As amazing, inclusive and empowering as it is, Feminism can be a little tricky to wrap your head around sometimes. This is partly due to the endless amount of vocab needed to fully understand complicated issues and ideas, and the fact that our understanding of these ideas changes all the time. So to help you along the ongoing educational journey that is Feminism, here are some handy words and terms to know:
Discrimination in favour of able-bodied people.
Ableism is rampant throughout our society, devaluing and discriminating against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities. It often comes from the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’, saved or pitied. In order to combat this it is vital that we are all educating ourselves about the different forms and experiences of disability, ensuring that we are creating accessible and safe spaces, and elevating the voices of people living with disabilities.
Relating to, composed of, or involving two things.
When we use the term ‘binary’ in feminist discussion it is usually in relation to gender (i.e: gender binary) and the limiting belief that there are only two genders. It is also often used to discuss gender stereotypes or characteristics typically seen as either male or female. It is becoming more widely accepted (rightfully so) that gender exists on more of a spectrum and that we should move away from this limiting ‘binary’ idea. People who are ‘non-binary’ don’t identify as female/male or a woman/man.
Denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.
To be cisgender (commonly shortened to ‘cis’) means that you have body parts that are categorised as female or male and you identify with that gender from birth. The term was first coined in the 90s to define the opposite of transgender. It is now often used to highlight the privilege of the majority of people who identify with their biological gender, and how people are treated differently in society based on their gender identification.
The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.
When a person or group of people take an element from a culture or race other than their own and use it outside of its original context, or, in a way that ignores its cultural significance – that’s cultural appropriation. Elements that are often culturally appropriated include traditional dress and decoration, music, celebrations, dance, art and religion. A few examples of cultural appropriation are white people wearing black face, people of non-native American background wearing a traditional native American headdress, and people of non-Indian background wearing bindis. The best way to work out if something is cultural appropriation is to look for the voices of those from that culture and be guided by them.
People dispersed or settled in a country far from their country of ancestral origins.
Diaspora was originally used exclusively to describe the movement of Jewish people from Palestine, following the Babylonian and Roman conquest. The word translated in Greek means ‘to scatter’, and is now also used to describe the experience of an individual living in a land that they do not share their ancestry roots with. Post World War II, diaspora became are more widely known concept as immigration from Africa and Asia increased. Immigrants and their descendants together form diaspora, and often share experiences in learning about their country of residence.
Manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where the perpetrator makes the victim believe that they are imagining things, when in fact the perpetrator is manipulating the situation to gain control. This occurs frequently among marginalised groups who are told that they are just “imagining” the oppression that they face.
Expectations assigned to each gender (usually the binary male and female).
Gender roles refer to the stereotypes of typically male or female characteristics, behaviours or actions. For example, traditional gender roles say that women should be the primary caregiver of children, and men should work to provide financial support. Or the simple boys wear blue, girls wear pink. It’s time to move away from these restricting gender roles.
Denoting or relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation.
We live in a largely heteronormative society, meaning one that privileges heterosexual (straight), cisgender* (see cisgender definition) and monogamous (only has one partner) people, and marginalises* (see marginalised definition) anyone who does not conform to these very rigid ideals.
The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
It is so important that your feminism is intersectional, meaning it considers the many different aspects of identity that can both enrich individual’s lives and lead them to be faced with oppression and discrimination. Some of these aspects include gender, race, class, ability, sexuality, and age. It’s important to understand the ways each of these aspects of identity can ‘intersect’ or relate to each other. For example the experience of a queer, transgender white person would be very different to that of a straight woman on colour. Everyone’s experience is valid and everyone’s voice should be heard. If you are not part of a marginalised* (see marginalised definition) group you can still be an intersectional feminist by being an ally of those who are; be supportive and listen and elevate the voices around you.
Check out this great video for more info.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning), intersex, and asexual.
As the above definition suggests, LGBTQIA+ is an umbrella term used to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning), intersex, and asexual community who are generally more marginalised* (see marginalised definition) than the majority of society. Though it is not included in the dictionary definition, the ‘+’ refers to those who don’t identify with any of those labels but still face oppression and identify with the community as a whole. The term is often accompanied by ‘and allyship’ referring to those who support and promote the community but do not identify with the labels themselves.
