Intersectionality and Womanism: Feminism relevant for a young, black woman

By Panashe Chigumadzi (@panashechig)

The reason it had been so easy for me to carve out a clear hierarchy where my blackness came first and my womanhood came second was because I had only really been exposed to mainstream feminism that seemed to be primarily concerned with issues facing middle class white women and had only really seen some of its most visible manifestations in ‘pop feminism’ through the likes of Beyonce, Madonna and the Spice Girls.

This post was originally published in August 2014  and is republished here as part of our one year anniversary retrospective.

Photo credit: The Guardian

“I’m a black woman – Hillary or Obama, I’m torn,” Wanda Sykes says of her dilemma in choosing who to vote for in the 2008 US Presidential elections in her stand up show ‘Ima Be Me’. “I really just tried to narrow it down to which is giving me more problems in my life, being black or being a woman. As a woman, unequal pay. A black person, no pay.”

This Wanda Sykes skit pretty much articulated my own stance on the hierarchy between my blackness and my womanhood. I had always been certain in the idea that I am black, or atleast African, before I am woman. Liberation for black people first, liberation for women second. Being aware of this, I had been a little wary about using the term ‘feminist’.

This is a personal stance that is also reflected in the governance of our country.

Beyond the numerical representation of women in Parliament, the cause of women has not been advanced politically. As Shireen Hassim’s “ANC Women’s League: Sex, Politics and Gender” puts it, over the history of the organisation it “was neither the only women’s organisation in the political field nor was it an easy ally for South African feminism.” As the most visible women’s political organisation, they have arguably gone beyond being irrelevant to the advancement of women’s issues in South Africa, they appear to even be harmful. The President of the ANCWL Angie Motshekga has said that South Africa is “not ready for a female President”. The league did not show any support for ‘Khwezi, Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser, and went on to endorse him for Presidency. The ANC Women’s League has been weak and failed to articulate any real policy stance that advance the cause of women.

This vacuum of leadership has thus left the space for the gender equality fight to be filled by non-governmental organisations such as the One in Nine Campaign, the Sonke Gender Justice Network, People Opposing Woman Abuse (POWA) and the Forum for the Empowerment of Women.

The reason it had been so easy for me to carve out a clear hierarchy where my blackness came first and my womanhood came second was because I had only really been exposed to mainstream feminism that seemed to be primarily concerned with issues facing middle class white women and had only really seen some of its most visible manifestations in ‘pop feminism’ through the likes of Beyonce, Madonna and the Spice Girls.

I had not really been exposed to a brand of feminism that had been relevant enough for my life nor the idea of intersectionality. I suspect that this is the reason many women have been reluctant to call themselves feminists.

That changed through an education I received courtesy of social media. If there is ‘black twitter’, then there is also ‘black feminist twitter’. Women such as Mikki Kendall (@karnythia) and Trudy [sic](@thetrudz) began my education of intersectionality through hashtags such as #solidarityisforwhitewomen#blackpowerisforblackmen and #YesAllWomen.

In her article titled “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen: women of color’s issue with digital feminism” Kendall wrote ,”Admittedly, this isn’t a new problem: white feminism has argued that gender should trump race since its inception…That rhetoric not only erases the experiences of women of color, but also alienates many from a movement that claims to want equality for all.”

Intersectionality addresses these concerns and is a term that was coined by American professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. This speaks to the view that people experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. This reflects the ‘intersection’ of multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of identities such as race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ability, and ethnicity.

‘Check your privilege’ is a phrase that often comes up in discussions about intersectionality. It recognizes that a lot of black women can and do have privileges, which makes them just as able to be oppressive. Black women can be privileged because of aspects such as their sexuality, class, education, religion, and cis-gender status.

Before this I had never really explored what it meant, not only to be a woman, but to a black woman, and of course, I had never really arrived at the idea of intersectionality between race, class, gender, sexuality and able-bodied – which for me, is to be a middle class, black, cis-gendered, able-bodied woman.

Womanism is an intersectional feminist theory introduced by Alice Walker her 1983 book ‘‘In Search Of Our Mother’s Gardens’.

“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” Walker says of this feminism that is “stronger in color”, nearly identical to “Black Feminism”.

Womanism is a reaction to the lack of intersectionality in mainstream feminism. It argues specifically that the experience of being a black female cannot be understood or considered independently – only in terms of being black, and of being female, as I had previously done.

In addition to this, part of Walker’s definition of the term ‘womanist’ includes “committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.”

It is in essence an anti-oppression struggle. It addresses the racist and classist aspects of mainstream feminism. Very importantly, it recognizes that black men are an important and integral part of black women’s lives as their lovers, children and family members.

Despite this ‘agenda’, across the world, mainstream feminism has had various responses to intersectionality and womanism. While some feminists have been receptive, others have argued that it is meaningless, too radical, and/or potentially divisive.

Similarly, anti-racist movements have had similar responses to this demand for the recognition of the black female experience. As Hassim notes, South Africa’s liberation movements also sought to quiet feminist murmurings because of the apparent ‘threat to unity’.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Being black and a feminist need not be mutually exclusive. My blackness and womanhood frequently reinforce each other. Beyond my own personal realisation of this, this realisation is important at a national level.

Seeing that there is a viable alternative to mainstream feminism I have come to be more embracing of women in the public who have been hesitant of speaking of feminism in the public sphere.

First lady Tobeka Madiba-Zuma recently weighed in whilst at the Durban Film Festival, “I’m not necessarily a feminist. I think for us to succeed in our struggles we cannot leave men out of the equation,” she said.

