Thursday 30 April 2015

The -ism Series (21): Womanism

"Feminism, due to its inadequacies birthed womanism, an African-American variant. Womanism in turn purports to interpret Black female experiences globally."
Sotunsa Mobolanle Ebunoluwa (2009)

In 1983, Alice Walker introduced the word "womanism". Using the term "womanist" instead of "feminist" was a choice that was given much attention. By coining "womanism", Walker expressed a distance from feminism which was viewed as the "white women's movement" resulting in black women being reluctant to "embrace the feminist cause as their own" (Tally, n.d.). Womanists accuse feminism of being a separatist ideology that is based on the belief that women can achieve emancipation only by separating from men while womanists believe that "the emancipation of Black women folk cannot be achieved apart from the emancipation of the whole race (sic.)" (Ebunoluwa, 2009).

Feminism is criticised for not considering "the peculiarities of Black females" and for focusing on the needs of middle class white women in Britain and the U.S. The so-called peculiarities can lead to a triple oppression of Black women, i.e., the intersection of gender, ethnicity and class (Ebunoluwa, 2009).
In the key years in the history of feminism in the 19th century, feminism also showed racist tendencies. During the Civil Rights years in the 1960s, hostility between white and black women intensified (Tally, n.d.).

What distinguishes womanism from feminism is mostly the intersection of gender and ethnicity, the simultaneous experience of sexism and racism.
"(...) the impossibility of separating the two and the necessity of understanding the convergence of women's issues, race/nationalist issues, and class issues in women's consciousnesses. That understanding is in part hampered by the prevailing terminology: feminism places a priority on women; nationalism or race consciousness, a priority on race. It is the need to overcome the limitations of terminology that has led many black women to adopt the term womanist." (Barkley Brown, 1989)

In summer 1970, Jack Garofalo (1923-2004) spent six weeks in Harlem to take photographs for the cover story for the October edition of the magazine "Paris Match". In the 1960s, many residents left Harlem and moved to Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.Those who could not afford leaving stayed in Harlem. Nevertheless, there was "something vital going on in Harlem in the '70s." (via).

- Barkley Brown, E. (1989). Womanis Consciousness: Maggie Lena Walker and the Independent Order of Saint Luke. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 14(3), 610-633.
- Ebunoluwa, S. M. (2009). Feminism: The Quest for an African Variant. The Journal of Pan African Studies, 3(1), 227-234.
- Tally, J. (n.d.). Why "Womanism"? The Genesis of a New Word and What It Means. via
- photographs (Harlem in summer 1970) by Jack Garofalo (1923-2004) via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via


  1. Replies
    1. ! :-) Thank you so much for commenting, Karen!

  2. Nice read at the end of a long weekend. :-)

    1. Thank you so much, Derek. I hope you had a lovely long weekend!