Last week Time magazine did something really weird. In a jokey, chummy online poll called "which word should be banned in 2015?" Time somehow found itself nominating the word "feminist" for banishment. This was a spectacularly dumb idea.
A lot of people consider themselves feminists. These include my mother, sister, wife and daughter. It is a part of their identity, basic to who they are. Suggesting a ban on use of the term is awfully close to suggesting a ban on those people. It's hard to see the humor in that. Or the point the magazine was trying to make.
"I can't even..." has become a Twitter cliché, said Time in the same feature. Okay, that's mildly annoying. But "feminist" is now in the same category? Along with "previous castoffs OMG, YOLO and twerk?" And this suggestion is somehow light hearted?
"Haven't we had enough of the term feminist..." is not that different from nominating "libertarian" or "Mexican" or "Buddhist" as fit terms for retirement. How can you do that as a mass-market magazine that is supposed to be for the entire news-reading public?
Here's the nomination speech Time wrote for its proposed ban. It's supposed to mimic the thinking of a person who would want the term stricken:
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.
As soon as I read that four days ago I knew Time was going to end up apologizing. It was just a question of how long it would take the egos involved to relinquish their hold. And of course they did, but not before the trolls at 4chan seized an opportunity. Here's the editor's note:
TIME apologizes for the execution of this poll; the word ‘feminist’ should not have been included in a list of words to ban. While we meant to invite debate about some ways the word was used this year, that nuance was lost, and we regret that its inclusion has become a distraction from the important debate over equality and justice.
So suggesting a ban on the word feminist was supposed to trigger debate, through a kind of "nuance" that got lost somehow? The logic grows dimmer the more they talk about it. It's easy to say, "it's hard to know what they were thinking." But in this case it really is hard. Do you know? I may end up writing more about this, so I ask for a reason.
Here's the one idea I have so far: the key to understanding how they got there is in the faux-familiar, conversational tone of the writing, the sound of the thing, which posits the existence of a common world or taken-for-grantedness that does not really exist for Time— a phony "we" that the editors mistook for an actual community of people who share annoyances.
Gawker commenters and Gawker editors do have that kind of shared sensibility. Time magazine does not. But their own writing ("Let’s stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around...") tricked them into thinking that maybe they did.
That's what I have so far. What do you have?