[Previously published in Humanist Voices; written by Scott Jacobsen and Anya Overmann]
This question is one of the most controversial within the humanist and feminist community:
Can you be a humanist without being a feminist?
Our short answer: No. If you are a humanist, then you are a feminist.
Humanism, broadly or expansively construed, is an ethical and philosophical worldview including religious and irreligious perspectives. Some definitions will exclude the religious because of assertion of the religious as only focused on the theistic and the supernatural.
For example, it could be seen, like in IHEU’s official definition, as a democratic and ethical life stance that affirms the worth of every human being and advocates for building a more humane society without a need for religious systems, and instead based on ethics and reasoning through human capabilities.
We disagree. Religion is practices and values, and so is culture and heritage, too. Humanism in a general definitional context incorporates these considerations such as, say, humanistic Judaism. As well, humanism remains theoretical; that is, humanism remains ethical and philosophical in nature. Its practice implies other terminology too.
For example, the development of a more humane society based on reason and free inquiry — and equality in fundamental human rights among and between human beings — posits a tacit egalitarianism.
What is egalitarianism, exactly?
Egalitarianism is a socio-political philosophy that advocates for the equality of all humans and equal entitlement to resources. Humanism, as a theory incorporative of equality for all, implies egalitarianism — as it advocates for and works towards full equality for all. In this, humanism implies egalitarianism. But there’s different forms of equality, e.g. ethnic, educational, gender, and so on.
Equal access to quality education. Equal treatment regardless of ethnicity. As well, of course, the equal treatment in legal and social life regardless of gender. Mainstream feminism accounts for gender equality. For instance, the right to vote incorporates the legal equality of women, and the advocacy for social equality between women and men.
Feminism is the advocacy for gender equality based on the belief that women do not have equal rights to men.
Thus, if you are a feminist, then you are an egalitarian, and if you are an egalitarian, then you are for gender equality, and if you are for gender equality, then you are a feminist.
If you are a humanist, then you are a feminist, but not vice versa.
One can be a believer in God and be a supernaturalist, but also engage in feminist activities and believe in gender equality. Hence, you can be a feminist and gender equalist without being a humanist, by some definitions. As well, you can be for equal rights in all relevant respects or egalitarian — so education, gender, ethnicity, and so on, and a believer in God and supernaturalism.
Hence, you can be an egalitarian — which implicates gender equality and feminism — and not a humanist, by some definitions.
So, can you be a humanist without being a feminist?
We say no. If you are a humanist, then you must be a feminist. However, by our definitions, you can be a feminist without being a humanist.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.