Although both terms refer to the struggle of women to obtain equality, womanism and feminism are not exactly synonyms.
Feminism as an established movement started in the late 19th century and early 20th century as what is known today as "first-wave feminism." Activists in the U.S. and U.K. headed the movement, but there were smaller groups working in Australia and parts of Europe outside England. At the time, the effort centered mostly on women's suffrage and other political issues. First-wave feminism ended in 1919, after the United States approved the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Second-wave feminism started in the 1960s and focused on cultural inequalities, reproductive rights and social disparities.
The term "womanism" was coined by Alice Walker, the author best known for her book The Color Purple. Walker used the term for the first time in 1983, when she talked about the womanist theory in her book In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose. The womanist movement centers on the feminist efforts of black women. Womanism grew because many activists felt that the feminist movement did not fully cover the plight of black women. Rather than focusing on social change or activism, womanism (sometimes referred to as "black feminism") focuses more on celebrating womanhood and the African American woman's strength and experiences. When they push for change and attention to social issues, womanists focus on racism and class oppression.
One of the reasons many prefer the term womanism is that feminism has traditionally been a middle-class white-women's movement. Feminism fought for suffrage rights for white women, but never got involved in the civil rights movement to help guarantee black women social equality. So womanism looks out not only for women but also for the rights of women of color, who are sometimes a step behind white women when it comes to social equality.
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