I ran across the term the other day, while doing some research for a writing project on world religions. It was like finding a $20 bill from last winter in a coat pocket. It struck me as a neat, compact way to express an idea I have often struggled to express — the idea whose negative is “it’s so hard to quit thinking of men as the real people,” as a faculty member here once bemoaned. The same idea is encoded in Genesis 1:27 — as humanity, created in God’s image, male and female.
In the early days of what people are now calling second-wave feminism, the sound-bytes usually contained language like “equality” or “equal rights.” But the ideal named co-humanity — humanity, created in God’s image, diversely gendered — probably has about as much to do with “equality” or “equal rights” as “developing body, mind and spirit” has to do with teaching our glutes to read.
Not because “equality” isn’t imperative. It is, in various critical contexts (men and women need equal access to education, for instance, or equal pay for equal work). Equality just doesn’t go far enough and isn’t precise enough. Equality doesn’t necessarily cultivate an appreciation for diversity — and by appreciation, I don’t mean a mask for exclusion or oppression (as when “complementarity” means “some us of will make all the decisions, and some of us will make all the sandwiches”). Equality leaves too much unchanged.
It only makes sense that it would take time and work to find or invent words that name a still-distant goal. When day to day reality is a long way from what would really be good, people’s imaginations of that good have to advance from approximation to approximation. Down the road, maybe someone will find a word better than co-humanity to name the ideal. If that means we are even closer to the goal that co-humanity is trying to name, I would gladly add that new word to my vocabulary.
In elementary school, my teachers used to give us the assignment of using a new vocabulary word in a sentence. Here’s a sentence for “co-humanity:”
“To be effective, feminism needs to become an ongoing practice of changing one’s language, one’s expectations, one’s ideas of normalcy, which happens as soon as things ‘click,’ as soon as one ‘wakes up,’ using Buddhist language, to feminism’s fundamental and outrageous truth of the co-humanity of women and men.”
[Rita Gross, Buddhism After Patriarchy (Albany: SUNY Press, 1993) p. 128.]
With due respect to Rita Gross, “waking up” is Christian language, too (see e.g. Mark 13:37); the language of awakening works in an interfaith context. The outrageous truth of the co-humanity of women and men is an equal-opportunity eye-opener.