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What's In A Name? Learnings on Labels


This week, on International Women’s Day, we learnt that Boris Johnson shared that he was a feminist. Why would there need to be an announcement - on the day some might question how Conservative policies are disproportionately impacting women - if their actions hadn’t demonstrated their beliefs already?

It demonstrated a misunderstanding of the term ‘feminist’, as he spoke of cabinet reshuffles as though skirted-bums on seats would radically alter his misogynisti views. He seemed to suggest his feminism was linked to his leadership of the only party who can celebrate female prime ministers. His advisors clearly omitted to brief him that one's sex does not dictate one's views. . Maybe he harbours a misunderstanding that it's what's between one’s legs, not one’s thoughts nor actions that influences our belief’s around gender equality.

EquALLIES don't like labels. They're for jars, not for people.

But this self-appointed feminist is now using a term to serve themself, when it suits them, to an audience who doesn’t realise that giving yourself a label does not make it true. Could I call myself an expert, because I believe in the subject matter? Of course. Could you believe it? If you wanted. But let the UK's leader act as a warning, not all self-appointed labels are true.

Trust but verify [Ronald Reagan]

Of course, 'feminist' is not the only word to have caused contention this week. We have also seen further assault on the word ‘woke’ following the interview with Meghan, Harry and Oprah. 'Woke' has been appropriated by some as something to mock or discourage, as if social justice was not a positive contributor to society. We see inclusive language attacked as ‘whinging’, when the status quo is unnecessarily gendered. One can only imagine the mental gymnastics one must undertake to complain at someone’s choice of words whilst negating their own complaint is exactly that.

We see a void of critical thinking that allows the individual to use their freedom of speech and choice of words to decry they’re being silenced and abuse others with their choice of words.

Surely one thing we can agree upon, then, one thing to heal the divide, is language matters.

In fact, when it comes to action, challenge and change, language matters a lot. Giving yourself a title, or simply being a woman makes you no more a feminist than being white makes you anti-racist.

If nothing ever changes, nothing ever will.

Striving for social justice, or being ‘woke’ requires change and that change does not manifest in monotony. How wonderful it would be if we all called ourselves feminist, anti-racist, intersectional allies.

Would it make the world a better place?

  • Would it stop women being murdered in their homes, or walking home?

  • Would it stop black women dying in childbirth?

  • Would it redress socio-economic disadvantage linked to your post code?

  • Would it promote kindness to those who experience racism and suicidal thoughts?

  • Would it heal homophobia, ableism, islamophobia and anti-semitism?

What a wonderful world that would be.

But as much as language matters, actions matter more. We must all call out the alarm bells when we hear them.

Because saying we’re something isn’t enough. Being the change matters so much more.

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