FAQ: Why "feminism" and not just "humanism"? Or "equalism"? Isn’t saying you’re a feminist exclusionary?

This question implies that one must be either one or the other. People and philosophies are far more complicated than that. A feminist may also be both a humanist and an equalist.

There’s no law that says only one box can be ticked here, and it’s hugely important not to get sucked into thinking that one choice excludes the others. A major reason that most populist debate in the corporate media (and in online forums too) is a pitiful sham is that way too many questions are argued on an either/or basis, instead of acknowledging the probability of a both/and stance. The either/or method of framing a debate is technically referred to as a “false dilemma” [more], and is one example of a logical fallacy.

As to why feminism requires a distinct agenda within the equalist movements? The special and distinct problem of misogyny both oppressing and directly harming women, pure and simple. Unless misogyny is directly addressed and acted against, general equalist activism will not be enough. [FAQs: Does feminism matter? and Isn’t feminism just “victim politics”?]

P.S. It’s also a good idea when throwing around the term “humanist” to make sure that one’s audience is on the same page about exactly what you mean.

Related Reading:


Clarifying Concepts:

  • More on Either/Or and Feminisms:

    We’re not either/or thinkers here, but both/and thinkers. I am neither a liberal feminist who supports only attacking power by going after its underpinning through the courts and through legislation nor a radical feminist who wants to address how oppression is lived out in the day-to-day. I’m both. Without focusing on how sexism and heterosexism permeates our very existence, attacks our very way of thinking and our daily existence, it’s far, far easier for people to not care because it’s someone else’s problem. But, as I state firmly in this post, it everyone’s problem.

  • Lauren (Faux Real Tho): On Feminism and Attractiveness

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18 comments on “FAQ: Why "feminism" and not just "humanism"? Or "equalism"? Isn’t saying you’re a feminist exclusionary?

  1. […] Why “feminism” and not just “humanism”? or “equalism”? Isn&#8217… […]

  2. […] FAQ: Why “feminism” and not just “humanism”? Or “equalism”? Isn… for a related […]

  3. Updated the Introductory section with a link.

    • The problem here is that even the word “feminism” is inherently sexist. It’s a word meaning to promote gender equality, yet the word itself has a single gender assigned to it. Just like “masculinism” is sexist… Men and women should be fighting for equality, not just the rights of their own gender. You seldom see any feminist organizations fighting towards gender equality in the selective service, which is arguably the most sexist organization that exists in the American society.

      They day feminism starts truly fighting for equality, rather than just the promotion of females while ignoring the problems that exist for men, they will no longer call themselves feminists.

  4. […] FAQ: Why “feminism” and not just “humanism”? Or “equalism”? Isn… […]

  5. […] See also FF101: Why “feminism” and not just “humanism”? Or “equalism”? Is… […]

  6. […] progressive; feminism is an integral part of progressivism. (Check the Feminism 101 blog on Feminism and Humanism / Equalism for more on this and other basic feminist ideas, and Melissa’s list of Feminism 101 points at […]

  7. Another problem I have with non-feminists wondering why we don’t call ourselves “humanist” is that although “humanist” has several meanings, I don’t want to associate myself with those which imply that human beings are sacred, or superior to animals.

  8. the person who asked the question ‘threw around’ the word humanism, not humanist, and the wikipedia entry on humanism defines it clearly related to what the question was about. one’s audience understood what was meant perfectly well.

  9. There is actually a clear distinction made by Wikipedia between the life stance Humanism and the ethical stance humanism. So which one do you mean and understand?

  10. Equality is a concept which is used very selectively in some circles. Any legal measure which aims to rectify institutional racism/sexism/ageism/[insert ‘ism’ here] through affirmative action is derided as being unequal treatment, in violation of the ‘one rule for all’ principle. The same complaint is levelled against any group, such as feminism, which has the goal of promoting the position of one particular (disadvantaged) group within society.

    In academic discussions a distinction is drawn between formal equality and substantive equality. Formal equality is the kind of surface-level equality which is achieved when the law treats all individuals the same, without reference to their sex, race or age. This kind of equality leaves many ‘equalists’ happy, but ignores the long history of discrimination against certain groups in society which leaves them in a disadvantaged position with no chance of carrying out their lives on an ‘equal playing field’.

    Formal equality, on the other hand, is a more proactive concept of equality which recognises that sometimes certain groups must be treated differently in order to be truly equal. On this approach, historical grievances must be ackowledged and rectified, and a special effort must be made to return these groups to an acceptable position in society. This approach is often accused of being ‘unfair’, ‘discriminatory’, ‘racist’ or ‘sexist’.

