Feminism: Why Not ‘Egalitarianism’ or ‘Humanism’?

During my studies of women’s leadership and equality, I have become increasingly frustrated with the hesitance some co-workers, friends and family respond with when I discuss feminism. The most common rebuttal is “why is it called feminism if it’s the equality of both men and women?” or, my personal favorite, “why not ‘Egalitarianism’ or ‘Humanism’ instead?”

I’ve even been told “Caroline, I don’t think you’re a feminist.”

I wanted to address this question because if I hear it frequently, chances are so do others and we should all be equipped to answer.

[Image from Pixabay]
Before I begin my explanation of why it is ‘feminism’ and not another word signifying equality, I want to stress something. I do not just go up to people and blab about how great feminism is! I am not preachy with a few exceptions in my writings and sometimes when I talk with fellow feminists (that’s preaching to the choir, however). Typically feminist arguments surface when someone just simply asks me about my work. When I explain I’m studying women’s leadership and gender equality and it makes them somehow uncomfortable, this is when the retorts to the term arise.

The movement was given the name ‘feminism’ because it focuses on the gender inequality issues that impact women.  Just like any other civil rights category, feminism is a term used to show that one supports women’s equality and wants to address the serious amount of gender discrepancies they face daily. It does not take away from other civil rights matters.

Feminism is not called Humanism or Egalitarianism because Feminism, Humanism and Egalitarianism are three distinct theories.

Humanism is a branch of philosophy and ethics that advocates for equality, tolerance and secularism. It recognizes that human beings do not “require” religion in order to develop moral systems or behave morally. More simply, Humanism is the theory that humans are allowed to use logic to decide what is ethical instead of using a higher power to define for them.

Egalitarianism is a form of political philosophy that advocates all human beings are fundamentally equal and therefore equally entitled to resources. Yet, it has some distinct limits in applied practice. Egalitarianism has been an inactive socio-political movement for quite a while now.

Equality was originally conceptualized as a means to give everyone the same things, and although concepts and theories of equality are meant to be fair, rarely if ever are they in practice in reality.

This is not to infer that these two practices did not help shape Feminism. Humanism and Egalitarianism are important intellectual movements whose philosophies inform Feminism as well as global human rights legislation. But Feminism is the only movement actively advocating for gender equality.

The movement operates on the tenant that gender is not an acceptable basis for discrimination, oppression and/or eradication. It’s called Feminism because the gender being denied personhood and subjected to oppression is female. Feminism was given its name because it began as a socio-political movement to achieve gender equality for females and through its own rhetoric has become a movement to achieve equality for all persons regardless of gender.

Learn more about the waves of Feminism:  A Brief History: The Three Waves of Feminism.


  1. Bringing up Egalitarianism as an alternative to feminism makes zero sense.

    It’s like saying “Why worry about dieting? Why not worry about overall health”

    You can’t have the latter without the former. Gender equality is a necessary step for human equality, not an alternative to it.

    1. Goatmon -Thank you for your thoughtful response and good illustration of the Egalitarianism vs. Feminism argument.

      1. Yep thanks goatmon. Your analogy is actually both broad and concise. Feminism by its own definition narrows its focus through its singular identification of ‘women’ in their advocacy and ideological lens. In doing so it is clear that principle flags them as being ‘dieters’. Very succinct and apt.

    2. “e·gal·i·tar·i·an·ism
      the doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.”

      Two wrongs do not equate to a right– Gender-specific egalitarianism includes gender equality as one of its aims. Egalitarianism by its very definition seeks to rectify inequality wherever it occurs — whether it pertains to men or women. Feminism and Egalitarianism share many aims, but supporting Egalitarianism doesn’t necessitate a women-oriented approach to gender equality. It’s a shame there isn’t a common term for a non-gendered approach to gender equality, which I feel would be more apt.

      TL;DR . Egalitarianism is a generalized , but feminism can be equated to gender-oriented egalitarianism. One who supports gender equality as well as human equality in general is aptly considered an egalitarian.

      1. Sorry, I meant to elaborate. By two wrongs do not equate to a right — Equality amongst gender isn’t really ideal if gender-based issues still affect men and women specifically — equality should pertain to all facets of being a man or a woman. And I would contend that some issues do pertain to the other side of the line.

