Feminism vs. Humanism: “The Same Thing”? Not According to the Dictionary…


Because I have just had a lengthy conversation with someone insisting that humanism and feminism are the same thing, I have decided to post this. I even got them to acknowledge that it is not up to them how individuals chose to identify themselves (not that he stopped.  Rude). He did that annoying thing that the A+ers do: assume that disagreement=ignorance (really, don’t do that. It’s rude too).  The response was a dismissal of contradictory definition of feminism as wishful thinking, while applying a completely aberrated definition to humanism.  In order to clear this up, as he somewhat precipitously left the conversation as soon as I posted the real definition (rude). The actual definitions are below, and he hopefully can see for himself that ‘Feminism’ is not a redundant term and nor is ‘humanism’ an equivalent. An example of what I just came up against can be found at http://redcelt.net/blog/?p=161

Definition of humanism [1]

noun [mass noun]

  • a rationalist outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.
  • (often Humanism) a Renaissance cultural movement which turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought.
  • (among some contemporary writers) a system of thought criticized as being centred on the notion of the rational, autonomous self and ignoring the conditioned nature of the individual.

Derivatives

humanist

noun & adjective

humanistic

adjective

humanistically

 

So there we have it.  Nothing to do with equality and nothing to do with gender. Humanism is an outlook derived from non supernatural reasoning.  That is all.  Whereas…

Definition of feminism [2]

noun

[mass noun]

  • the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.

The issue of rights for women first became prominent during the French and American revolutions in the late 18th century. In Britain it was not until the emergence of the suffragette movement in the late 19th century that there was significant political change. A ‘second wave’ of feminism arose in the 1960s, with an emphasis on unity and sisterhood; seminal figures included Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer

And again this is simply term to denote equal rights to women, not more rights, not special treatment, and nothing to do with rejection of supernatural explanations.

 

Conclusion

  1. The two are not the same and they are not interchangeable.
  2. Misunderstanding of one does not render the other redundant.
  3. If you are going to insist on accuracy, at least make sure you understand the definitions of the words you are quibbling over.

 

Sources.

  1. Definition of humanism in Oxford Dictionaries British & World English.
  2. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/feminism?q=feminism

 

Also see

 

 

 

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11 thoughts on “Feminism vs. Humanism: “The Same Thing”? Not According to the Dictionary…

  1. ms. corona says:

    THANK you, author, for posting this. The “I’m not a feminist I’m a humanist” argument is so profoundly irritating because not only is it founded on the gross misunderstanding of a (fairly simple) definition, it goes and bastardizes an entirely different philosophical concept which has little (if nothing) to do with gender! I think it’s terrible that misinformed people can’t just pick up a dictionary and learn a definition (or GOOGLE it, for goodness sake) before opening their big mouths!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Travis says:

    In summary, all redefinitions of terms have to start somewhere. And no, “feminism” and “humanism” are not the same. “Humanism” actually is concerned for the equality and advancement of human beings as a unified group whereas “feminism” honestly doesn’t even do a good job of PRETENDING to care about any of that.

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  3. Travis says:

    Actually the “rational insight” part is a big part of what the MODERN DAY (or “new”) Humanists are trying to seize on and expand into a new undestanding of what it means to be a humanist. Dictionaries add new definitions to old terms all the time. I bet not all 3 of the current definitions of “humanism” you listed have been there just as long, meaning the definition has already expanded before, and can again.

    Humanism is about equality BECAUSE it judges fairness, people and their comments, ideas, etc., WITHOUT focusing on gender, race, etc. but focusing only on whether what’s being presented is rational. New wave humanists also seek to expand the definition to mean “concern for all humans”. I’ll grant you that the part about not focusing on supernatural matters is less important to those of us promoting a broader definition of “humanism” , but we’re not entirely disregarding it, either. Focusing on supernatural ideas, or divinity, the way religions do, often leads to oppression and away from equality.

    The problem with the term “feminism” is that, while it purports to advance equality and may have many members of the movement that sincerely want to do so, it simply cannot. You cannot give a movement a name as myopic as “feminism”, which is literally named after female attributes (mostly,anyway) and shares the first 3 letters as “female” and is almost the exact same term as “femininity”, and then realistically expect people to believe that movement is equally concerned about men or masculinity, or what might happen (or what feminism itself might do) to either one. If feminism was equally concerned about ALL people’s rights, it wouldn’t be named after just one type of person. It simply wouldn’t. And as long as feminism is called “feminism” it will continue to attract legions of women who hate men and assume everyone else in the movement does as well, making the movement constantly less credible if it ever actually does take on any issue except ones that directly affect women (and feminism never actually would take on an issue that wasn’t ALL about women, let’s be honest). The lip service feminists give to caring about equality and being concerned for anyone besides women is easily proven false by remembering that the movement is named after women, not men, and takes on only issues that affect women, not men. The feminist movement is also apparently quite incapable of self-reflection, considering ANY criticism of itself with an open mind, even if it’s constructive, or taking any responsibility for how people perceive it. An example of this is that feminists replying to the fact that #feminismisawful is trending on Twitter are blaming everyone and everything EXCEPT the feminist movement for the negative perceptions it faces. If THAT MANY people, male and female alike, gay and straight, all races, from all walks of life are saying feminism is awful, feminists are doing something wrong. If people don’t see feminists as fighting for equality, so they seek out terms and movements that more accurately and simply address the idea that we’re all equal, and the desire to see that truth borne out in society, feminists should reflect on what THEY have done to give people the perception that feminism isn’t about equality in the slightest. Again, here’s a hint: the movement has a deliberately myopic name, only cares about ANYTHING in relation to how it affects women and typically doesn’t even make a half-hearted effort to disguise that. A lot of people are just unwilling to humor feminism and pretend to be stupid enought to believe it cares about anyone without a vagina.

