Merriam-Webster saw a spike of lookups for the word “feminism” on its site yesterday, following Trump administration advisor Kellyanne Conway’s use of the word at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in the classic sense,” she said, “because it seems to be very anti-male and it certainly is very pro-abortion, in this context.”
As usual when trying to deconstruct Conway’s labyrinthian sentence structure and warped logic, it’s difficult to tell what she actually means here. She says feminism “seems” a certain way and that it’s “difficult” to call herself a feminist in the “classic sense,” a bunch of words that, when strung together, appear to be Conway saying she’s just not a feminist. But then she goes on to define her “feminism”:
There’s an individual feminism, if you will, that you make your own choices… I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances. That’s really to me what conservative feminism, if you will, is all about.
Unfortunately for Kellyanne, that is not feminism. “Individual feminism” is not a thing, and “conservative feminism” is an oxymoron (ox·y·mo·ron, noun; a combination of contradictory or incongruous words). You don’t get to make up new, confusingly vague definitions to suit your political agenda. Did you know there is a whole career people make out of studying and defining words, and those people are lexicographers? Let the good people at Merriam-Webster remind you what feminism means:
It’s encouraging, at least, that enough people flocked to the dictionary’s site to learn the actual meaning of feminism. Merriam-Webster’s trend watch also includes the history of the word, because, again, these are professionals who study words for a living: “It entered the language in 1895, at a time when efforts for women’s political equality were becoming organized and widespread in England and the United States.” Those efforts included women fighting for the right to vote, a 70-year battle led by radicals whose inequality was not, if you will, the “products of their choices,” and who were, indeed, “victims of their circumstances”—those circumstances being the fact that the men in charge didn’t feel like giving women the right to vote until they fought like hell for it.