Towards the end of the Q&A session at “BERLIN’S MEDIA ART COMMUNITY: A FEMALE PERSPECTIVE” the inevitable question whether the panel members considered themselves feminists was asked. The panel’s reaction was predictable: No one wants to be seen as the cliché feminist. The organizer points out that the they used “female” in the title of the event instead of “feminist”, because they thought not every participant would see herself as a feminist. Everybody seems to agree that feminism has negative associations. It is obligatory to distance oneself from those uncool bitter and unsexy feminists form the seventies.
No one, not even the women who point out the historic achievements of the grandmothers of the movement seems to see the pattern. No one gets angry when this ritual of self humiliation is demanded. Often one sees predisposed obedience.
I agree that the word “feminism” shouldn’t be used to label the movement. My reasoning is entirely different though: It is unwise to use it, not because of negative associations, and because it reminds of the early activists whose public image was largely shaped by sexist propaganda. But using an ism-word for activists who fight for what can only be seen as the natural way of organizing society suggests that they are the extremists. Ism-words should be used for the true extremists: Sexists and racists. People who fight for equality and an inclusive society are equality activists.
The pioneers of the movement deserve respect for taking risks and thinking outside of the accepted frame of their times. Their ideas and concepts must be challenged like all concepts, but no one should feel embarrassed about the history of the movement. That only sabotages a project that is far from being completed.