Don’t Call Me a Feminist

Written by on January 15, 2016

It can be extremely difficult to exist as a Black woman and navigate dialogues on matters concerning race and gender, especially when the two are entangled.

Intersectionality is what some would call it — the concept of overlapping (or intersecting) social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. Most women of color grapple with this concept of trying to juggle multiple hats simultaneously as mothers, friends, wives, and daughters, but have to do so while also navigating ethnicity, religion, sexuality, career and more.

I thought all of this was just overanalyzing, until I took an undergraduate class at Temple University that I’ll never forget called “The Black Woman.” Authors like Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Assata Shakur and Bell Hooks echoed the social and political restraints I found in being a black woman.

The systemic repression we experienced historically isn’t just evident in our reproductive rights, sexual liberation, disenfranchisement, or unequal pay. We must also face challenges that resulted from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and subsequent bondage of Africans, like generational poverty, cultural uprooting, genocide, and colonialism.

In my opinion, feminism — or the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men — has historically only acknowledged the needs of middle class white women. The feminist movement views confronting socio-economic and cultural agency as divisive or counter-productive.

While I may strongly associate myself with issues that feminism takes on, including sexual violence and LGBTQ liberation, I find it difficult to fully label myself a feminist.

In fact, while taking that course at Temple, I learned a new term that catered to my social needs and goals: Womanist. There isn’t an explicit definition of Womanism; rather, it is a culmination of interpretations from its creators Alice Walker, Clenora Hudson-Weems and Chikwenye Okunjo Ogunyemi.

These Black authors birthed a new movement that would allow the stories of women of color to affirm their ethnicities, culture, spirituality and activism. Womanism acknowledges feminism in an almost allied space, with no intention of working against, but bolstering, diversity. I cannot acknowledge myself as a feminist because like race, sex is just one layer of my experience with oppression.

The feminism movement sees the male as the obstacle or enemy in overthrowing patriarchy and achieving gender equality. Bringing attention to misogyny and sexism is not synonymous with attacking men of color or recognizing them as obstacles. Accountability is what the womanist movement seeks so that we may flourish in social and communal harmony.

For more information on Womanism, check out these books:

Imagining Black Womanhood: The Negotiation of Power and Identity within the Girls Empowerment Project, Stephanie D Sears

The Womanist Idea, Layli Maparyan

The Womanist Reader: The First Quarter Century of Womanist Thought, Layli Phillips


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