July 13, 2009 § 6 Comments

I’m interested in language, as you might have noticed from my last post on pro-life/anti-choice semantics. You may remember that I have a little series called Language Matters, where I discuss the significance of language in culture, politics, and progress. (Keep in mind that the word “series” is used loosely here, since I’ve only written two posts.) Anyway, this here post can be filed under that category: I want to talk about womanism and feminism.

When I first discovered feminism and came out of the feminist closet, I was amazed and excited by what I naively thought was a perfect, completely inclusive movement. This is probably because I’m very privileged, as women go — cis, currently able, thin, middle-class, white — and my first introductions to contemporary feminism were authored by women within similar demographics. I thought, “Wow! A place where I can totally be myself, and be accepted and respected for my identity!” — and took for granted that all people would feel as comfortable as I did.

So yeah, I’m a bit older and wiser now, have read a bit (though not as much as I need to) about trans people and people with disabilities and people of color’s views on today’s feminism: that it is actually pretty darn exclusive a lot of the time.

I want your insight on how we can acknowledge the ways The Feminist Movement has and continues to fuck up, while still identifying with its goals. Specifically, I’m wondering how I, a white woman, can acknowledge the dire need for womanism without stepping on the toes of women activists of color.

From a Womanist Musings interview with Loryn of Black Girl Blogging:

What is your definition of womanism and do you feel that this applies to all across the board?

To me, womanism brings together the importance of men and family to the struggle for gender equality and the experience of women of color that cuts across class, race and gender lines. While I believe that womanism speaks particularly to the black female experience, it is important for men and women of all races to embrace the principles of womanism.

How would you say that womanism differs from feminism and why is it important to you to identify as a womanist rather than a feminist?

Womanism differs from feminism in that it takes account for the experience of women of color. Feminism has been painted as the movement of white middle class women and has excluded women of color and poor women for a long time. It is important to me to identify as a womanist because it means a greater devotion to causes that effect women of color like myself.

In my bio, I identify as a pro-womanist feminist, but I’m shaky on this. I think that it would be inappropriate, as a white woman, to call myself a womanist as one step towards acknowledging the experiences of WOC, and towards acknowledging feminism’s wrongdoings, as such identification infringes upon the right of WOC to have your own label (Melissa McEwan brings this up in the interview comment thread, followed by insight from Renee and Loryn — not sure how to link directly to the comment, but it’s about the fifth one down).

One question, for commenters of all demographics, with particular emphasis on WOC/self-identified womanists: is it fair to call myself a pro-womanist feminist, as a move towards accomplishing these goals? If not, how else can I humbly and respectfully identify myself?

(Sorry if this post is winding and seems to lack purpose. This is a tricky issue, one that’s been marinating in my mind for a while, but I really think dialogue is needed.)

Cross-posted at Feministe.


§ 6 Responses to Labels

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  • Zippa says:

    While the methods you chose to ask the question were probably wrong, I struggle with this, as well, and not just on the “feminism v. womanism” issue. Being white, cis, abled, and queer, I find it difficult to place myself in the larger scheme in a way that acknowledges my privilege and the fact that I’m trying to minimize its impact.

    The issue, of course, is that if you’re privileged, you’re always privileged, and everything you do is touched by it.

    Just so you know you’re not alone here, and that I am frequently checked painfully, as well.

  • Hi, Miranda.

    I am writing because I have been reflecting a lot on the episode that occurred involving you over at Feministe with respect to this post. I feel that I owe you an apology. As a teacher, I should have been a part of the group which offered you support and guidance. Instead, I supported Renee, and her vitriol towards you. Each of us has her hot buttons, and, while some of us who are part of the oppressed and marginalized don’t like to be summoned to educate, in hindsight, I don’t actually think that is what you were doing.
    We need to support and guide and nurture young women like you, and, I failed in doing that.

    Be well. 🙂

    • mirandanyc says:

      missincognegro: Thank you for the kind words. I can certainly understand why this post was hurtful and why people reacted with anger, but I appreciate your willingness to help me learn from this experience.

  • […] Religion, sexism, systems, women, Zippa trackback In recent posts at Feministe, Womanist Musings, Women’s Glib, and a few other spots, the discussion of labels has been heated and torn apart. It’s a […]

  • […] 14, 2009 at 8:05 pm (Imported Posts, Zippa) In recent posts at Feministe, Womanist Musings, Women’s Glib, and a few other spots, the discussion of labels has been heated and torn apart. It’s a […]

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