The difference between feminism and humanism

When it comes to labels, I like mine earnest but not intransigent. So there is something almost moving about someone (most often a man) asking a self-declared feminist like myself why I call myself a feminist and not a humanist. Almost.
What prevents me from exultingly throwing my hands up in the air when a well-intentioned inquirer offers this proposition, is not that my feminist high prevented me from seeing clearly the profundities of humanism. Duh. It is simply that I don’t think that human beings deserve better lives.

Ha! Got’cha!

In all seriousness though, you would think that if a woman says she is a feminist (rather than a humanist) that it is fucking obvious a) that she is likely to sympathise with humanism. After all feminism, as the mantra goes, is “the radical notion that women are people”, b) that she has thought it through already, it’s not exactly like people love feminists and c) that humanism – which, by the way, the (humanist) inquirer ought to know – is not free of tension itself considering its roots are in the quintessential European bourgeois.
Yet as an ethical stance that promotes the dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others, humanism offers a genial prospect.

In a perfect world that prospect would be enough and we could declare feminism redundant but that would also be a world in which women were running circa half the countries and institutions. It would be a world where violence against women wasn’t of epidemic proportions. It would be a world where women occupied an equal amount of Fortune 500 jobs or had an equal chance at some of the world’s biggest honours such as the Nobel- or the “Man” Booker Prizes.

Alas, we are light-years from such a world. Especially in Africa. And it is often in dispute of feminism’s appropriateness to African traditions that the irritating question, “Why feminism, why not just humanism?” is posed to me.
In truth, ours is a continent for men by men to men at men with men ALL about men.
In fact it bemuses me that while in many other parts of the world the word ‘man’ is being increasingly replaced with ‘man and woman’ or simply with ‘people’ when actually speaking of human beings of both genders, in Africa, oh no no no, Man is capitalised. Man eats, Man breathes, Man thinks, Man shits. Man na Person!

Woman, well she picked the incomparably short end of the stick. Tough luck? Well, yes, but, you see, thanks to feminism she no longer has to hope that men, however humanist they may be, shall some dazzling day fight for all women to have equal access to basic human rights such as education, anti-discrimination or inheritance laws. Instead she can use feminist tools – and she has done – to be able to vote, get a bank account, even – if she is lucky –  to wear a mini skirt (yippie!), let alone to fight for access to powerful positions in society.

It is remarkable that it needs saying but it nevertheless appears necessary. Humanism may be fantastic but it is not a substitute for Feminism!

You dig?


  • camarowest

    Great post! I’ve been asked the “why feminist not humanist?” question and never had a response quite as well articulated as yours. I would add that humanism can also be problematic because the the definition of personhood has been changed throughout history to include and exclude certain groups as those who hold the power see fit. I doubt that humanism would have been much use to slaves who weren’t considered people.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Absoutely! Thanks for sharing thoughts.

  • Amaka

    I D-I-G ! Well said! This post put a smile on my face this morning… A

    • MsAfropolitan

      Ha ha, thanks :)

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for reading, Feminism is about tackling the oppression of women and therefore much needed.
      PS I like how we’re capitalising Feminism!

  • Doreen

    “…A world where violence against women wasn’t of epidemic proportions. It would be a world where women occupied an equal amount of Fortune 500 jobs or had an equal chance at some of the world’s biggest honours such as the Nobel- or the ‘Man’ Booker Prizes.”

    Or be allowed to be the pope, or the Dalai Lama.

    I hadn’t even considered the European and class roots of humanism, but it makes perfect sense when you consider the tension that a lot of communities of colour have with the term “feminism,” since the term itself is so commonly associated with white, Western female liberation.

    The “humanism instead of feminism” argument is just a way of sweeping gendered discrimination under the rug, rather than confronting it and fighting for full egalitarianism. I mean, of course the values of humanism are ideal. But practically speaking, feminism is what I identify with.

    Great post!

