The sun is setting on a bittersweet day for the American electorate. In the wake of a midterm election plagued by voter apathy, TIME answered our national prayer for meaningful democracy by inviting us to ban a word. "Which Word Should Be Banned in 2015?" it asked, like the drunk friend who wants to know which animal you’d be if you got turned into an animal. Voters flocked to the polls, and as of this writing, feminist was leading with 45% of the vote. The unexpected result has taken the nation by storm. Women throughout the country started composing concession speeches (no easy task — females don’t understand good sportsmanship, never having played sports). While some male allies share their disappointment, others are fleeing the cause.
News outlets penned obituaries, not just to the banned word, but to the movement that sought equal rights for women. “The feminist,” one pundit wrote, “was an interesting but ill-fated franchise. Rape happens more than people want to hear about it; that’s just an unfortunate reality, as eternally unchanging as video-game breasts, which we must learn to lovingly accept, just as they are." A Silicon Valley statistician said, "We all knew feminism’s days were numbered — wrongly, haha.” Before adding, “because of women and math."
The TIME referendum on feminism’s waning power in America would have gone down as a watershed moment in history were it not for breaking allegations of voter misconduct. “This election’s hanging chad is a hanging chan,” says an election official who prefers to remain anonymous. Sources say the election was compromised, not by Tea Partiers, voter intimidation, or TIME’s venerable readers, but by 4chan, the Internet’s vas deferens. A seminal minority launched a movement to disrupt participative democracy. By vote-brigading the TIME poll via a campaign of repetitive, preternaturally masculine clicking, they plotted to defeat the feminist once and for all. And, they did. The manly strains of “Ding, dong, the witch is dead” ring out on every street corner of small-town America.
As with any contest, the sweetness of victory is a function of the fierceness of the competition. Against whom, exactly, was feminist running? Experts have called this the strangest election of all time, noting that women and minorities were overrepresented for the first time on an American ballot: At least half the nominees for linguistic banishment were minority and female-coded favorites, like bae, turnt, basic, yaaaaaaassssss, I can’t even, and sorry not sorry. Political analyst Amanda Ann Klein has noted that, while there can only be one winner, the ballot itself amounts to a kind of mandate: “The message is clear,” she says. “STOP TALKING LIKE A GIRL/BLACK PERSON/CHILD. Why can't we all just be white men?”
There are exceptions, of course: Silicon Valley, a demographic whose interests are overrepresented in almost every other context, was radically underserved on the ballot with only two nominees, disrupt and influencer. Other contenders include literally, bossy, om nom nom nom, and the dull but good-humored said no one ever. Rounding out the list was the Dennis Kucinich candidate: kale.
And yet the election, intended to heal an America divided, has devolved into scandal and acrimony. Protesters on the right object that the list of candidates privileges women and minorities. Protesters on the left note that the winning nominee is the only word that isn’t a buzzword, malapropism, fad or version of minority slang that annoys white people. “How,” asks social scientist Hume Orlissphem Innist on Real Time with Bill Maher, “does a word that literally indexes equal rights for men and women end up on a list of proposed banned words?” “Lulz,” Maher replied. “You misused 'literally,'” said Nicholas Kristof.
Election officials insist that the word merited inclusion because of its co-optation by celebrities. “You have nothing against feminism itself,” a representative for TIME haws and hems, using the second person in a slightly desperate way, “but when did it become a thing that every celebrity had to state their position on whether this word applies to them, like some politician declaring a party?” You start to suggest that perhaps “become a thing” should have been nominated, but TIME grabs your arm and extracts agreement from you with vampiric eyes. “Let’s stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade,” it whispers. Once you recover, you ask TIME to to comment for this piece. TIME replies #sorrynotsorry.
So, how did a movement for equal rights and reproductive freedom end up on the same list as om nom nom nom and I can’t even?
“Beyoncé,” says anyone passingly familiar with structural racism and sexism. “Notice how a hefty chunk of that list first got popular on black Twitter or Tumblr? Feminist might not seem like it fits, being historical and all, until you consider that it reconciles both of those terrible things. I mean, a super-famous, extremely talented Black woman stood in front of the word! What could be more annoying?
“Beyoncé,” everyone nods. “That was the beginning of the end.”