Beliefnet Tells Writer She Can’t Use the Word ‘Feminist’ in Her Blog’s Title Because It’ll Offend Readers

My blogging-buddy Libby Anne has a blog header that looks like this:

Love. Joy. Feminism. Cool!

Another Patheos blogger writes about the intersection of feminism and her faith:

No big deal, right?

Well, Kristine Holmgren was recently invited to blog on a religion-based site I didn’t realize still existed — Beliefnet — and she proposed a title/subtitle for her blog to her superior, “marketing and business analyst” Sharon Kirk:

“How about — ‘Sweet Truth — Thoughts of a Faithful Feminist’?”

The response she got back from Kirk was astounding:

I love “Sweet Truth” however I would suggest changing the tag line or deleting all together as I’m concerned about the negative connotation that our readers may associate with the word feminism. In addition, we’ll want this blog to focus more on Christianity/spirituality as opposed to issues related to feminism. What do you think of simply “Sweet Truths with Kristine Holmgren”?

In other words: Feminist is a dirty word. And Christians would be offended by it. So… no.

That was a dealbreaker for Holmgren and she decided not to sign with Beliefnet. But not before speaking with blogger Jim Romenesko:

The pastor/writer says she asked Kirk over the phone why she had a problem with “feminist.” The Beliefnet marketer said she didn’t, but that “we know our readers are offended by the word.”

Holmgren tells me: “I asked, Why did you contract with me? I made it very clear who I am. I said, I’m afraid this is a dealbreaker. I said was I stunned. I felt like I was talking to somebody from 1955.”

From a purely marketing standpoint, the argument doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve never seen Christians avoid things they’re “offended” by. Instead, they dive right in and then act like they’re on the outside. (“Homosexuality is evil! Just look at these images I happened to find online. Randomly. I swear…”) You would think a Christian/feminist blog would be one of those sites that people either love or love to hate — a marketer’s dream.

But I’m glad Holmgren stood by her principles and rejected the offer. Beliefnet needs her a lot more than she needs that site. It’s their loss.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


    Strange that she’s never before heard of Christians avoiding things they are offended by. She may think they shouldn’t, which is admirable, but the behavior is hardly unusual.

  • WallofSleep

    Would it be wrong of me to assume the term “Feminazi” is perfectly acceptable on Beliefnet?

  • WallofSleep

    That’s just it: they usually don’t. Using television as an example, a reasonable person can say to them “If you don’t like that program, change the channel”, and their usual response is “No, we’d prefer to engage in a massive boycott campaign to ensure that NO ONE gets to watch that program”.

    Religionists who avoid that which offends are the exception, not the norm.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    I’m guessing that they wouldn’t like my blog idea.

    I was going to call it: “Jesus from the Virgin Vagina”.

  • David Kopp

    I think you missed the joke in there. Also, it wasn’t Kristine that said it. It was Hemant’s commentary about the situation.

  • wmdkitty

    B-net used to be an okay place. Then it got overrun by Christians.

  • jdm8

    Some Christian circles openly associate feminism as a bunch of angry man-haters that want to kill babies. Which makes feminism a controversial subject in Christianity.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I think you now owe Rush Limbaugh a dollar.

  • Jennifer

    It’s like they get their entire picture of feminism from reading Pharyngula.

  • Adam Lee

    The part of this story that should be getting more emphasis, IMO, is that the marketing people at Beliefnet are apparently dictating the content of the site’s blogs. It makes you wonder what restrictions their other bloggers agreed to in order to be there.

  • wmdkitty

    Clearly you’ve never actually been to Pharyngula.

  • Eamon Knight

    Feh, Given the number of *atheists* who seem to be offended by the word, why is anyone surprised?

  • Yoav

    Like you get your entire picture of Pharyngula (and probably of feminism as well) from reading the slymepit and avoiceformen

  • WallofSleep

    Heh. I spent a few years during the early 90′s wandering the wastes of wingnut talk radio. If anything, that nasty pile of hate owes ME money.

  • jdm8

    [citation needed]

  • chicago dyke

    i don’t often read Pharyngula. i have other blog communities i prefer, mostly out of habit, and not b/c i think the people there are bad.

    but i will say: misogyny on liberal blogs is real. i was just talking about this at the gaii blog i read regularly. where not a few male commenters are perfectly happy to use words like ‘slit’ and ‘cunt’ wrt anti-gay female republicans or activists.

    the interwebs are still pretty male-dominated. there are days when a “bint” notices.

    what’s the saying? “vulgarity is the refuge of the small mind.” insult me, i can take it; just do it without acting like a playground bully. use grown up words; i speak those.

