Humanist Or Feminist? What To Call Yourself If You Believe In Gender Equality

Shailene Woodley famously said it in a TIME interview two years ago. Lady Gaga initially said it then tried to revise her stance. Kaley Cuoco proclaimed it. Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and Demi Moore have all said it. They said they are not "feminists" and their reasoning is this: they love men and think "feminism" is too hateful. Many of these celebrities and others have instead said that they are "humanists" instead because they are for equal rights for all humanity. And they don't hate men, which is apparently "characteristic" of "feminists."

Perhaps these famous women need to be more informed about feminism.  It  requires analysis of one's place in relation to others and of the different facets of society; sometimes referred to as "intersectional feminism."   Inequality doesn't exist in a bubble and it isn't always as obvious as the sexism our mothers and grandmothers once faced.

It's also important to note that the  traces of inequality that feminists are working to fix are evident and noticeable to young girls. Think of all the young girls who like watching movies, but these movies  constantly feature women who aren't strong, always need saving, and are portrayed as objects of affection and pursuit. Media thus tells these young girls that women aren't capable as men. In response, feminism is about leveling the playing field for women in movies and all  aspects of life.

Again, these celebrities simply need to be further informed about the movement or understand how the cause benefits everyone. It's acceptable for a woman to say that she's learning about feminism and that she's not a feminist because she's working it out for herself, but she still is a supporter of women. At least that's  a better response than, "I'm not a feminist."

So why in the world would Meryl Streep say that she's not a feminist?


The award-winning actress is known for her portrayal of realistic, complex women who have just as much power and weakness as any man. She is an energetic supporter of other progressive women in the entertainment industry. She speaks of the struggles women face and the solutions that needed for change. But in an interview with  Time Out London, one of the questions asked to Streep was, "Are you a feminist?" Her response was, "I'm a humanist. I am for nice, easy balance."

Of all the women to say she isn't feminist, how could Streep not align with feminism? Streep is even playing Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the early 20th century British women's movement, in the upcoming film  Suffragette.  By starring  in this movie -- whether or not it's any good -- Streep is giving voice to an important part of women's history. It's hard to believe she's not actually a feminist.

Possibly Streep's reluctance to use the  "F-word" is because it is simply too taboo in our world. Women and men don't want to associate with the term because feminism is still seen as a radical movement. And being "radical" is seen as crazy, unrelatable, and difficult to the majority of society who see themselves in the middle of the political views spectrum. So when Meryl Streep says she's a "humanist" and for a "nice, easy balance," she's trying to avoid the association that feminists are "men-hating, intense, overbearing, and hypercritical."


This is a sign that we need to use the word  more because we have gotten to a point in which: (1) feminism shouldn't be thought of as radical and (2) feminism is more accessible than before. Although feminist has the "fem" particle, time and time again it has to be  explained that feminism is not about hating men. It's not about putting men down. Feminism is focused on making sure that men and women have the same rights. And historically, the privileges and rights that women have had are not equal to men.  Much of the world is built on benefiting men. Saying this does not mean I am against men, but stating what's been in place for a long time. This needs to be reiterated more.

It's also important to note that it's not just women who are feminists. There are many male celebrities who are vocal feminists, which  demonstrates how ridiculous it is to claim that all feminists are angry, man-haters. Mark Ruffalo, Daniel Radcliffe, Aziz Ansari, Jon Stewart and so many others have expressed frustration by the inequality and sexism present around us.

Inequality is  not a "woman problem" that should only be categorized as "women's issues."    A lack of equality effects both men and women, but that doesn't meant that "feminism" should be revised as "humanism." It's almost always been women who are shown the most prejudice throughout history, in all cultures and circumstances. That's even more so for women of color (see the controversy about the lack of diversity in Suffragette).

The media also needs to retire from asking the question, "Are you a feminist?" It  would be more productive and thoughtful for actions to speak for themselves. When you look at the Time Out London interview with Meryl Streep, many of her answers are already suggestive that she's an advocate of women's rights. But now, because of this question, the media response is focusing on how Streep is not a feminist. Titles make it easier to categorize and identify people in order to understand them better, but since the majority of our country is in the middle politically and most of us are blend of beliefs and values, I suggest that  our identities are more complex than we can  easily summarize in a few words.

Asking the aforementioned question is also indicative of a current trend: some mainstream media sees feminism as fashionable. When someone picks up a women's fashion magazine, more often than not, the question is posed to the featured interviewee. And when the interviewee says she's a feminist and has attractive photos accompanying her statement it makes her, and the movement, seem glamorous and chic.  So does that mean Streep is unfashionable since she said she wasn't a feminist? Absolutely not. But it subtly suggests  that she's not with the latest trend or that she's out-of-style.    Feminism shouldn't be touted as a fashion statement because then, like many fashion trends, it could come and go, which would then undermine efforts of equality.

Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep is an advocate of women's rights and gender equality. That is feminism. But why she would say she is a "humanist" is baffling. Feminism isn't a radical idea and is not limited to or defined by the burning of bras and men-bashing. Feminism isn't hateful of men because there are male supporters. Her actions are already evocative of a feminist view. Her feminism is obvious to everyone and it should be obvious to herself. In the end, perhaps "feminist" is just a word. But "humanist" is no better word to use because it dismisses the  gender inequality women have faced and continue to combat.

It's left to everyone to help promote the feminist idea of overall gender equality and change the stigma that disillusions people from showing support. If you or anyone you know sees herself or himself as a feminist and you don't think of yourself as a radical, make yourself known! Show your support for the movement. Because the more visibility feminism attains -- the feminism that acknowledges the prejudice faced by women and the need for  equality of both genders -- the more an equal society is possible. The only people who shouldn't identify as feminists are the people who truly think women don't deserve equal rights. And that's not Meryl Streep.