Monday, April 21, 2014

on equalism, egalitarianism, and feminism—and who's appropriating who. ETA: masculinism, too!

Someone on Reddit claimed egalitarians were "appropriating" from feminism, so I just went word nerd at the Oxford English Dictionary and found their first usages: In English, egalitarian appears in 1885 and feminism in 1895. Both words come from the French, but egalité was first there, too; Charles Fourier didn't coin feminism until 1837. So if anyone's appropriating, it's feminism.

I also checked my favorite: equalist is from 1661. The OED notes it's rare, but still, it's a fine old word, and best of all, it's short.

Dora Montefiore objected to the word feminism in 1901, but she was too late. I love her objection, so I'll quote her again, italicizing my favorite line:
"I cannot help regretting that the word “feminism” has crept into the debate. It is a word of which we have no need in England, and which we might very well have left in its native land, France, where it was coined by men to express the contemptuous lack of understanding of the Boulevard for a phase of strenuous belief on the part of some French men and women, that woman possessed other functions and aspirations outside those of sex; in a word, was a human being as well as a female. It is a lop-sided expression, and leads to lop-sided thinking, just as the term “masculinism” might do, if used in a similar connection. Where education, professions, political rights and public duties are concerned, there is no necessity to emphasise sex; we all meet on the common ground of human beings, having common human interests. In 1897, when speaking at the Women’s Congress in Brussels, I made a similar protest against the word “feminism,” suggesting that we should substitute for it “humanism,” as the advancement of humanity, and not of one sex over another, was the aim and object of the women at that time assembled in conference. The late Madame Potonié Pierre, one of the most large-minded among the French workers in the cause of equal rights for women, felt the justice of my plea, and wrote several articles in the same spirit; but the word “feminism” proved too attractive to the esprit gaulois, and it still reigns supreme in French bourgeois circles, and threatens to invade England." -Dora Montefiore, A Bundle of Fallacies
ETA: Masculinism ("Advocacy of the rights of men; adherence to or promotion of opinions, values, etc., regarded as typical of men; (more generally) anti-feminism, machismo" is from 1911. The first two citations are interesting because things didn't go the way the writers hoped:
1911 Freewoman 30 Nov. 24 "Masculinism and feminism are relative terms, and when one is strong enough to equate the other both will become merged in a common doctrine of humanism."
1916 H. Ellis Essays in War-time viii. 88 "The advocates of Woman's Rights have seldom been met by the charge that they were unjustly encroaching on the Rights of Man. Feminism has never encountered an aggressive and self-conscious Masculinism."