You either believe women are people or you don’t. It’s that simple.
— Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon — the genius responsible for, amongst other things, Firefly, Much Ado About Nothing, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog — recently spoke about his hate of the word feminist, and proposed that we instead talk about genderism, analogous to racism:
I must admit I was initially concerned when Joss declared that racism is behind us. As intelligent, compassionate individuals we certainly reject racism, and as a society we have laws declaring that all people are to be treated equally. But racism still does occur — consciously, unconsciously, and systemically. [Edit: On listening again I think that Joss wasn’t saying racism no longer exists, but more that we’ve moved beyond the place where we didn’t recognise its existence at all.]
Gender, like race*, is a social construct that has caused great harm, so I was impressed when Joss proposed using the word genderist to frame the discussion around gender discrimination. What’s more, as Joss said of feminist, we are not born racist or genderist, and there is nothing inevitable about the destructive ways of thinking embodied by these two words.
One of the things I love most about using the word genderist is that it implicitly recognises that restrictive gender roles are harmful to everyone, not just to women. This is something that many modern feminists do seem to understand and care about, but the word feminist is nevertheless inherently one-sided. Of course, historically the fight for women’s rights needed to be one-sided — feminists were struggling against the wide-spread belief that “because you were born female, you are less”. But while deeply ingrained and insidious discrimination still occurs against women in our society on a daily basis, many men and women who do support equal rights are turned off by the negative connotations associated with feminist, and are much more likely to embrace the fight against genderism.
I will still proclaim myself a feminist. But more importantly, I will stand beside Joss and all the other heroes in the fight against genderism. Are you with us?
*For a detailed look at how race is a social construct rather than a biological reality, check out Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature by anthropologist Agustín Fuentes