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Why Feminism Still Needs To Be Called..

Why “Humanism” Isn’t A Good Replacement




“Humanism” has been tossed around as a possible replacement for “feminist,” on the grounds that it sounds the same but seems more inclusive of humanity as a whole. Sarah Jessica Parker has said, for instance, that “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist.” So has Meryl Streep. The problem? Being a humanist isn’t just a declaration that you’re in favor of all people everywhere having the same rights. It’s its own philosophical category, and using it willy-nilly without understanding its meaning is problematic.

Humanism is, essentially, the belief that the source of human values isn’t God, but humanity itself — particularly our capacity to be rational. It’s also a celebration of human life and the individual, and it’s existed as a philosophical tradition since the Enlightenment in Europe. According to the New World Encyclopedia,

Humanism refers to any perspective which is committed to the centrality and interests of human beings. It also refers to a belief that reason and autonomy are the basic aspects of human existence, and that the foundation for ethics and society is autonomy and moral equality.

It’s a great perspective — humanist wedding ceremonies are understandably popular — but it doesn’t mean that you’re focusing on the rights of every human. As Jarrah Hodge over at Gender Focusexplains, humanism “includes a commitment to the rational and scientific and a rejection of the idea of divine and supernatural powers.” It’s not about rights or equal opportunities, or at least not centrally, and using it in that context seriously misuses the term. Humanists Against Feminism is a genuine thing that exists.

I do get that it’s more a fun turn of phrase than an actual position, but if there’s one thing you know if you’re a committed feminist, it’s that words matter. (It’s not that Sarah Jessica Parker isn’t a philosophical humanist, either. Maybe she is!)


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