  • chicago dyke

    just read some comments. at atheist, theist, political, gay, environmental, gaming, or even feminist blogs.

    if you’re part of the wimmin tribe, you do notice it. it’s everywhere. this makes me sad, because i know librul men don’t believe in anti-feminism. or at least say they don’t.

    i have the right to be lazy just like anyone else. look around for yourself, with open eyes. you’ll see it.

  • Cortex_Returns

    You must be new.

  • jose

    “I felt like I was talking to somebody from 1955.”

    More like somebody from 55.

  • Houndentenor

    There’s a word for people who hate feminism. they’re call misogynists. I don’t know why some people hate half of our species, but they do and they are rather vocal about it. Attacking feminists or “feminazis” is a round about way of attacking women while pretending not to be sexist or misogynistic. Only an idiot is fooled by such a tactic. If I might quote the always quotable Molly Ivans, “If you believe that a woman doing the same job as a man should get the same pay, then you are a feminist.” I’m a feminist. I know there are people who are not and if they think they don’t then think women are lesser people they are only fooling themselves. The rest of us see right through it.

  • chicago dyke

    actually, No. prolly been on these here interwebs longer than you.

    what’s funny is that i discovered that Hey Mount guy via the dead tree press. “hey! an atheist with a column? i should check that out.”


  • Ibis3

    I felt like I was talking to somebody from 1955.

    For someone who writes as a feminist, she hasn’t been paying attention, I guess. This has now all over it.*

    *I’d make some linkys there, but I’d rather not, so you can just imagine that there are links here to, say, Hemant’s previous post, Rebecca’s post on being objectified, one of the posts on Mormon feminists being harassed for wanting to wear pants, a post about Anita Sarkeesian’s kickstarter, the slymepit, a news article about Malala Yousafzai being shot for advocating on behalf of educating girls, posts about the last three incidents of backlash against women fighting harassment at [fill in the blank industry/cause] conferences, and another of the latest “Western” politician to double down on something sexist or dismissive of feminism/feminists.

  • Ibis3

    I think that reply was directed at jdm8, not you chicago dyke.

  • Ibis3

    Pharyngula is one of the liberal blogs where misogynist slurs are not condoned. I see more sexist crap allowed here than there. Jennifer’s making up strawfeminists to disparage.

  • Suburban Sweetheart

    Good for Holmgren! I’ve been a Beliefnet fan in the past, but… wow. For shame.

  • Rain

    Maybe they thought she was gay. She should have titled it ‘Sweet Truth — Thoughts of a Totally Not Gay Faithful Feminist‘. And then the beliefnet readers would have commented “Wow, a totally not gay feminist. That is so rare these days, when everybody is so gay. She must be a true believer feminist that loves the baby Jesus.” She would have had a lot of beliefnet readers.

  • Justin

    WTF? Why? God himself is obviously an angry man-hater that wants to kill babies; anyone who has studied the Bible should see that. There must be some other reason.

  • Baby_Raptor

    That phrase is utter censoring tripe. My last IQ pinged me at 131, and I swear all the time. Words are sounds. People need to stop grabbing their fainting couches every time someone says a 4 letter word and instead look at the message the speaker is trying to get across.

    I’m not disagreeing with your general point, I’m just disagreeing with the statement. Using “swear words” (words that society has deemed bad for no reason whatsoever) does not make one stupid. The act of calling one stupid because you personally disapprove of the words they use, on the other hand…

  • Baby_Raptor

    When do they do that? At least in America, the christianist response to things they don’t like is to try their damndest to make sure nobody can do them, laws and ethics be damned. See abortion, birth control, secularism, evolution, gay marriage, sex education…

  • coyotenose

    Before I even got to the comments I was thinking, “I bet some obsessive liar is going to reference and make up things about FtB.”

  • Supermoves3000

    The right wing has been pretty successful in associating the word “feminist” with radical academics. They say things like “maybe feminism *used* to be a good cause, but women got fairness, and what feminists want nowadays isn’t fairness, it’s an anti-male agenda” or that sort of thing. I don’t know many young women who are comfortable using the word “feminist” to describe themselves, and it not that they don’t believe in feminist goals, it’s because the word “feminist” has become associated with ideological baggage that they don’t identify with.

    So I am not surprised that Beliefnet is not comfortable with the word feminist, because it has to some extent been turned into a dirty word.

  • Edmond

    I’ve been an atheist since I was a teen, but I didn’t think very deeply about it, nor was I a “member” of the growing online community, until just a few years ago. I’m glad to be an atheist, and PROUD of it. I have no plans to abandon this new community I’ve discovered. I’m not going anywhere. That said, I just don’t GET this misogynistic vein that runs through us. Where the hell does this come from? What’s WRONG with some atheists?

