What is a Womanist?

“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender” – Alice Walker.


1. From womanish.  (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e., frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.)  A black feminist or feminist of color.  From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman --usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior.  Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one.  Interested in grown-up doings.  Acting grown-up.  Being grown-up.  Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown."  Responsible.  In charge. Serious.

The term Womanist was coined by Alice Walker, a poet, and activist, in her 1983 book In Search of Our Mother's Garden: Womanist Prose. Other definitions of the term include "having or expressing a belief in or respect for women and their talents and abilities beyond the boundaries of race and class; exhibiting feminism that is inclusive especially of Black American Culture." This definition comes from the American Heritage Dictionary which recognized the worst in 1993. 

Womanist v. Feminist

Traditionally, the feminist movement was a middle-class white women's movement and rarely included women of color. The movement fought for suffrage rights for white women and later moved on to focus on cultural and social rights which involved sexuality, family laws, workplace, and reproductive rights. The movement rarely addressed and fought for the equality and justice for black women. 

Women of Color not only suffer from the political and social inequality similar to those suffered by their white sisters, but they are doubly injustice by racial oppression due to the color of their skin and ethnicity. The feminist movement failed to recognize the reality of African American women born into slavery and segregation. 

The womanist movement, unlike that of the feminist movement, emphasizes and sees the value in women's relationships with men. The movement thus fights, not only for gender equality but for justice against racial oppression against African American women and men. 

In sum, the womanist movement recognizes the three levels of oppression that women of color experience -- racism, sexism, and classism. Diana Hayes points out that the differences lie not only in their race-based experiences but also in the consequences that black and white women face as a result of the stands that they take: “The feminist movement, both in society and within the Christian churches, has been one of white women—usually educated, middle-class women—with the freedom and privilege to become militant without fearing consequences as harsh as a woman of color or lower-class white woman would be subject to."

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