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“And that’s just, like, the rules of feminism.”  Many of us are familiar with the words of Gretchen Weiners, and unfortunately, this is the way many words and their definitions get thrown around — by hearsay, faulty memories, and personal interpretations. We have taken the time to compile a glossary to refer to when reading this toolkit.  It can also be used to spark crucial conversations about potential activist projects in the future. This is in no way a complete glossary of critical terms and concepts! All of the words followed by an asterix are words that your computer may tell you are incorrectly spelled or don’t exist; trust us — your computer is wrong.


Please see endnotes for sources.

o        Accountability

  •  Being held responsible for one’s actions or words, and for the impact those words and actions have on other people.

o        Activism

  •  Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, or environmental change, or stasis. Activism can take a wide range of forms from writing letters to newspapers or politicians, political campaigning, economic activism such as boycotts or preferentially patronizing businesses, rallies, street marches, strikes, sit-ins, and hunger strikes. Research is beginning to explore how activist groups in the U.S. and Canada are using social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action. [i]
  • Any action or campaign to promote social, political, and economic change. Takes a variety of forms.

o        Aggressions

o   Micro

  • Comments or actions that present themselves in everyday conversation that are harmful to specific groups of people.
  • “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people” -wiki
  • Ex: “That’s so gay”

o   Macro

  • Structural inequalities
  • When powerful corporations or institutions create and uphold practices that perpetuate existing oppressions

o       Allyship*

  •  “An ally is a member of a dominant group who rejects the dominant ideology and takes action against oppression out of a belief that eliminating oppression benefits everyone.” [ii]
  • The term “ally” acknowledges social power, or privilege. It implies that the person who is applying the term to themselves also acknowledges privilege and the knowledge that claiming the ally label doesn’t actually mean anything if there isn’t action behind it. Allyship means realizing not only that language is imperfect, but that intention is nothing if it isn’t actualized, and actualizing it is tricky
  • Allyship is the work of creating space, which means stepping aside to make room for other voices that are not yours. When someone with less privilege than you tells that you made a mistake, do your very best to listen and hear.[iii]

o        Autonomy

  • Acting on motives, reasons, or values that are one’s own. [iv]

o        Calling People In vs. Out

  •  Maria Poblet, a community organizer in San Francisco, came to our class to talk to us about  community organizing in the world.  She mentioned “calling people in vs. out, and we thought it was too great to not include in our glossary.
  • Refers to the act of addressing people with inclusive language to help them understand `your point of view as opposed to being confrontational.
  •  Giving them the chance to join you in movement.

o        Community Organizing

  •  Community organizing is “a distinct form of organization building and social activism.”  It involves building of a membership organization that may conflict with existing organizations (ie. churches, schools, etc.).
  • “These membership organizations engage in specific campaigns to change institutional policies and practices in particular arenas.” [v]
  • Provides organizing space for activism

o        Dichotomy

  •  “Dichotomies order our thinking in asymmetrical, either-or terms whose apparent opposition obscures how they depend on each other.”[vi]

o        Direct Action

  • “the face-to-face confrontation between your constituency and an individual target over a specific demand.”
  • “The key elements are a cohesive group, a target, and a demand.”[vii]

o        Essentialism

  • Naturalizing identities
  •  Ignoring both the complexities and construction of identities (ie. how and why formed)
  •  The practice of categorizing a group based on an artificial social construction that imparts an “essence” of that group, which homogenizes the group and effaces individuality and difference.[viii]

o        Framing

  •  An organizing principle that transforms fragmentary or incidental information into a structured and meaningful problem in which a solution is implicitly or explicitly included (Verloo, Mieke 2005)
  •  “operates even as we move from issue to issue because it speaks to the shared values of our constituency and allies and, as much as possible, to the values of the larger public.”
  • “because framing is a matter largely of working with language, a good frame will shape your media messages to your greatest advantage.” [ix]

o        Feminisms

  • Movements toward full social, political, economic quality of all human beings.  This is in no way a complete list of various types of feminisms.
  • Liberal — Changes within the system (reform vs. revolution), focus on individual rights and representation within existing institutions, gender neutral
  • Multicultural/Womanism* — Intersectional approach that refuses to prioritize forms of oppression
  • Socialist/Materialist — Marxist framework; focus on political and economic sources of oppression; Oppression of women in terms of their subordinate position in a system defined by patriarchy and capitalism
  • Radical — Revolution over reform. The pie is rotten.

