Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2017 is feminism. The word was a top lookup throughout the year, with several spikes that corresponded to various news reports and events. The general rise in lookups tells us that many people are interested in this word; specific spikes give us insight into some of the reasons why.
Feminism spiked following news coverage of the Women’s March on Washington, DC in January (and other related marches held around the country and internationally), and follow-up discussions regarding whether the march was feminist, and what kind of feminism was represented by organizers and attendees. The word spiked again when Kellyanne Conway said during an interview that she didn’t consider herself a feminist. In this case, the definition of feminism was itself the subject of the news story—an invitation for many people to look up the word.
Interest in the dictionary definition of feminism was also driven by entertainment this year: we saw increased lookups after the release of both Hulu’s series The Handmaid’s Tale and the film Wonder Woman.
More recently, lookups of feminism have been increasing in conjunction with the many accounts of sexual assault and harassment in the news. Many women have come forward to share their stories with journalists and many more women joined in on social media using the #MeToo hashtag to say that they too have been affected by such behavior. The string of breaking news stories regarding the resignations, firings, or dismissals of men who have been charged with sexual harassment or assault has kept this story in the news.
Today’s definitions of feminism read: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”
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