The Dirty Word reveals where the word “feminism” actually comes from

Ah, feminism. While we love the word and what it represents, its history is a bit dicier, more convoluted, and more misunderstood. “Feminism” has the potential to incite anger. But is that because of the word or the gender equality it represents? In the latest episode of The Dirty Word, Amanda Montell digs into “feminism” by exploring where the word originated, and what that has to do with the way we interpret it now.

In the video, Amanda explains that the word feminism arose during the suffrage movement in the early 1900s, which is when first-wave feminism began with a focus on women’s right to vote — although it mostly catered to rich white ladies. Amanda describes how this idea has evolved:

"Over the past hundred years, feminism as a political concept has moved and is moving to include more identities: women of color, queer women, women of different socioeconomic classes, disabled women, even people along the gender spectrum, even dudes. Since the mission of feminism is to create gender equality, not female superiority."

After first-wave feminism, we had second-wave feminism, which took place in the 1960s and 1970s. Amanda reveals that “liberal feminism” followed suit. This is when women would downplay the differences between men and women to achieve political and social equality. Although it was founded with good intentions, many women were unhappy with the idea that they should have to adapt to male norms. This brought about “cultural feminism,” which was rooted in the idea that a woman’s way of thinking, talking, and behaving are inherent and are worthy of their own validation.

Taking it a step further, there are two types of cultural feminism: “Liberal cultural feminism,” which believes that women and men are socialized to be different, though one isn’t better than the other. Then, there’s “radical cultural feminism,” whose followers believe that a women-only or women-led society would be ideal. This ideology claims that women aren’t equal to men but are superior to men.

“Radical cultural feminism” and “radical feminism,” however, are not the same.


Amanda explains how the political right has influenced many of us to believe that people who subscribe to feminism are “radical cultural feminists,” people who think that all women are superior to men — which isn’t at all the case. “Radical feminism is a school of thought that takes the word radical to mean ‘from the root.’ In other words, they believe that gender inequality is the root cause of all social inequality,” Amanda says.

This leads into third-wave feminism, which is known as intersectional feminism.

"[Intersectional feminism] recognizes that the oppressions of many different social groups  race, ethnicity, class, gender  are all connected. Distinct, but connected," Amanda finishes.

This is the school of feminism that Amanda believes in, and that we believe in as well. Amanda also suggests that while it may seem easier to throw out the word “feminism,” it’s important to remember all the women who helped pave the way for that word. There are decades of history behind the term, and as easy as it might sound to start over, we can’t, and we shouldn’t have to. Plus, if we really do want to replace the word “feminism” with something like “equalism,” what does that say about our relationship to femininity?

Either way, we’re excited to be able to help evolve the word to include as many people as possible.

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