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Sojourner Truth and Womanism

Sojourner Truth lived during a time when African Americans were only just beginning to experience a taste of freedom from slavery and a taste of achieving a status. It was during this period of emancipation of slaves, African American in race, that Sojourner Truth delivered powerful statements regarding her own rights and freedom as a woman. Truth’s speeches were aimed not only to attain recognition for African American women but for all women across all genders. It is the goal of this essay to show that Sojourner Truth remains as one of the earliest prototypes of womanism.

Womanism is a term that was coined by Alice Walker. She describes a womanist as a “black feminist or a feminist of color” (Walker, 11). From this definition alone, it can be said that Truth was indeed a womanist as she was an African American who battled for equality of the sexes. Truth stresses her desire for women to have the opportunities that men have. She points out that women do not have the voice that men are allowed to have. The injustice she feels about these issues rings clear in her speeches as she clearly sees men and women to be equal despite the fact that during her time women were treated as inferior to men.

(Truth, 80) In Keeping the thing going while things are stirring, she says, “If it is not a fit place for women, it is unfit for men to be there. ” (Truth, 80) This type of thinking was revolutionary during the time of Truth but the fact that she was able to voice this out points to her strong conviction about the equality of the sexes. Walker also describes a womanist as a female who acts in an outrageous and unbecoming manner because of her efforts to attain more than what is socially acceptable. (Walker, 11) Truth’s assertions of “Ain’t I a woman?

” (Truth, 79) in a Women’s Convention in Ohio would have been considered during the period to be outrageous. Here, Truth emphasizes the similarity of women regardless of their race and origin and stresses the fact that women are just as capable as men. (Truth, 79) Sojourner Truth points out that the way men reportedly conduct themselves in the presence of women is not evident in the way these same men conduct themselves towards her. She is not helped into carriages as is done for other non-colored women.

She states the fact that she has been able to withstand and endure physical and emotional burdens of an intensity that are said to be bearable only by men. (Truth, 79) She also shows womanish behavior, behavior aimed at acquiring more than what is allowed for women, when she stresses the need to allow women to vote and to have their freedom in society as well. (Truth, 80) An audacious statement at that time, she says, “What we want is a little money. ” (Truth, 80) Truth also exemplifies Walker’s definition of a womanist when she explains that giving women their rights opens up many new roads for men and women alike.

Women will no longer be financially-dependent on the men and may even be able to contribute more than men in financial matters. Truth acknowledges that having men let go of their moral hold over women might be hard at first but stresses that it will eventually bring a much better future. (Truth, 80) This is typical of Walker’s concept of a womanist. Walker classifies a womanist as a non-separatist who is intent on maintaining the stability and survival of the whole of society, which includes both men and women.

(Walker, 11) and this is exactly what Truth shows herself to be when she integrates the possible effects on men of the reforms for women that she wishes to be undertaken. Walker stresses that a womanist is one who ascribes to the culture of a woman. She is one who is able to appreciate the qualities of a woman such as tears and emotional dexterity. (Walker, 11) Sojourner Truth also ascribes to these qualities in women in that she describes the pains of childbirth, a phenomenon solely experience by women, and the hardships of motherhood.

(Truth, 79) Yes, she is able to stress the strengths and equal ability of women with respect to the men but she is also not remiss in establishing the culture and meaning of womanhood. Even Walker’s definition of a womanist as someone who loves music is seen in Truth’s speeches. (Walker, 11) “so now I will do a little singing. I have not heard any singing since I came here,” says Truth in clear evidence that she and her behavior is a strong prototype for womanism. She not only exhibits the more essential characteristics ascribed to a womanist but even exhibits its less salient qualities such as a love for music.

These qualities could easily be considered as the finer points of a womanist, characteristics that may be absent in an individual classified as a womanist. When one dissects the speeches that Sojourner Truth gave, it can easily be deduced that she was a womanist. Assessing her words to arrive at an understanding of her personality and ideologies leads one to conclude that she is, in fact, the perfect epitome of what Alice Walker describes to be a womanist. There are no significant ways in which Sojourner Truth differs from Alice Walker’s womanist.

She is, indeed, an ideal prototype of a womanist.

Works Cited

Truth, Sojourner. “Ain’t I A Woman”, in Feminist Theory A Reader. 2nd ed. Wendy K. Kolmar and Frances Baarthowski. New York: McGraw Hill, 2003. 79 Truth, Sojourner. “Keeping the Thing Going While Things Are Stirring” in Feminist Theory A Reader. 2nd ed. Wendy K. Kolmar and Frances Baarthowski. New York: McGraw Hill, 2003. 79-80. Walker, Alice. “Womanist Definition” in Feminist Theory A Reader. 2nd ed. Wendy K. Kolmar and Frances Baarthowski. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2003. 11

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