Some people also use the term QUILTBAG, standing for “queer/questioning, undecided, intersex, lesbian, transexual/transgender/trans, bisexual, asexual, gay, genderqueer.
A man explaining something to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronising.
Mansplaining is part of a set of cultural assumptions that place men’s opinions above women’s. It occurs when men assume that women don’t understand something and need it explained to them, which is more often than not a false assumption. It is usually done in a condescending, overconfident, inaccurate or oversimplified manner. Rebecca Solnit popularized the term in the book Men Explain Things to Me, which discusses men explaining women’s own academic fields to them.
The term has inspired a whole list of related terms including ‘Manterrupt’ (men interrupting women speaking) and Manspread (men taking up an unnecessary amount of room in public spaces, usually on public transport). There are also terms such as ‘Whitesplain’ which refers to white people unnecessarily explaining things to people of colour.
To be marginalised mean to be pushed to the edge of a group and made to feel less important. Many minority or sub-groups are excluded, and their needs or desires ignored, making them ‘marginalised’. This includes women, people of colour, people with disabilities, queer people, trans people, and more.
Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.
Misogyny is more complicated than just a hatred for women. It is about controlling and punishing women who challenge male dominance and don’t conform to the expectations of the misogynist. It is different from sexism which involves gender stereotypes* (see gender roles definition), systemic gender discrimination and the belief that men and women are not equal. Misogynists reinforces these stereotypes and believe that women should not be equal to men or respected. For example if a man claims that women are naturally maternal – that is sexist. If he says that women should only be housewives and serve their husbands and children – that misogynistic.
For a great example of the use of the word check out Julia Gillard’s Misogyny Speech.
A men’s rights activist or advocate (used to refer to a person who campaigns for or supports the protection of men’s rights and interests).
Men’s Rights Activists are in theory ‘fighting for men’s equal rights’. However in reality, the movement commonly focuses on fighting against feminism. This is unfortunate as there are many urgent men’s issues including male suicide rates and mental health issues, but it seems the majority of the MRA group are acting against women, rather than for men. You’ll most likely come across the term on social media as the group are infamous for ‘trolling’ and harassing women and feminists online.
A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.
We live in a largely patriarchal society; meaning one that perpetuates oppressive and limiting gender roles* (see gender roles definition), sexism, transphobia, homophobia, discrimination and violence against minorities, and much more. Patriarchy does not mean ‘all men’, but rather the cultural system that values masculinity over femininity and upholds inequality between the genders in social, political and leadership settings. This is why you’ll often hear the Rosie team saying “it’s time to smash the patriarchy!”
A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
Privilege is essentially the opposite of oppression. In feminist discussion we often talk about male privilege, meaning that men and boys do not face the same struggles as women such as sexism and gender-based discrimination. It can also be used to refer to white privilege, cis privilege* (see cisgender definition), able bodied privilege, heterosexual privilege* (see heteronormative definition), class privilege, and more. If asked to consider your own privilege, try not to see it as an attack or an insult, but an opportunity to understand how you may have benefited from your own identity and experiences and how not everyone has had the same experiences as you. It can be easy to underestimate the oppression that others suffer if you have not experienced it, so try and be mindful of this.
A society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalising or trivialising sexual assault and abuse.
Rape culture is very real in our society, as rape and assault are not only prevalent, but normalised and excused both in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language* (see misogyny definition), the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorisation of sexual violence in film and TV. Some examples of rape culture include victim blaming, sexually explicit jokes, trivialising assault (“boys will be boys”) and teaching girls to defend themselves rather than teaching boys not to offend.
A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. or Due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.
It’s so important to respect not only those around you, but also develop a sense of self respect too. Sexism and misogyny* (see misogyny definition) often stem from a deep lack of respect for women. By teaching respect for women and non-binary* (see binary definition) people from a young age we can truly move towards achieving gender equality. It’s also important to remember that respect is not only reserved for those in authoritative positions. Everyone deserves to be treated equally and everyone deserves respect.
