An Open Letter to Humanists

Hey Bro

How about that sharing economy, amirite? Bitcoins; Uber; media disruption – all totally rad. *High five* It’s cool that we’re coming from the same space, you know? However, I sort of wanted to talk to you about, well, “humanism.” See, humanism is a word like “atheist” or “dude” that I used to seriously identify with but lately has morphed into a he-man woman haters club shibboleth; an epithet that proudly marks members of privileged classes trying desperately to pull up the ladder before some bogus subaltern claims more than a shred of equality.

Instead of referring to a belief in the inherent dignity and equality of all humanity, humanism in 2014 is marked by a tremendous anti feminist and anti social justice stance, predicated on a mistaken idea that, like, misandry is real and not just very, very, very funny. Essentially, humanists tell us, often / always without our asking, that feminism has “gone too far” and is now oppressing (drumroll) men. As such, humanists have taken it upon themselves to warn of supposed feminist excesses, berate and chide women for getting out of line, and act like straight up internet dicks at nearly every possible moment, all in the name of some bizarre equality that preserves white dude privilege squarely at the top.

I dig bros – you’re afraid that if you don’t speak up now against the incipient matriarchy, before you know it you’ll be relegated to some semen collection dungeon as a drone in thrall of evil succubi – but not in a cool, consensual way. Or even worse, it’ll be like that one Kurt Vonnegut story where everyone is in space and equality is enforced by bringing everyone down to the lowest common denominator, and no one will be able to excel or play violent rape-fantasy video games because of political correctness. That would totally suck. Luckily, it’s pretty unlikely. Besides, in a true dystopian feminist wasteland, all the men would be extinct / food and the women would reproduce by briefly swapping genders like the dinosaurs in Jurassic park.

Now, all the above isn’t to conflate any criticism of feminism with this new incarnation of humanism. Outside of the ‘fear of a female planet’ style batshittery, there are many cogent critiques about the movement. For instance, many people of color, queer individuals, or trans people find a lot of feminist discourse “problematic,” which is a fun academic word that means “fucking fucked”. In a nutshell, these critiques stem from the idea that most mainstream feminism only deals with issues that are important to cis white women. This isn’t surprising or new, sadly. A lot of the original women’s suffragettes in the US were virulent racists, which also complicates the historical roots of feminism and its principles of equality.

These critiques, wonderfully enough, have often been voiced and explored by feminists, many of whom have worked extraordinarily hard to transform a movement for white elite women into one that takes into account the marginalized and colonized and that can speak truth to power. It’s still an ongoing process and rather than listen to me, a white dude, I’d suggest you get yourself onto twitter and follow some people with lived experiences, or even better, read some Saba Mahmood or Lila Abu-Lughod.

The take-away from all of this is – and you should probably write this down – is that you can critique feminism and still be a feminist. In fact, these criticisms have led and continue to lead to a stronger and more inclusive feminist movement, and highlight exactly where progress needs to be made.

So, with that said, let’s return to the original rallying cry of the humanists: that feminism has or is somehow in danger of going too far, leading to the oppression of men and a “feminization” of society. Critical to this idea is a wonderfully slippery slope argument that draws a direct line from getting maternal leave guaranteed by law to the declaration of a totalitarian amazonian matriarchy. I suppose this is based on a sort of “first they came for the communists” logic, where by acquiescing to feminist demands for equal pay, or safe access to constitutionally guaranteed health care or the right to walk around and not be told to smile by every fucking man in the vicinity, the rest of the world is slowly ushering a future where men are hunted for food, sport, and strange atavistic thrill.

Critically, this is predicated on the idea that feminists are asking for rights that are greater than those of men – to the humanists, equality was reached sometime in the 1970s when men stopped acting like Don Draper. Or, in the 1920s, when women got the right to vote. This is, of course, deeply incorrect. By basically no standard are we living on an equal (or just) planet.  For instance, let’s pick a representative world power government : let’s say the US, for example. What percentage of our elected leadership identify as female? What percentage of our captains of industry? (Please note I am not going to write these numbers for you. This is a “teaching moment” so take some initiative and actually do the work. Google is a good resource. Your racist uncle who sends those forwards about Obama is not.)

Those numbers sure are low, right? It almost looks as if there is massive structural inequality – you know, the sort of stuff people who are “HUMANISTS” should care about. It sort of looks like, maybe, just maybe, inasmuch as reality is concerned, the oppression is squarely on the shoulders of women and not heroic dudes bravely fighting to not have to hold the door open for people or to be able to call other dudes ‘faggot’ in public.

Contrary to how you feel when women call you an idiot on twitter, or don’t sleep with you because you have terrible opinions, women are still, very much second-class citizens worldwide, with the rare Scandinavian exception (…and even then…). Often times, women are unable to do stuff that you take for granted; like walk around at night, wear clothes that are suitable for the outside temperature, or have a conversation where they aren’t interrupted by a man. Even in the US. It’s slightly better in Denmark, but nowhere on earth do we have full equality between the sexes. This is not really up for debate, ok?

This leads me to my next point: people making you feel bad about your ideas is not oppression. Sorry if feminists were mean to you when you made that hilarious sandwich / rape / transphobic joke.  I’m sure if they knew you in person they’d know you were only half-serious. Real oppression looks a lot like an entire mainstream political party voting against equal pay for equal work or against the better wishes of you and your uterus. Real oppression is when wardrobe choices of rape victims are discussed, or when companies think there’s a market in selling nail polish that can detect rohypnol in a drink. Real oppression is death threats for critically analyzing toys or video games – aka “children’s toys”.

I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain this to you, humanists – a bunch of you have some cool progressive bonafides but right now, you all seem pretty god damn morally bankrupt, at worst, or totally clueless, at best. A philosophy that is premised on equality and human dignity shouldn’t develop such a bizarre persecution complex the instant the world’s disenfranchised start demanding equality and human dignity. It is impossible to be a good-faith humanist and not to be a feminist – to do so is to willfully ignore tangible and structural oppression in favor of the warm comfort of a vapid echo chamber of back pats and irredeemable smugness. That’s not humanism, bro. That’s being an asshole.

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5 replies

  1. powerfully written…i enjoyed reading this!

  2. This was a great article. Although I know the basic meaning behind humanism I wasn’t really aware, as you imply, that so many males who claim to be humanists are setting about to also add the antifeminist label to themselves. Can you provide some links to commentary from some of these people? I would like to read their POV in their own words so that I can dislike them, denounce them, and generally verify that they are truly the asshats you find them to be.

  3. I am a female who considers myself a humanist (as well as a feminist); so perhaps the term is being hijacked as some brands of Christianity and Islam have been by basic Asshats?

  4. Reblogged this on Opinionated Ms Me and commented:
    AAAAGGGHHHH I love this! What great writing :)

  5. Very interesting read.

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