TIME Misses Point with Poll, Apology

Taylor Field, Staff Writer

TIME magazine announced its fourth annual poll on Nov. 12 in order to determine “Which Word Should Be Banned in 2015?” The poll lists 15 options for words to be banished, and beneath the poll, TIME elaborates on “the type of person who would like to see each nominee launched into the deepest, darkest, most hopeless eternity from whence there is no salvation nor return.”

Included in this year’s poll were expressions deemed tired or overused, such as “bae,” “kale” and “said no one ever”; those considered grammatically incorrect, such as “I can’t even,” “literally” and “obvi”; and, finally, the most disturbing category: miscalculated attempts at social justice via censorship. This year, TIME proposed banning the word “feminist.”

Firstly, the entire premise of a word-banning poll is absurd and illconceived. Telling people how they can and cannot communicate reeks of censorship and elitism, not to mention historical and systemic racial oppression based on language. In 2011, TIME banished “OMG,” followed the next year by “YOLO” and, just this past year, “twerk.”

This poor attempt at humor is essentially a glorified game of identifying and insulting those whose speech is considered below the proper standards of TIME’s readership. Honestly, I cannot imagine the thought process that went into the creation of this: “Let’s play a fun game where we ask our readers to judge how well other people speak English.” Really? This seemed like a good idea?

As for TIME’s shocking proposal to ban the word “feminist,” I am hardly the only person outraged at this severe error in judgment. Robin Morgan, a well-respected feminist author and activist who co-founded the Women’s Media Center with Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, wrote a response last Monday detailing the extensive history of feminism and its continuing importance. The succinct blurb in TIME outlining why exactly the word “feminist” should be banned does not take into account the complex workings and history of the feminist movement. Instead, it expresses distaste for celebrities declaring their feminism and the frequency with which the label is thrown around.

Personally, I agree with this point; I’m not that excited to hear about how Katy Perry or Taylor Swift aren’t feminists, usually because they don’t really understand the movement or fear being labeled man-hating or angry. What I do appreciate, however, is the growing critical discourse surrounding the word, the movement and the related activism and academia. Talking about feminism is not the problem. Hating feminism is the problem. And TIME’s poll did nothing to help.

The proposal to ban “feminist” was ultimately one of the most popular responses on the poll. After the uproar of internet activists, journalists and well-known feminists, TIME finally issued an apology Saturday and reportedly removed the word as an option, though it is still listed in the poll along with an editor’s note.

While I certainly appreciate the apologetic sentiment, the statement’s wording is objectionable. Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs wrote, “While we meant to invite debate about some ways the word was used this year, that nuance was lost, and we regret that its inclusion has become a distraction from the important debate over equality and justice.”

Unfortunately, TIME mitigates its apology with an attempt to explain their poor choice, standing by their effort to “invite debate.” I cannot help but see the disturbing irony of trying to stir up conversation by censoring our words.