o        Gender

  • Performative, based on socially constructed scripts of the sex binary. Might not “match” with a person’s sex, constantly changing over time and space, but reinforced by previous articulations and conceptions of gender
  • Social roles and expectations of the sexes

o        Globalization

o        Heteronormativity*

  • Societal norms that categorize heterosexuality as normal and any variant such as homosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality, asexuality as deviant.
  • In U.S. patriarchal society, heteronormativity reinforces privileges that come with being heterosexual, White, middle/upper class, and male

o        Heteronomy

  • The condition of being under the domination of an outside authority[xi]

o        Hierarchy

  • How the mainstream media portrays certain groups, theories, ideas etc.; Set in a particular ideology or concept.

o        Hierarchical Opposition

  • “In this important sense, dichotomized terms are not simply “independent” concepts (A and B) but defined in oppositional relation to each other (A and not-A). The meaning of one determines the meaning of the other, and more of one is less of the other.” [xii]

o        Horizontal Hostility

  • “The result of people of targeted groups believing, acting on, or enforcing the dominant system of discrimination and oppression. Horizontal hostility can occur between members of the same group or between members of different, targeted groups.”  This website is seriously awesome.  [xiii]

o        Identity Politics

  • Organizing based off of an identity marker.
  • Symptom of an exclusive broad movement where certain groups feel their struggle and needs are not being met.

o        (Infinite)-Isms [xiv]

  • Sexism — (Prejudice + Power) Conscious or unconscious action or institutional structure that subordinates a person because of gender. In our history, it has been women who have traditionally been subordinate.
  • Classism — The institutional, cultural, and individual set of practices and beliefs that assign differential value to people according to their socio-economic class; and an economic system which creates excessive inequality and causes basic human needs to go unmet.
  • Racism — The systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). This subordination is supported by the actions of the individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society.
  • Active Racism: Actions which have as their stated or explicit goal the maintenance of the system of racism and the oppression of those in the targeted racial groups. People who participate in active racism advocate the continued subjugation of members of the targeted groups and protection of “the rights” of members of the agent group. These goals are often supported by a belief in the inferiority of People of Color and the superiority of white people, culture, and values.
  • Institutional racism: The network of institutional structures policies, and practices that create advantages and benefits for Whites, and discrimination, oppression, and disadvantage for people from targeted racial groups. The advantages created for Whites are often invisible to them, or are considered “rights” available to everyone as opposed to “privileges” awarded to only some individuals and groups.
  • Ableism — Prejudice and/or discrimination against people with mental or physical disabilities.
  • Ageism — Discrimination of individuals based on their age, i.e. of the elderly based on the notion that they are incapable of performing certain functions such as driving, or of the young based on the notion that they are immature and therefore incapable of performing certain tasks.
  • and any other “ism” that is coming to mind

o        Individualism

  • A focus on individual rights opposed to collective well being
  • “every man for himself”

o        Internalized Oppression

  • “The process by which a member of an oppressed group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate myths and stereotypes applied to the group.”

o        Intersectionality*

  • Intersectionality is an analytical tool used to determine how the various ways the multiple layers of an individual’s identity, such as gender, race, class, sexuality, nationality or other identity markers, intersect in different ways that ultimately privilege or oppress that individual.
  • Assumes all oppressions are interconnected and held together by power.
  • Non-additive

o        Lenses

  • Frameworks that filter the way we apprehend the world things.
  • “Lenses simplify our thinking by focusing our attention on what seems most relevant. They “order” what we see and provide direction for subsequent actions. In this sense, lenses are like maps: They frame our choices, expectations, and explorations, enabling us to take advantage of knowledge already gained and, presumably, to move more effectively toward our objectives.”
  • Examples: positivist lens, feminist lens[xv]

o        Male Gaze

  • “Before talking about the male gaze, it is first important to introduce its parent concept: the gaze. According toWikipedia the gaze is a concept used for “analyzing visual culture… that deals with how an audience views the people presented.” The types of gaze are primarily categorized by who is doing the looking.”
  • “In film women are typically the objects, rather than the possessors, of gaze because the control of the camera (and thus the gaze) comes from factors such as the as the assumption of heterosexual men as the default target audience for most film genres. While this was more true in the time it was written, when Hollywood protagonists were overwhelmingly male, the base concept of men as watchers and women as watched still applies today, despite the growing number of movies targeted toward women and that feature female protagonists” [xvi]

o        Media

– Media Representation

  • How the mainstream media portrays certain groups, theories, ideas et.
  • Set in a particular ideology or concept.

