Monthly Archives: February 2015

Why humanism isn’t feminism

imagesSometimes, feminists will hear comments like this: “I support women’s equality, but I am not a feminist — I’m a humanist.”

This topic comes up in class discussions from time to time.  Last semester, one of my students asked how to respond to a co-worker who saw a book she was reading for class, and dismissed it — and the idea of women’s and gender studies — with a similar comment.

So here is the reason that, if you are committed to gender equity, humanism is not the point.

One generally acknowledged definition of humanism is this: “an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek rational ways of solving human problems.”

As you can see, there is nothing in that definition about equality between women and men. 

Humanism is not a political/social movement; it is a philosophical stance (although, as with any philosophical stance, it may lead to political action).

Feminism is not only a stance; it is also movement with a long history, many variations in how it has been expressed and experienced, and a strong political component. That political component has worked and works to change systems and cultures in order to improve women’s and girl’s lives, and to break down gender stereotypes for both women and men.  

Also: feminists may be people of faith, while the definition of humanism from the American Humanist Association states: “We strive to bring about a progressive society where being good without a god is an accepted and respected way to live life….Humanism encompasses a variety of nontheistic views while adding the important element of a comprehensive worldview and set of ethical values” 

So one can certainly be both a humanist and a feminist; there is no contradiction whatsoever. But one does not equal or substitute for the other.  

© Rhea Hirshman 2015

The frying pan and the lightning bug

images“Why,” I used to ask my introductory composition classes as I held up an ordinary writing implement for their perusal, “do we who speak English call this a pen and not a frying pan?”

Panic-stricken looks appeared on the faces of two dozen first-year college students who were struggling to navigate those early days of classes, and who were now looking at each other and wondering whether there was a secret campus code that no one had bothered to inform them about.

We sat in silence until eventually someone called out, “Uh, because that’s what we were told?”

“Exactly!” I said. Two dozen students breathed sighs of relief.

But I was not finished with them. Continue reading