This quote puts it best:
The action or fact of stigmatising a woman for engaging in behaviour judged to be promiscuous or sexually provocative.
Slut shaming is when someone is labelled a slut, promiscuous, ‘loose’, or any other sexually derogatory word, for engaging in sexual behaviour. Whether they are referring to someone’s outfit choice or sexual activity – real or made up – slut shaming is never okay. Women and girls are almost always the subject of slut shaming, while boys and men are commonly congratulated for the exact same behavior, and that’s just sexist.
Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist.
This term was coined during the third wave of feminism as the movement moved towards intersectionality and inclusivity. The term is commonly used on social media to describe people who claim to be feminist but harass and discriminate against sex workers online. SWERFs believe that anyone working in the sex industry should be excluded by feminism, suggesting that they are contributing to the objectification of women. This belief denounces women’s right to have control over their bodies, actions and sexuality.
Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.
Similar to the term SWERF, TERFs self-identify as feminist but wish to exclude trans women from the feminist movement. They hold the belief that trans women are not ‘real women’ and have benefitted from male privilege. This not only disregards the hardship and oppression that trans women face daily, but reinforces it.
A social science term that describes narrow repressive type of ideas about the male gender role, that defines masculinity as exaggerated masculine traits like being violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.
Toxic masculinity is incredibly harmful, as it rests on the idea that men must be stereotypically ‘masculine’ (aggressive, competitive, unemotional and strong) and reject any typically ‘feminine’ aspects of their personality (sensitive, nurturing, compassionate, emotional). The stifling of emotional expression is dangerous not only to women and other victims of male violence, but is detrimental to their own mental health. Everyone should be able to express their feelings with shame and stigma, and not be confined to outdated gender roles* (see gender roles definition).
1st Wave (1830’s – early 1900’s)
Otherwise known as the Suffrage movement, 1st Wave Feminism focused on legal issues, primarily on gaining the right to vote.
2nd Wave (1960’s-1980’s)
Coming after World War II, the second wave of feminism focused on the workplace, sexuality, family and reproductive rights. During this time women were fighting not only for gender equality, but also civil rights and freedom of sexuality.
3rd Wave (1990’s – present)
The main issues feminism is fighting today are similar to those of the second wave, however feminism has gained popularity and is now more widely accepted in the mainstream. Though we are yet to achieve full gender equality, in terms of reproductive rights, equal pay, ending violence against women, and more, it’s important to note that we’ve come a long way since the first wave of feminism.
4th Wave (present)
Many believe we are living in a new wave of feminism which has been enabled by the growing online feminist community. The new wave is sex-positive, body-positive, anti-misandrist (men hating), intersectional* (see intersectional definition), queer and trans inclusive and primarily digitally driven.
A brand of feminism centered around the ideals and struggles of primarily white women.
While Feminism prides itself on advocating for the rights of ALL women, ‘White Feminism’ focuses only on the ideals and struggles of only white women. While it is not always deliberately exclusive, its constant focus on the problems faced by the “average woman” is often alienating women of colour, lesbian, queer, intersex, and trans women, as well as women belonging to religious or cultural minorities. To be clear, being white and a feminist does not make you a White Feminist. And being a White Feminist does not necessarily make you a racist. But failing to include the experiences of all women demonstrates a lack of understanding and appreciation for the different types of inequality faced by different types of women. All women have experienced sexism. But it is incorrect and offensive to suggest that the struggle is experienced in the same way by all women. That’s why it’s so important to remember to be intersectional* (see intersectional definition) with your feminism.
For more info you can check out our blog on White Feminism.
Alert to injustice in society, especially racism.
When used as a verb, the word ‘woke’ means the past tense of ‘wake’ – as in someone who is past the process of waking up. There’s a similar logic behind using the word as an adjective in feminist discussion. It basically means being socially and politically aware and knowing what’s going on in the wider community, especially in relation to injustices. The rise in popularity of “woke” has been tied to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, reminding people to be aware of the way race and class affects people’s lives. Today we generally use the word to describe someone who is an informed, questioning, self-educating individual.