The question “What is a Woman?” has always been in the center of attention of various feminist movements. This issue has been central to their understanding of the fight for equality and the basis for all other theologies. However, feminist movements differed in their understanding of a concept of a woman on the grounds of their ethnic belonging. Contrary to White Anglo-Saxon feminists, representatives of numerous ethnic feminist movements aligned together their fight for gender equality and ethnic equality as well as to their struggles to create the strong community preserving unique features of their cultural and religious tradition. Thus, the ultimate goal of these ethnic feminists may be summed up as “living in a world where we can all be who we are, a world of peace and possibility”. It seems valid and interesting to observe how Afro-American and Latin American feminists define themselves as their views seem to be closely interconnected in many respects.
The central concept of the Afro-American feminist movement is the one of womanist
This term has been designed by Alice Walker and is used to designate the special kind of an African-American woman. The notion of womanist is the basis of the womanist theology that has had a strong influence on the development of the Latin American mujeritas theology. A womanist is a strong progressive Afro-American woman “wanting to know more and in greater depth than is good for one – outrageous audacious, courageous and willful behavior”. She is responsible and serious, yet she is joyful and enthusiastic. Her image and mode of behavior is inspiring for the rest of the community. A womanist is prone to love all people, no matter whether they are men or women. Her love for both sexes may be either sexual or nonsexual. However, the most essential thing is that she loves herself “regardless” of everything. This love for herself gives a womanist strength and inspiration to fight for justice and to participate in the process of building a strong Black community that will prosper on the grounds of mutual respect and strong religious faith. A womanist “is also committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female”.
Nonetheless, the notion of a womanist should not be confused with the notion of a feminist. The latter is strongly associated with White Anglo-Saxon women and their understanding of the feminism that is not separated from ethnic, religious, and class misconceptions. A womanist is considered to be a broader term as it designates not the struggle for gender equality, but rather a struggle for becoming a true woman of an Afro-American origin who strives to preserve and develop its unique cultural, ethnic, and religious identities that differ from the mainstream White ones. Alice Walker supposes that womanist theology and theology are drastically different and they are “as purple to lavender”. For years, the womanist tradition has been passed from mother to daughter in the oppressed community. Womanists have always fought against slavery by their own means. Their main goals have been the survival and nurture of their community that should have been built upon the religious foundation. Nevertheless, they do not accept the theology of the Afro-American church unquestionably. They intend to make it the best-suited for the needs of the community even it means questioning some of its dogmas.
The community built by womanists is strong and cohesive as it is constructed upon mutual respect and love with the ultimate intention not only to survive, but also to thrive. Womanists establish rules for the rest of the people. Some of these rules are the following: respect for sexual preferences, absence of class hierarchy, absence of colorism, and no competition for the attention of males. Class distinction and colorism are to be eliminates as they threaten the wholeness of the people. Competitiveness is often regarded to be deeply ingrained into the female nature if it concerns rivaling for the male attention. However, womanists suppose that there is no place for such a phenomenon in their community as they “appreciate and prefer female culture…value…women’s emotional flexibility…and women’s strength”. It does not mean that men are to be utterly excluded from the community. On the contrary, they should become vital members of this community unless they threaten its survival and health. Thus, a womanist is a special breed of a woman who has reached genuine feminine wisdom and tries to exploit it for the benefit of her community. A womanist is a true woman with immense inner strength aimed at caring for others, but at the same time, she loves herself and cares for herself as well.
The problem of finding the appropriate designation has also been evident in the Latin American feminist movement. The womanists have preceded them in this respect, hence influencing them. This problem of choosing the best name is essential as “a name is not just a word by which one is identified”. The name entails the conceptual framework that evokes specific features to be associated with its bearer. The name can even be the driving source of acquiring some properties that inherently have not been the part of the bearer. Therefore, the process of choosing the name often turns into a struggle as it has happened with Latin American feminists. The notion mujerista has come into being after such names as cubanas, chicanas, pertottiquefias, and feministas hispanai. The latter term has been the source of alienation of this feminist group from the mainstream one as well as from the rest of women in the Latin American community. The word mujerista stems from mujere meaning a woman. Hence, mujeristas are very close in their ideology to womanists as both groups proclaim the excellence and perfection of a woman who chooses feminine culture and strives to build a strong community.
Similarly to womanists, mujeristas are strong women with unique cultural and religious self-identity who can lead their community to the prosperous future. It is a woman “who struggles to liberate herself, who is consecrated by God as proclaimer of the hope for her people, …who knows how to be faithful to the task of making justice and peace flourish, who opts for God’s cause and the law of love” (Asisi-Diaz). Although these two feminist movememts concern representatives of different ethnic and religious groups, they have much in common. Their understanding of the woman and her role in the community coincides in many aspects. However, womanists emphasize the necessity of love for oneself as the prerequisite of becoming the leader of the community while mujeristas opt for love as the generalized concept. Mutual love and respect as well as “echoing God’s reconciling love” are of primary importance for the mujeristas (Asisi-Diaz). Both groups prioritize the role of religion for building a strong community, yet the womanists’ theology seems to be more elaborated. Mujeristas seem to have a general framework for their theology, yet some peculiarities are to be developed and expanded.
The mujeristas theology is not simply the feminist movement as it has been intended to become a broader phenomenon. Another Latin American movement is the Chicana feminism, yet it deals predominantly with typical feminism issues from the cultural perspective than with the definition of a woman and her role in the process of constructing a strong community. Nonetheless, there is a suggestion that “Chicana feminism has the potential to be a feminism for everyone”, which is unlikely as it is designed to address the issues of Latin American women, but not the representatives of other ethnic groups.
A woman is a complicated and versatile notion that has been differently interpreted by various groups in accordance with the ultimate goal of the designation. The above mentioned feminist groups give their comprehension of this concept denoting it respectively a womanist and a mujerista. Despite different names, it is obvious that a true woman is the one who is capable of love, respect, and caring while being strong willed and intelligent. Her role in the community is the central one as she is responsible for its survival and nurture. She is the culminate force of all changes in the society as well as the accumulative vessel of wisdom and culture.