As those who follow many large social justice influencers may know, a lot of activists are moving away from the label feminist, but why? I spoke with several activists with large followings to better understand their logic behind the shift, and I came out with several different preferences among the social justice community.
Firstly, different labels in replacement of “feminism” can be better tuned to the needs/political ideologies/platforms of those who use it. Generally, there are two main alternatives: “womanist” and “activist”.
“Womanist”, similar in some ways to feminism, was coined by revered women’s rights activist Alice Walker and is known for its pithy explanation: “womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender”. All three waves of feminism have been deeply rooted in non intersectionality and racism. In other words, black women experience not only sexism as white women do, but also racism and classism, two things that white women do not understand and experience. Simply put, womanism is inherently intersectional because it is specific to black women whereas feminism is rarely intersectional because it is considered an umbrella term for all women.
“Activist” is a preferred label used by several social-media based because of its versatility and the broad scope of topics it covers. Instagram activist Grace from @activismwithgrace_ states: “...I also wanted to accommodate the fact that a lot of people [aren’t fine with the label].” Grace, a white woman, made the switch from feminism to activism because she wanted to expand and welcome not only women of color uncomfortable with the racist history behind the word “feminism”, but also to cater to marginalized women who have historically suffered from feminism. Mara from @actrvist.backup feels differently, as she herself is a British Pakistani woman: “I used to call myself a feminist, but over time, the flaws in the movement became more and more apparent so I found myself moving away from it. It was less the movement itself, and more the women using the title ‘feminist’ to attack other parts of my identity; to be racist, islamophobic, etc. [A]nd along with its history as a movement primarily for white middle class women, I found myself more and more unwilling to be associated with the label.” For many “feminists” of color, including Mara and myself, the label is too reminiscent of women’s racially-based suffering in the past and in the present to be fully comfortable in identifying with it.
Based on this, the conclusion to be drawn is that each label has its own reasoning for usage, and it’s a matter of preference. But as activism is progressing, more and more people are changing what it means to be a “feminist”.