Thursday, March 24, 2011

Feminism and Humanism are not the same

Yesterday, I watched a video response by someone I subscribe to that led me back to this video by SomethingSea1:

I was a little annoyed and tried commenting, but I just have so much to say. First of all, it seems like this whole conversation revolves around the idea that the term "feminism" itself is somehow sexist. While I do think the label plays into power politics, the fact is no one has adequately explained why it is sexist. Ignoring the fact the claim hasn't even been substantiated, I think it's silly to assume that simply mentioning one gender without mentioning the other is sexist by itself. The idea that feminism puts women above men or attempts to create "female supremacy and male apartheid" (yes really) is simply ridiculous. It's an idea that can only be based on ignorance and a complete misunderstanding of what feminism aims to accomplish.

Feminism doesn't aim for female supremacy. Instead it looks to create an environment where both genders are treated equally and considered equally valuable to society. There is no denying that feminism's primary focus is on women, but this is because women are a historically oppressed group. Men aren't. Focusing on a particular marginalized group does not make a group inherently exclusionary. I just don't see anything wrong with wanting to identify with a movement where my experiences are acknowledged and considered because I'm a woman and not in spite of it. (Was the civil rights movement racist against white people because it didn't highlight their experiences?) The outcomes of feminism, while focused on the experiences of women, help both men and women. Feminism is only one side of the coin. Something like masculism, which would focus primary on the experiences of men, is the other.

These videos also bring up the idea that there should be a more inclusionary term to represent both genders. "Human rights for human beings" as SomethingSea1 said. The term "humanist" is often used as a substitute or even "humanitarian." The problem is both of these words already have meanings. Humanist in particular is a poor substitute in my opinion.

From Humanist” is not a substitute for “feminist:
I am distrustful of anyone who says they prefer the label “humanist” to “feminist.” You’ve heard the argument before. It’s an attempt to downplay oppression against women and avoid acknowledging male privilege. “Humanist” is taken. It has a definition. It’s a life philosophy that affirms humans’ ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment guided by reason and compassion rather than supernaturalism. Many humanists are feminists and vice versa but “humanist” isn’t just a word you made up, bub.

Co-opting “humanist” is disingenuous and lazy. Not all humans are on a level playing field. There is inequality between men and women (and among women), and the feminist movement seeks to rectify that. It was called the “feminist” movement for a reason.
Women's activism has been associated with the word feminism for almost 200 yrs and it was probably more of an accident than anything so letting the label matter more than the meaning is a bit childish. It also makes me wonder how gender inequality can be fought against when the label doesn't even mention gender. Even if you want humanist to be some umbrella term for general oppression, it still doesn't highlight gender-based oppression as a primary concern. This video response, which is what led me to the original video, mentions this:

It's no secret that "feminist" is an unpopular label. It always has been. And while some feminist organizations have considered trying to find a less polarizing term, the reality is any label will be attacked because of the negative connotations disingenuously attributed to women's issues. Feminism isn't responsible for the propaganda that's used against it and if someone wants to think feminism is about "male apartheid," well there's not much anyone can do about that. This backlash is the very reason feminism is a label that should be used. At the core, not using it is a way of allowing people to silence us and that's wrong.

But then, SomethingSea1 responds to this response with this gem of insight:

This is just...disappointing. Men are disproportionately oppressed by women? That is simply rubbish. I went over the status of women worldwide in a previous post, but even the argument that women are favored in the courts is extremely flawed. For one, women do not oppress men. Oppression is between two groups and there's no system where women enforce and benefit from men's suffering in this country. (This does not mean individual women do not hurt individual men though.) The reason women are favored in custody cases is because women are forced into child-caring roles while men are ridiculed for doing the same. So it's the very system that pressures women into traditional gender roles that favors them. It's not some secret court mafia ruled by women. Benefiting from a system does not make a group the enforcers of that system. Women may benefit from not serving as combat soldiers in the military, but that doesn't mean that policy is women oppressing men.

Being a feminist means you want to end gender-based oppression. That's it. Letting it turn into a question of semantics and not substance is "unable to see the forest for the trees" territory. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but it just drives me crazy sometimes.


  1. I recall writing a reflection paper my first semester during my Marriage and Family Therapy program. I reflected on how astounding it was to find out I was, in fact, a feminist. I was part of that ignorant group that didn't fully understand feminism or what it actually was. I marveled over that revelation. At one point in my reflection, I stated that before finding out what feminism actually was, I viewed as a form of reverse discrimination. (I know, I know... I've learned. I swear!) My professor commented with a statement that has literally burned itself into my brain. I can picture it precisely even now, years later: "There is no such thing as reverse discrimination on an uneven playing field." I don't think anything could have summarized it better for me.

    Thank you,

  2. hey you! I never even made the connection between your blog and your twitter. lol Silly me.

    Also, I was in the same boat. I think most people experience that though. There's so many negative messages out there about feminism that I think it can take a while for people to understand fully what feminism is. Even if they still don't consider themselves a feminist at least they have a better understanding of the meaning.

    I also had the same epiphany about reverse racism. Reverse racism doesn't exist because racism is essentially racial prejudice + power. While poc can have racial prejudices towards white people, they can't actually be racist in a systematic sense. When I figured that out I felt like I finally had words to a feeling I couldn't put my finger on.


What's on your mind?