Why “I’m Not a Feminist, I’m a Humanist” Doesn’t Make Sense

[Image: a white man with his arms across his chest. Text reads, "Feminism is too divisive. I'm a humanist."]

[Image: a white man with his arms across his chest. Text reads, “Feminism is too divisive. I’m a humanist.”]

Here’s another blog post I originally wrote on my old blog. Enjoy!

I don’t watch a lot of Jaclyn Glenn’s videos, but yesterday I was on her channel to see what’s new with her. It seems she’s doing more comedy skits than rant videos these days, which is great because I don’t want to be preached at all the time. One such skit involved her and a few other vloggers sitting around a kitchen table talking about how closed-minded religious people and anti-vaxxers are, but soon turns into an argument how anyone who doesn’t agree with everything they say is a close-minded fool. Overall, it’s a good video about how anyone call fall into the dogmatic “I’m right, you’re wrong, get used to it” trap.

Half-way through the video, though, Glenn says she doesn’t feel comfortable identifying as a feminist because so many radical feminists have ruined the term. She’s made several other videos about she doesn’t like the term “feminist,” even though she definitely supports gender equality. In one video, for example, she said she uses the word “humanist” as a way of saying she’s supports human rights in general.

Glenn can identify however she wants to, so I’m not going to crucify her for not using the label feminist. Neither am I going to stand on my soapbox and rant and rave about how she’s another fedora-wearing Dawkins-wannabe anti-feminist atheist. I’m done with all that name-calling crap, to be honest. It’s emotionally draining, and it makes me look like an asshole.

I do, however, want to bring up this phenomenon of people saying, “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist,” and why it doesn’t make any sense.

For starters, “humanist” is more than just an all-inclusive way of saying “feminist/racial justice activist/LGBT rights activist/etc.” In his book Creating Change Through Humanism, Roy Speckhardt defines humanism as “the not so radical idea that you can be good without a belief in a god.” It’s a way of life that looks not towards the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost for truth, meaning, and ethics, but on Facts, Reason, and Compassion. Humanism includes human rights activism, but humanism is more of a worldview than a form of activism.

Second, feminism does not mean hating men. Feminists don’t hate men any more than #BlackLivesMatter activists hate white people. Of course, there are a few radical feminists that hate men. For example, there are trans-exclusive radical feminists (TERFs) who believe transgender women are really men trying to invade women’s spaces in order to hurt women. I don’t want to say they’re “not real feminists” because that’s pulling the No True Scotsman card. Rather, these radical feminists are just shitty feminists who are so blinded by their own dogmatism that they become dangerous extremists. Take it from me; stay the fuck away from them!

But for the most part, feminism is about giving women personal autonomy over their bodies, minds, and lives. It’s about seeing women as complex human beings, not two-dimensional objects. It’s about uprooting sexist ideas embedded in our society—and, thus, changing the system—through education and activism. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

That’s why I don’t understand why some atheists say an atheist cannot be a feminist. Saying feminism is incompatible with atheism is like saying racial justice is incompatible with atheism. Unlike religion, feminism isn’t based on a false claim. Sure, we can argue about certain feminist claims like the wage gap (it’s rather complicated, so I suggest watching Peter Thurston’s videos about it), but sexism still exists in society. Whether it’s women being harassed on the street here in America or women being stoned to death in Saudi Arabia, the idea that women are second-class citizens is deeply embedded into our world, and we need to do something about it.

Plus, saying that feminism isn’t inclusive enough because it focuses on women’s rights is like walking into St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and saying, “Why don’t you treat adults with cancer, too?” The reason why we have St. Jude is because there is a need in America for children with cancer to receive all the medical care they need without parents worrying about payment. It doesn’t mean everyone else with cancer doesn’t matter; it only addresses a need that’s not being met anywhere else. The same goes for feminism, #BlackLivesMatter, queer liberation, and disability justice.

While I still believe people have the right to identify however they want, the phrase “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist” doesn’t hold any water. True, there are certain branches of feminism that are not compatible with humanism (see the TERFs I mentioned above). However, fighting sexism and misogyny is not only compatible with humanism, but also essential. As skeptics, we openly criticize bad ideas present in our society—from religious dogma to pseudoscience—so why not openly criticize sexist ideas in our society as well? It only makes sense to me.


