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Ain’t I A Woman: A look at our feminist roots and expansion into intersectionality

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man–when I could get it–and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman?

- Sojourner Truth, Akron, Ohio, May 28, 1851

On February 12th the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference convened for their opening session at 1:30pm at the Cook Convention Center in Memphis, TN. I attended this conference to gain insight into the intersection between social justice and communities of faith. However, over the next four days I found my focus drawn to uncovering the ideology behind the term “womanism”. During the opening address one of the speakers Dr. Raphael G. Warnock stated “that a clear indication of oppression is when you have to run a campaign or create a slogan to assert what is obvious, but that which has also so clearly been abused.” He went on to illustrate examples of this, such as the picket signs of the 1968 Sanitation Workers Strike which read “I AM A MAN”; the millions today who wear t-shirts and post hashtags marked “BLACK LIVES MATTER”; and the resounding words of Sojourner Truth who saw the powerful wave of feminism emerging and realized that she would not become a direct benefactor of this movement unless she fought to be identified with the rest of her gender, so she exclaimed “AIN’T I A WOMAN."

His words pierced me deeply and I realized that many parts of my identity are subjects of oppression. I am a woman. I am a Christian. I am black. I am West Indian. I am a millennial. I am an American. And up until this conference I had identified myself as a feminist. In fact, his words in that moment made me even prouder to be a feminist and stand against the historic and new age oppression that woman like me deal with on a daily basis. That is... until I attended a session on womanism the next day. 

In the womanism workshop I realized that the ideology behind equity for women has expanded. The difference between feminism and womanism is how they define their subject, and who birthed the ideology. Feminism is recognized by many as a movement where women of privilege fought to be treated with more than decency in public places (as referenced by Sojourner Truth). These women fought for the right to have their social value, intellect, economic contribution and civic ability realized. Feminism is a concept that was birthed by white women for white women who sought for equality with their white male counter parts. On the other hand, womanism is a concept birthed by black women for women who seek equitable treatment and justice. It challenges the privilege power construct and fortifies women within minority communities by focusing on restorative justice, healing, collaboration and intergenerational bonds.

Melinda JohnsonMelinda Johnson with Toni Bond Leonard, a founding mother of the reproductive justice movement.

After the session on womanism I went back to my room and wrestled with my feminist identity. I realized I had in part, whole heartedly, embraced a concept that wasn’t originally designed for me. If women are to advance, then ALL women must be seen in the vision we are pressing toward and in the power of our collective actions toward advancement. 

Melinda Johnson

At the end of my experience, I reflected on my identity as a CWEALF team member and concluded that we have an incredible responsibility and opportunity in the advancement of woman and girls. We must challenge our feminist roots to build allies in diverse communities and address the various intersectional issues women face. I boarded the plane back to Connecticut, took my window seat and smiled at my reflections. I smiled because I know I am a part of a great team and am confident that as we grow in our work and collaboration, we will continue to strive to reflect the voices of all the women and communities we serve.

By Melinda Johnson, Secure Jobs Program Manager at 8 Mar 2018, 12:51 PM



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