Merriam-Webster defines feminism as both “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” and “2017’s word of the year”.
On Tuesday, the publishing company announced that it had closed out 2017 — a year that began with women flooding the streets of Washington to protest the inauguration of a documented misogynist and ended with a growing chorus of voices from female victims of sexual assault and harassment — with a surge in lookups of the word.
“No one word can ever encapsulate all the news, events or stories of a given year,” Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for the company, said 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.”
Online searches for the word and its meaning increased by 70% in 2017 over the previous year, the company announced, capping a year of dramatically increased attention to so-called “women’s issues” like sexual violence, domestic abuse, the wage gap and female empowerment.
In January, the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches across the globe drew women of all ages, faiths and orientations into the streets to protest, effectively mobilizing a new cohort of grassroots activists advocating for female empowerment.
In February, the word drummed up controversy when White House adviser Kellyanne Conway became the latest woman to disavow the label, claiming that it “seems to be very anti-male and it certainly is very pro-abortion”.
By summer, the female-directed Wonder Woman had shattered box office records, breaking $200 million in sales in the United States alone and proving that global audiences were hungry for movies with female-driven storylines — even when those movies were part of the historically male-dominated superhero genre.
As fall rolled around, the takedown of disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein by at least 83 women accusing him of some form of rape or sexual abuse had incited an insuppressible tide of allegations against men in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., and in towns across America.
Merriam-Webster isn’t the first institution to declare 2017 the year of women; in December, Time announced that it’s famed “Person of the Year” award had gone to “the silence breakers,” the women — and some men — who spoke out and started the “revolution of refusal” when it comes to reporting instances of sexual abuse.