Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

I choose womanism as my framework.

me.mae.i's picture

Our class discussion in ed, and also in english left me stuck and overloaded. So I turned to our paper assignment for english. When prompted how I read literary texts and what discipline I could rely on to unpack it, I thought to my major religion and furthermore, womanism. As I started thinking about how I wanted to write the paper and tie womanism to Beloved, I noticed that a lot of what I was reading applied to how I feel about our discussions in our ed class, and also exhibiting africa. so here's goes my approach to intersectionality and refiguring language/frameworks/mindset/conceptions of self, our true selves, our racial selves, etc.: 

“Womanist’ encompasses ‘feminist’ as it is defined by Webster’s, but also means instinctively pro-woman. It is not in the dictionary at all. Nonetheless, it has a strong root in Black women’s culture.

An advantage of using 'womanist’ is that, because it is from my own culture, I needn’t preface it with the word 'Black’ (an awkward necessity and a problem I have with the word 'feminist’), since Blackness is implicit in the term; just as for white women there is apparently no felt need to preface 'feminist’ with the word 'white’, since the word 'feminist’ is accepted as coming out of white women’s culture...

[defintion] Womanist 1. From womanish.  (Opp. of 'girlish,' i.e. frivolous, irresponisble, not serious.) a black feminist or feminist of color. "A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually... Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually... Not a separatist, except periodically, for health.'” 

I write this quote to say thank you to Alice Walker and Layli Maparyan for laying out the framework and identity that I understand is womanism. It’s spiritual, political, mystical, ecological, experiential and so much more. Especially if you are a woman of color. This is for us. However, the magic in it is that it extends to everyone. Yes, it’s rooted in black culture. The literal naming of it comes from what Alice Walker describes as a young black girl being told that she acting womanish. Meaning that she was acting like her mother, acting grown, and acting like the women she admired. For a child this should be looked down upon, however, Alice Walker rejects this and reclaims it in a liberating fashion. Furthemore, its origin being that of the black woman, who has been pitted at the bottom of the bottom of so many different structures, womanism gives room to build a foundation that extends far beyond what is conceivable and deemed right in the eyes of white supremacy.

It acknowledges our liminalites. However, it focuses on mysticism and energy. Womanism gives power to word and language. But it also gives us a framework that relies on experience, life, and connection. For example, the Womanist Axiology (as explained by Layli Maparyan in her text) is the basis of both aesthetics and ethics. It offers a place for us take care of ourselves, community, environment, and spirit by reconstructing how we approach all of these levels, beginning with language [there's even a section on relanguaging!] and extending to practice. In this text, Maparyan speaks to values such as self-actualization, wellness, self-care, amity/harmony/commonweal, reverence, balance, nurturance, inspiration, consciousness, memory, and love. This axiology helps us by giving us the starting point in which we can intersect and differ, but never partition ourselves from life, humanity, and relationships. I trust it because it is theory and practice, religion and science, black and white, and so much more. It gives me spectrums, contiunums, and spheres and makes what I can not formulate, conceivable. It makes me unstuck and it gives me a political, racial, spiritual, religious, cultural, and intellectual home. 

Therefore, I, as a womanist and black woman, encourage all to read the Womanist Idea by Layli Maparyan. It’s a beautiful text. It honors the truth and power of stories [just as we discussed and performed in our discussion of Thomas King]. While it doesn't explicitly state theories, like Marx's, womanism and Maparyan gives points of entry in which we can disect and apply. There are stories of businesswomen, politicans, healers and more. Maparyan even gives her own testimony in the book as a part of the work. I can’t read it all in one sitting. Honestly, the last time I picked it up and physically connected to it was 2 years ago. However, re-reading it makes so many things fall a part for me but also puts them together. It does not answer all of my questions. But it is an essential aid in my journey, especially when encountering the text that we have been in all three of our classes. 

So I write all of this to say read it, or skim it if you don't have the time haha. Or at least a portion of it. 

Also not to make you read even more, but there is this one part about self-care and maintaining vitality that I think we all should refer to in doing this incredibly difficult but important work [I don't even do all of it, but I'm trying to push myself to]:

"How does a womanist (or anyone) maintain vitality? ... I offer them this practical 'to-do' list, culled from both scientific and spiritual teachings:

  • Drink sufficient pure water
  • Consume healthy, high-vitality foods
  • Obtain regular, high-quality sleep
  • Exercise the body
  • Breathe properly
  • Avoid toxins in the body and the environment
  • Maintain loving relationships and avoid toxic relationships
  • Be aware of, monitor, and refine your emotional states
  • Engage in mentally stimulating activities and maintain healthy curiousity for the duration of your lifespan
  • Spend time in the natural environment
  • Have adequate amounts of quiet time
  • Meditate regularly 
  • Maintain one or more sources of spiritual inspiration
  • Visualize yourself and your life in optimal condition frequently and in detail"

Thanks for reading ladies and I really appreciate and see all of the effort and work we're doing. Be sure to take care of yourselves! 


calamityschild's picture

“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” – Alice Walker

i wrote down this quote last week because recently i've been feeling like straight white women end up hurting me more than straight white men. 

thank you so much for this post and for your recommendation! <3 

Anne Dalke's picture