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Can “Is(m)s” Merge to Make “Is”

An Essay on the Infamous F Word

By Megan Le StumPublished 7 years ago 8 min read

Feminism and humanism are two world views that are constantly present in Western culture, regardless of how each individual identifies themselves. Despite their similarities, many, such as Corliss Lamont, question their political compatibility. Rightfully so, feminism has more of a socialistic tendency and humanism’s ideologies are much closer to a totalitarianism. That being said, it is important to look back on how these two world views came to be in order to draw conclusions.

What brings feminists together is their work towards gender equality (Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations). Though the characteristics of feminism are often contested, three core ones remain: to acknowledge that there are differences in how men are treated in comparison to how women are; to admit that it is possible for gender roles to be changed as they are socially constructed; to realize women’s capacity to be independent and autonomous (Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations). These ideologies have evolved through three different waves; the first one occurring from 1860 until 1920 whose focus was centered on women’s right to vote (Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations). The second wave of feminism appeared in the 1960s; it sought to incorporate women into the workforce as well as equality within their household roles (Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations). Women who pursued traditional roles were seen as more likable, but less competent and worthy of a lower social status (Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations). These women often inspired the emotions such as pity and sympathy (Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations). A major contributor to these behaviours is benevolent sexism, a form of sexism in which it is believed that women need protection, affection, and domestic power (Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations). It hinders their access to power in political, economical, and other male dominated spheres. This form of sexism encourages women to stay "in their place" through behaviours that are seemingly positive, but whose bitter aftertaste are of misogynistic response to the threat of competition; a very individualistic and self-realisation centered response (Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations). It is important to note that the benevolently sexist behaviours were not only endorsed by men, but also women who saw comfort or were high in the hierarchy within these social barriers. However their success in incorporating women into the work force, this wave was highly criticized due to only taking in account white middle-class women (Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations).

The criticism towards feminists only amplified during the 1980s; feminists were depicted as "…angry, anti-male, bra-burning, home-wrecking... lesbian[s] …" (sha) (Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations). The negative connotation the word feminist took a turn for led to an issue faced by many feminists still to this day: being categorized as a complaining troublemaker that cannot take responsibility for their actions (Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations). Female feminists were even being criticized by other women because their “ of sexism [made] their gender group look bad…” (Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations) Regardless of this period of hatred towards feminism, a third wave still emerged in the 1990s (The Social History of the American Family: An Encyclopedia). This wave moved the feminist goal towards equality for all. Third wave feminists have a holistic approach that encompasses social issues beyond women (The Social History of the American Family: An Encyclopedia). It expands the solidarity to any who experience discrimination. In the 21st century, many conflicts concerning the worldview itself arose amongst second wave feminists and third wave feminists (The Social History of the American Family: An Encyclopedia). Many found this odd and “counterproductive for [feminists] to dismiss divergent perspectives based on perceived shortcomings, especially when these failures, incompatibilities, and internal inconsistencies seem, often enough, to be based on straw feminisms or media-generated instances of backlash.” (Purvis) These disagreements led to inconsistencies within this very typically solidary worldview. To sum, history has shown that feminism is at its strongest when solidarity reigns.

