What is Feminism in your own words?
Feminism: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” Throughout history, women have been oppressed and, in some societies, thought to be less than their male counterparts. This hasn’t always been the case, there are ancient civilizations that flourished with female leaders and egalitarian values such as Queen Hatshepsut in Egypt or the Etrucans in Italy. But more recently, women have had to fight for their rights, in an attempt to bring back this balance of power between men and women.
Women have made great strides in some societies in terms of being considered a person under the law and having the right to rule themselves, own things that matter, and make important life decisions like where to go, what to do with their body and who to marry. Though our value is inherent, not only because we give life to all people, we also build culture, societies, education and the moral fabric of our communities. We contribute to the next generation in ways men cannot, and in turn they support us and lead us in ways that we may not excel. However, in many societies, we've lost this balance, this ideal that we, women and men, are better united as a team, and instead women are treated differently, inferior, and undervalued.
Once upon a time feminism meant we were fighting for all women everywhere. The problem was, only certain women had a voice and it became about their troubles not everyone's troubles. As a result, in some societies, feminism has become misguided, as some women are pushing for ideals that don’t relate to feminism. Let’s look at feminism at its finest and how it varies among cultures.
When did the women’s rights movement start and why?
When the feminism and women’s rights movement started in North America, women were looking for fundamental rights:
The right to vote
The right to be treated equally in the workplace
The right for women to stand tall and proud, not to be subservient to anyone else around them
Women’s rights movements started a long time ago. The first movement in the United States began as early as the 1820s, with women fighting for the right to be citizens and to be their own people. It wasn’t until 1920, when in fact, women attained some of these rights.
At the beginning of this movement, women simply wanted to be their own beings and have control of their own futures and their own bodies. Women didn’t want to be the property of men any longer.
Through the years, feminism has evolved to meet the needs of today’s women, but the core ideas and beliefs of feminism should have remained the same as they have not been completely achieved.
What are the values of feminism?
The characteristics of feminism change based on your culture and your beliefs, but one thing that remains clear for all of them is that feminism is not reverse sexism. Women do not want to take away the rights of men but instead want to stand equal to them in all societies.
Feminism has and will change among cultures depending on their needs and current challenges. Western feminism and eastern feminism are different based on several factors including the roles of men and women, the social structures that exist, whether society is more hierarchical or not, and even where countries stand in the international landscape. Women everywhere though remain faithful to the basic values of feminism, which include:
Being strong individuals in their own societies
Being able to walk free and stand up for what they believe in
Being true to who they are without having to compromise based on gender
All of these translate to having the same rights as their male counterparts in society.
What makes African feminism different from other feminism?
The cultures of different countries are vastly different, and the basic tenets of African feminism similarly differ based on the region’s cultural, socioeconomic, and political structures. African females must deal with war, poverty, child marriage, illness, and religious oppression similar to other countries on the surface, but experienced in vastly different ways. African women must contend with motherhood, running the home and nurturing their children just like many European or North American women. The difference lies in how much they have to fight for the freedom to work and be their own individuals. This is something that many western women have moved past, but certainly not all.
Each country has different political, cultural and economic structures that shape the type of feminism women are demanding. But not only countries, subcultures within countries need their own voice and representation. Out of this ideal that feminism doesn't speak for all women, arose the concept of 'womanism'. As a response to not feeling like it included them, or cared about the things that they were ultimately struggling with, womanism became a stronger, more inclusive goal.
Ellie Harty explains womanism very well in her article:
‘Womanism’ is, to many, including Gonzalez, a more expansive term. None other than the great Alice Walker generated the term in 1979 to make feminism itself more inclusive. A womanist, she defined, is a “feminist of color… committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female…Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” Gonzalez points out another African American scholar, Clenora F. Hudson-Weems, who further clarified Walker’s distinction: “Feminism confines itself to concerns of the “female,” while womanism is about the concerns of women in society, and therefore includes concerns about family, gender, class, and race.”
So what do you call your feminism? And does it embrace all of you as a woman?
Black and other racialized women have different lived experiences, where the intersections of race, economic status and historical subjugation affect their brand of feminism and their role to play in the struggle for gender equality. Just as the African woman's fight for feminism differs from that of women in the West, non-white women in North America have a different view of the goals and objectives of feminism hence why womanism was born, to encompass a more robust person, who embodied women not only in physicality but in role in society and value to the world. The challenges all women face must be addressed within their cultures before they can become equal counterparts to males anywhere. And that is the true goal of the feminism movement — for men and women to be equal members of today’s society in the culture in which they live. We may have to rewrite the foundations in order to get there, but as we figure it out just know that it's a team effort - men and women alike must value each other enough to make it a priority to help our society win in love and not war.
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