The Importance of Nuance in Women’s Liberation

Feminism and womanism is a hot topic at the moment. Everyone from Supreme Justice Ruth J. Bader Ginsburg to Cardi B are talking about women’s freedom. It’s a conversation that is wholly necessary given our current sociopolitical climate. Women are under siege, globally, and opening the floor to analyze the problem and seek solutions is the only way we’ll ever see real change. Social media has made it easier for people to discuss feminism and womanism at a faster rate. Ideas are exchanged, alliances are formed, bonds are strengthened, and information is consumed. But on the other side of the coin is gas-lighting, false narratives, harassment of epic proportions, and carefully planned violence against women. Some women even experience threats of rape and other violence openly on social media platforms that allow users to remain virtually anonymous.

As information becomes easier to access and consume, so does the derailment of the women’s liberation movement by misogynists and purveyors of toxic patriarchy. There are entire websites dedicated to discrediting feminism and womanism. The more attention they receive, the more their false information spreads and they often target women who haven’t a clue what feminism is. In the Black community there’s a long standing false narrative that says feminism is a poison planted for Black women by white women in an effort to sever bonds between Black women and Black men. There’s also an incorrect narrative that frames white women’s suffrage efforts as the dawn of feminism. It is important to tell the truth when discussing feminist and womanist movements. Much of the movement is rooted in critical analysis and there’s empirical evidence that supports much of the work.

Conversations surrounding intellectually honest depictions of women’s liberation often start with definitions. Feminism is the recognition and critique of the concept of male supremacy combined with efforts to change it. The change to come will include equality and equity for all. Womanism goes one step further in centering the discussion of equality on the experiences of the African Diaspora. Womanism existed prior to 1st wave feminism and gave white women an outline to work from when embarking on a journey to gain their own freedom. And while fighting, Black women cared for their homes and tended to their children. One of the earliest known womanists is Sojourner Truth. She knew and preached to others that slavery robbed Black women of motherhood, devalued their beings, and exploited their abilities both innate and otherwise. Her speech Ain’t I A Woman? clearly illustrates the juxtaposition of Black womanhood and White womanhood. Her work spanned over half of the 19th Century and helped set the tone for women after her to plant seeds of freedom. 

Feminism and womanism are in a complex relationship that requires nuance, variables, and self-awareness. Liberation requires inclusivity and a critical eye and ear. Much time is spent checking privileges that may be given to us by birth, like social location and class.  Liberation movements aren’t only beneficial for women. The movement creates an environment that promotes equity, equality, respect, agency, and autonomy for everyone. Men often assume women wish to emasculate them while not realizing or accepting that feminism and womanism doesn’t center men.  There’s varying forms of feminism, some more radical than others, but they all have one centralized goal – freedom. To be oneself without interruption from others is to be whole. Women should be able to live their lives in any way they see fit without being discouraged or harmed. Regardless of whether a woman is Muslim, lesbian, a sex worker, poor, disabled, etc. she should live her life on her terms without those terms being touted as “alternative” or “radical.”

Niki Irene (she/her) is a visual artist and advocate for intersectional equality and equity. She frequently advises homeless residents in Washington, DC on their rights and possible options. When she's not volunteering or aiding those in immediate need she's helping to organize and raise awareness for a host of issues including (but not limited to) the importance of transgender legal rights, gentrification prevention, domestic sex trafficking, rejection of Islamaphobic language in the media, intersectional feminism, womanism, and many other causes. Her social media following affords her the most reach with over 20,000 followers and over 12 million impressionsper month.