Matters Of Debate | Issue 8

Matters Of Debate | Issue 8

We should be humanists not feminists

This column is written by the Otago University Debating Society, which meets for social debating every Tuesday at 6pm in the Commerce Building

Affirmative, by By Old Major

The struggle for equal rights, equal opportunity and equal treatment of women is a noble and just pursuit. This doesn’t mean that feminists aren’t awful human beings.

Assuming the Birkenstock wearing, Tumblr sharing women amongst us haven’t ripped this column from Critic in a careless attack on free speech, please keep reading. I will explain why we should be humanists, not feminists.

Around the world, people are oppressed, persecuted, censored, and live in fear of tyrannical regimes. Over the next 100 years, billions of people will suffer drought, famine or be rendered climate refugees because of the lifestyle choices of people like you and I. We shouldn’t be content to sit back and watch. People with the means, freedom, education and time to seed and enact change have an obligation to do so. Unfortunately, feminism isn’t inequality’s kryptonite.

The feminist agenda mainly addresses the issues facing white, educated and wealthy women, and those same women who are the most vocal voices within it. The women who ‘set the agenda’ almost always live in developed nations (15 percent of the Earth’s population) and probably have or are studying towards Tertiary Level qualification (seven percent).

When the card-carrying members of the feminist fraternity gather, the acts of oppression they decry are within their lived experience. They’ll rant about systemic micro aggressions, offer endless critiques of gender representation in films and agonise over the semantics of their manifesto and the movement. None of this analysis says that the issues those feminist PhD students bleat about on twitter aren’t genuine instances of oppression. But the total amount of fucks that most people give about social justice issues is finite and exhaustible.

The strain of militant white western feminism that is fashionable right now alienates less progressive people because it focuses on issues that, at least to those people, don’t seem like pressing acts of oppression. It alienates progressive men from engaging with the movement. But most harmfully, it dominates social justice discourse towards issues affecting women in Dunedin, rather than humans in Damascus or Ghana.

Social Justice activism needs to meet the needs of all humans affected by injustice as a result of their gender, race, religion, socioeconomic status or just pure bad luck. We should to be humanists, not feminists.

TLDR: Feminists please pick your fights. Be ideologically consistent. Be a humanist.

Negative, by Squealer the Pig

Humanism stems from a branch of philosophy that advocates for tolerance particularly in regards to religion. It recognises that humans can create a moral code with logic and reasoning rather than needing religion to guide them. It should be obvious that being a “Humanist” and being a “Feminist” are not mutually exclusive things. 

“Humanism” is not an umbrella term for wanting equality for all people. If it were, there would be no reason to choose between supporting equality for all people and equality for women. You can be in favour of both statements. However, different groups of people are denied equality in different ways, have different desires, threats and needs. Women’s experiences, needs and relationships are often quite different to men’s, just as LGBTQI people’s experiences may be different to heterosexual people, and people of different ethnicities may have different needs. In an ideal world all these needs would be recognised and valued, but we are a long way off yet. 

If you are fixing a building, you need electricians to deal with the wiring and plumbers to help fix the drains. Similarly, we need an LGBT movement for issues of sexual orientation and gender. We need anti-racist groups to tackle racism and racial inequality. We need feminism to focus on the issues that specifically impact women.

Supporting feminism is the first and most important step to recognising how women’s equality and empowerment can be neglected if they are not actively recognised and diligently paid attention to. It’s called feminism rather than “humanism” because for most of history in most countries women have been denied personhood. “Feminism” as a label started as a socio-political movement to achieve equality for women and through its own rhetoric has become a movement supporting equality for all people. Giving it a blanket term like “humanism” serves as another tool of oppression because it does not articulate the enormous struggles women have had to go through to achieve any of the rights we take for granted today. It silences the unique issues and inequality women experience as underprivileged, underserved members of our society.

We should not be humanists instead of feminists. We should be both. Furthermore saying you are for equality between the sexes but you’re not a feminist is like saying “I’m a sweet potato, not a kumara”. You’re still a starchy tuber, but you just admitted to being a potato.

This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2016.
Posted 12:07pm Sunday 24th April 2016 by Otago University Debating Society.