– Media Literacy

  • The breakdown of media content through an evaluative perspective of what is being produced
  • An educational tool used to analyze media representations.
  • Those who are media literate posses the skills to pose the correct questions about the content, intention, production, and intended audience of any media source.

o        Oppression

  • “Institutional Oppression occurs when established laws, customs, and practices systematically reflect and produce inequities based on one’s membership in targeted social identity groups. If oppressive consequences accrue to institutional laws, customs, or practices, the institution is oppressive whether or not the individuals maintaining those practices have oppressive intentions.” [xvii]

o        Othering*

  • The act in which a group or person becomes the “them” to an “us” typically based on markers of identity.
  • When those who do not fit normative criteria become outsiders and are seen as less than.
  • Can occur through both language and action.

o        Patriarchy

  • “A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.” – Google definition
  • “Feminist theorists have expanded the definition of patriarchal society to describe a systemic bias against women. As second-wave feminists examined society during the 1960s, they did observe households headed by women and female leaders. They were of course concerned with whether this was uncommon. More significant, however, was the way society perceived women in power as an exception to a collectively held view of women’s “role” in society. Rather than saying that individual men oppressed women, most feminists saw that oppression of women came from the underlying bias of a patriarchal society.” [xviii]

o        Political Education

  • “Political education helps to connect activists to history, to a sense of how long it takes to make fundamental change. That connection to history inspires us and keeps us going through the inevitable losses and attacks.”
  • “helps prepare us to get our ideas out into the world.”
  • “political education is distinct from run-of-the-mill issue research because it is long-term. We might be fighting on issues of immediate concern while working out a strategy to do more.”[xix]


  • “Positionality is the practice of a writer or theorist delineating his or her own position in relation to the study, with the implication that this position may influence aspects of the study, such as the types of information collected, or the way in which it is interpreted.  Positionality has been criticized as using general characteristics, such as gender, religion, class, or race—characteristics that may or may not say much about the actual perspective of any particular individual” (Salzman 2002)[xx]

o        Privilege

  • Advantages and power awarded to specific groups from institutional inequalities
  • Cycling analogy: Blind to our own privilege when the wind is working with you, but when structures are working against you, you notice

o        Rape Culture

  • “Rape culture is telling girls and women to be careful about what you wear, how you wear it, how you carry yourself, where you walk, when you walk there, with whom you walk, whom you trust, what you do, where you do it, with whom you do it, what you drink, how much you drink, whether you make eye contact, if you’re alone, if you’re with a stranger, if you’re in a group, if you’re in a group of strangers, if it’s dark, if the area is unfamiliar, if you’re carrying something, how you carry it, what kind of shoes you’re wearing in case you have to run, what kind of purse you carry, what jewelry you wear, what time it is, what street it is, what environment it is, how many people you sleep with, what kind of people you sleep with, who your friends are, to whom you give your number, who’s around when the delivery guy comes, to get an apartment where you can see who’s at the door before they can see you, to check before you open the door to the delivery guy, to own a dog or a dog-sound-making machine, to get a roommate, to take self-defense, to always be alert always pay attention always watch your back always be aware of your surroundings and never let your guard down for a moment lest you be sexually assaulted and if you are and didn’t follow all the rules it’s your fault.” [xxi]

o        Self-Care (in the context of being an activist)

  • The ability to take care of one’s self as an activist when dealing with burnout, anger, or frustration with a community project.
  • Doing what you need to do to meet physical and emotional needs.

o        Self-Reflexivity

  • Self-reflexivity can be thought of as reflecting in the moment. It is used to understand the thoughts and feelings of an event while experiencing that experience.
  • “Taking a reflexive approach means that we reveal as honestly as possible in the think and writing process, the fault lines in our observations and reflections by holding them up to the scrutiny of self and others[xxii]

o        Sex

  • The biological makeup that defines the male/female binary in our society.
  • “Refers to a person’s biological status and is typically categorized as male, female, or intersex (i.e., atypical combinations of features that usually distinguish male from female). There are a number of indicators of biological sex, including sex chromosomes, gonads, internal reproductive organs, and external genitalia.” [xxiii]

o        Structural Critiques

  • Looking at how social structures interact with and reinforce oppression
  • Analyzing institutionalized and interlocking oppression to understand how power operates

o        Social Construction

  • The idea that the way we make sense of the world is defined by society.
  • Our actions, thoughts, ideas, etc. about our reality are previously and continuously constructed by societal institutions and norms.

o        Solidarity (see micro/macro aggressions for further explanation)

– Micro

  • Individual acts promoting mutual support for a struggle or cause.