    As a gay man, I’m often floored by the resistance to the gay rights movement that is present in the black community. I often ask myself, with regards to black people who oppose gay rights, “Don’t they KNOW what it’s like to be hated and marginalized and denied their rights? How can they SIDE with that mindset? Why aren’t they our ALLIES, after what they’ve been through?”

    There seems to be a disturbing analogy to this attitude within the atheist community, among some males. I want to ask them, as atheists, “Aren’t you AWARE of the anti-female attitude that exists in the Bible? Isn’t that PART of what turned you from religion in the first place?”

    It was for me. Theists claim to have the source of all morality on their side, while ignoring their scripture’s demands that women remain silent and submissive to men, that women be virgins on their wedding night under threat of death, and that the “punishment” for raping a woman should be to marry her. This is so shallowly IMmoral that the Bible can’t POSSIBLY be correct in its moral claims. My respect for women, while simultaneously being completely unattracted to them nor needing any as a “second half” of my life, kept me from respecting what this so-called “god” had to say about them.

    Who ARE these men who call themselves atheist, while MIRRORING Biblical attitudes toward women? Why don’t they see what they’re doing wrong, and what they’re doing to our movement? Why are they not able to cast off ALL of religion’s distortions of how we interact with our fellow humans? How can they not give the full respect due to this half of our species, which, gay or straight, we truly cannot do without? How can they demand the microphone and bemoan the denial of rights and dignity to nonbelievers, while also demanding that the women-folk remain in the kitchen, or in the nursery, or even just in the BACKGROUND?

    These men cannot take my pride and self-determination in being a logical, rational, non-superstitious freethinker, nor in being a homosexual. I won’t allow them to hijack my efforts to bring critical thought and sovereign behavior to ALL humans. Whatever their damage is, they won’t last long among us, and they certainly won’t gain an audience with ME for their privilege-entitled nonsense. It’s obvious that they haven’t yet truly risen above the epiphanies that gave them the power to shrug off gods, if they can’t recognize that freedom in EVERYONE who is different from them in EVERY way.

    I am DISGUSTED by their “contributions” to atheism, but I am NOT discouraged. Women have it hard ENOUGH in this world, in part because of religion. You have plenty of allies in our shared struggle (although you should not need to seek them), and you are WELCOMED AND INVITED to speak your struggle from your unique perspective.
    Tell these a-holes to STICK IT. I’m with you.

  • Lee Cooper

    the word “feminist” is not a dirty word..nor is it a swear word. It simply means a woman who wants to be accepted in her own right, just like any other human being on the planet. oh my……………

  • wmdkitty

    “Cunt” and “slit” aren’t “swear words”. They’re misogynist slurs, and therefore unacceptable.

  • Rain

    From what I gather from google, the bloggers on beliefnet mostly write favorably of feminism when they write about it. Personally I think the beliefnet “marketing and business analyst” was full of hoo-haw.

  • Houndentenor

    Sadly there are anti-gay people in ethnic minority communities as well as racist gay people. I think there is a mentality among some oppressed minority groups to find another minority group to feel superior to.

  • ecolt

    My partner and I have had many long discussions lately about this very issue – the fact that feminism has become a dirty word in our society.

    It’s as true in atheist circles as it is in this case. “Feminism” has been twisted and distorted by people with very personal agendas (that in many cases directly contradict everything I have ever believed about feminism) so that it’s come to be associated with the very worst aspects of the movement and the worst kinds of stereotypes about women.

    I will always consider myself a feminist. I’m outspoken and politically active. I attended an all-women’s college (that I actually choice in spite of, not because of, it’s single-sex nature) where I spent a lot of time studying feminist theories, women in history and the role of women in a variety of societies. I believe in equal rights and the idea that it’s not enough to tell girls they can be scientists, we also have to tell boys they can be dancers. But when I refer to myself with a term that I have studied and lived, I run the risk of being seen as radical, anti-male, angry and self-serving.

    Feminism has a serious PR problem. Until we can stop putting the spotlight on the more divisive and duplicitous minority and start showing feminists, and women in general, in a way that is more progressive and beneficial to us as a society, we’re going to perpetuate a culture in which women are never fully equal members specifically because we aren’t able to effectively work for our causes.

  • Sue Blue

    Women are wholly defined by their biological functions in the Christian world. Thinking, voicing opinions, or making decisions about anything other than what to wear or have for dinner aren’t required because that’s what men are for. I can’t even figure out why any intelligent, independent, educated woman would try to function as such within the confines of christianity, especially evangelical christianity. Kudos to these bloggers if they help to convince even one woman to get out from under that xtian patriarchal thumb, though.

