Feminist vs. Humanist

I was visiting a couple of friends that I’ve known since childhood this week and my feminist identity came up. My friend’s husband, a small business owner, generally pretty conservative guy, asked me how I defined feminism. When I explained (“genuine equality, educated choice, and authenticity”) he was a bit stunned. “By that definition, I’m a feminist,” he said, incredulously.
“Yup,” I said, smiling.
“But if feminism has such bad connotations in the mainstream media and in so many parts of the country, why do you use it? Doesn’t that just alienate you from people that you’re trying to influence?” he asked next.
It’s, of course, not something that every feminist who cares about being effective hasn’t thought about. I explained that I use it strategically. For example, in my book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, I obviously use a feminist lens, but don’t spend much time explicitly talking about feminism. When I go on The O’Reilly Factor to defend Helen Thomas, they slap FEMINIST under my image, and while I wouldn’t mind them using an actual professional title as is customary in the industry, I’m loud and proud about my identity. I’ve always been of the mind that if using the word means the difference between me reaching someone with a feminist analysis or turning them off to the point that they won’t even hear me out, then I’ll bypass using it. I’m strategic, and maybe, a bit of a sell-out in this regard.
Another friend brought up that she’s more comfortable with the term “humanist,” which Webster defines as “a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values.” Okay. Sounds good. But it feels like the fact that it doesn’t hold any controversy, that there’s so much ambiguity in the terms, makes it less powerful. Plus, it seems to invisibilize the fact that various humans (i.e. women, people of color etc.) have gotten a disproportionate shake at dignity. Somehow “humanism” sounds neutral to me, like we are all on a level playing field and just need to protect that.
Plus, a huge part of feminism, for me, is about community. Where would I find my humanist roll dawgs? With feminism, I know just where to look.

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