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Feminism: The Problem of the Name

Updated on April 29, 2020
Chibuike Austin Atasie profile image

Chibuike studied Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Nigeria. He is interested in society, news, politics and history.

'Feminism' in theory and in movement has in no small way been phenomenal in the construction of modern civilization as we know it. It is no lie that without the impact of 'feminist' ideology, the social, economic, cultural and political realities that are commonplace or in some cases, almost commonplace today would probably be considered an impossibility. Women suffrage. Possibility of Female Presidents. Women taking up what's usually perceived to be "male occupations". Women now seen as complete human beings not some commodity to be owned and shared amongst malefolk. Women rising to the zenith of their careers on merit basis.

A hundred years ago, give or take a few decades, the above phenomena were far from the norm. These social breakthroughs were possible, thanks to the concerted efforts of 'feminists' who engaged themselves in cultural defying movements. Often labelled as deviants, these greats suffered scorn and persecution of all sorts to achieve these ends our generation enjoy today. The many new wave 'feminists' of our time still taking after their brave predecessors are as Issac Newton would say; "standing on the shoulders of giants". Improving on the good old foundations of those heroes and heroines who chartered the cause of about a half of the Earth's population. Their visionary feats are written in gold and will forever stand the test of time.

However, no social thought or movement is devoid of limitations. The 'feminist' movement is no exception. The presence of limitations subject the concept to critique. If a movement must be championed, there must be a clear philosophy behind it. The 'clarity' factor must not be underestimated or treated hap-hazardly for this will only engender a ripple of unending confusion; people fighting without a clear vision of what they are fighting for. The problem becomes even worse when the fault is nomenclatural, the very identity the subscribers to the movement potray.

The term "feminism" was first used by the 17th Century French Philosopher, Francois Marie Charles Fourier in 1837. Fourier elicited in his writings that women of his days were treated as slaves. As a radical thinker, deciding from the wide disparity he observed between the social standing of men and women of his time in the West, he introduced a term radical enough to draw the public's attention towards the ills women suffer for simply being women, and the need for the dignity of human feminity to rise, and for the female to be able to express herself as a complete human being. So far, we definitely can't say that all 'feminist' goals have been fully achieved, but you can't deny the progress.

Definitions of 'Feminism'

An observant reader would have noticed my constant use of the word 'FEMINISM' and its other derived words in quote. This is for a reason. I personally don't approve of the term, and my reason is very simple. It contradicts its very assumed definition. I'll proceed by listing some definitions of the term given by reputable dictionaries and encyclopedia. I believe these sources are more holistic. For a definition to make it to a dictionary, it must have been agreed upon by a multiplicity of academics. I think those are more reliable than the definitions of individual scholars.

1. The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines 'feminism' as: "The advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes".

2. Cambridge Dictionary defines 'feminism' as: "The belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state.

3. Chambers Dictionary sees 'feminism' as: "The theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.

4. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English refers to 'feminism' as The belief that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men.

5. Wikipedia defines 'feminism' as a range of social movements, political movements and ideologies that aim to define, establish and achieve the political, economic, personal and social equality of the sexes.

6. Encyclopedia Britannica defines 'feminism' as The belief in social, economic and political equality of the sexes.

One clear point is common to all the aforementioned definitions. 'The emphasis on the equality between the sexes".

The Argument

If the term 'feminism' borders on the equality of the sexes, then the very term contradicts and negates what it stands for. The name 'feminism' is lopesided to take that meaning. 'Feminism' is derived from the word 'feminine'. Feminine basically underscores everything that is not masculine as far as gender is concerned. This term adopted by those engaged in the movement is problematic, except of course the movement has another goal in mind than it revealed in its dictionary definition. I am in no way trying to underemphasize the movement's focus on the furtherance of women's interests, which is a very good thing, and the term would be very appropriate if this is the only idea it purports. But when the concept of 'equality' is implied, it must be defended at all fronts and at all costs. You can't claim to fight for equality between the sexes, and the name of the very movement sidelines everything male. It almost makes it seem like the name is a subtle attempt to imply a matriarchal movement whilst preaching equality in the books and academic journals (an assumption). This contradiction is implosively confusing to both the participants and observers of the movement (sympathetic and non sympathetic alike). Many studies; social, psychological and psychiatric have emphasized on the importance of terminologies and how they affect the human mind. Abusing the mind by saying one thing and meaning another thing in this context could lead to a confusion and contradiction of identity.

A look on Radical 'Feminism'

'Feminism' as a term is already a contradiction of its definition. Among its types is even another perspective to this contradiction that doubles in another contradiction to the definition. Radical 'feminism' is a variation of 'feminism' that doesn't subscribe to the concept of equality between the sexes. The radical 'feminist' does not believe in sustaining the structure of society and achieving equality through the already existing structure. Rather the radical 'feminist' prefers the idea of destroying the current social structure to give rise to a new pro-feminine and anti-masculine society. A move I'll term as reverse patriarchy. The question here is, since 'feminism' claims a belief in the equality of the sexes, how come it has a variation that doesn't? Radical 'feminism' guns for the enthronement of a matriarchy as opposed to egalitarianism. If it does not employ the supposed core value of 'feminism', why should radical 'feminism' be called 'feminism' in the first place? Of which the later is also a contradiction of itself by definition. Hence the concept of radical 'feminism' becomes what I term a double contradiction.

Way to go!

