Feminists vs. Humanists–what’s in a name?

Labels. They’re everywhere. Whether we like it or not we are all labeled in certain ways. There are labels based on description: “man” “woman” “adult” “child” “blonde, blue eyed” and many others. There are those that define profession—“teacher” “white collar worker” or “police officer.” And then there are the contested labels, those that label you via your beliefs, be they political or spiritual.

Any one of these labels have a contested definition, one person’s definition will not be the same as another persons. Yet, there is a reason labels exist.

I’m a woman (not a girl). I’m a student and I’m white. I’m also a non-religious feminist.

Yes, I know the common perceptions of feminists. Feminists are angry, man-hating lesbians who don’t shave and would rather see their bras burnt in a bonfire than on their bodies. Feminists, some say, aren’t advocating for equal genders, they’re really trying to take over the world to prove that women are better than men!

Well, I’ve done my reading. I’ve read authors like Audre Lorde, Marilyn Frye and some bell hooks. I’ve got a lot more reading on my book list. And despite the negative connotations associated with feminism, I’m here to tell you that I am a feminist.

It’s not an easy thing to come out and admit. It is a lot like coming out—nowhere near as emotional, of course, but once you come out as a feminist, you’re not going to be looked at in the same way.

I recently came out to a friend I’ve had since high school. We’ve known each other for at least five years and despite going to different colleges in different states, we have kept in touch. I was idly telling him on messenger how I’d checked out a good number of books on the subject of feminism, and was stunned when I got his response:

“Feminism. Sigh. Will you be lost to this madness, too?”

I sat there in shock, staring at my computer screen wondering how to respond.

He added that he felt that one should look into a cause and know what the commitment is before committing oneself totally. If I had responded with my initial response, I’m sure I would be down one less friend today.

I agree with him in the context that people should know what they’re getting into. However, I also think people should know about what they are criticizing before they make comments.

I’ve done my research. I’m not a fair-weather feminist like celebrities such as Nelly Furtado. I believe women should have equal rights. I believe we should have every opportunity that men do. I believe that socializing girls to be passive and boys to be super aggressive is wrong. I believe changes need to be made in our society and I believe that women should stop being objectified in advertising and music videos.

I am not man hating nor am I oblivious to the fact that men face problems too. We all do—but there are differences. And the differences are substantial.

At the same time I am aware that feminism, like any other label, has issues—both from an outsider’s perspective and from the inside. Even within the movement there are issues, but when recognized problems can be addressed.

Some people rebel against labels all together. Labels, they argue, are too limiting and present a viewpoint that may not be entirely correct. If feminism is about working towards equality and recognition of women as important human beings, then why can’t we just say we are humanists—working toward the advancement of all humanity?

The reason: if feminism is a broad label, a humanist is even broader. Feminism has certain goals and for all it’s misinterpretations the one obvious thing remains—feminism is related to women’s rights. Thinking practically, there is a lot of injustice in the world. As nice as it would be to say it’s limited to women, it’s not. In addition to gender, there are still inequalities based on race, sexual orientation and class. With the myriad of inequalities plaguing our society it’s impossible to focus on all of them at once.

As a feminist, my focus is on the equality of women, and that doesn’t mean just white women. Intersectionality of inequalities is a vital part of feminism—where does race and class and sexual orientation cross with gender? How are black women treated in comparison to white women? Queer women as opposed to straight women? All of these issues are part of feminism and they all deserve answers.

One criticism of feminism is that they, by supporting measures such as hate laws and similar proposals are trying to give women more opportunities than their male counterparts. If the critics would look carefully at the society in which they are a part of they would realize that despite whatever measures women are supporting, our society is still male dominated and unequal.

One more thing with labels: the stereotypes such as “oh, she’s a feminist, she must be a lesbian”—this is not necessarily true. Lesbians aren’t always feminists just as the straight women who are feminists aren’t necessarily lesbians. Stereotypes are stereotypes.

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5 thoughts on “Feminists vs. Humanists–what’s in a name?

  1. Marc March 28, 2007 / 6:50 pm

    I absolutely agree. Yes, feminism is about human rights, but it’s also layered, because it’s also about women’s rights.

    The name is important, because by calling it “humanism” rather than “feminism,” we shift the focus and assume that society is already equal and the sufferings of various classes and races aren’t divided into gendered categories.

    I have a problem with “coming out” with feminism, too, because many of my guy friends would give me this confused stare and ask why. Rather than teaching, I focus on networking now.

    Were you there in DC this weekend for the young feminist get together? There were, like, 350 of us! I didn’t meet anyone from UNC, though.

  2. Samantha February 25, 2008 / 3:02 am

    Love this entry….I had a class last year, which was my Intro into Women and Gender Studies class at UNCG. And well, we had a project to do where we asked 10 people their thoughts about feminism. More than half can negative responses, either similiar to your friend’s response, or to the fact they hate how feminism has become disjointed and not effective anymore.

    While I agree the movement has issues, you’re right, if we address them, than we can be able to move forward.

    I am going to be reading past entries of your’s because well, your writing = awesome, and because there is a lot of variety to your writing. 🙂

  3. Chris April 30, 2008 / 6:56 pm

    You said:
    “our society is still male dominated and unequal.” 99 percent of men DONT have the kind of power that “dominates”. Only one percent of men (OR less) are presidents or CEO’s!! I’m not saying it should be more, just saying there are more homeless men or incarcerated men than rich, society-dominating men. Feminism would rather focus on the glass “ceiling” than the “glass cellar!!” Doing a dangerous job, and dying earlier, should be considered worse than not being elcted CEO of worldcorp….It is more unequal, for low-income men! I’ll explain more about that later…

  4. Michelle November 29, 2008 / 2:59 am

    I may be alone in interpreting feminism this way but I believe that feminist = humanist, in that order. I cannot think of any inequality in the global society that does not trace back to gender roles. “Humanist” is a safe label because the word is gender neutral, whereas “feminist” has wrongfully implied female preference. Men are limited by gender roles and norms and punished for stepping out of bounds also, but until we get t0 the point where all genders maintain true equality, we’re all stuck. So yeah, feminism may seem a little more narrow than humanism, but if we all start truly meeting halfway here and see feminism as the most important tool towards humanism, there wouldn’t be any conflict of interest.

  5. inflorire May 6, 2010 / 9:59 pm

    So agree! I hate the crap guys give me. It’s SO disrespectful towards beliefs that mean A LOT to me. They tell me I’m man hating and try to belittle feminists. I know it stems from ignorance, but they have no idea how rude and priveledged they are acting. I would never do the same to a Muslim or even a republican. I don’t have to agree with someone to not be an asshole about their beliefs.

    I believe feminism is an offshoot of humanism that acknowleges the reality of patriarchy and it’s impact on a number of groups’ lived experience, especially women. Because that matters to me I identify as feminist. Just like another person might care about the environment and call herself an environmentalist. For better or worse, my label has a different impact on a lot of people.

    PS. I love the name of this blog. Riot grrrl! forever!!

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