What Is The Difference Between Womanism And Feminism?

A deeper insight into the two movements with multiple similarities and key differences.

By Harini NatarajanHarini Natarajan, Certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner  • 

Women are one of the most oppressed sections of society. No matter how many reforms you bring in, the patriarchal society refuses to budge in. Here, we look into womanism vs. feminism, two movements that were started to fight for women’s rights.

Yes, women had to fight for basic rights like opting for birth control, opening a bank account, practicing law, serving jury duty, or even watching the Olympics. Even the most fundamental right — the right to vote — was given recently. What’s more? There are still places where women are not allowed to do the most basic things. Instead, they are being persecuted day in and day out and treated as second-grade citizens. Even in the most advanced countries of the world, the negative attitude of a few patriarchal people makes it difficult for women to carry out their daily functions.

To fight against this oppression, women raised their voices and started movements worldwide that forced many governments to make reforms. But, unfortunately, these reforms will be limited to papers until there is a real change in society. Continue reading to understand womanism and feminism in detail.

What Is Womanism?

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The term ‘womanism’ was coined in 1983 by Alice Walker, an American poet, activist and author of the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple (1). It was a reaction to the realization that feminism did not encompass the perspectives and experiences of black women.

As segregation had only ended in 1964, the black community – especially black women – were still enduring the brunt of socioeconomic discrimination, classism, and racism. Traditionally, the feminist movement lacked diversity and was mainly dominated by middle- and upper-class white women. It failed to address the plight of black women and rarely involved women of color in its protests. In light of the elitist nature of the initial feminist movement, womanism came into the picture.

Womanism, as a social framework, separates itself from feminism. It celebrates womanhood, focuses on black women, and aims at achieving and maintaining inclusivity in the society. Walker defined womanists as black feminists or feminists of color who are committed to the wholeness and survival of the entire people (both men and women).

Alice Walker’s much-cited phrase, “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender,” suggests that she considers feminism as a component of the broader ideological umbrella of womanism.

protip_icon Trivia
Clenora Hudson-Weems coined the term “African womanism”. Her book, “Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves,”, published in 1995, shocked the Black nationalism scene and made her a respected independent thinker.

What Is Feminism?

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The concept of feminism is synonymous with equality (2). The range of movements and ideologies it has borne share one common goal: to establish, define, and achieve social, economic, and political equality of the sexes and fight gender stereotypes.

Think about all the real issues women have had to face since times immemorial. The feminist movement refers to a series of political and social campaigns for reforms on these issues, such as women’s suffrage, equal pay, domestic violence, reproductive rights, maternity leave, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse. Of course, the movement’s priorities tend to vary among different communities and nations.

In the West, feminism went through three waves. First-wave feminism revolved around suffrage and political equality. Second-wave feminism strived to further combat cultural and social inequalities. Third-wave feminism continues to address the social, cultural, and financial inequalities with renewed campaigning for a stronger influence of women in media and politics. It also focused on our reproductive rights, such as the right to abortion.

The fourth wave of feminism began around 2012, and it only furthers the urgent need for justice in terms of harassment and assault, equal pay for equal work, and body positivity. It is founded upon the queering of gender and is trans-inclusive. Also, this wave is digitally fueled. The feminist discourse on the Internet plays a huge role as well. Online forums and hashtag activism help create a massive community, foster debate, and encourage action IRL.

protip_icon Quick Tip
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, and Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez are some of the best feminist books that everyone should read in their lifetime.

So What Is The Difference Between Womanism And Feminism?

Woman leading a public protest for women empowerment

Image: Shutterstock

The most contrasting difference to keep in mind is the fact that black women are dealing with three levels of oppression: racism, sexism, and classism. This is where ‘intersectionality’ comes into the picture. As a concept, intersectional feminism recognizes how different dimensions of people’s lives, such as their sexual identity, gender, race, and class, come together to shape their individual experiences of discrimination. This makes womanism a multi-layered movement.

Although the white woman’s battle against oppression has come a long way from fighting the Victorian model of the weak woman who can’t do anything for herself, it is still mostly one dimensional. Womanism fights for not only gender equality but also justice against this three-tiered oppression against both black men and women.

In a nutshell, womanism is a darker shade of feminism that includes and represents the voices and perspectives of women and color. It sheds light on the experiences of women of color who have always been in the frontline of the feminist movement and are yet marginalized in historical media and texts.

Remember this: while feminism strives for gender equality, womanism aims at gender reconciliation.

D.H Lawrence, an American writer and poet, once remarked, “the future of humanity will be decided not by relations between nations, but by relations between women and men.” The concept of gender reconciliation highlights the simple idea that both men and women are afflicted by gender injustice, and each needs the other for true and complete healing.

The difference between womanism and feminism is quite clear as the former is more inclusive in nature than the latter. While feminism is alleged to have restricted itself to the rights of women of the elite class alone, the concept of womanism came into existence to speak for the rights and perspectives of women of color. Moreover, it is a multi-dimensional movement that seeks to fight discrimination based on sexism, racism, and classism, unlike feminism, which only fights for gender equality. However, womanists and feminists have found common ground, and the fight for women’s rights is becoming stronger and more inclusive.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between feminism and equalism?

Feminism focuses on achieving equal treatment and opportunities between men and women. Equalism is broader in scope and focuses on achieving equal rights for all individuals regardless of gender, caste, creed, and race.

Can men be feminists?

Opinion is divided regarding whether men can be feminists or not. Some groups believe that men who advocate for gender equality and sympathize with the feminist cause can be termed feminists. On the contrary, some other groups believe that feminism necessitates a lived experience and men cannot separate themselves from their privileged position.

What is the difference between feminist and feminism?

Feminism refers to the different movements focused on achieving equal rights and opportunities women. Feminist refers to an individual who believes and acts in accordance to the principles of feminism.

Who invented feminism?

Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote the book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, is considered to be the founder of feminism. The term feminism was coined by Charles Fourier, a French philosopher.

Are feminism and sexism the same thing?

No, they are opposites. Feminism believes in the establishment of equal rights and opportunities for men and women. Sexism believes in the continuation of gender stereotypes and traditional roles of women and men which are inherently gender biased and inequal.

Is feminism still relevant today?

Yes, feminism is still relevant today as women are still far from achieving equal status, rights and opportunities to men. 2020s mark the beginning of the 5th wave of feminism, which integrates sustainibility, media, culture, economics and politics to make the argument for gender equality.

Key Takeaways

  • Women have long suffered under outdated patriarchal norms.
  • To combat this oppression, women started to speak out, starting two major movements – womanism and feminism.
  • Womanism has its roots in socioeconomic discrimination, classism, and racism and focuses on making things equal for women of color.
  • Feminism iterates that women should be given equal opportunities and rights as men.


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  1. Alice Walker’s Jesus: A Womanist Paradox
  2. Theory of Feminism and Tribal Women: An Empirical Study of Koraput
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