It is a well known fact that words are far more than ways to point to concepts, that words can be symbols which stand for a whole perspective or even worldview.
[T]he terminology we use is heavily ideologically laden, always. Pick your term: if it’s a term that has any significance whatsoever- like, not “and” or “or”- it typically has two meanings, a dictionary meaning and a meaning that’s used for ideological warfare.
Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power
This is true in any area of life. In general, the use of words typically gives us a good indication of a person’s allegiance. The framing and reframing of words and concepts are the main weapons used in ideological warfare, and so it should not be surprising that people on different sides deploy words in different ways.
The textbook example of this is the “pro-life” (instead of “anti-abortion”) and “pro-choice” (instead of “pro-abortion”) reframings. In general, people who use the reframing terms are proponents of what they stand for; opponents of the position have no reason to agree to the reframing. I would never call anyone “pro-life” because I believe that term is a lie (anti-abortion is a much better descriptor); “pro-choice” is at least more accurate, and in that case I’d rather attack the concept of “choice” itself than argue semantics (although perhaps “pro-imposition” would be better).
So here is my list of red flag terms, mostly on feminist issues, which immediately make me suspicious of anyone using them. Note that I am not arguing that people using these terms are always wrong; I sometimes use these terms to explain why they are imbecilic. “Red flag” means alert, warning, not exclusion.
These are red flag terms, not just because they refer to things that don’t actually exist, but because they are routinely used to nay-say systemic analysis and support an individualistic view on feminist issues.
Basically, the argument underlying these words is that women have “agency” and “choose” to be oppressed, therefore “proving” (only to an idiot who believes that reality magically changes depending on what we call it) that they are not actually being oppressed. A related term is “consent”: while consent is a useful ethical term, it can also be used to argue that women “consent” to be oppressed.
Cis, cissexist, cis-privilege
Here is my entry on this subject. But furthermore: the concept of “cis” is an organized attack against feminism because it pushes forward the idea that people who identify as women are privileged by virtue of having been born women. One of the basic principles of feminism is that the gender hierarchy places men at the top and women at the bottom, and that therefore women cannot be privileged because of their gender. So any use of the term “cis” is fundamentally anti-feminist.
This term has gained widespread support amongst liberals, which makes it easier to weed out non-radfem sources.
This is a slur term against radical feminists, which means: Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists. The term is meant to imply that there are good (non-trans-exclusionary) radical feminists and bad (trans-exclusionary) radical feminists; a thinly-veiled attempt at divide-and-conquer.
Radical feminists are not “trans-exclusionary” and do not seek to exclude transgender people from analysis or consideration. Trangender people are not the issue, but rather the genderism (and therefore anti-woman ideology) generated by trans activists to bolster their unscientific worldview.
The term “TERF” is most commonly used against people who support women-only spaces. Since historically we know that women-only spaces are essential for women’s liberation and safety, this means anyone who truly honestly support women’s liberation and safety will be called a “TERF,” ironically turning it into a badge of honor.
This term is used to nay-say systemic analysis of BDSM. The basic principle is that criticizing BDSM as a practice is really a personal critique of everyone who practices BDSM by “choice.” Any critique of BDSM must therefore be an attempt to shame individuals for their “kinks” (a term which sounds much more innocuous than “bondage” and “domination,” and therefore hides the reality).
In reality, a critique of BDSM for being hierarchical is no more a form of “shaming” than a critique of prostitution is meant to “shame” trafficked women. The goal of systemic analysis is to evaluate institutions and processes, not individuals. So the term “shaming” is simply propaganda.
No woman deserves to be called a “slut,” even in a sympathetic way. People who use the term “slut-shaming” to defend young girls and women who dress in “unapproved” ways are calling these young girls and women sluts for the way they dress. They are no better than the accusers! Do not support such people, and call them on their behavior. No one deserves to be called a “slut” based on what they wear, even if the name-calling is supposedly done to support them.
This term is used by BDSM proponents as a slur against people who do not practice BDSM, especially people who criticize BDSM. It is not only a slur but a concept which promotes hierarchical thinking about sex:
The s/m concept of “vanilla” sex is sex devoid of passion. They are saying that there can be no passion without unequal power.
