Feminism is Humanism (and Humanism is Anti-Capitalist)

From the July-August 2013 PNL #826

by Amelia Ramsey-Lefevre

At age 16, I discovered in myself a need for specifically female camaraderie and I set out to start a women’s group at my high school. The first students I approached about this possibility were women in my class who I estimated to have similar views or values as me. I was shocked when the first few people I asked—the women who I thought were sure yeses—reported that they did not, with any regularity, experience sexist discrimination, and they were not interested in my women’s space.

I guess I’m still shocked by this, and I’m baffled by the fact that people are afraid of the word feminism. Listen, people: feminism is humanism. Women are people. That’s what feminism means.

Back in high school, I had a hard time figuring out how to articulate to those resistant classmates why I thought we needed a women’s group. I’m still working on it.

Recently I had an assignment that taught me about state-level legislation around the US which used various techniques to limit access to abortion and contraception, especially for poor women. I find this phenomenon helpful in illuminating women’s oppression and the need for feminism. It’s easy enough for you or I to reject some distraction-tactic hoopla that wants to equate a fertilized egg cell with a human adult in the eyes of the law. But not so if you live in Kansas or Louisiana. It doesn’t matter if you were raped or if your condom broke. If you are on Medicaid in Iowa, your governor recently proposed that he would need to personally approve your abortion.

These are the real world impacts of the “abortion rights debate” circus that we put up with. Feminism is solidarity with women. We New Yorkers—all of us women and men who recognize a woman’s right to self-determination—must not feel that we are secure in our rights until our rural sisters are secure, too.

Abortion and contraception aren’t the only ways to talk about sexism, but they’re a little easier to talk about—to identify and get a grip on—than some others. For example, everyone you’ve ever met has at some point referred to a group of women as “you guys.”

Why is that? What other words could we use instead? Think about them, and ask women around you what they think about them. In my experience, there is no single generic feminine word that’s really neutral. Lady. Girl. Dame. Lass. Even woman. I’m curious to know if you have had a different experience.


Image: militantmoments.wordpress.com

Language is important—the way we think about women is reflected in how we talk about them and what we say about them. And the stories we tell about women with tools like movies and advertising provide girls with a framework for self-knowledge. There is no downplaying the importance of media portrayal of women, and yet the measurable realities of women’s oppression are even more devastating.


It’s interesting—and perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising—that some of the clearest effects of systematic oppression of women can be seen with economic indicators. A June 20 letter to the Post-Standard stated that in NYS “a woman is twice as likely to live out old age in poverty” as a man. What else can we expect when women still make 77¢ on the dollar compared to men, and women are more likely to be raising children without the support of another adult?

Feminism recognizes the intersectionality of oppressions—the idea that oppressions can interact with and exacerbate each other. One of the intersections that I am most interested in recently is the capitalist oppression of women.

The capitalist believes that everything is a commodity and anything can be gotten with enough money. Here feminist animal rights activists have already drawn the connections between commodifying an animal’s body for food and commodifying a woman’s body as a sexual object.

We can go beyond that and reject the larger capitalist system that views all “others” (women, animals, the environment, land and people in other countries—especially other countries with people who have darker skin) as resource pools and any damages to them as externalities. We can reject the culture that teaches us we can get anything we want with money, even if it’s someone else’s body.

Feminism demands human rights for women and all people. We as feminists have the responsibility to hear the struggles of women around the world and stand in solidarity with them. You see, feminism demands our action as peace activists, environmental advocates and anti-poverty crusaders just as much as it requires us to defend access to abortion and contraception or challenge damaging portrayals of women in the media.

Feminism is humanism. Now don’t tell me you can’t get behind that.

Amelia is an SPC staffer, a woman, and a feminist.