You read right, friends. Feminism is named Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017.
There was a time where feminism was a dirty word. It was the F-word – tainted with visuals of bra-burning, bespectacled, angry women who hate razors as much as they hate men.
To be a feminist even 10 years ago was to be placed in a box most women weren’t comfortable being in. To be feminist was to ignore the voices of black women, differently abled women, queer women, and non-binary folks. And of course, some people still think we don’t need it (um, FYI: we do).
But feminism has transformed and evolved over time. It’s no longer a stifling label that only describes the suffragettes. It’s a political, personal, and cultural identity in constant flux that celebrates intersectionality.
As the scripture of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reads, we should all be feminists. And in 2017, it looks like we’re all getting on board.
Since 2016, the amount of people looking up ‘feminism’ on Merriam-Webster.com has increased by 70%. According to Peter Sokolowsky, lexicographer and editor at Merriam Webster, the site has also seen spikes in lookups for feminism after key events. Feminism has been on the platform’s annual Top 10 over the last year, including other ‘ism’s that describe the current in political and social consciousness wave we’re riding. The word for 2016 was surreal and throughout the latter half of the 00s, words like socialism, fascism, racism, communism, and capitalism have surfaced.
The word ‘feminism’, derived from the Latin word for ‘woman’ or ‘female’, has been around since the 14th century. According to Sokolowski, the word first surfaced in the Webster dictionary as far back as 1841, which isn’t that old when you look at the history of the English language.
‘It was a very new word at that time,’ said Sokolowski. ‘[Webster’s] definition is not the definition that you and I would understand today. His definition was, “The qualities of females,” so basically feminism to Noah Webster meant femaleness.’
Sokolowski says the resurgence in the word’s interest is from feminism being redefined by millennials. ‘The word feminism was being [used] in a kind of general way… what does it mean to be a feminist in 2017? Those kinds of questions are the kinds of things, I think, that send people to the dictionary.’
The word has come a long way since it was first referenced. The Merriam-Webster defines feminism today as the ‘theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” and ‘organised activities on behalf of women’s rights and interests.’
The visibility and diversity of feminism is propelling the movement to spaces its never been before. The global impact has created community where it before it was exclusionary. Feminism is growing from the grassroots up and pollinating the movement with a multitude of identities and voices through social media.
We’ve been having these conversations since before women had the right to vote (many still don’t). But now, these conversations are crossing borders, connecting communities, organising, mobilising, and disrupting at rates faster than the fibre that carries them.
Here are a few reasons why feminism is the word of the year:
We saw what happened when the Women’s March became the biggest protest in USA history.
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100 days ago today, millions of you took to the streets to show the world that women’s rights are human rights. Tomorrow, we’ll hit the streets again with our partners in #TheMajority. We are mobilizing our movement to participate in #MayDay actions nationwide, and to do so with an understanding that patriarchy is not the only system oppressing women. Capitalism, militarism, anti-Blackness — which Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to as the “giant triplets” of oppression — as well as homophobic, transphobic, biphobic, ableist, xenophobic, nationalist and ageist bigotry, are all deeply linked forces of oppression. On the 100th day anniversary of the Women’s March on Washington, we ask you to remember that our fight for collective liberation will last #BeyondTheMoment. (Photo: Michael Wiser / Post and Courier) IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Photo of a large crowd of people at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017. The U.S. Capitol Building appears in the background of the photo.
TIME’s Person of The Year celebrated the Silence Breakers who turned #MeToo from a moment to a movement. Influencers, politicians, and organisations rallied for the dismantling of decades of gender-based violence.
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Tarana Burke, founder of a nonprofit that helps survivors of sexual violence, created the Me Too movement in 2006 to encourage young women to show solidarity with one another. It went viral this year after actor @milano_alyssa used the hashtag #MeToo. “Sexual harassment does bring shame. And I think it’s really powerful that this transfer is happening, that these women are able not just to share their shame but to put the shame where it belongs: on the perpetrator.” Burke (@fortyisthenew40) is among the Silence Breakers, TIME's Person of the Year. Read the full story on TIME.com. Photograph by Billy & Hells for TIME. #TIMEPOY
We’re demanding accountability from influential, ‘untouchable’ men. #HimThough demands even ordinary men take ownership of their role in the patriarchy.
Amber Rose’s Slut Walk is a call-to-action to end slut-shaming, victim-blaming and GBV.
The series The Handmaid’s Tale based on the dystopian 1975 story from Margaret Atwood has got the whole world talking about a grim future where if we don’t stop policing and controlling women’s bodies, we’ll never know freedom.
Patty Jenkins is the first women to direct the highest-grossing live action film in history with Wonder Woman.
We’re advocating with the rest of the world to #FreeCyntoiaBrown.
The brave women of #FeesMustFall and those persecuted and expelled for protesting rape culture in the #RhodesWar.
And of course, we remember all the women who can’t be proud of their feminism, who can’t show their resistance publicly, and who have to be silent for their safety.
This year has been a huge year for feminism. And it’s only just beginning.