I’ve already addressed this particular point: sex-positive, like other terms I’ve already listed, aims to break down any attempt at making a systemic critique of sex.
Innate gender, gender identity
This term is used to nay-say gender atheism. There is no scientific or logical proof of any such thing as “innate gender.” I accept that people feel that they have one, but that’s no more evidence for an innate gender than personal experience is evidence for race or religion.
There is nothing inherently wrong about the concept of gender identity, but it is most often equated with innate gender or to the effects of innate gender. Any analysis of gender identity, gender self-identification, identification of others, must start with socially constructed categories as its basis. Any biological argument for gender identity is essentialist.
This term is used to try to normalize the trafficking, abuse, rape and murder of women in prostitution and to pretend that it’s just another form of work. It’s used by liberals who are trying to reframe the radfem position against prostitution as singling out prostitutes for punishment when they are just “workers” doing their job. It hides the fact that prostitution is not, and cannot, be just another form of work because it is predicated upon the exploitation of women’s bodies.
The use of the term “girls” to talk about adult women is infantilization and aims at trivializing women’s speech and women’s beliefs by portraying those women as children.
Men’s rights, Men’s rights advocates
This term seems trivial: after all, men are humans and all humans have rights. But the term is a code-word for men who believe that women are the true rulers of Western societies and benefit from privileges acquired at the expense of men. These men (and a few handmaidens) are no more connected to reality than Creationists or Scientologists.
I have debunked MRA “evidence” in two entries (1, 2). This has infuriated some MRA groups because their ideology is mind-bogglingly stupid. Fortunately, they don’t meet any radfem-allied men and thus have no idea what to do with me (a fact about which I am eternally grateful).
MRAs believe that the “alpha male” and “beta male” structure of dominance in wolves also exists in human beings. Unfortunately for them, the whole concept of “alpha male” was a scientific fabrication; so are the MRAs’ bizarre theories about how humans operate, but at least the former has been corrected.
This is not a bad term in itself. Intersectionality tells us that a person’s identity is composed of many different hierarchies, and that you may be superior in one and inferior in another. In order to understand the story at the individual’s level, you have to look at how all these statuses intersect. Being a white woman is different from being a black woman, being a handicapped fat person is different than being a non-handicapped fat person, and so on.
The problem comes when intersectionality becomes one’s most important, or only, tool of analysis. Because intersectionality inherently focuses on individual conditions, using it exclusively becomes nay-saying of any systemic analysis. For example, feminism assumes that there is such a thing as female socialization and female experience, but intersectionality may lead someone to claim that there is no such thing and that every single woman is a different case, thus making feminism impossible.
As Aphrodite Kocięda argues in this article for Feminist Current, intersectionality is not a good model of oppression because it fails to include the sources of oppression and portrays hierarchies as fixed and immutable. If you want any sort of accurate model of how oppression works, you have to understand fundamentally that oppression is constantly created and recreated by social institutions, and how this is done.
Essentialism (or “biological determinism”)
I’ve decided to add this word, not because it is inherently bad, but because it seems people don’t know what it means any more and are using it as a weapon against radical feminism without regard for meaning.
Essentialism actually conveys the idea that every thing has an essence, which has attributes on which the identity of the thing depends. In sociology, it conveys the belief that gender, race, ethnicity, and so on, are fixed constructs which reflect biological realities, and are part of the “essence” that makes a human being. It is therefore the opposite of constructionism (the general radicalist position) that these things are social constructs and are not part of the “essence” of any human being.
Anyone who uses the word “essentialism” to support any form of genderism or attack radical feminism is therefore either lying or an idiot, and in either case cannot be trusted. Radical feminists are against gender and do not believe that gender reflects any biological reality; it is genderists, both traditional and trans, who are essentialists.
It seems that they try to associate “essentialism” with “believing that sexual organs matter in identifying someone.” But that’s not essentialism, that’s biology 101; radfems do not believe that the nature of a person’s sexual organs prove anything other than someone’s sex. What makes women have interests in common is not sexual organs but socialization, exploitation, objectification and an inferior status, all of which are a result of social institutions and ideological traditions, not biology.