—a stigma that this poll supports.
Perhaps TIME had imagined that this option would be one amongst many, a short jest at a trending topic (not realizing that feminism is so much more than that) to be lost amongst the other ridiculous words and phrases in this list. But, this is the internet, where any opportunity for misogyny to rear its ugly head WILL be capitalized upon. This time it came in (surprise!) the form of 4chan. Apparently a few threads popped up where groups continuously refreshed the poll page to flood the results and bring ‘feminism’ to the top of the list. Apparently, some of these threads were shut down by 4chan moderators, but TIME didn’t appear to make any attempt to stop this influx of repetitive responses. For days, the poll was live with feminism containing up to 48% of the responses. One 4chan user said of the situation, “by this point I’m absolutely amazed how we’re pulling this off. How fucking gullible are these fuckheads?” How gullible, indeed.
By now, TIME has given a lackluster apology for the situation, claiming the “nuance” of “invit[ing] debate about some ways the word was used this year” was lost, but the damage has been done. I don’t think the editors at TIME are a bunch of sexist pigs all cackling to themselves, but their moderate criticism of feminism, not done considerately, but in a cheeky poll, gave the true misogynists of the world a platform from which to spew their hatred.
I think this is representative of the larger issue regarding the use of the word feminist today. Many people will say that they’re all for gender equality, but not feminist. Or, they’re feminists, but not feminazis or one of the crazies on tumblr. This hesitancy, this critique of those who speak out passionately, on tumblr or in the music industry, justifies not only the vitriol coming from the depths of 4chan, and other places like it both on and offline, but it also justifies the actions of those who support the patriarchy in smaller ways, and especially those who claim it no longer exists.
This isn’t to say not to be critical. We should all criticize the hell out of the “white feminism” that so often only applies to the Western world. But your critiques shouldn’t be about celebrities calling themselves feminists. It shouldn’t be because of that one time a girl on tumblr called you a straight, white, cis male, you realized it was true, and things got really awkward. Maybe try listening to all the so-called “feminazis” and “tumblr-cores” of the world. You don’t have to agree with every word they say, but don’t shut them out of conversation. Don’t ban their movement from our cultural vernacular. We need feminism, largely because polls like these still exist. So don’t take a moderate stance. Don’t be that guy who says he’s not sexist, just not a feminist. Because really, feminism isn’t radical. It isn’t partisan. Deciding to be a feminist shouldn’t be complicated, but a norm. All it asks for is equality. The only reason feminism sounds radical to so many is because its supporters need to scream so they can be heard above the grumbling of the old, lumbering machine that is the patriarchy, a machine in which TIME’s poll is a small cog. Perhaps it’s time we shut that machine down, so we can listen to what has been silenced.