  • PsiCop

    The problem here is that, in the eyes of the Religious Right (aka Beliefnet’s primary audience), “feminism” is a code-word associated with the Left (and by extension with communism, socialism, and every other “-ism” they despise). It doesn’t matter that the word means different things to different people, and not everything “feminist” is “communist,” but that doesn’t matter to the R.R. The association exists and it’s all they care about.

    As far as I can see, Beliefnet’s objection to using “feminism” is virtually the same as Glenn Beck’s reflexive opposition to anything labeled “social justice.” That’s another phrase that means different things to different people, but because it had once been frequently used by communist movements, Beckie and the rest of the R.R. have conniptions whenever they hear it.

  • TicklishMeerkat

    Preach it! That was wonderfully said. Sadly, there are plenty of atheist men who give women the whole MRA treatment. I had that happen a few days ago on another forum. It was just astonishing. I got the whole nine yards of dismissal, false concern, mansplaining, essentialism, infantilization, slurs against my femininity, allegations of frigidity, you name it. My sin was disagreeing with him about a topic relating to female equality. And this lovely MRA was an atheist. It seems like being anti-gay is much more closely associated with being Christian than being anti-woman is, but we need both of those privileged hatreds to leave the human race.

  • TicklishMeerkat

    So let’s use it often, openly, and repeatedly. It’s scary because it’s not well-understood. By chilling our use of the term we also chill our effectiveness at gaining our goals of equality. I’m a feminist. You’re a feminist. Any man who believes that women are equals is a feminist. Those guys who are helping blow up the #INeedMasculinismbecause Twitter tag? Yup. Let’s take it back.

  • J-Rex

    On the plus side, here is a blog post mentioning feminism and there aren’t really any offensive comments here. It seems we’ve finally shaken most of the MRA trolls away!

  • Edmond

    Thank you! I can’t STAND that MRA crap. Even as a GAY man, I can see that I have it easier in this world than any woman. I’d like to see some of these whiners get through a WEEK, let alone their LIVES, being forced to walk around on their tip toes, painting a coating of chemicals on their faces every morning, shaving their legs and pits, with their bodies regularly rebel against them, earning less, having their opinions valued less, all while taking a constant barrage of criticism about the state of their hair, or clothing, or beauty. You KNOW these mugs are making their complaints in their stinking sweats and t-shirts, with stubble on their faces, plowing into a sandwich served to them by their mothers, wives, or girlfriends. No one cares what they look like, or how much they weigh, or what career choices they’ve made. And forget about what privilege they enjoy here in the US. No one is throwing acid into the faces of little BOYS who want to go to school. Spoiled BABIES. Men have it SO easy!

  • cipher

    Beliefnet has been pandering to conservative Christians for a long time. Even when it doesn’t, it’s still little more than a forum for credulous morons – iow, average Americans.

  • baal

    What’s the word for people who hate women?

  • alconnolly

    I don’t doubt that we believe very similar things when it comes to women’s rights. I want my daughters to be able to achieve anything they set their minds to while encountering no more problems with doing so than a man would. But reading your black and white “if you are not for us you are against us” post is a turn off. It feels like the close minded thinking of many religious folk. You defined feminism so simply, but I would venture to say very few educated people in the western world would disagree with the concept of equal pay. Do you denounce anyone who self declares themselves feminist and then say the word means a whole lot of other things about men holding women down etc etc as not true feminist who have hijacked the term. Not unlike the Muslims who are terrorist, hijack the word Islam? If so more power to you. If not then you description of feminism was disingenuous and denouncing those who reject the term as people who hate half our species is painting with a rather broad brush. Wouldn’t you agree?

  • alconnolly

    I would say I am a feminist (if defined as I did as equal rights) and I had never heard of the term MRA until reading some comments disparaging it heavily in this blog when I looked it up there were plenty of people insisting that it was also for equal rights in which case if you accept both definitions you and I would be both, as would any person who defines themselves as either. So what say you tweet about being both MRA and Feminist, and take both terms “back” to being about equality?

  • Houndentenor

    No, I don’t agree. Yes, there are some fringe people who say outrageous things. That’s true of every group. You’d never have heard of any of those fringe feminists if it weren’t for for right wingers digging through obscure journals looking for something to use to tar the rest of the feminist movement. I never come across anyone who meets those stereotypes and the reason for that is that they are the fringe an they don’t represent 99% of people who call themselves feminists. It’s unfair to act as if they are mainstream or that they get to define what feminism means.

  • baal

    “Yes, there are some fringe people who say outrageous things. That’s true of every group.”

    And that person may in fact be you Houndentenor.