Me Too. Women’s March. Silence breakers. This year undoubtedly proved that words can have an immense impact on our thoughts, our actions and our spirits — and there’s no denying that they defined 2017 as a time not only for these strings of syllables, but for resilience.
Just last week, Time gave Person of the Year to the “silence breakers” who shared their stories about sexual harassment through the #MeToo campaign, which sparked a larger social movement and a domino effect of accusations against powerful men in politics and in media. And it wasn’t just the Rose McGowans of the world who began to speak up. People from all walks of life — journalists, politicians, professors, housekeepers, field workers, assistants joined in on what became a global conversation about the injustices females especially face away from (and in front of) the public eye.
Seeing that this conversation has garnered national and international attention over the past 12 months, it makes sense that Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s word of the year is “feminism.” The online site based this on analysis of search traffic, announcing that the word showed a 70% increase in searches since 2016. They define “feminism” as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”
Other top words looked up this year were “complicit,” “rescue” and “empathy.”
“No one word can ever encapsulate all the news, events, or stories of a given year,” explained Editor at Large for Merriam-Webster Peter Sokolowski in a statement. “But when we look back at the past 12 months and combine an analysis of words that have been looked up much more frequently than during the previous year along with instances of intense spikes of interest because of news events, we see that one word stands out in both categories.”
The dictionary’s site elaborated on when “feminism” saw spikes in searches. People looked up the word in conjunction with the Women’s March on Washington in January (the largest spike), then again when Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway said in an interview that she didn’t consider herself a feminist.
The word also saw an increase due to female-heavy casts and storylines of women’s empowerment in entertainment. Merriam-Webster credits the Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the movie “Wonder Woman.”
Then, it spiked again as, one by one, women came forward with stories of sexual assault and harassment against power figures like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Trump (again) and a slew of others. “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,” Merriam-Webster stated.
It’s important to remember what feminism truly is: a fight for gender equality. Feminism is not anti-male. It is not putting the rights of one person before another.
As the final weeks of 2017 meet their dusk, it’s important to remember another thing: that the right words from the right individuals can lead to collective acts of courage. Spoken, written, defined, redefined, these words can empower us all.