Suggestion that the word 'feminist' be banned draws fire

Singer Taylor Swift performs onstage at the Hollywood Bowl on Oct. 24, 2014 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty for CBS Radio Inc.)
Singer Taylor Swift performs onstage at the Hollywood Bowl on Oct. 24, 2014 in Los Angeles, Calif.

Should the word “feminist” be banned? Just asking that question in the form of a poll put TIME magazine at the center of a frenzied debate. That would be the very same magazine that featured self-proclaimed feminist Taylor Swift on its cover.

The magazine's annual “What words should be banned?” poll this year included "feminist" alongside trendy, of-the-moment terms such as "kale" and "literally." In an explanatory blurb accompanying the poll, TIME makes a point to explain that they don't have anything against feminism as a concept, but rather the magazine is questioning the semantics of the word.

Written in a tone aimed at someone who would vote against the word, writer Katy Steinment explained, “You have nothing against feminism itself, but when did it become a thing that every celebrity had to state their position on whether this word applies to them, like some politician declaring a party? Let's stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade.”

Steinmetz defended her inclusion of the word when questioned on Twitter:

The word "feminist" has already netted a whopping 50% of the vote so far.

You might think this means the general populace is over hearing about feminism. However, writers at Mashable, Jezebel and others have presented evidence that 4Chan and 9gag, two anonymous user-generated online bulletin boards, have launched a campaign to game the system by flooding the site with votes against "feminist."

One commenter writes on 4chan: “Here in western countries we have the most free, and educated women in the world. Too bad women are never satisfied. They have turned feminism into something I cringe at the way I cringe at atheism and genital mutilation.”

Another adds: "Ban the word feminism, for the lulz."

The poll has sparked petitions from NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Feminist Majority Foundation, which points out,"'Feminist' is an important word, not a meme. In fact, millions of women and men around the world like you who believe in the social, economic, and political equality of all women identify as 'feminist' — including Taylor Swift, who is currently on TIME's cover. "

This isn’t the first time sites like 4chan have drawn scrutiny with their online behavior. The site played a part in the release of a trove of hacked nude photographs of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton earlier this year. A 4chan commenter also made headlines after threatening to release 200,000 Snapchat photos on the site last month.

Also worth mentioning is that several of the other words on TIME’s chopping block, like “bae” and “turnt” are common slang terms made current by black popular culture.