by Lil Tuttle

The online dictionary Merriam-Webster announced its most searched word lookups in 2017, and “feminism” topped the list, “showing a 70% increase over 2016.”

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.

Defining Feminism

Merriam-Webster defines 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,” both of which sound relatively positive.

Yet a plurality of women views modern feminism far less positively. According to a survey, only 32 percent of women call themselves feminists.  Of the 45 percent who reject the feminist label, 47 percent think “feminists are too extreme.”

They, like Kellyanne Conway, see “feminism” as outside the mainstream of thought today.

“It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in the classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male and it certainly is very pro-abortion, and I’m neither anti-male or pro-abortion. So, there’s an individual feminism, if you will, that you make your own choices…. I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances,” Conway said during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor in Maryland last February.

 Kellyanne reiterated this position in her remarks after receiving CBLPI’s 2017 Woman of the Year award.


News, Entertainment Spiked Interest in Feminism Too

Other spikes of interest in feminism during 2017 were driven by entertainment and news.

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.