Womanist not feminist, by Rukayya Ibrahim Iyayi

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Rukayya Iyayi
Rukayya Iyayi

The rift between Western women feminists and African women remained similarly to male dominance, otherwise known as patriarchy. It rests the principle of gender equality in which man always occupies the first element in any equation and is seen as the norm, while a woman is seen as the opposite, weak and most times unfulfilled. Feminism started to operate on the same principle of gender equality, but this time it was the colored woman, the poor woman who was seen as the contrary because of her difference in terms of origin, race, ethnicity and class. Feminists wanted to preserve their position of speaking subject and the marginalization of colored women because they did not fit into the prescribed norms which consisted of various forms of elitism and cultural imperialism. Although at the start, the goal of feminism was to win equality and suffrage for women, already in the nineteenth century it became clear that there were two separate women’s movements since white women refused to support the struggle of black women rights. Feminism kept the axioms of imperialism alive by accepting and utilizing the ideology of individualism which was at the center of colonial forces designating superiority to the whites, who were seen as subjects and inferiority to colored who were then seen as objects. Feminists accepted patriarchal policy and built their dominance at the expense of women of color, by distancing themselves from them and excluding their literature work.

Feminism is female-centered and revolves around the empowerment of the female in a patriarchal society. It also focuses on equality across the board for men and women. Womanism, on the other hand, is family-centered. In terms of what women of color relate to, most women of color cannot accept Feminism due to the point of view feminists have towards men. The Feminism Movement, comprising of theories from a white woman’s perspective, sees the male counterpart as the primary enemy; women of color do not necessarily feel the same way. Whereas white women have been oppressed by white men, women of the African Descent have always been equal to their male counterparts due to the fact both have been equal partners in the struggle against oppression.

In early 1970’s during that period, women of Color or African American women were not only suffering from political and social inequality similar to their white sisters, but they were also racially oppressed due to the color of their skin and ethnicity. The white women of the feminist movement failed to recognize this aspect, it did not encompass the realities and perspectives of the African American Women’s suffering from slavery and segregation. This is why many women of color couldn’t associate with Feminism and found representation and identified with the new term “Womanist”.

Womanism is committed to the survival and wholeness of all people, including men as well. Rather than supporting separatism, Womanism promotes universalism (Steinem). Womanism is not a new idea by any means; in fact there is evidence of its origins in the sacred texts of ancient Africa, especially the Husia of Egypt and the Odu Ifa of ancient Yorubaland. Concepts from the Husia, such as the Divine inclusiveness of male and female principles, woman and man as the image of God and the concept of human customarily written with male and female characters in hieroglyphs, indicate the belief that woman and man were equal by nature and divinely and must operate as so. Womanism acknowledges the concept of sameness, by nature, a man and woman are not the same both have separate roles to play in the society and one cannot take role of the other, but they complement each other, religiously they are equal in the eyes of God, where any atom of deeds are recorded good or bad, a man is not better than a woman in the eyes of God but each have a role assigned for them. Womanism is centered on commitment to the survival and wholeness of an entire people thus focuses more on gender equity, because equity is justice.

African politics is enshrined in the kingship. Kingship is not only masculine. Kings and queens rule in most African traditional societies. Even though democratically elected presidents now rule African states, kinship continues to exert much influence in the social lives of most African societies. In the South and West of the continent, kingship is powerful and the rulers command great authority.

Queens are leaders of power. In most cases, they can exercise absolute veto in matters relating to the kingship. For example, among the Akan people of West Africa, kings are installed by the approval of the queen mother. Without her consent, one cannot rule as a king. This applies also in the removal of the king. The queen advises the king on matters of the kingship.

History records a number of African queen warriors: Queen Amina of the Zaria people of Nigeria helped to expand and solidify the Zazzau kingdom; Candace of Ethiopia was a powerful military queen; Yaa Asantewaa of the Ashante people of Ghana led the Ashante army against the colonial British military. In today’s Africa, many women continue to influence socio-economic and political policies.

Things are different today, there are countless independent women who enjoy wealth from their own pursuits in life. Credits would go to the rise of education for women. In Africa today, there are women entrepreneurs and professionals from diverse educational fields. Women are striving to survive on their own even in marital homes.

Finally womanist appreciates herself, culture, woman attitude, emotions and love others unconditionally even in the face of society which has insisted that her tears, emotions, compromise, subjectivity and other feminine traits are signs of weakness and of an inferior nature when compared with the manly. Womanist insisted that far from being inferior woman’s traits are not only laudable but fundamental to the wellbeing of all human beings in general, treating them with equity and empowering other women in their society all make up the whole woman and a person who is at peace with the world and with herself, According to Walker womanist is to feminist as a purple to lavender that is including all that is implied in the latter but deeper, richer more vibrant, regal far from negating her feminism.

Ms Iyayi can be reached at rukayya.iyayi@yahoo.com