The XX Factor

The Stalemate on the “F-Word”

Over on Broadsheet, Judy Berman is upset about the women’s culture magazine Venus distancing itself from the word “feminism .” Berman believes that Venus is ankling the f-word in order to reach a broader audience-which she believes is a fool’s errand, because the term is, according to her colleague Rebecca Traister, “bandied about like crazy” among young women in the blogosphere, “albeit with different ideology and spirit than it used to be, sure.”

But just a few years ago, Rebecca Traister wrote a long article for Salon about how the term feminist is a turn-off for many young women . The reason behind this is probably something Gloria Steinem put her finger on in a more recent interview, while talking about why Sarah Palin is not a feminist . “As social-justice movements have learned the hard way, having someone who looks like you and behaves like them-who looks like a friend but behaves like an adversary-is worse than having no one.” As Steinem sees it, feminism is not something that cannot be “bandied about” quite so easily. For example, I’m sure many women who are anti-abortion rights and yet believe in many other tenets of feminism have felt acutely alienated from the term.

So here is the problem: Either feminism is something with a less-than-specific meaning that can be used broadly (as Berman writes, “It’s true that … watching 30 Rock doesn’t look much like going to a protest march or volunteering at Planned Parenthood. But they all represent potentially meaningful encounters with feminist consciousness and prove that young women are anything but allergic to it”), or it’s something with a very particular ideology that should not be used so casually. Just yesterday I read this very smart post by Sady at the blog Tiger Beatdown about how 30 Rock heroine Liz Lemon is not a true feminist. According to Sady, she represents “a particularly irritating brand of privileged semi-feminism.” The friction between these two opposing viewpoints-those who think “feminism” is a big tent and those who seek to give it a more specific definition-has been going on for decades. I’m sure I will write some version of this post (which I already did back in 2008 at Jezebel ) in another year or two.