Humanism is generally defined as a worldview that “...[attributes] dignity to [all] human beings.” (Encyclopedia of Global Studies) Similarly to feminism, its principles are contested, but there are four that shine through as consistent: to acknowledge human reason and, therefore, our inclination to argument ideas; to believe in freedom to lead your own life; to encourage creative approaches to all things; to think critically about everything, even the worldview itself (Encyclopedia of Global Studies). Humanism has evolved in two phases; the first one was based in Italy in the 14th century; led by intellectuals studying Latin and Greek writings and art works (Encyclopedia of Global Studies). Their studies permanently tinted humanism with a secular way of thinking (Encyclopedia of Global Studies). Through the beginnings of the worldview, these intellectuals revolutionized the education system by encouraging critical thinking as well as the discussion of ancient literature in order to solve day to day problems (Encyclopedia of Global Studies). In the 19th century emerged the second part of humanism where the main goal became to “...[understand] the human aspects of life...” (Encyclopedia of Global Studies) This led to humanism seeing its first political action arise: the first declaration of human rights (Encyclopedia of Global Studies). Secularization was an important part of that; it permitted more importance for values like critical thinking, reason, and deliberation (Encyclopedia of Global Studies). Other values humanists promote are “self-realization, autonomy and the self-conscious life” (Johnson 5) which creates tensions with quite a few outsiders (Encyclopedia of Global Studies). Many find these worryingly similar to the ones totalitarianism is based on (Encyclopedia of Global Studies). As all world views, humanism is not without its faults. It is a movement dominated by middle-class male intellectuals that has often been involved with “…ethnocentrism and western supremacy…” (Encyclopedia of Global Studies). Though Western culture is very tightly woven into humanism, it still successfully made its way into non-western culture (Encyclopedia of Global Studies). Debuting in postcolonial times, a trend emerged where various cultural identities were expressed through to a humanistic filter (Encyclopedia of Global Studies). It was a worldview that was not as farfetched as one might expect; most cultures have humanism’s main concept, human dignity, in common (Encyclopedia of Global Studies). In brief, humanistic history proves that it is more an individualistic approach to life might be more efficient in order to obtain freedom.

Keeping all of this in mind, Corliss Lamont was not very far off when stating the political incompatibility between both views. The obvious point in which they vary considerably is their opinions concerning solidarity. When looking at humanism on paper, this value is not part of theirs in any way; individualism is far more important. Whereas feminism has always been well-rooted in solidarity, its success is due to it. Also, humanism’s prevalent meritocracy side to it makes it truly impossible for feminism to be in the same boat as humanism. Meritocracy is a view in which it is a common belief that opportunities and resources are the same for everyone; all that changes between one’s successes to another is the amount of work they put into it. It disregards social barriers and discrimination (Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations). It is, to a certain extent, even dangerous for feminists to endorse this is as it shows their failure to see discrimination, a central part of feminism. The discrepancy is far too significant to ignore. It is impossible to be a purist of any of the views without making concessions. Surprisingly though, it would be easier for a female feminist to call herself a humanist than for a male to do so. Being that a part of feminism encourages women to express their independence and work hard on their self-realization — typically individualistic values shared with humanists. However, if a male feminist wanted to also be a humanist the compromises would be more notable. They would have to choose between the humanistic individualism and their crucial role within feminism as an ally in breaking women’s stereotypical roles.

All in all, when looking at the theoretical core of both feminism and humanism it is clear that both disagree on fundamental points such as solidarity and individualism. Feminists thrive when they come together whereas humanists as best at individualistic efforts. That being said, the real life practice of these world views, more often than not, does lead to them merging both morally and politically because of a core feature shared by both: people do not care about being by the book.

Works Cited

Casad, Bettina J. and Allian S. Kasabian. "Feminism." Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, edited by John M. Levine, and Michael A. Hogg, 1st ed., Sage Publications, 2009. Credo Reference, Accessed 07 Apr 2017.

Johnson, Pauline. Feminism as Radical Humanism. Westview, 1994. Google Books, .

Purvis, Jennifer. “Grrrls and Women Together in the Third Wave: Embracing the Challenges of Intergenerational Feminism(s).” NWSA Journal, Vol. 16 Issue 3, 2004, pp. 93-123. EBSCOhost. .

Rotramel, Ariella. "Third Wave Feminism." The Social History of the American Family: An Encyclopedia, edited by Lawrence H. Ganong, and Marilyn J. Coleman, 1st ed., Sage Publications, 2014. Credo Reference, Accessed 07 Apr 2017.

Rüsen, Jörn. "Humanism." Encyclopedia of Global Studies, edited by Helmut K. Anheier, and Mark Juergensmeyer, 1st ed., Sage Publications, 2012. Credo Reference, Accessed 07 Apr 2017.


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