On Nov. 12, Time Magazine released its fourth annual word banishment poll, calling for readers to elect the most irrelevant, inarticulate or irritating term from a list compiled by Time editors and reporter Katy Steinmetz. Among the list this year were terms such as “bae,” “basic,” “literally,” “turnt,” “yaaasssss.” But in a strange turn, the poll also suggested a ban on the word “feminism.”
According to the list, voters wishing to ban this word “have nothing against feminism itself.” The “banished” term will not actually be banned from conversation, indicating that the poll is conducted in a somewhat joking manner. Yet the magazine is still making a mockery of whatever word earns the most votes. No matter the supposedly “light-hearted” tone of the article, Time still promotes the silencing of feminists by portraying the gender equality movement as something to be laughed at.
The article chastises feminists for “throwing this label around,” as if they are children with underdeveloped vocabularies, instead of intelligent women working toward social change. Steinmetz writes with the notion that “feminism” is a big word its supporters do not actually understand, but simply use as a fashion statement. This entire perception is dangerous, especially in this playful context. Readers are discouraged from expressing feminist values and acting upon those values out of fear of ridicule.
Including “feminism” on this list demonstrates an utter lack of understanding of what it means to identify as a feminist, and why the movement is still important to this day. If we had actually achieved gender equality already, women pursuing higher degrees would not make up less than half of the student enrollment at top-tier law schools. If men and women shared equal opportunities in the business world, females would fill more than 5.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEO roles. If men and women earned equal respect in political and professional forums, female members of Congress would occupy more than 20 percent of the Senate and 18 percent of the House of Representatives.
But this is not the case. In actuality, the women of present-day America continue to face modern forms of gender discrimination, menacing in their subtleties. Even at Occidental, both unintentional and deliberate microaggresions perpetuate gender-driven stereotypes. And this means feminism is still necessary, and definitely not something to be trivialized.
As readers, public figures and other publications criticize Time’s decision, many have overlooked the magazine’s other demonstrations of cultural and social misappropriation when determining which word should be banned in previous years.
In 2013, Time published “Which Word Should be Banned in 2014?” alongside a public poll. The winning word was “twerk”—a dance move originated in New Orleans but inspired by traditional African dances. After a video of Miley Cyrus twerking surfaced online last year, the dance was taken up by the pop star’s largely white, teen fan base. Failing to acknowledge the dance’s larger cultural context, Time decided to banish “a ‘dance’ that symbolizes the shallow horrors of modern pop culture.”
Steinmetz’s description, and the sheer inclusion of the term “twerk,” is equally as damaging as this year’s use of “feminism.” Attempts to banish terms associated with people of color or women diminish the members of these groups themselves. Any terms linked to an underrepresented culture or movement should not be grouped with colloquialisms, especially by one of the most widely circulated news magazines in the world.
The 2015 word banishment poll made feminists the punch line of an incredibly insensitive and poorly thought-out joke, but—at least this time—the ignorant decision resulted in an apology from Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs and a refusal to release the poll results. In response to recent upset, Time also published an article by feminist activist Robin Morgan titled “Feminist is a 21st Century Word.”
Unfortunately, these steps came too late. Gibbs, Steinmetz and the editorial staff are simply attempting to compensate for the magazine’s widely publicized mistakes instead of fully understanding that feminism is not an empty word, but a growing movement. And, perhaps more importantly, the other groups that have been victims of this poll in the past have received no such apology.
But with its widespread readership, Time can take a decisive stand against such stereotypes by altering its content. If Time plans to ban words in years to come, the editors need to reconsider the article’s focus. If the piece is intended to be humorous, Steinmetz and Time’s editorial staff should choose terms that are actually funny, not those associated with serious movements or cultural statements. The piece could also be considered literally, and offer suggestions for words that truly ought to be banished. There should be a ban, for example, on Rush Limbaugh’s “feminazi”– an offensive comparison of gender equality supporters with those who took part in mass genocide.
If college students can recognize and speak out against harmful aggressions on campus, the editorial staff of Time should be able to recognize and eradicate an inappropriate reference when it appears in its own publication. Otherwise, I suggest we “banish” Time’s insulting, damaging poll instead.
Cory Lomberg is an undeclared first-year. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @WklyCLomberg.