Let’s get real: keeping up with the ever-changing lingo of the feminist movement is not easy, especially if—like most of us—you’ve never taken a class in Women’s Studies. But that doesn’t mean you need to shy away from the conversation.
We took the liberty of rounding up our favorite definitions and explanations of all things feminism—from Wikipedia, Oxford, Cambridge, and Merriam-Webster—and put together a pretty badass glossary of feminist language for you.
It’s a guide for the uninitiated. A refresher course for ladies in-the-know. A handy source you can bookmark and come back to as you stumble upon new feminist words, terminology, and moments in herstory. So what are you waiting for?
Brew yourself a cup of your finest feminist tea and read, baby, read.
The basics: feminist vocabulary 101
The belief that women should have the equal economic, political, and social rights, power, and opportunities.
Sometimes this word gets mixed up with man-hating or more extreme beliefs, but it really is as simple as a belief in equality! Check out our deep dive on why the f word often gets a bad rap.
A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. This is reality in most places around the world and throughout history. And it’s what we’re fighting against.
But remember! When we say we want to “smash the patriarchy,” we’re talking about correcting an imbalance in the system as a whole, not taking men down or punishing them in some way.
The dislike of, contempt for, or the ingrained prejudice against women.
The dislike of, contempt for, or the ingrained prejudice against men. Hard pass on misandry, ladies. Feminism is for everyone.
Spread the word, but make it intersectional
Feminism is an ideology of equality. It’s inclusive and grounded in empathy. Here are some feminist words that will help you understand, respect, and be mindful of others’ unique and personal experiences.
The complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.
Feminism that does not acknowledge the ways in which non-white women may experience sexism differently to white women.
Usually this kind of exclusion is unintentional, but that doesn’t make it okay! Feminism should represent women of every race, sexual orientation, class, age, ability, and beyond.
A social theory derived as a response to white feminism and geared toward the representation of African American women. Coined by feminist hero Alice Walker.
The special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. Being inclusive and intersectional means always being aware of your privilege.
The act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.
What we’re up against: an overview of -isms
Knowledge is power, people. If you’re wondering how to be feminist, our best advice is to brush up on what we’re up against, then stand up to it whenever you see it.
Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.
The belief in the superiority or dominance of one's own group or people, who are seen as strong and virtuous, while others are considered weak or unworthy.
Often used in reference to men who believe they are superior to women. But as we know, men of quality don’t fear equality.
Discrimination based on race or ethnicity.
Discrimination in favor of abled/able-bodied people. This group often gets left out of the conversation altogether. Let’s change that.
Discrimination based on age, often in favor of younger people.
Discrimination based on economic class or standing.
Irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against transgender people.
Evolving the language: gender & sexual orientation
It’s 2020, folks! And we’re learning lessons about what it means to be a woman or a femme all the time. Here, we cover a few of the latest intersectional feminist basics related to gender and sexuality:
An umbrella term for the sex/gender minorities that just keeps on growing :) Right now, the acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual and/or Aromantic, Agender. The “plus” is for anyone else who might not fit neatly into those categories.
People who, for the most part, identify with the sex they were assigned at birth.
People who identify with a gender that is different from the sex they were assigned with at birth.
It’s important to note that this term is very broad and has to do with identity first and foremost. You don’t have to “transition,” take hormones, have surgery, etc. to exist within this category! Also: Words like transsexual and transvestite are outdated and sometimes considered offensive.
People who do not identify themselves exclusively within the traditional gender binary, male and female.
People who don’t identify with a fixed gender, and exist in flux between male, female, both, or neither.
Oh, boy: feminist words that define the patriarchy
To be clear: we’re talking about societal and institutional problems here, not that man-hating, anti-dude nonsense you hear so much about. Get to know some of the feminist terms that define the patriarchy.
The explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.
Refers to the way women are portrayed in visual arts and literature, from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure. Coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey.
A social science term that describes narrow, repressive ideas about the male gender role, that defines masculinity as exaggerated masculine traits like being violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.
Body talk & taking care of business
Many of the most basic feminist issues have to do with the patriarchy policing our bodies and workplace inequality. Here are some feminist words that speak to those tricky topics.
A society in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender, sex, and sexuality.
The action or fact of stigmatizing a woman for engaging in behavior judged to be promiscuous or sexually provocative.
A common way of describing the barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities. It’s why it’s especially important for women to empower one another in the workplace, so we can all break through that ceiling and run the world.
wage gap/gender pay gap
The average difference in earnings between working men and women. Let’s close the gap!
Defining herstory: moments within the movement
Last but not least, we’ll cover a few of the most important lady-led movements throughout history. An essential read for anyone wondering how to be a more knowledgeable feminist.
Herstory refers to the feminist efforts to rewrite “history” with often-neglected women's voices so that it includes women and their importance in the narrative.
The right of women to vote in elections. Finally achieved on August 18, 1920 with the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution.
first wave feminism
Focused on legal issues, primarily securing women’s right to vote. Took place in the 19th and early 20th century in the Western world.
A period of feminist activity and thought that begin in the US during the early 1960s and lasted about two decades. Its aim was to increase equality for women beyond legal rights, with a focus on issues like sexuality, family, the workplaces, and reproductive rights.
Another iteration of the feminist movement, which began the early 1990s in the US and continued until about 2012. Third-wave feminists embraced individualism and diversity and sought to redefine what it meant to be a feminist. In other words, say hello to intersectionality.
A phase of feminism which is characterized by a focus on the empowerment of women and the use of the internet and social media, starting in 2012.
This wave continues to push against problematic gendered norms that cause oppression and marginalization of women in society. Because as Audre Lorde so elegantly put it back in 1981: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
A social movement against sexual abuse and sexual harassment where people publicize allegations of sex crimes committed by powerful and/or prominent men. The movement went viral following the exposure of Harvey Weinstein in 2017.
A movement against sexual harassment founded in response to #MeToo. Because it’s about time we reserve our rights and end that sort of thing.
Hot yes, lady. If you made it this far, it’s safe to say you’re ready to get out there and put these feminist terms to use like a boss. And after you talk the talk, we invite you to shop the shop, so you can wear your feminism too.
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