      2. Egalitarianism is only treating the symptoms. Intersectional feminism focuses more on the root of the problem to end the symptoms in general.

  2. saying egalitarianism is “inactive” is such a protofeminist shaming of equal rights campaigners. do men need to stand up and start being egalitarians? yes. do feminists need to downplay the importance of egalitarians? no. shame on you. do you want equal rights or not? or are you just looking for a good fight? something to pin meaning to?

    1. John – Your passion and insights are very much appreciated. Equal rights are what is wanted – putting a title or a words to what that means isn’t always easy.

    2. Gender oriented egalitarianism really only treats the effects of gender inequality. Intersectional feminism gets to the root of the problem and tries to dismantle that.

  3. I believe in equal rights for both genders. I don’t think either gender is superior, and believe woman should have the exact same rights as men. Also I hate misogyny. So why don’t I refer to myself as a feminist? “It’s called Feminism because the gender being denied personhood and subjected to oppression is female.” Yes in 2016 woman still face discrimination on many issues. I am not denying that in the slightest. But most peoples definition of feminism is Equality for both genders with the implication that ONLY women are gender oppressed. Thats not true. Whether you realize it or not, men face gender discrimination. domestic violence against men is not taken nearly as seriously, in fact men being abused in relationships are looked at as weak in society. women get 40% less prison time then men for the exact same crimes under the exact same circumstances. women are favored much more which child custody rights, and there are more examples. I want to advocate that you don’t have to call yourself a feminist to be 100% in favor of equal gender rights. In fact; why does it need a label at all? I’m sorry but I don’t agree with your view of gender equality.

    1. Ben – Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and background behind them. I believe we’re striving for the same thing – gender equality – but using different words. I appreciate you taking the time to share your perspective as it broadens all of ours.

      1. But…you aren’t. That’s exactly what the article is pointing out. In the article and from the feminists in the comments, the general consensus seems to be that first, women’s rights need to be completely equal to men. And THEN we will focus on where men’s rights are unequal to women.

        Either that, or they prefer to focus on the full spectrum of human rights on the side. The point that some others (non-feminists/egalitarians/humanists) are trying to make is that it seems that the inequalities have become more equally unbalanced on each side, and that it might be more beneficial in society to focus on everything all at once now.

        P.S. Thank you for being reasonable in your discussions on this subject.

        1. Zander – Through our writings on this site we are doing our part to chip away mostly at the inequalities related to women (that’s our mission) although collectively we’d like society to exist without any inequalities at all. We appreciate your perspective (and the others who have responded).

  4. thank you so much for clarifying this it’s sad that people shy away from this word or even bash it while claiming their all for “gender equality” as a women from Saudi Arabia life is nowhere near equal for us and people talk about feminists as if they are all in first world country feeling free to bash a cause simply because they don’t need it or understand it or imagine as if we live in a post equality world or as if women are treated as people in the first place i’m not considered a “real person” by law here and yet i’m consider a man hater by some people in my country and internet morons just because i want to be seen as human.

    1. Thank you for your comment and for embracing the word and meaning behind the word “feminism.” I appreciate you sharing your point of view especially as it’s likely very different than many of our readers. Being seen as human is a right that everyone should have regardless of whether they’re male or female.

  5. The reason I call myself an Egalitarian and not a Feminist is simple. The word ‘feminist’ automatically assumes that women are as a whole, not equal to men. It advocates women’s equality to men, implying that men are as a whole, always superior in society. Egalitarianism in a way, predates Feminism. During the Neolithic era, before civilizations and communities formed, the genders were equal, not until the first agricultural revolutions did gender inequality form.

    Earl Silverman was harassed and given bare bones funding if any from the Canadian government when he tried setting up a battered men’s shelter, and ended up hanging himself after years of Feminist bullying. Men who call hotlines about domestic abuse, report being laughed off often, and now most Feminsts will repeat the gender wage gape, something that has been refuted and rebutted countless times.

    I feel Egalitarianism is the right way to go. It encompasses everybody, so men, who are often stereotyped as invulnerable to emotional, and physical abuse are not forgotten, in a such a fickle society we live in. But thank you, for having a non man hating and well meaning article.