I would like to state here that I believe in gender equality. I believe in equal opportunities and equal rights for both sexes. I would never discriminate against anyone on gender grounds. What I've put to paper is simply my observation of this popularly overlooked contradiction. This article is purely guided by the principle of objectivity. I'm an ardent believer of virtually everything liberal 'feminism' supports, except the tag 'feminism', for all the reasons I stated above. To be in tandem with the very laws of simple logic, either the name 'feminism' goes or the definition emphasizing equality between the sexes goes. It's highly contradictory for both concepts to exist together. In my opinion, the "Gender Equality Movement" should be a good replacement for 'feminism'. It is more inclusive to both genders. I think the movement is already in existence. This alone renders the 'feminist' movement unnecessary (by name). It is clearly more appropriate and non-contradictory, and I believe any open minded 'feminist' who read this article and noted the problems I exposed, wouldn't have any problems switching to the new term. I believe in gender equality, but for 'feminism', I really don't understand what you're talking about.


•Goldstein L.B (1982). Early feminist themes in French Uthopian Societies.

•Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionary. (8th ed.). (2009). Oxford University Printing Press.

•Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed.). (1999). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Incorporated.

•The Chambers Dictionary. (6th ed). (2014). HARRAP Firm.

•Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. (15th ed). 1978

•Brunell, L & Burkett, E. (2020). Feminism, in Encyclopedia Britannica. 2020 Encyclopedia Britannica.Inc


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    • Chibuike Austin Atasie profile imageAUTHOR

      Atasie Chibuike Augustine 

      11 months ago from Abuja, Nigeria

      Sure Ela! I think so too!

    • Tidbits25 profile image

      Micha ELa 

      11 months ago from Philippines

      Good topic to expound on. I believe that men and women are unique in their own right and celebrating that uniqueness and living in harmony is what we should work for.

    • Chibuike Austin Atasie profile imageAUTHOR

      Atasie Chibuike Augustine 

      11 months ago from Abuja, Nigeria

      Thanks Chisom and Saorav. I appreciate

    • Chibuike Austin Atasie profile imageAUTHOR

      Atasie Chibuike Augustine 

      11 months ago from Abuja, Nigeria

      Nice argument Mibiola. I totally understand where you're coming from. My position is basically on pure logic and contradiction. I mean, we could go around the name you know. I understand Feminism aims at closing the gap between the two sexes, but in doing so, adopting a term that presents it on a parallel trajectory to males won't help. Hope you get my point.

    • profile image

      Mibiola Ifeoluwa 

      11 months ago

      Hi Chibuike,

      I like the way you articulately explained your point in this article. Writing expressively on feminism shows you have a huge interest in it. And we can never have too much of that.

      Here are my takes:

      What inspired the feminist movement?

      The feminist movement was created to challenge the systemic inequalities women encounter on day-to-day.

      I think there is no better terminology for a movement that seeks to establish basic human rights for women than 'feminism' which also captures the inspiration behind the trend -women!

      Who are still largely on the receiving end of the oppressive gender norms? Women!

      I am particularly glad you made it clear that a major reason you have a problem with the word 'feminism' is because of your suspicion that it is likely more of a Matriarchal movement than a gender equality one.

      Nevertheless, take a good look around the world, are we close to achieving gender equality?

      I live in a country where millions of schoolgirls are out of school; a place where many girls are denied of education; a nation that has one of the highest prevalence of child brides in the world; a community where FGM is still thriving and a society that boasts of legislative laws that keep women oppressed.

      For now, feminism is still at the forefront, trying to establish basic educational, professional, and social opportunities for women that are equal to men. And we aren't even there yet. According to an SDG index last year, no country is on route to achieving gender equality even by 2030.

      The fact that you are concerned about your suspicion more than the present realities is quite amusing.

      Take the issue of slavery in the United States. Imagine if one of the proponents of slavery abolition revealed that he/she is scared that blacks will overthrow the whites even though he/she really wants freedom for the blacks.

      First, it's been years since slavery has been abolished. Has that happened?

      Till recently, people still needed to ride on the "Black lives matter" movement to call the U.S government to an array of racial issues in the country.

      Don't you think for women to aim to establish a matriarchal system, they must have at least achieved gender equality?

      I understand your view and I have met a couple of people who have expressed similar standpoints. However, I hope you'd think more deeply about it.

      Furthermore, Chibuike, I agree with you that "the radical 'feminist' does not believe in sustaining the structure of society and achieving equality through the already existing structure."

      However, the fact that you think the radical feminist aim is "to give rise to a new pro-feminine and anti-masculine society" is inaccurate. First, destroying the patriarchy (the existing structure) isn't about hating men or trying to create an "anti-masculine society."

      Patriarchy is merely a system of power that oppresses women and upholds gender inequality. And the radical feminist believes destroying that system of power will be a huge step to achieving gender equality.

      I strongly disagree that "Radical 'feminism' guns for the enthronement of matriarchy."

      Why must the powering system of our society be gender-based? What screams inequality more?

      Radical feminism has the same goal as feminism itself -Gender Equality and a better system for our world.

      Perhaps, more studies on radical feminism will give you a broader perspective.

      I know gender discussions can be quite complicated, but it's a conversation we need to keep having.

      The goal is one -Gender Equality, and I hope we don't stop advocating for it.

      What do you think, Chibuike?

    • profile image


      11 months ago

      Nice argument.

      Egalitarianism over feminism

    • hubber8893 profile image

      Sourav Rana 

      11 months ago

      I think your logic has a point. It is better to make women self dependent by themselves than the system making efforts to make them rise. It will make the true sense of gender equality. Thanks!


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