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.
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!
Hi! I’m a writer, blogger, columnist, lecturer and speaker and the founder of the feminist blog, MsAfropolitan, which connects feminism to contemporary culture from an Africa-centred perspective. I’ve been listed alongside Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie as one of “twelve women changing the world” by ELLE and my work has been used as a case study at universities around the world. Like what you just read? Sign up above to receive new posts directly in your inbox.