    I once heard a friend of mine boil down the distinction between formal and substantive equality as the difference between equality and fairness. I think this is a good way of looking at it.

  11. I think Double has misspoken/mistyped here. I think the start of the third paragraph should read “Substantive equality, on the other hand…”

  12. The Pandagon link is no longer valid; it doesn’t reflect the move.

    Now then: I always thought feminism isn’t about equality. It’s about fighting (especially institutional) sexism against women and the (especially institutional) oppression of women; if people who aren’t women benefit, that’s good, but it’s not really the goal.

    I’m a feminist (I’m actually uncomfortable calling myself a feminist, but not because of my perceptions of what feminism is or who’s eligible for the label). I’d be a “masculist,” too, if I felt sexism against men or oppression of men qua men were a serious, widespread, systematic problem.

    So “equalism” is actually the wrong word. Most if not all feminists probably are equalists, but I doubt a lot of them go about their feminist work with scales and calipers.

  13. “It’s not up to feminists to help homeless men, if you have a problem with it, set up shelters for men.” – this is a copy/paste quote from recent discussion on youtube. Guess who said that? It’s no “false dilemma”, it’s feminism hypocrisy. It’s not enough for you not to be oppressed, you want to oppress. You are sexists, and there’s nothing noble or enlightening about it.

    Judith Jewcakes says: “I don’t want to associate myself with those which imply that human beings are sacred, or superior to animals.” – Which is why you decided to narrow your focus even more and be part of something that implies that half of humans are inferior to you?

    • “It’s not enough for you not to be oppressed, you want to oppress.”

      a) To assume that what any person claiming themselves to be feminist believes and argues is representative of ALL feminists everywhere is, at best, extremely problematic. At worst, it’s a demonstration of one of the issues feminists specifically stand against: The notion an awful lot of men have, and which our culture heartily encourages, that women don’t really, truly have unique individual personalities, and that, deep down, women are basically all the same. We all think the same, we all like the same things, we all want the same things; if you’re single and want to get a girlfriend, there are specific ways to behave which must be learned like a secret code, which, once you have it, will get you whichever woman you’re interested in (because we all want exactly the same things in men – and all want men, apparently); if you’re an employer, you assume that all women who don’t already have children will have them (because all women want, and can have, children – and all women take time off for childrearing and men don’t, apparently) and treat them accordingly, etc. To assume that ALL feminists want to oppress men is to assume that we all think and believe exactly the same things, because, as women and especially as members of a subgroup regarded as inherently “female,” we are not truly capable of having individual points of view.

      b) While the position you quoted is one rather lacking in tact/empathy, I’m not seeing how not going out of one’s way to help men specifically = actively oppressing men. But, of course, in a culture of male privilege, where it goes unspoken that men and men’s issues are more important and worthy of attention than women and women’s issues, anything that isn’t explicitly for men is seen as implicitly against them. Sigh.

  14. Way late to this, but as a secular humanist AND a feminist, I find it doubly offensive when people say “‘Feminism’ is too exclusionary, I’m a ‘humanist’” because it’s an inaccurate use of “humanism,” which is a secular worldview that suggests that our “moral” values should come from our life experiences rather than religious dogma, and that life can have meaning and value without belief in a higher power or afterlife. Humanists generally do believe in equal rights for all people, but that’s not what “humanism” is about. Humanism IS NOT an alternative to feminism, it is a complex world view.

  15. Having a distinct movement that focuses on misogyny is important. I compare “improving the world” to “designing an airplane”. To can’t get an airplane built just by dumping 100 people and several tons of sheet metal in the middle of a field. You need electricians, mechanical engineers, test pilots… in other words, you have to focus on specifics! Being an avionics technician doesn’t mean I don’t care about the wings, it just means that someone’s got to plug in the avionics. We can’t all just work towards this general “light”, that’s not how things get done.

    I also have an article on why I label myself a feminist.

  16. Saying that ‘the special and distinct problem of misogyny both oppressing and directly harming women’ require a separate movement/ideology is simply nonsense.

    To focus on some specific problem you don’t need a separate movement.

    I will exemplify this using the Jewish case.

    The special and distinct problem of Anti-Semitism is both oppressing and directly harming Jews yet there is no need for a movement like ‘Jewism’ to deal with this specific problem.

    During historical period Jews were strongly persecuted and oppressed (much more than women!) and yet equal rights and non-discrimination was more than enough to secure equal rights and status for Jews in the modern western world.

    Any humanist/liberal/equalist movement proved good enough to deal with this problem within a general approach to human rights. You don’t need ‘Jew’s rights’ and ‘Jew’s empowerment’ to combat anti-Semitism.

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