“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender”- Alice Walker
It was after a certain sexual encounter that I began to feel a shift. I became very confused about sexuality and womanhood, and I felt a deep urge to read stories, and listen to music that uplifted me as a woman, that inspired me, that told the stories of black woman, from the point of view of black women. I can say that perhaps this sexual encounter propelled me into conscious womanhood. So I began to try focusing more on self, still struggling with insecurity and uncertainty. But I was trying. I was starting to pay more attention to myself, finding things of interest. So I began reading more and became most inspired by Alice Walker.
My first introduction to Alice Walker was on Broadway. After seeing the play The Color Purple I fell in love with the story. This was in high school. I also read the book as a class assignment, and of course I’ve see the movie. I grew up hearing the name, Alice Walker, but never knowing her work and what she stood for. I never studied her past The Color Purple, and even then it was merely entertainment.
As I matured into womanhood and found myself needing healing, empowerment, and upliftment, I found You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down while browsing through my university’s library. It was short, by Alice Walker, and titled just perfectly. It seemed like all the empowerment I would need. It called me. And when I turned it over and saw a sister with locs just like me, I knew that was the book I needed to read.
I believe that spirit led me to Alice Walker’s work. I felt broken and confused and in need. I started to do little things to make me feel better. Stronger. I enjoyed the feminist movement going on, but I just couldn’t really connect to it. I didn’t identify myself as a feminist. Sometimes it felt like it was also oppressive, specifically to black woman. I felt like it didn’t understand feminine energy and it didn’t include black women. I felt the need to start honoring both my blackness and my womanhood. It was necessary to my empowerment as a black woman. So, I took a cute selfie and posted on Instagram with the hashtag womanism. I thought I was on to something.
Shortly after I finished You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down, I found In Search Of Our Mother’s Gardens, and right on the beginning pages Alice Walker defined womanism. I was excited, surprised, and elated. Perhaps it’s the soul of black women that made me relate so well; that led me to her work. Because there I was one day, identifying with something I’d never heard anyone use (womanism), and just a few weeks later there I was seeing it written, explained, named and brought to life by a woman whom I have never met. What experiences have we both had as black women to lead us to define ourselves as womanists? What stories do we share? There is a common sense of pain, shame, pride, joy, hard work, and spirit that dwell in black women. This is why although I had not heard the term womanism, I felt it. I experience life as a black woman.
(as defined by Alice Walker: In Search Of Our Mothers’ Gardens)
1. From womanish. (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.
2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally a universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige and black?” Ans. “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.” Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.
4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.