Moving from feminism to womanism

Wuraola Majekodunmi imagines a world where women aren't pitted against each other

I imagine that most of us tend to scroll through Instagram, with a bit of jealousy in your heart gawking at other people’s lives, thinking they are more fashionable, exciting, and adventurous than you. Sure, it happens to the best of us. But sometimes this FOMO or spite can get out of control, and become borderline destructive for our mental health. From social media trends to the workplace, to beauty adverts, it all impacts on our lives. Healthy competition can be good but I began to wonder, at what point does this feeling of comparison become damaging; and do women engage in this more than men, due to patriarchal structures in our society? Seeing someone online achieving great things may make us feel inspired or happy, but we also may take a hit at ourselves, thinking we should be doing that too, or “why am I not more like them?” Jealousy, however, may take over, leading to a more negative mind-set, with growing hatred for that person, or letting them live rent-free in your head. I wonder, are these feelings more prominent in women than men? And if so, why has that happened?

From my own perspective growing up, I always felt self-conscious as a young girl. Being a Black girl surrounded by mostly white women, I found myself questioning my features a lot and comparing myself to others, thinking I needed to change certain things about myself to blend in more.  At this age, a lot of young girls have these feelings but with some of us, they can last. I still find myself thinking I need to ‘better’ my physique, and look ‘flawless’ without a single mark or spot on me. It’s an attitude that has existed in the psyche for a lot of us. To get to the root of why pessimistic comparisons can occur among some women, we need to understand the patriarchal structures that exist in society. 

Image by Annie Spratt

From fashion to music to politics, (and nearly any industry you can think of), women have been pit against each other for the affections of men. Second-wave feminist, Luce Irigaray, in her essay Women on The Market (1997), says that a woman is not born a commodity but becomes one as she is passed from her father to her husband. 

“Explicating woman’s role as a commodity and the inherence of sexual difference in economic exchange”, as Tegan Zimmerman reiterates in her essay ‘Revisiting Irigaray’s essay “Woman on The Market”’. 

In present-day late capitalist society, Irigaray’s theories can “serve as a means of bridging and developing a renewed and relevant materialist feminist dialogue, particularly when extended to include the ways in which women exploit other women,”.  In my own experience, I’ve seen this similar mindset play out when I was in school. With different friendship groups; two girls could be the best of friends and when a bad fight occurs it can become damaging with repercussions for both parties. They may “exploit” each other in various ways, such as spreading rumours, trolling online, and isolating one person from others. 

What we learn when we are young can still stay with us and can shape our adulthood. Women are constantly told that we are not good enough, that we need to change ourselves to some other way to be more appealing. Unfortunately, we’ve not set those unsaid rules for ourselves in society, men have – as they hold the power. So, is it any wonder that now, some of us feel in competition with others in certain spaces? Men have dominated the space, leaving very little room for women. For us to break these behaviours down, we need to break that rule system down.

Image by Chloe S

In an ideal society, all women would be united, and although feminism has achieved some of that, the feminism that would cater to all women equally is not in full effect yet. We do not live in a post-feminist society, as our goals have not yet been reached. So how can post-feminism work as a theory? 

The vision for the majority of feminists, is a feminism where we aim for the unity of all women, regardless of race, sexuality, class, and more. One action that would help is for white feminism to embrace more of intersectional feminism. ‘Black feminism’ came in the third wave in the nineties as an answer to the more mainstream ‘white feminism’. Later, ‘womanism’ came out of Black feminism as many Black women that aligned with feminist theories did not feel comfortable calling themselves a feminist. this was due to its favour towards white, middle-class women. African American writer, Alice Walker, coined the term ‘womanism’.  In their essay, ‘Alice Walker’s Womanism: Perspectives past and present’, Izgarzan and Markov comment that “As Walker’s literary scope expanded and she developed into a more mature writer and political activist, she became aware of the need for a movement which would be different from feminism and which would offer […] a space to formulate their policy.” Perhaps ‘womanism’ is a concept we could take from in Ireland in looking at ways to bring feminism to more inclusive for all women. 

I dream of a complete united front for all women, free from the chains of patriarchy. One where we do not judge but embrace each other and celebrate the rich diversity amongst us all.

Wuraola Majekodunmi is an Irish language broadcaster, freelance journalist and film maker.
Image credit: Vanessa Ifediora. 

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