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HAT Forum: Women in Humanism

  • The 519 Community Centre, Room 304 519 Church Street Toronto, ON, M4Y 2C9 Canada (map)

“Feminism refers to a diverse variety of beliefs, ideas, movements, and agendas for action. The usual and most basic definition of feminism is that it is the belief that women should be equal to men and now aren't, and that it is also any actions, especially organized, that promote women's rights to move towards equality with men.  Feminism addresses economic, social, political and cultural disparities of power and rights.” 

“Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. It advocates the extension of participatory democracy and the expansion of the open society, standing for human rights and social justice. Free of supernaturalism, it recognizes human beings as a part of nature and holds that values-be they religious, ethical, social, or political-have their source in human experience and culture. Humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny. “• The Humanist Magazine

Most of the major religions appear to constrain women’s participation in their hierarchical leadership. Many sects will also interpret their scriptures to deny justify denying women equal status to men.  Yet women make up the majority of congregants of most western churches. What is not commonly acknowledged is that in the beginning of most Western sects, they gave women an opportunity to divorce “non-believing” husbands or leave unhappy homes. The early Christian church also allowed for female leadership roles in creating communities for women that offered an alternative to marriage and opportunities for learning beyond the scriptures. Still these micro cultures were overtaken by more patriarchal structures.

Modern Humanist organizations have been founded to counter religious dogma’s and expand a more scientific understanding of the world and to expand that the concept that people can interact with each other ethically without religion. Humanism it would appear to provide women a safe community for participation. But there seems to be fewer women participants than males in the groups that I have encountered. This is not to say that there have not been significant contributions by women. The US Centre for Inquiry has had major splits in the discussion of women participation. This has led to the founding of Women in Secularism conferences since 2012. Though still affiliated with CFI it is interesting to read of such issues as humanist women being “trolled” on the internet for their views, the information that Christopher Hitchens supported anti-abortion measures, and men stating they were offended that women felt they needed their own space for discussions.

1.       Are Feminism and Humanism aims exclusive of each other? How do they intersect?

2.       Can these aims be broadened?

3.       What rules or tactics would be useful to make this or any group more inclusive of women?

4.       What reasons would women still be attracted to conventional religious groups?

Marilyn Wilcoxen, November 4, 2016