The word “feminazi” is a product of an equation between the feminist movement and Adolf Hitler’s extremist Nazi regime, which is employed against situations that in their promotion of gender equality become too “radical”, engendering the legitimization of misogynistic abuse and mass-murder of millions of people. It is a label which is bandaged conveniently as a reminder of the dominance of men over women, of the incessant power struggle.
Before I attempt to trace the origin story of the word in question, I’d like to revisit in theory the brutality of the Nazi regime whose ideology has ignorantly been attached to a movement of liberation. The Nazi regime wanted to establish a society of racial and biological “purity” which they achieved by discriminating against individuals who did not fit into their mould of an “Aryan”, the purest race. The primary enemy turned out for them the Jews who the Nazis thought wouldn’t let their vision of racial homogeneity be realised. From enforcing anti-Semitic laws to systematically exterminating the Jewish population in fixed and mobile gas chambers, the Nazis killed millions of people to achieve the “ethnic new order” and create a “living space” for people only of their race.
The Nazis were also bigoted in their approach towards sexuality and maintained strict codes of chastity and heterosexuality. Consequently, “immoral” sexual practices like homosexuality, according to them, were considered as a threat to the Nazi population and homosexuals were killed in mass numbers as a result. Women and men had to stick to their roles of constricting feminine and masculine ideals respectively.
Hitler’s racist, misogynistic, homophobic, homicidal ideology is now attached to a movement which seeks to liberate individuals from these very evils that still plague the world. Connection? Let us see how the word “feminazi” came into existence.
Feminazi was used as a defence for every statement that was too “radical” for their likes.
Rush Limbaugh in his book, The Way Things Ought To Be, defines a feminazi (whose origin he claims has the mind of an academic, Thomas Hazlett), as “a feminist to whom the most important thing in life is ensuring that as many abortions as possible occur.” The paradigm of a woman exercising her reproductive choice over her body is seen to resonate with the anti-Semitic rigidity of Hitler that translated into deaths of millions of Jews in gas chambers.
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The usage of ‘feminazi’ started out on social media by authoritarian right wing figures for whom the talk of feminism was too much to swallow, who used this as a defence for every statement that was too “radical” for their likes. In 2015 however, Charlotte Proudman, a barrister publicly exposed the sexism of Alexander Carter-Milk, a senior city solicitor, earning her the label of “feminazi barrister” by the Daily Mail. This marked the transition of the usage of this term from online slang to offline mainstream media.
Hearing the word feminazi might not immediately trigger alarm bells since terms like “Grammar Nazi” have been popularized and claimed by individuals who, surprisingly, take pride in associating their grammar sophistication with the genocide of Jews. The ignorance of the magnitude of the horror of the Nazi rule leads to the term being used casually and insensitively.
What problematizes this uncritical usage of the term for me is the normalisation it has come to gain over the years. Google ‘feminazi’ and the first link you see is the ‘top definition’ of the word on Urban Dictionary which defines it as:
“A feminazi is not a feminist. Feminists believe in equal rights for us, feminazis just make us look stupid. Feminazis believe that all men are idiots, wearing a bra is a symbol of oppression (personally I find bras comfortable), shaving our legs is apparently showing that we GIVE INTO MALE PRESSURE TO BE ATTRACTIVE HOLY SHIT, snowmen must be called “snowpeople”, and that any song that mentions a girl is supporting rape or whatever.”
Deconstructing this pejorative definition will only add to the cringe-worthy feeling of being defined as a feminazi for saying women’s rights are human rights! Gloria Steinem, who was one of the feminists Limbaugh called a ‘feminazi’, criticizes the word as being “cruel and ahistorical” saying: “Hitler came to power against the strong feminist movement in Germany, padlocked the family planning clinics, and declared abortion a crime against the state—all views that more closely resemble Rush Limbaugh’s”.
How does a term signifying the systematic genocide of millions of innocent individuals get conflated with a term that in all its spirit aims and practices to demolish patriarchy and other social hierarchies? Labelling a feminist as a feminazi only reveals the proponent’s orthodoxy and misogyny. Feminazi is a verbal attempt at outright misogyny. Charlotte Proudman in an article explaining her encounter with the word writes, “Women do not need to be radical to be called a feminazi. They simply have to challenge sex inequality.”
Few months ago, women in the US state of Ohio protested against a bill placing more restrictions on abortion, dressed in outfits resembling the characters in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. Where should the struggle of these women, who are fighting for their reproductive rights over their bodies be placed? Within the circumference of feminism or is it transgressive enough to be labelled as ‘feminazis protesting about yet another right that they don’t actually deserve’?
How does a term signifying the systematic genocide of millions of innocent individuals get conflated with a term that in all its spirit aims to demolish social hierarchies?
Feminazi is simply a term used to maintain the status quo of the unequal and highly patriarchal distribution of power across various social hierarchies. It is vested in the interests of cis, heterosexual males who, through intimidation and excessive assertion of their chauvinism, seek to control women.
Feminists have their struggles minimized and dismissed with the easy label of ‘feminazi’ and the ‘angry bra-burning women’ (as reiterated by the Urban Dictionary definition) which reminds me of Limbaugh’s comment on the feminist movement which he saw as a way to make ‘ugly women acceptable to society’. Hands down, the most ignorant comment so far!
What complicated the term for me was the initial acceptance it received by some women friends who went ahead to simply claim the label. It was used as a mark of resistance against those who exchange labels to circumvent real dialogue. Claiming the term would mean, I thought, that you step away from shaming through labels and go ahead to be assertive of your point.
However, one cannot and should not escape the parent term from which it derives its meaning. Nazism was brutal in its ideology and abhorrent practices to say the least, and to, in any way, accept the label (looking at you self-proclaimed Grammar Nazis!) or to not question when it is being used, is to undermine and dismiss the lives which were taken away by the Nazi rule. The word is dipped and taken out from the pool of high ignorance and insensitivity towards human lives and their struggles.
Feminazi. Hear or read it enough and don’t stop repeating until its origin story gnaws back at you. Because it will. Remember to retaliate, in every setting, when this word is used, when a feminist expresses an opinion too militant for the orthodoxy, because it is only then that sheer negligence and insensitivity of the user will be exposed. Resistance is key. It has always been.