14 September 2014
The True Meaning of “Womanism”
In 1979 Alice Walker penned the short story “Coming Apart” where she first introduces the term womanist. She later resurrects it in the book In Search of Our Mothers Garden. It can be defined as:
“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.”(Walker xi)
Alice Walker is both African American and a female. Because of these qualities she fits into two groups that have had heavy discrimination against them. She can sympathize with both civil rights movements and feminist movements. However, black feminism, or “womanism” as Alice Walker coins it, is extremely different than normal white feminism.
In In Search of Our Mothers Garden Walker shows how women of color were rarely represented in early feminist writings- especially through her definition of womanism. The two “southern” phrases (“you acting womanish” and “you trying to be grown”) seem to have several important meanings. Womanism is from from the southern black word “womanish”, which is something that usually mothers in the black south would use when their daughters were acting too mature. Since Walker takes word from a
Southern African American word, specifically one from mothers to daughte...
... middle of paper ...
...stions his dependency on it. The husband then “attacks” her views while calling her “women’s libber”, a “white women’s lackey”, and “pawn”. (Walker, You Can 't Keep a Good Woman Down 48) By the husband using specific racial words, Walker is definitely telling the audience that she sees a difference between white feminists and black feminists.
Even though Walker and white feminists may have a lot in common, her race makes her plight that much stronger. White women do not have as many obstacles as black women do, and there are a lot of intrinsic cultural differences between the two races.
Walker, Alice. "Ballad of The Brown Girl." Walker, Alice. Once. Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1968. 78-79.
—. In Search of Our Mothers Garden. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983.
—. You Can 't Keep a Good Woman Down. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981.
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