    All of this is, of course, a large part of what has led new humanists to co-opt and expand the term “humanism”. I suppose we could find a different word for our movement, but why should we? “Humanism” has the perfect ring to it for what we seek and value. It just SOUNDS like equality. The definition can be broadened without ruining any of the other definitions you listed above, as the definitions of many words have been broadened over time. And really, if feminists really DO have any regard for men and equality, it’s long past time they changed the unfortunate name of their OWN movement, instead of quibbling with new humanists over the fact that we haven’t managed to get our definition of humanism into a published dictionary yet. Our definition of “humanism” as “concern for all humans” at least makes sense based on the fact that it’s named after everyone. Whereas a definition of “feminism” as advocacy for “the equality of the sexes” makes no logical sense at all. No matter what your dictionary says.

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    • So in your view, because you have met a few feminists you do not personally like, then all feminists are man hating female supremacists? Had you not considered that their demeanor was merely a reaction to the condescending arrogance of the way you were treating them? You have come on to my blog like every other entitled spoiled brat of a man-child to rant about why you are disgusted with the groups which fight and campaign tirelessly from my rights, and expect what? For me to be grateful?

      You have failed entirely to acknowledge why the various feminist movements came about, and I would even go so far as to say your post denies any need for gender equality movements. I won’t tell you to check your privilege as that is a pointless silencing tactic, and its clearly beyond you. I will ask you to re-read your angry rant and put yourself in the position of a woman and see how you already come across as a resentful buffoon, who has had his privilege challenged (How dare a woman not see things tht same way as you, then have the nerve to post about it on her own blog? ). It comes across as you dismissing the entire concept of women’s equality, considering how hard we have had to work to get this far (and no, it is not ‘fixed’ or ‘in the past’) as a useless distraction from something you clearly consider far more important than women’s rights (which had to be fought to gain, and we are now having to fight to keep):men’s rights. Newsflash boyo, your rights as a man are NOT in jeopardy.

      Do not for one instant, try claim that women’s issues such as the right to acquire contraception on existing insurance plans without our employers knowing and having power of veto, the right to a safe abortion if we need one, the right to get equal pay for doing the same work as a man in the same role, or the right to walk the streets safe from attack, are not women’s rights issues. Why should there not be specific groups organised to campaign for such things, and why is it so important to you that they disappear? Your rant says far more about you and your own attitude against organised women’s groups, than it does about what I wrote. If women cannot be allowed, legally or socially, to organise in order to let right be done by our gender, for fear of offending people like you then it exemplifies the necessity for the feminist movement’s continuity.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    terms can carry different meanings in different times. Just because the Dictionary doesn’t include the definition you’re looking for does not mean that it cannot be defined as such. Many people would much rather that a human rights movement have a name that encompasses humanity, not just half of it.

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  5. Daniel Loxton says:

    Adding complexity, “Humanism” or “secular humanism” is also the name for a more specific modern nontheistic ethical movement, represented in the United States by national organizations such as the American Humanist Association and the Council for Secular Humanism, and globally by a great many other organizations. The guiding principles developed and expressed in the various Humanist Manifestos of the past 80 years give quite a lot of support for the view that modern movement humanism, at least, does entail (but not eclipse) feminism, though also support for the view that humanists tend to privilege egalitarian concerns over feminist concerns where they perceive a tension between them. For example, the Humanist Manifesto 2000 specifies that “Gender discrimination should not be permitted. Women have a right to be treated equally with men. Discrimination in job opportunity, education, or cultural activities is insupportable.” Similarly—or perhaps contrastingly, depending on your view of contemporary feminist thought—the Humanist Manifesto II (1973) specifies, “We are critical of sexism or sexual chauvinism—male or female. We believe in equal rights for both women and men to fulfill their unique careers and potentialities as they see fit, free of invidious discrimination.”

    Of course, this does not negate your point that there are other uses of the word “humanist” that do not entail feminism, nor your point that “‘Feminism’ is not a redundant term and nor is ‘humanism’ an equivalent,” with which I agree. The fact that the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first century humanist movement also encourages democratic ideals and equality for homosexuals does not mean “democracy” or “gay rights” are redundant concepts.

    Honestly, the modern secular humanist movement is of many minds on many things. I suppose that humanism’s contradictions are inevitable, being nontheistic, widespread, and committed to the exchange of ideas. And of course, the contradictions and disagreements only deepen when we factor in other parallel uses of the word humanist, and other parallel rationalist movements.

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  6. My take on this You have to be this definition of feminist before you can really be a humanist. if inequality didn’t exist then the need for feminism or… Manism? wouldn’t exist either, then everyone would just be a humanist. I will always continue to fight for equal rights for everyone no matter what race, gender, sexual-thing-they-like-doing, or species(should we develop hyper intelligent cats). the downside is that a lot of media outlets have portrayed feminist as some sort of evil nazi-like camp bent on the destruction of the penis…. (I am not a fan of that) or they portray them not as feminists but as wannabe batmans (i.e A+). I don’t have a conclusion to this just wanted to agree with you and mention something.

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