Humanism without feminism is as useful as a typhoid inducing, clogged drainage system. It is logically and practically inconsistent. Ghanaian humanism houses male bigots who utilize intellectual gymnastics to fail to address their deep seated anti-woman beliefs and attitudes. A peril of sexism is that women are not taken seriously as intellectuals, or as pioneers and participants of social movements. Historical analysis and collective remembrance of social movements often erase and minimize women’s participation in liberation struggles. Social movements that purport to be progressive often fall in the same putrid patriarchal traps of women’s marginalization. From Marxist to Atheist movements, widespread misogynistic social inclinations cause men to reinforce the same unjust systems of oppression that they seek to transform. The double standard is unnerving. Black men disgusted that a white supremacist society would justify their murder by shifting attention to their sagging pants and hooded sweatshirts, find no issue with justifying rape by focusing on women’s outfits. Socialist men disgusted with a capitalistic society’s devaluation of their labor, have no issue expecting women to clean, cook, and perform domestic services for men, for free. Male atheists who criticize religious institutions for their misogyny have no issue using women’s suffering as an anti-religious political tool, while ignoring the deeply entrenched sexism of the atheist movement and their favorite patriarchal atheism daddies. In the same vein, men humanists who claim to be interested in the human condition ignore and trivialize the ways in which over 50% of the population are subjugated economically, politically, sexually, and culturally through unjust social systems. Even worse, men humanists further ignore women’s subjugation by maligning the only social movement that directly addresses women’s disenfranchisement: feminism.
“I’m not A Feminist, I’m A Humanist”
“Intellectuals” opposed to feminism often do so on the basis that they are humanists, thus creating a binary thought process where humanism and feminism are incompatible. Creating a binary where feminism and humanism oppose each other suggests that women’s oppression is not a part of a larger issue of human oppression. It’s a clever way to simultaneously deny the precise problem of women’s oppression, while dismissing any particular attempts to resolve systematic sexism. Why would a support for humanism nullify a support for feminism? Are women not human? And thus is addressing the global disenfranchisement of over 50% of the human population not a necessary part of humanism? For men humanists who refuse to address the ways in which they themselves perpetuate women’s oppression while benefiting from women’s economic, social and political marginalization, the vague category of humanism successfully shields them from accountability.
The “Humanism not feminism” rationale postulates that feminism selectively addresses women’s issues. It presents feminism as problematic because of its selective focus on women. Anti-feminist humanists argue that humanism is better because it deals with issues that affect all humans, while feminism deals with just women. First, Feminism does not deal with just women. Second, this rationale captures an empty understanding of “equality” that fails to acknowledge the particular problem of women’s subjugation as a necessary component of dealing with human inequality. You can’t free all people, if women are not free. Thus as a quest to free all people, women’s chains must be addressed.
Such a critique is hilarious, and obviously a sexist reaction to a movement that centers women. I call this reaction sexist because other movements are not criticized for centering the oppressed. I am yet to hear anti-feminist humanists critique Marxism for focusing on the poor and not considering the interests of the rich in its analysis of class inequality. The thought of an Anti-feminist humanist yelling to an atheist in Ghana “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE POWERFUL CHRISTIAN MAJORITY” brings me to inconsolable laughter.
It is undisputed that rich people and Christian people are humans. Yet Marxism and atheism movements within Ghana are not guilt-tripped into de-centering non-believers or poor people: the primary population that suffer from the particular unjust societal system that these movements seek to address. I suspect that this is because the face of both Marxism and Atheism are men. And men’s suffering is taken seriously, while women’s suffering is normalized and accepted.
Anti-feminist humanists seem to understand intuitively, when it comes to other movements, that gaining institutional equity requires a detailed understanding of how subjugated groups are excluded from enjoying social resources. For other movements, anti-feminist humanists find no issue understanding the legitimacy in focusing on those most affected by institutional inequality. Yet when it comes to Feminism, anti-feminists seem to forget that just because we are all human, does not mean that we are all treated as human. Thus to remedy maltreatment, it is necessary to focus on the distinct ways that some humans are excluded.
And that’s precisely what feminism seeks to do, ensure that gender roles and gendered division of resources do not continue to reinforce a caste system where women continue to be subjugated.
A Better Conceptualization of Feminism’s Relationship To Humanism
The following thought experiment accurately explains feminism’s relationship to humanism.
Imagine that there is a person, we will call them Humazoid. Humazoid is a proponent of ending cancer. Humazoid believes that cancer undermines the human capital of society by causing abrupt and painful death. Imagine that there is another person, Femazoid. Femazoid is also strongly anti-cancer. While Femazoid is very much invested in eradicating cancer, Femazoid believes that her resources and labor is best invested in addressing breast cancer specifically. It is not that Femazoid does not care about prostate cancer, brain cancer, or throat cancer. It is not the case that Femazoid does not care about eradicating cancer all-together. It is the case that Femazoid has chosen to focus her labor, and her attention on eradicating breast cancer, as part of a collective effort to address cancer as a whole.
Now imagine if Humazoid criticized Femazoid for focusing on eradicating breast cancer.Imagine how silly it would be for Humazoid to believe that Femazoid did not care about cancer collectively because she focused on breast cancer.Imagine how foolish it would be for Humazoid to believe that eradicating cancer did not require particular focus on targeted manifestations of cancer within the body.
But most importantly imagine if Humazoid did not believe that eradicating breast cancer was integral to eradicating cancer as a whole.
In this thought experiment, cancer represents the humanist movement, while breast cancer represents feminism. Eradicating human inequality (cancer), requires that one eradicate the ways in which human inequality targets specific groups of people, including women. Addressing how social institutions rob women of sexual exploration, cultural rights, equality of dignity, and just representation in the political making process is part and parcel of humanism. One cannot have a meaningful humanist movement, while ignoring the domination of more than half of the human population. And feminism, a movement that centers women, is best equipped to deal with women’s subjugation.
Feminism is part of humanism, in the same way that eradicating breast cancer is part of eradicating cancer. Trying to have humanism without feminism is logically inconsistent because one cannot have a movement to eradicate human inequality without addressing the subjugation of over 50% of humans, women. It is also practically inconsistent because systems of dominance require particular movements to address key components of inequality, as part of a collective effort for global human equity.
So why can’t humanist men replace humanism with feminism? Because it is too vague. It is the same reason why Marxism cannot be replaced with Humanism, or Trans* Equality cannot be replaced with Humanism. Humanism needs detailed movements like Feminism and Gay Rights to address the particular ways in which segments of the human population are oppressed.
And no amount of shallow intellectual mental gymnastics can explain away the need for feminism. I suggest humanist men deal with their internalized superiority complex, and recognize that women deserve every bit of liberation that they themselves strive for.