My Everyday Humanist Heroes

Women within the movement come to mind when I consider everyday humanist heroes, or, I might say, heroines. For Women’s History Month, I want to celebrate the women whose care, concern, and tireless efforts have helped, and continue to help, advance our communities and organizations.

Humanist women must often be more than their male counterparts to be successfully acknowledged. It’s often not enough for them to declare their humanism without required debate to defend what their humanism is. Inquiring about the depth and breadth of their understanding of humanist philosophy and principles is common. It is a rite of passage to test if they have read the appropriately accepted humanist books and can provide quotes. Or even better, if they bring some needed notoriety to the movement through their published works or poignant lectures. But even if they can hold their ground from an intellectual standpoint, gaining respect for their contributions to humanism, few have been allowed to reach the heights of their male peers.

An astonishingly small number of women are recognized as distinguished humanists. For example, out of Wikipedia’s 240 “partial list of notable secular humanists,” there are only twenty-three women—most of whom were recipients of an American Humanist Association annual award. Influential women such as Gloria Steinem, Katherine Hepburn, and Margaret Sanger are some among this scarce list—and they clearly deserve appreciation for their life work. However, I wonder where the everyday humanist women are. And why aren’t their accomplishments more widely recognized?

While they may not be known worldwide figures, they are major contributors to humanism. And arguably should be recognized more for what they do.

Women bring many advantages to our humanist circles that should be celebrated and empowered. They have skills and qualities that make them excellent community builders and leaders. Women in the movement have often acted as mediators and empathetic listeners with attuned communication skills. Many have a level of patience and understanding that makes them effective decision-makers.

I have had the fortune to meet and work with incredible humanist women who possess many of those listed attributes. Women whose dedication is motivating and their intellect inspirational. Their resilience, creativity, and innovation bring about needed change and make things happen. And their leadership is admirable, especially when one considers what they are up against in a movement tipping at the top with men.

While I could name more than a dozen humanist women who are long overdue for public appreciation, I fear doing so would leave out so many worthy of praise.

Instead, I will acknowledge, in general, those women whose invaluable work and invisible contributions make a large difference in our movement. To all who, over the years and still today, volunteered to take up undesirable tasks, did what needed doing, and were brave enough to have your voice heard, thank you. For the many women who provide emotional support and guidance, your help is commendable. Those who persevered despite the challenges of  mansplaining, hepeating, and manterrupting, your example is impressive. Thank you, accomplished women, for adding your strength, determination, intuition, and sensitivity to humanism. You are my everyday humanist heroines.

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