    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective especially as it relates to how men may be treated. There is room for improvement in the words that we use.

  6. As long as it is concerned with addressing discrimination against women or girls, feminism has still an important point to make. It is the sexist and misandrist groups, who also go under the feminist label, that necessitate the discussion about the term itself. Mind you, though, there are also groups who go under the label of masculinists (and similarly I’m not speaking of the misogynist ones that also exist) who advocate gender equality (focussed on discrimination against men and boys) so I think it would only be fair to update the passage stating that feminism were the ony movement actively advocating for gender equality.

    1. Man on a Mission – Thank you for your thoughtful reply. We’re in agreement with your opening line, “As long as it is concerned with addressing discrimination against women or girls, feminism has still an important point to make.” You make in interesting point about masculinists and one we will consider in the context of this article.

  7. Devil’s Advocate: I think one possible counter argument behind this point of view might be the whole knee-jerk connotations surrounding the term feminism within the last few years. To some extent, it’s easy for someone to argue about how feminism means “anti-male’s rights” or anything towards attacking the opposite gender as a whole. Likewise, there’s also the whole controversy involving today’s culture of double standards and moral censorship, or how it seems to get entangled with buzzwords like “patriarchy” or “MRAs” or anything else that seems to spill hatred on both ends.

    But at the end of the day, it’s actions that speak louder than words. Labels mean nothing behind empty acts. Just because someone may call themselves an “egalitarian” doesn’t always mean they act like a saint in the entire world. Likewise, it doesn’t take a feminist to believe or support women’s right throughout the world.

    1. Ayumi – Well said. This particularly resonated with me “But at the end of the day, it’s actions that speak louder than words. Labels mean nothing behind empty acts.” Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  8. Thank you for an interesting article. Surely the biological sex of an individual does not neceserily define their gender! Some women have more ‘masculine’ traits and some men more ‘feminine’ traits to their peronalities. We are all different, and all part of one human race. Focusing on the division between female and male maybe counter productive! Society tries to put men in one box and woman in another with gender norms attached. But a lot of us just don’t fit into the boxes. Domestic Abuse, suicide, bullying, low pay, insecurity etc are not women’s issues or men’s issues but people issues. Surely one set of rules and gender norms for the whole of the human race is the way to future equality ??

    1. Paul – Thank you for your response. We’d prefer a world not based on gender-norms but who as an individual is best suited for the task or job.

    1. Sully – Thank you for your insights and for sharing an example of a current Egalitariansim movement.

  9. I believe that men And women should be equal in society. I think women should get the same pay as men for the same jobs they perform. I think If there is a draft men and women should both get drafted. Although there are biological differences in men and women, I believe that both men and women should be drafted for whatever role
    They are best suited for. am I a feminist or egalitarian? Or am I both? I could care less about the words but do we believe in the same things I pointed out? If not, where do you disagree with my point of view?

    1. Thank you for your response. We believe that men and women should be equal in the workplace which is where our focus is. We haven’t covered the draft issue so am unable to provide a response to that on behalf of PWL.

  10. Kudos for not screaming or censoring any disagreement. It’s rare to come across feminists who are so civil. Which is exactly why I am not a feminist. I am willing to say you are the first one I’ve encountered who isn’t screaming at anyone. I disagree with feminism as a movement, but if more feminists behaved civilly, I don’t think people would think there’s a problem.

  11. Feminism does have a definition problem which is a result of it’s broad usage. I personally would go for “advocacy for women’s rights” if I had to condense it. As such, feminist activity, through tackling some of the injustices, can be part of the solution of how to get to a global society respecting basic natural and human rights. But in itself this does not equal advocacy for equality, which is where some of the criticism does seem to focus on. One example from the workplace in Europe would be quotas, which are in general overbroad and have to be set up legally as an exception to the constitutional principle of equality of the individual citizen (positive discrimination) that does not stop being applied even if parity or majority is achieved in a certain field. It also is not applicable in a general sense (e.g men quota in fields dominated by women), thus making my point.

    Even if one defines Feminism as mainly an equality and not an advocacy movement in the sense of a movement for one or more client groups of a diverse society, it would then have to necessarily be subsumed under the broad umbrella of human rights movements and -isms and tackle one distinct inequality problem along other groups, that can be allies.

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