Today is World Humanist Day, a celebration of humanist values that has been celebrated on June 21st since the 1980s. I’ve identified as a humanist since my late teens when I first discovered atheism and humanism and in more recent years I have become a member of the British Humanist Association (Update: In 2017 the organisation was renamed Humanists UK.) The thing that is so great about humanism, in my opinion, is that most people are humanists without even realising it because they take their moral code and their ethics from outside of religious texts. They do good for the sake of doing good and that’s really cool. Or, as Dick McMahan once said, “A humanist is someone who does the right thing even though she knows that no one is watching.”
It was this quote that I was greeted with as I logged into Facebook this morning. An old school friend of mine had shared it from the British Humanist Association facebook page where it had been posted to celebrate World Humanist Day 2015.
But some people weren’t too happy that the quote had been chosen because it says “she” and not “he” or “they”, or that it had been posted on what is also Father’s Day in the UK with one man describing the use of the quote as “insidious”. It also seems that some folks just can’t accept that women are humanists too with another chap pointing out “A humanist should be just a human being-no gender interpretation of Humanism”.
I think perhaps this last dude has confused humanism with a cult somewhere that removes the genitals of its members? I don’t know. Humanism is comprised of people who identify as men, as women, and with non-binary gender identities so why on earth we’d ever censor the gendered language we use to describe humanists is beyond me. He and She are perfectly valid ways to refer to humanists. That’s how simple it is to resolve this non-issue.
Interestingly, the same quote was shared on the FB page of the Atheist Foundation of Australia and received a similar reaction. It is incredible how easily people are offended, to be honest. Most people accuse “the feminists” (often calling them “social justice warriors” in the process in an attempt to belittle their position) of being over-sensitive to “stuff life this” but clearly that isn’t the case here. If people had been offended that the quote used male pronouns they too would have been overreacting – yet if that had been the case I am confident that the people kicking off about the use of a quote with “she” in it would not have cared at all. Deep down they probably think they’re not prejudiced in any way, and yet any act of giving women- or in this case female pronouns – an equal representation as men or male pronouns is considered an “insidious” or unfair act which involves some pretty special reasoning on their part.
Women, as well as men, have played a large part in the history of the humanist movement and continue to do so today. Congratulations to Prof. Alice Roberts who was awarded the Humanist Of The Year award at the British Humanist Association conference yesterday, by the way.
Perhaps those who protested the use of a quote that included the word “she” may be shocked to learn that religions are routinely used as a reason for denying women power. As a result, women’s right’s activists and campaigners have to challenge religious beliefs and traditions as part of the secular movements as they fight for equality, and the humanist movement in particular has a history of supporting women’s rights – like the early suffragette movement, for example, right through to modern day campaigns.
But I’m not going to spend my time justifying the use of a quote that refers to “she.” I don’t need to. As another commenter on the FB post called Jill pointed out ‘can we not just celebrate this without people getting upset about the quote used referring to “she”; it was a quote from a man, Dick McMahan, so he had no problem and was probably trying to make a point, as we’ve lived for centuries in patriarchal societies influenced by organised religion where “he” is used as the default pronoun. Besides, for the first 6 weeks after conception, we’re all female anyway.’
Preach it, sister.