Feminist Terms That Inspire Action

Radical feminism

Feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It encompasses social, political, and economic equality. A belief is one thing, putting it into practice is another.

Women have fought for equal rights, and, clearly, have made some progress. But, inequality between men and women still exists, and that has given rise to radical feminism, an outgrowth of the 1960s women’s liberation movement. Radical feminists believe inequality stems from patriarchy and that male supremacy must be abolished in economic, legal, social, and political arenas.

Hey, guys, . . . don’t worry, it’s safe to read on. Radical feminists don’t oppose men, just patriarchy. Here are some more modern feminist terms to help you navigate this ongoing arena.


The term intersectionality was coined in the 1980s by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, an American civil-rights advocate and a professor of law at Columbia Law School, where she also is director and founder of the Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies.Intersectional feminism is “the understanding of how women’s overlapping identities —including race, class, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation— impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination.” Crenshaw explains that, “the way we imagine discrimination or disempowerment often is more complicated for people who are subjected to multiple forms of exclusion. The good news is that intersectionality provides us a way to see it.”

And, of course, a way for us to discuss how we can promote inclusion.


The term heteronormative runs counter to modern feminism. It’s the belief that we are either male or female, and heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality. Feminists use the term when discussing—and protesting against—pigeonholing into defined and “natural” roles.

The term was popularized in the early 90s by queer-theory expert Michael Warner in his book Fear of a Queer Planet. It’s a portmanteau of hetero, meaning “opposite,” and normativity, meaning “a system of normative assumptions.”


The insult factor that comes with the slew of man- words created from the feminist movement shouldn’t distract from the true mission of equal rights. These man- words are also calls for attention to the ways men have and can demean women.

Mansplaining, a portmanteau of man and explaining, describes the condescending or sexist way men explain things to women. In 2008, Rebecca Solnit wrote an essay in the Los Angeles Times in which she described this situation without naming it. But, other women recognized it and began using this term and others.

Manterrupting is the unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man–and taking credit for a woman’s idea.

And, manspreading is when men sit on buses and subways with their legs spread wide apart to accommodate their . . . man parts.

Whether you agree with the usage of these terms or not, they have become pretty mainstream (yes, some are even in the dictionary!). See the next term to understand how man-bashing can cross a line though.


Misandry is “the hatred, dislike, or distrust of men.” It comes from the Greek misos meaning “hatred” and andros meaning “of or belonging to a man.” The term is akin to the original sense of misogyny, which is “the hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women.”

Why is misandry considered a modern feminist term? Because women need to be careful that male-bashing doesn’t go too far. It’s one thing to call out men when they behave badly, but sweeping condemnations and generalizations should not be lobbied against all men. Oftentimes misandry backfires and creates hostility toward women, as well.


The term transmisogyny was coined in 2007 by Julia Serano in her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. It means “the discrimination or prejudice against transgender women.”

The word is an intersection of two types of oppression that transgender women are subjected to: transphobia and misogyny. Feminists use this term to call specific attention to discrimination against trans women, which often results in sexual assault or domestic violence.


Cisgender, or just cis, is a term for a person whose gender identity corresponds with their biological sex assigned at birth. It’s the opposite of transgender. German sexologist Volkmar Sigusch used the term in his 1998 essay “The Neosexual Revolution.”

Feminists object to this term because they see it as validating the notion that there are only two genders correlating with two sexes, just male and female. It doesn’t embrace the LGBTQ community (a community feminists fight for and support!).   


Privilege refers to a set of advantages enjoyed by a majority group. Historically, feminism catered to white, straight, cisgender women. But, today’s feminists often remind us to “check your privilege.”

In other words, women of privilege must think about sexual inequality beyond their own experiences and understand how it affects women of color and LGBT women, as well. Feminism isn’t exclusive.

Male gaze

The term male gaze was coined in 1975 by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” It means depicting the world and women in visual arts and literature from a heterosexual point of view, in which women are seen as objects for male pleasure.

Feminists view male gaze in three ways: how men look at women, how women look at themselves, and how women look at other women. Male gaze reinforces stereotypes and causes unnecessary competition and criticism. But, there’s hope of breaking through these stereotypes as women directors and writers make inroads in Hollywood.

Yes means yes

The 2009 book Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape, by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, inspired the “No Means No” campaign against date rape, particularly on college campuses.

In 2015, California became the first state to require that all high-school health education classes give lessons on affirmative consent, which includes explaining that someone who is drunk or asleep cannot grant consent. In 2015, New York passed a similar bill called “Enough Is Enough.”

Still, Harvard law professor Janet Halley and other feminists caution against treating sex exclusively as a danger from which women should seek the authorities’ protection. And, male students argue that “victim-centered” policies are biased. This is a debate (and a cause) that will be continued . . . .

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