  1. Vivec says

    I mean, I personally don’t identify as a feminist – as a trans person, I feel that feminism has a pretty terrible history with us and a lot of that is still ongoing – but that’s moreso a problem with the specific label rather than the underlying definition. On the whole, I think that I’d nonetheless fit the definition of a feminist.

    • says

      I know what you mean. I think it’s getting better at being more trans-inclusive (except for the TERFs), but it seems like it’s only been within the past 10 years that issues facing trans and nonbinary people have been considered feminist issues. Same thing with issues facing women of color (hence the label womanism to be more inclusive).

  2. says

    Plus, saying that feminism isn’t inclusive enough because it focuses on women’s rights is like walking into St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and saying, “Why don’t you treat adults with cancer, too?”

    For that matter, it’s somewhat like saying St, Judes should shut down because of the catholicism. No, we need good hospitals. (Then, we can work on the catholicism and any other forms of woowoo that do not demonstrably improve patient outcomes)

  3. says

    Ever notice how talk about income inequality leaves out that people of color make less than women in general?

    The daughter of one of my cousins, an engineer, is involved in getting more women of color in the sciences.

  4. leni says

    “Ever notice how talk about income inequality leaves out that people of color make less than women in general?”

    I’m sure sometimes it does, but usually I hear it discussed alongside the gender gap. Today in fact I listened to an NPR program about the gender wage gap and they specifically brought race up, as they should. It’s also well-known that the gender wage gap disproportionally affects women of color.

    For example, and even if you disagree with the .79c figure, it’s typically broken down something like this (numbers are not exact since I’m working off memory): If White men make $1, White women make .79, Black men make about .68, and Black women make .60.

    The gender gap exists right alongside the race gap, but is worse for women in every case, which is why when we talk about gender wage gaps we implicitly for mean for all women, not just White ones.

  5. polishsalami says

    As something of a teenage Marxist, I’m still a sucker for the old Hegelian dialectic. As applied to this debate, it might go like this:

    Thesis: Patriarchy
    Antithesis: Matriarchy
    Synthesis: Humanism (?)

    It should be acknowledged that women have different problems to men (mainly related to reproduction), so any political or social system needs to take this into account.

  6. miasummers says

    I don’t get how she continues saying that. Seriously, it’s pretty obvious why she doesn’t want the label feminist to pretty much everyone and it’s clearly not because of the “radicals”. It’s really stupid to say she doesn’t want to be associated with a movement because of some radical members within that movement (which is true to all movements), yet associates herself with MRA guys like The Amazing Atheist (I don’t know if he’s an MRA, but he’s still horrible) and Mr Repzion (who has said that there is no such thing as rape culture, most “rapes” are next morning’s regret; and the gazillion responses that he has made to Anita Sarkeesian, most of which should have a laugh track).

  7. Kaveri says

    Maybe it would be nice to get a different point of view here. The reason why I abandoned the feminist label and chose the humanist label instead, is because I have dealt with toxic, biased, irrational and man hating feminists. They exist. There are real and serious flaws within the modern feminist movement and at first I was hoping to acknowledge these flaws and point our better ways of doing things. I really wanted to improve feminism but the more I interacted with feminists online the more disillusioned I became.

    Why? Because I didn’t buy into the narrative that women were victims of society and that men were part of a privileged class. I didn’t believe that countries like Canada, UK and US were rape cultures or patriarchies. I believed that both men and women had to deal with problems based on their gender. I really wanted true gender equality, as I was concerned about both women’s and men’s rights. But I was called an idiot, rape apologist, racist and sexist even when I tried to have a calm and respectful discussion with other feminists.

    Eventually I was emotionally drained and I gave up on feminism. When I did more research on humanism and started interacting with humanist communities it was such a pleasant experience. There was room for debate and discussion. And the ideas within secular humanism represented my world view so much better than feminism ever could.

    You can keep saying that feminism has nothing to do with misandry, but that will not change the fact that there are misandrists out there who identify as feminists and they are making feminism toxic. They are driving away people from the movement. Denying their existence is not going to make them go away, it is only giving the problem an opportunity to get worse.

    Maybe feminists should try to understand the perspective of people who don’t identify as feminists such as anti-feminists and humanists/egalitarians. You may find the key to persuading more people and making the community less toxic.

  8. MG says

    We should take a step back here and think. Feminism is never about equality otherwise it would have been called equalism or nuterlism.
    Feminism is about empowering women, which is great but then how do you measure women don’t overpower men or then we are going to talk about masculism? How about correct it from the beginning and promote equalism?

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