    • MsAfropolitan

      Honestly, Doreen, if it was a one off this comment about humanism instead of feminism, then fine. But the amount of times men say that to me (and many others judging from the feedback I received on this post) suggests that something much deeper and systematic is implied.

  • Laura

    (I guess tumblr doesn’t do pingbacks?) just wanted to say that I linked this here: ; if you get any flak via my link lmk & I will happily take it down. I don’t think any of my direct followers are jerks but one never knows for sure.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks Laura! Your post was a great read and, nope, no flak.

  • Sheila

    Lovely persepctive thanks. Back in history, divine feminine, Gaia, Mother Earth, and the fullness of female, and male, characteristics were embodied in daily living. Then we shifted to a more masculine way of living with moving populations to avoid drought, mini ice age & find resources; “developing civilizations”; Empire building; written religions; the industrial revolution; and now the efficiency model for business. A history arc that covers thousands of years. Yes, let us all work together to balance styles and support positive changes that also help solve larger world challenges.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for stopping by to read and share thoughts.

      PS I love this “Disruptive ideas need disruptive leading”

  • Kesh

    Love this! I do agree with you that in Africa, there is this generalization that everything revolves around the men. Despite the fact that us African women are working hard to bridge this gap, society still draws us backwards.

  • Toyin Agbetu

    I get what you just said BUT… why not humani… Only joking.

    Excellent article, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue. The issue of labels and terminology maintaining the ideological elevation of ‘the Man’ be it in Africa or elsewhere is a problem that article like this help highlight in the correct context.

  • Alex

    Hi Ms Afropolitan! I was wondering if I could share this post as part of my blogs 100 days of feminism campaign? find us here:

    and here:


    • MsAfropolitan

      Hi Alex, sure you can. Thanks!

  • resetplz

    “In a perfect world that prospect would be enough and we could declare feminism redundant”

    The world doesn’t have to be perfect in order for us to respect the validity of taxonomic logic. Feminism falls under humanism, whether you or anyone else likes it or not.

    It’s OK to want to identify as a “feminist” but that shouldn’t imply drop-kicking our established lexicon into the sea. Every movement in history has wanted a label; nothing new there.

    • MsAfropolitan

      I never said that people should not call themselves humanists but rather that I’m tired of so called humanists having a problem with feminism, which we need for obvious reasons.

  • DK

    I still don’t see the difference. You are giving two reasons for humanism being inadequate. One is that it’s roots are wrong (which is a bad argument). And then you are saying that there is still inequality despite humanism. Well that just means we have to work harder at humanism and refine the tool. Feminism seems to be reengineering humanism but only in an unfair way. But I suspect it’s to a great degree a ‘badge’ or an identity. Like religion. I’m struggling to find one problem that feminism will sort out that humanism can’t.

  • William Ortego

    You have it backwards. Feminism isn’t a substitute for Humanism. Humanism focuses on everyone’s issues, not just women’s. It doesn’t ignore trans rights, it doesn’t ignore intersex rights and it doesn’t ignore men’s rights. Feminism focuses on WOMEN and WOMEN alone.

  • MsAfropolitan

    A much belated thank you Toyin! Hope you’re well.

  • MsAfropolitan

    Thanks Kesh. Sometimes it feels like it’s one step forward and two steps back:(

  • Noduh

    Like what feminist do today with calling the unborn people *less than human and perfectly fine to kill* aye haha what a joke.

    • Bobby

      exactly, women are so hypocritical

  • Humanist

    Just to debunk a myth… While women’s suffrage is, no doubt, in part due to the activism of feminists, it was actually only after a MAJORITY of women stated their desire to have the right to vote that it was actually granted. Indeed, those most vehemently opposed to women’s suffrage in the first place were women themselves.

    My two main problems with feminism, which are why I identify as humanist, relate to the fact that it is a movement postulated on a hugely imperfect representation of history, and that feminism does not campaign for equal rights for both men and women. Will feminists aim to tackle the issue of the suicide rate in men being four times that in women?