There are elements of feminism that I share and elements which I reject. I saw an episode of Black-ish that summed it up for me. The show portrays with great humour, the life, experiences and concerns of a middle class African-American family making its way in the world. In one very interesting episode, there is a moment of tension centred around the fact that Bow, the mother of the family, is wants to get her husband Dre a plate of food, while hiding it from her feminist mother. Bow’s mom catches her in the act, and admonishes her for her ‘old fashioned behaviours’ which she says are setting a bad example for her young daughters. Dre’s aunt, an elderly African-American woman, interrupts to defend this simple act, which she describes with great poetry, as being practiced by the women of her generation as a way of restoring a sense of dignity to their husbands who experienced consistent insult and hostility in the world. It was in fact, the way women said ‘I see you and you matter’ to men who in the workplace, were treated as less then human.
To begin with, this made it clear, that any feminism that ignores the complex identities and struggles of African, Caribbean, Asian, Latino and even poor white communities, renders itself useless for people who are not white and wealthy. This is why womanism is essential – to help us to understand how issues of gender and race combine to multiply the burdens placed upon women of colour. We have different dynamics that have to be considered. How clear cut are the answers when the men in your community face oppression on the basis of race and/or class and women face the multiplication of gender, racial and/or class injustice? The issue of justice becomes multi-layered.
It also reminded me that neither women nor men exist in isolation, so to discuss how women can flourish, demands that we look at men and women together. As I watched this episode, it reminded me of the many times I saw my mom make my dad a plate. She never felt burdened by this; it was second nature for her to take care of him in this way and he was appreciative of it. But the truth is that my dad loves to cook! On many occasions my dad has beamed as he listens to us compliment what he has spent ages creating and preparing for us to eat. My mom and dad demonstrated a kind of synergy, taking it in turns to ‘make plates’. It taught us why concrete roles do not work – a couple and a family needs flexibility to be able to cope with the different challenges and seasons of life. Men and women need to be responsive to the needs of the other, so that each can find the space to grow and evolve into who they truly are.
So I will be a womanist over being a feminist any day of the week. This is about freeing all women from all kinds of oppression which prevent us from flourishing as people crafted by God’s own hands. It liberates all of us, when women can stand confidently in their own skin as individuals, in relationships or families and society as a whole. It’s about creating a world where instead of being pressured by external expectations or an idealistic role, I can freely choose to make a plate for someone I love, and someone else can recognise that I also deserve to have someone make a plate for me more often than not.