Sometimes, 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
I listen to a lot of podcasts, by men, not by choice, but because they’re the ones making them on the topics that I enjoy. I have heard men self-identifying as feminist in addition to humanist, atheist, skeptic, etc. I have also notice that sometimes they are forced to defend their positions against listener e-mails in the following shows.
On point as usual! What a wonderful article.
Nicely done, Rhea! And very helpful for conversations with people whose real issue is being uncomfortable with feminism as a movement.