Womanism: What is It?
by layli Phillips, From The Womanist Reader
What is womanism? Womanism is a social change perspective rooted in Black women's and other women of color's everyday experiences and everyday methods of problem solving in everyday spaces, extended to the problem of ending all forms of oppression for all people, restoring the balance between people and the environment/nature, and reconciling human life with the spiritual dimension. I take the perspective that womanism is not feminism. Its relationships to feminism (including Black feminism) are important, but its relationships to other critical theories and social-justice movements are equally important, despite being less frequently discussed or acknowledged. Unlike feminism, and despite its name, womanism does not emphasize or privilege gender or sexism; rather, it elevates all sites and forms of oppression, whether they are based on social-address categories like gender, race, or class, to a level of equal concern and action. Womanism's link to gender is the fact that the historically produced race/class/gender matrix that is Black womanhood serves as the origin point for a speaking position that freely and autonomously addresses any topic or problem. Because Black women experience sexism, and womanism is concerned with sexism, feminism is confluent with the expression of womanism, but feminism and womanism cannot be conflated, nor can it be said that womanism is a "version" of feminism.
Since being named, womanism has spawned both passionate affiliation and vigorous debate. Beginning in the mid-1980's, scholars in theology, literature, and history began to employ womanist terminology and explore the implications of womanism in their disciplines. Within a decade, scholars in fields as diverse as film and theater studies, psychology, education, anthropology, communication studies, social work, and nursing, in addition to women's studies and African studies, had enlarged this corpus.
By the time womanism could claim a quarter century of existence, womanist scholarship could also be found in sexuality studies, public health, and architecture. Womanism has been visible in popular culture since the mid-1980s, appearing in magazines, newspapers, and other media and permeating the worlds of popular music, especially hip-hop, as well as the arts. Neither has womanism been limited to Black American contexts. Explorations of the womanist idea can be found in African, Australian (Aboriginal), Canadian, Caribbean/West Indian, Chinese/Taiwanese, European, Latino/Latina American, Native American Indian, and Southeast Asian/Indian cultural contexts, scholarly and otherwise. Internet searches of the World Wide Web readily locate thousands of womanist-related citations from around the world.
What is interesting is that, since the beginning, the womanist frame has been applied more frequently than it has been written about. That is, more people have employed womanism than have described it. What this reflects is the tendency of womanism to be approached and expressed intuitively rather than analytically. While some might view this as problematic, there are good reasons for it--reasons that only affirm the distinctiveness and incommensurability of womanism vis-a-a other perspectives with which it might be confused or conflated. On the plus side, this state of affairs.