This post is by Carmen Mojica and is a part of the Feminism & Education series jointly hosted by Equality 101 and Gender Across Borders. Archives of the Feminism & Education series are here.
In the entirety of my life, I have had the blessing of being surrounded by strong women who are strong-willed and opinionated…and feminists. It was not up until a few years ago that I learned what the definition of feminism really was and why I could never bring myself to say I am a feminist. In the process of typing and researching a long 20 page paper on Black Feminism at the end of my college career, I came to the decision that I can identify with the concept of womanist as opposed to feminist for a number of reasons. And in this decision I explored why as a woman of color I have a slight issue with using the word feminist to define myself.
To begin, let me first define what feminism is. Feminism is female-centered and revolves around the empowerment of the female in a patriarchal society. It also focuses on equality across the board for men and women. Black Feminism, on the other hand, is family-centered. (Aldridge 193). In terms of what women of color relate to, most women of color cannot accept Feminism due to the point of view feminists have towards men. The Feminism Movement, comprised of theories from a white woman’s perspective, sees the male counterpart as the primary enemy; women of color do not necessarily feel the same way. Whereas white women have been oppressed by white men, women of the African Diaspora have always been equal to their male counterparts due to the fact both have been equal partners in the struggle against oppression. Furthermore, men of the African Diaspora have never had the same institutionalized power to oppress women of color as white men have had to oppress white women (Hudson-Weems).
Black Feminism is the acknowledgement that women of color have been oppressed by sexism and racism, that there was a failure to recognize and address these issues in the Feminist Movement and the Black Liberation Movement, and that women of color have their own agenda that neither movement can take on. Black Feminism focuses on the experiences, needs, and desires of women of color (Aldridge 193). In establishing why Black Feminism is relevant, it must be established that women of color have been thrice victimized: by racism, sexism and economic exploitation. These three oppressive forces affect women of color simultaneously and equally relentlessly (Gordon 166). The goal of Black Feminism is to create a criterion by which women of color can assess their realities, both in thought and in action (Hudson-Weems 210).
Women of color have never been placed on a pedestal and protected the way white women are, and although women of color are thought of as a voiceless people, the stereotypes used to oppress them, “black matriarch”, “bitch” and “sapphire”, contradict that notion (Hudson-Weems 211-213). Although it is contested that all struggles are the same, placing all women under feminism is the epitome of racist arrogance and domination, suggesting that white women’s experience is the standard and authority
above any other experience (Hudson-Weems 209).
Womanism is a term that Alice Walker coined. She defines a womanist in her literary work, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose, as:
“A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or non-sexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s
strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or non-sexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally universalist… Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.”
For Walker, a “womanist” is one who is “committed to the survival and wholeness of an entire people” (Aldridge 192). The theory of Womanism is committed to the survival and wholeness of all people, including men as well. Rather than supporting separatism, Womanism promotes universalism (Steinem). Womanism, like Black Feminism, provides a space for Black women and women of color to create
dialogue in a non threatening environment. Womanism is not a new idea by any means; in fact there is evidence of its origins in the sacred texts of ancient Africa, especially the Husia of Egypt and the Odu Ifa of ancient Yorubaland. Concepts from the Husia, such as the Divine inclusiveness of male and female principles, woman and man as the image of God and the concept of human customarily written with male and female characters in hieroglyphs, indicate the belief that woman and man were equal by nature and divinely and must operate as so (Karenga 324).
Now that Womanism has been thoroughly defined, there are differences between Black Feminism and Womanism. Black Feminism is still a derivative of Feminism, which is female-centered. Womanism, as defined earlier, is centered around the natural order of life, family and a complimentary relationship with men and women. It is all-inclusive and universal. Black Feminism tackles the social, political, and educational struggle of African-American women in the United States but it does not address all the global issues that women in the African Diaspora are dealing with. It should be noted that in no way is Black Feminism any more or less important than Womanism. In fact, there are many elements in Black Feminism that are considered womanist values, such as the recognition of African roots, the pattern of defining a Black woman’s standpoint and the struggle to rectify sexist attitudes. Rather, Womanism is the direction that Black Feminism should be evolving towards. Since Black Feminism is primarily focused on issues in the United States, it is not enough for the current conditions of the world. Currently, as more women around the world take a stand against the injustices each respective country has, the need for global solidarity continues to grow.
As I wrote this piece, I remember feeling torn about the thoughts that the paper made me have. I think, even years after writing this, that it is an issue of subliminal messaging for women of the African Diaspora in the education system. To use the word Feminist for all women is offensive to me, as it assumes that a White woman’s experience is the lens through which all women in this world should examine their experience. In no way do I believe that Feminism is better than Womanism and vice-versa. Many times I have gotten into an argument with feminists when I talk about Womanism. It’s not a matter of being separate. It’s a matter of recognizing that there are clear and distinct differences that each group of women must address before being able to tackle things together. Also, I would like to point out that I do not wish to imply that feminists do not have the best interest of their families at heart the way that Womanism emphasizes it. All women have an inherent sense of maternal love for humanity and I believe that wholeheartedly. I think we are capable of working together even now, and we already do. But it has to be made clear that all realities are not defined by the same standards.
Carmen Mojica is a 25 year old Afro-Dominican woman born and raised in the Bronx. She is a poet, writer, workshop facilitator, model, and pursuing doula certification, to be completed by the end of 2010. A graduate from the State University of New York at New Paltz, she received a bachelor’s degree in Black Studies and Television/Radio Productions. Her latest work is called ‘Hija De Mi Madre’ (My Mother’s Daughter), which is a combination of memoirs, poems and research material that not only explain the effects of race on identity from an academic standpoint but also shares her life as a living example.
Aldridge, Delores P. “Towards Integrating Africana Women into Africana Studies”. Out of the Revolution: the Development of Africana Studies. Lanham: Rowman and
Littlefield, Inc., 2003. 191-203
Gordon, Vivian Verdell. “Black Women, Feminism, and Black Studies”. Out of the Revolution: the Development of Africana Studies. Lanham: Rowman and
Littlefield, Inc., 2003. 165-75
Hudson-Weems, Clenora. “Africana Womanism”. Out of the Revolution: the
Development of Africana Studies. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, Inc., 2003.
205 – 217
Karenga, Maulana. Introduction to Black Studies. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: The University of Sankore Press, 2002.