Image: Leonardo Da Vinci, Le proporzioni del corpo umano secondo Vitruvio (English: Vitruvian Man), 1490.
Often, upon seeing the debate between two such controversial topics, people will assume it’s going to be a one-sided feminist rant, or an impassioned protest about how equal everybody already is, without calling for any political and social change. To avoid this and begin my article as neutrally as possible, I looked for an honest human reaction to the question: why not be a humanist instead of a feminist? The strictly scientific approach of asking my mates yielded these results:
“Why not be a humanist instead of a feminist?”
“I used to think that feminism meant being angry towards men and not shaving yourself, but now I understand the point of feminism.”
“There are still a lot of situations where women are not treated equally, violence against women, emotional, physical and sexual, it just happens…”
“On the street, I shouldn’t have to feel scared; no person should have fear for their safety regardless of who they are.”
“So, why not call yourself a humanist or an equalist?”
“Humanist is just too grey, and too impartial, feminist at least creates debate and provokes a reaction. Besides, feminism is not just about women, but other issues of sexuality and gender, a man should not feel like less of a man if he is gay, feminism just breaks down those judgmental walls”.
Clearly, this issue needs unpacking as there is no sure answer. This topic regularly comes up, particularly in comments sections under online posts relating to gender, sexism and feminism. Such discussion opens us up to heated debate where controversial and often offensive opinions are expressed. One recurring critique of feminism (usually expressed by men) is that it excludes men. Often, people believe that feminism is solely concerned with creating a world in which women assert dominance over men, rather than one of equality. Another critique of feminism that constantly circulates is that it draws attention to women as a marginalized group, in the sense that, it reaffirms, reproduces and therefore, normalizes women’s unequal status – shining a negative spotlight on them.
However, many people argue that this is just not the case. Feminism is often hyper-stigmatized i.e. “I used to think that feminism meant being angry towards men and not shaving yourself”, but this is not what feminism is defined as, nor is it what the majority of feminists want. Feminism is concerned with breaking down epistemological, ideological, social, political and semantic barriers that facilitate and produce gender roles, norms and stereotypes. The feminist also fights for the men who don’t want to be criticized if they are emotional and for the men who fight for custody of their children, as well as for the women who don’t want to be pressured into an ideal of beauty and for the women who fear walking home alone at night. Feminism is not only concerned with equality for women, but in breaking down “judgmental walls” and revealing gender as a social construct.
When one refers to themselves as a humanist, this may actually take attention away from the issue at hand, as it is an all-encompassing and neutral term. Humanism doesn’t have a rich political history attributed to it unlike feminism, which honours the suffragettes who fought for women’s rights, and using its historical prestige, sparks political debate and generates an active force committed to further change. Hence, it could be argued that Humanism (or Equalism) actually lacks the focus and historical status necessary for determined and constructive changes. In other words, in focusing on everybody, it helps nobody.
The very question I have posed – why not be a humanist instead of a feminist – is problematic, as is the title of this article. It implies that we can only call ourselves a humanist or a feminist. Why must we classify ourselves as one or the other? Rather than creating more harmful segregation, we should stand together. Why not fight for overall equality in the context of individuality, as well as breaking down hurtful gender roles and stereotypes in the context of women’s inequality? In other words, to fight the fight for equality, why not combine forces to win the war?