– Macro

  • Collective acts promoting mutual support for a struggle or cause.

o        Transnational

  • Reaching beyond or transcending national boundaries.
  • Relating to or involving several nations or nationalities.

o        Victim Blaming

  • When the victim/survivor of a crime or injustice is held responsible for the harm done to them.
  • Implying a victim/survivor could have avoided their trauma by somehow adjusting their own behavior
  • Ex: The victim of rape is blamed for dressing in a “provocative” way

Terms to Avoid

o   Armchair Activism

  • One who sits in their armchair or desk chair and blogs or posts Activists issues on facebook without ever really doing anything about said issues or exercising any form of activism as it would require that person to actually leave the armchair. (Urban Dictionary)

o   Assumptions

  • It is incredibly important to avoid making assumptions about a person’s identity based on the way they look, dress, act, talk, etc.

o   Be careful about metaphors and similes!!

  • Be cautious when making comparisons of oppressions and experience.
  • i.e. holocaust, rape, slavery

o   Color Blind

  • Colorblindness is the racial ideology that posits the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity.
  • Problematic because ignores racism[xxiv]

o   Colored vs. Person of Color

  • “Colored” is a historically derogatory term used in a patronizing way in reference to black folks.
  • Better term:
  • Person of color: Inclusive term for non-white groups that often implies a common experience of racism in a U.S context. Moves beyond black/white binary.

o   Diversity

  • Understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences, these can be along the lines of sex, race, class, abilities, etc.
  • Problematic if seen as a full proof solution

o   Feminazi

  • The derogatory term for women who identify as feminists
  • Implies all feminists embrace the concept of the hatred of men and think that women are superior.
  • Insensitive language towards holocaust victims and survivors

o   White Savior Complex

  • A perception that white folk have that they are the benevolent benefactors of helpless ‘others.’[xxv]

o   1st and 3rd Worlds

  • Historic cold-war terms that categorize countries and civilizations based on their relative development with the first world being superior and better off than the third world
  • Have/Have-nots
  • These terms are now mostly seen as irrelevant and demeaning and the terms “Global North” and “Global South” are more commonly used despite the geographical inaccuracies.



[ii]Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell and Pat Griffin (Routledge Press, 1997).  http://girlsactionfoundation.ca/files/Allyship_and_Youth_-_Jessica_Yee.pdf



[v]Rinku Sen Stir it Up pg. xliv) Sen, Rinku. Stir It Up. Joseey –Bass. San Francisco, 2003.

[vi]Peterson, V. Spike; Runyan, Anne Sisson Global Gender Issues in the New Millennium

[vii]Sen, Rinku (2003-03-14). Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy (Kim Klein’s Fundraising Series) (Kindle Locations 2435-2436). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition


[ix]Sen, Rinku Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy (Kim Klein’s Fundraising Series) (Kindle Locations 2435-2436). John Wiley and Sons.

[x] http://www.globalization101.org/what-is-globalization/


[xii]Peterson, V. Spike; Runyan, Anne Sisson (2009-07-14). Global Gender Issues in the New Millennium: Third Edition (Dilemmas in World Politics) (Kindle Locations 957-959). Westview Press. Kindle Edition.



[xv]Peterson, V. Spike; Runyan, Anne Sisson (2009-07-14). Global Gender Issues in the New Millennium: Third Edition (Dilemmas in World Politics) (Kindle Locations 957-959). Westview Press. Kindle Edition.




[xix]Sen, Rinku (2003-03-14). Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy (Kim Klein’s Fundraising Series) (Kindle Locations 3974-3976).

[xx] Philip Cartl Salzman “Positionaility”.


[xxii]” (Allen, 2000; Naples 2001; Smith 1999).