“We need to have men because they play an important role in our lives, and I think if we are to win the struggle we have to have them on board.

“Rope them in and educate them.”

It might be ‘reaching’ a little to call the First Lady a womanist as I do not know what views inform her statement. Nonetheless if I am to give her the benefit of the doubt, the ideas that she expresses are ones that I can appreciate as a womanist who is interested in women flourishing as part of wider society.

An understanding of intersectionality is vital to gaining political and social equality and improving our democratic system. Recognising intersectionality and womanism means an overhaul of a system that is oppressive to both to the oppressed and oppressor.

FURTHER READING:

READ: Everyday Feminism : 30+ Examples of Cisgender Privilege

READ: What does ‘cis’ mean?

111 Comments
  1. I simply want to tell you that I’m newbie to weblog and honestly enjoyed this blog site. Almost certainly I’m likely to bookmark your blog . You definitely have incredible writings. Thanks a lot for revealing your website page.

  2. I simply want to say I am just newbie to blogs and definitely savored this web page. Almost certainly I’m want to bookmark your blog post . You certainly come with excellent articles and reviews. Thank you for sharing with us your blog.

  3. Hello there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it is truly informative. I am going to watch out for brussels. I’ll appreciate if you continue this in future. Lots of people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  4. I simply want to tell you that I am just all new to weblog and certainly loved your website. More than likely I’m planning to bookmark your website . You definitely have amazing writings. Regards for sharing your blog site.

  5. I’m also commenting to let you be aware of of the exceptional encounter our girl undergone visiting your blog. She figured out lots of things, with the inclusion of what it is like to have a wonderful giving mood to get other individuals without difficulty master a number of specialized issues. You actually surpassed our own expectations. Thank you for coming up with these useful, healthy, explanatory and as well as easy tips on your topic to Jane.

  6. Excellent weblog right here! Additionally your site lots up fast! What web host are you the usage of? Can I get your associate link for your host? I want my site loaded up as fast as yours lol

  7. I simply want to say I am just beginner to weblog and seriously liked you’re web blog. Almost certainly I’m going to bookmark your blog post . You certainly have amazing posts. Kudos for sharing with us your blog site.

  8. I just want to tell you that I’m beginner to blogs and truly enjoyed your web page. More than likely I’m going to bookmark your website . You absolutely come with excellent articles. Kudos for sharing with us your web-site.

  9. I simply want to mention I am just new to blogging and site-building and seriously savored you’re blog. Almost certainly I’m going to bookmark your blog . You definitely come with amazing posts. Thanks a bunch for sharing your web page.

  10. Great weblog right here! Also your website so much up very fast! What web host are you the usage of? Can I get your associate link for your host? I want my web site loaded up as fast as yours lol

  11. Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is an extremely well written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I will certainly return.

  12. Thanks so much for providing individuals with remarkably remarkable possiblity to read from this blog. It is often so useful plus jam-packed with amusement for me personally and my office acquaintances to visit the blog at least thrice in a week to study the latest tips you will have. And of course, I’m so always fulfilled concerning the attractive tips and hints served by you. Certain 2 ideas in this post are easily the most suitable we have all ever had.

  13. I precisely needed to thank you very much once again. I’m not certain what I might have done without the entire pointers documented by you on this subject. This has been an absolute alarming concern for me personally, nevertheless observing a professional technique you handled that made me to jump for contentment. I’m just thankful for your assistance as well as believe you know what a great job you have been providing instructing people today through your web blog. Most probably you’ve never encountered any of us.

  14. I think other site proprietors should take this site as an model, very clean and fantastic user friendly style and design, as well as the content. You’re an expert in this topic!

  15. Excellent blog right here! Additionally your site rather a lot up fast! What web host are you the use of? Can I am getting your associate link to your host? I want my site loaded up as fast as yours lol

  16. I have been surfing online greater than 3 hours as of late, yet I by no means found any fascinating article like yours. It’s beautiful price sufficient for me.

  17. your|together with your|along with your} writing {talents|skills|abilities} {and also|as {smartly|well|neatly} as} with the {layout|format|structure} {for your|on your|in

  18. Undeniably believe that which you said. Your favorite justification seemed to be on the net the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people consider worries that they plainly do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people could take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  19. Good site! I truly love how it is simple on my eyes and the data are well written. I’m wondering how I might be notified when a new post has been made. I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed which must do the trick! Have a nice day!

  20. My wife and i ended up being absolutely thrilled that Ervin managed to round up his inquiry through the ideas he had while using the web site. It is now and again perplexing just to find yourself freely giving information and facts a number of people could have been trying to sell. And we already know we need the blog owner to be grateful to for that. These illustrations you’ve made, the simple site menu, the friendships you can aid to create – it’s got mostly remarkable, and it is letting our son and our family reason why the article is enjoyable, and that is exceptionally vital. Many thanks for the whole lot!

  21. I am not certain where you are getting your information, however good topic. I needs to spend a while finding out more or figuring out more. Thanks for great information I used to be searching for this info for my mission.

  22. Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you actually recognize what you are talking about! Bookmarked. Kindly also visit my website =). We can have a link exchange arrangement between us!

  23. Thank you a lot for providing individuals with an extremely terrific opportunity to check tips from this website. It is often so pleasurable and also full of a lot of fun for me personally and my office peers to search your blog a minimum of 3 times every week to study the new tips you have. And indeed, I’m also at all times astounded concerning the great information served by you. Certain two facts in this post are truly the most efficient we’ve had.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>