Feminism 101: Feminist Vocab/Phrases Everyone Should Understand

Learning some lingo can help make feminism less intimidating
By Avital Norman Nathman  Published on 01/06/2017 at 9:00 AM EST

Welcome back to Feminism 101, the Grok Nation column that takes on all things feminism. Each week we ask our cabal of fierce feminists a question in order to get a better understanding of what feminism is.

For some folks, learning about feminism can be intimidating because they are introduced to a whole new set of words and terms that they may not have encountered before in their day-to-day lives. But, have no fear! To start the new year right, here are just a few of the phrases you’ll hear when discussing feminism.

What words/terms/phrases do you think a burgeoning feminist should really understand?

Jen Selk:Baby feminists should start by getting a handle on the basics. Delve into the following questions: ‘What is rape culture?’ and ‘What do the terms equality, intersectionality, and white feminism mean?’ and ‘What is a MRA/PUA?’ Definitions are a nice starting place. If you make it past the 100 level without being overwhelmed by depression and ennui, slightly more complex questions are worth a noodling. I suggest, ‘What is misandry (and does it exist)?’ and ‘What is the patriarchy and why are we trying to smash it?’ Welcome, new folks. Feminism isn’t a monolith, but you are welcome here.”

Alex Blank Millard:Intersectionality is an important word for anyone concerned with equality. All this means is looking at the different ways our identities intersect and keeping these intersections in mind when we fight oppression. We are not all starting in the same place and it’s important to keep in mind that feminists with identities different from our own may have different needs to fulfill to experience actual equality. Franchesca ‘Chescaleigh’ Ramsey and Laci Green do a great job explaining the basics of practicing intersectional feminism at Everyday Feminism!”

Jill Di Donato:No. Toddlers are known for saying, ‘No!’ which, according to psychiatrists is a sign of personal growth and self-assertion. For the baby feminist, ‘No!’ is a source of empowerment. Rather than starting an argument with the baby feminist, get him or her to realize early on what ‘No Means No!’ is really about, not starting an argument, but self-ownership. This will take patience. Love: Feminism is about love — self-love, and love for others. Understanding the meaning behind the word love is vital for the baby feminist. Body awareness: The baby feminist is going to be aware of their body, mainly because as a new person, it’s so fascinating to see your body move freely in the world. Before his or her body gets encumbered with social and political blockades, now is a time to appreciate the body for what it can do, not just what it looks like. This article I wrote for the Huffington Post about how my peers reacted to my adolescent onset of breasts shows that shame often accompanies bodily changes. Let’s put an end to this by teaching the baby feminist that your body is just as amazing for its actions as its appearance.

Jennifer Pozner:Media literacy is our strongest tool we have to arm ourselves against commercial, ideological, and political propaganda — and it will be more important than now that a manipulative reality TV producer is POTUS. Applying a critical media literacy framework to everything we see, watch, read, and hear allows us to understand and challenge news and entertainment representations that normalize sexual assault or demonize feminist values, bolster bigoted leaders and policies or marginalize progressive voices. I do media literacy education (multimedia keynotes, workshops, trainings) about media at the intersections of gender, race, class, and sexuality to help people engage as active, critical media consumers, because I believe we cannot achieve gender and racial justice without these critical tools.”

K.M. O’Sullivan:Sure, it may seem like all feminists are birthed fully-formed out of universities and MFA programs, but that’s just the big bang part of feminism. Feminists today evolve. We’re made everywhere now. And new feminists come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and ages. That’s the beauty of feminism: it’s an equal opportunity club. As new feminists join our ranks we have to make space for them to try out the language. They will make mistakes. Hell, even experienced feminists make mistakes. I still say ‘You, guys’ when I mean ‘all the people in the room.’ For me ‘guys’ is gender-neutral, to others it’s a slap in the face of the matriarchy. And so it goes. The language of feminism is a living, breathing thing. It reflects the context and emotional state of the movement. If new feminists remember that each individual is worthy of respect the rest will fall into place. Words matter, but actions matter more.”

A couple of our feminists shared some sites/articles to check out for some more 101 learning:

Christine Stoddard: “‘We Can Respect Virginity & Celibacy Without Supporting Purity Culture.’ It touches on women in religion, the pro-choice movement, and intersectional feminism.”

Amy Dryansky: “‘The Story of Pokey Mama,’ which is all about my struggle to navigate the poet-mother-woman-worker territory.”

Other words to get familiar with:

Cisgender: A term that describes someone whose gender identity matches their body (and the gender assigned to them at birth). Somebody who is not transgender, genderqueer, non-binary, or intersex. Read more at the Advocate.

Cultural Appropriation: The use, adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior from one culture or subculture by another (usually a majority culture usurping aspects from a minority or marginalized culture). Read more at Everyday Feminism.

Misogyny: The dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. Read about some examples in tech at The Telegraph.

The ‘isms: The ideas and constructs that feminism fights against. Racism, sexism, ageism, anti-Semitism, colonialism, ableism, etc…

Have a question for our ragtag group of raging feminists? Send it to Avital Norman Nathman at and it might just be answered in a future Feminism 101!

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