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.
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.