Joss Whedon’s Awesome Speech About Why He Hates The Word ‘Feminist’ Will Make You Think

Joss Whedon Equality Now speech November 2013

It seems like every day another female celebrity comes out of the woodwork to declare that she’s not a feminist but she definitely believes in all the basic concepts of feminism. The latest perpetrator is Kelly Clarkson, but other offenders have included Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. It usually takes the same basic format: “I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but… [insert feminist belief here].” It happens way too often, and every time it bugs me. It bugs me because it’s a result of ignorance.

Thankfully there are people in Hollywood who understand what feminism is and want to explore why in our society there is a stigma placed on that word and all its correct and incorrect connotations. One of those people is writer-director Joss Whedon, who gave a speech at Equality Now’s “Make Equality Reality” event earlier this week. He begins his speech by saying “I hate feminist” and then clarifies, “I didn’t say I hate feminists. That would be weird. I said I hate feminist. I’m talking about the word.” What ensues is an incredibly fascinating argument about the very word “feminist” and what it implies. He explains that being a writer is partly about creating universes, but it’s “also about living in the very smallest part of every word.”

His speech is quite long, and I highly encourage you to watch it yourself, because it’s very interesting and funny, but here’s part of his argument.

“You can’t be born an ‘ist.’ … ‘Feminist’ includes the idea that believing men and women to be equal, believing all people to be people, is not a natural state. That we don’t emerge assuming that everybody in the human race is a human. That the idea of equality is just an idea that is imposed on us.”

He suggests we use a new word to classify people who are not feminist as “genderist,” similar to “racist,” to establish whether “you either believe that women are people or you don’t.” He calls out Katy Perry in particular for her “I’m not a feminist” comment, and he comes to the conclusion that introducing the word “genderist” would lead Katy and other celebrities to change their word choice: “Katy Perry won’t say, ‘I’m not a feminist but I like strong women,’ she’ll say, ‘I’m not a genderist but sometimes I like to dress up pretty.’ And that’ll be fine.”

Joss Whedon has spoken out about the role of women in entertainment before, and I really admire him for it. I think the fact that this speech was given by a man is also significant. We complain all the time about how women misconstrue or fail to support feminist ideas, but it’s also important that men join in on the conversation. Feminism isn’t about separating the genders. It doesn’t mean that women are in competition with men, and it also doesn’t mean women are banned from criticizing other women. It just means that men and women were created equal and should be treated as such in the eyes of the law and society. That’s a belief both men and women can ascribe to and express without shame.

You can reach this post's author, Jill O’Rourke, on twitter.
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    • Olivia Wilson

      Posting this on the Facebook wall of the universe for everyone to see.

    • Kate McGarry

      Can I go back to college so I can use this speech to explain myself in every sociology in-class debate I endured? Bless you Joss Whedon, you beautiful eloquent flower

      • Jill O’Rourke

        He should have his name legally changed to that — Beautiful Eloquent Flower.

      • Mary

        the left has been dumbed down

        trying to change the language is the social action of yuppies

        it is a failed experiment from the 90′s

        You need real free speech liberals, like this…

    • Benita

      Rich, white guy wants to tell women how to define themselves and you’re endorsing that? Downgrade. There are problematic issues with the word feminism regarding the way women of color feel marginalized by the movement but it’s not for a white man to swoop in and declare himself the harbinger of the “right term”.

      Also, everyone is actually born an atheist, we are taught belief. Shut. Up. Joss.

      • mse63

        So, you’re dismissing his opinion because he’s a rich white guy? Hm, that reminds me of something…

      • JasonGW

        Hmm, so it’s bad for him to analyze and point out the problems with a word’s connotations, but it’s okay for you to come in and dismiss him entirely, as a person, because of the color of his skin, the junk in his underwear and the size of his bank account?
        Interesting logic there.

    • NeuroNerd

      Feminism is not a dirty word. Moreover, there are a TON of words in the English language that have a default “male” value that we don’t even think of: policeman, mankind. There are also a ton more words that used to be separated by gender (actor/actress, waiter/waitress) that we not use one word for, and it’s the traditionally “male” word. Why does the ONE WORD in English that reflects it’s origins with women make people so. fucking. uncomfortable.

      That said, I appreciate what Whedon is doing, because the sad truth is, just like it took men voting to get women the vote, it’s going to take men convincing other men to accept feminism.

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