Feminist Catch Words and Phrases

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In any discussion about feminism, there are bound to be certain catch words and phrases. Here are some from the ’60s and early ’70s: sisterhood is powerful, male chauvinism (or male chauvinist pig), the Patriarchy, consciousness-raising, The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, the “other,” Sexual Politics by Kate Millett, sexual revolution, make love not war, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, fear of success, dread of women (both concepts from psychoanalyst Karen Horney), dependence as a state of subordination, male dominance, pornography as violence against women, women’s liberation, herstory, womyn, sex object, socialization, women as property of men. This not an exhaustive list, of course. But it does give you an idea of where I come from.

The ’80s brought a whole new array of catch words and phrases. This was the era of Susan Faludi’s Backlash, a word that could typify the ’80s’ reaction to feminism. The movement appeared to go underground during that period, but in reality the emphasis was on formulating feminist theory. The revolution was becoming academicized. Women’s studies programs were popping up all over the nation and many seminal books and papers were written, but not widely known. Some argue that feminism lost its spirit when it climbed the ivory tower. There may be something to that, but I also think that the movement lost its momentum when Reagan took office and the “Me Decade” began. Society became focused on making money rather than revolution. Social analysis was no longer de rigueur. No one wanted to be reminded that not so long before, the emphasis had been on soul-searching about the capitalist system, the war in Viet Nam, the War on Poverty, civil rights and racism, sexism, political abuses, and materialism. A conscience was not required nor particularly desired. Americans just wanted a break so they could become self-serving, instead of always having to worry about being politically correct, or “PC,” another catch phrase of the ’60s and ’70s.

In the ’90s, feminist backlash continued, or at least a backlash against Second Wave feminism. A Time Magazine cover asked in 1989 if there was a future for feminism at all in the ’90s. Some asserted that a Third Wave of feminism had begun. (Read Kim Allen’s view of the ’90s from 3rdWWWave.com, a site that seems to represent feminists of the ’90s.) In my opinion, I don’t know if enough time has passed to judge whether there is indeed a third wave, or just a refinement of the wave that started in the ’60s. After all, the First Wave is considered to be from 1848 (Seneca Falls convention) to 1920 when women finally got the vote. But I’m sure that feminists like Alice Paul had views that were markedly different from those of Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

The ’90s also saw the splitting of feminists into categories: radical feminists, liberal feminists, eco-feminists, Marxist feminists, Chicana feminists, neo-feminists, post-feminists, to name just a few. There was also the riot grrls movement. “Lipstick lesbians” are one manifestation of the reassertion of a woman’s right to be beautiful and sexy.

I think millennium feminism is a good tag. After all, the 2000s do look a lot different than the three or four previous decades. For one thing, we live in a much shakier world. And we are much more aware of the global community. AIDS is an issue that hasn’t gone away and indeed has hit epidemic proportions among African women. This is the decade that saw a woman run for Democratic candidate for President and another run for Vice President. People are beginning to search for meaning beyond capitalism, nationalism and religious differences. It is too soon to tell what feminism is going to look like in the 2000s, but one purpose of this blog is to try to describe what feminism looks like today.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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