Womanism, feminism, and Their Eyes Were Watching God

Feminism is a theory that is focused on class and then it focuses on race. So, we understand that feminism talks about gender discrimination. But gender is something that comes after race and class. There are some debates about whether we should talk about race first or gender first or class first. First of all, we are human beings before we are male or female. Then, we are rich or poor. Therefore, to talk about ourselves first of all we need to define ourselves as human beings and if we are not able to define ourselves as human beings, our gender identity or our class identity is going to be false. On the other hand, Womanism is in contrast to feminism. It is more concerned with the different problems faced by black or brown women living in a racist society. Alice Walker’s term ‘womanist’ means “a woman who is committed to the survival and wholeness of the entire people, male and female”. In contrast, feminism is more concerned with fighting for the rights of women in society. Womanism is more holistic. It is more comprehensive in the sense that it inspires a kind of total liberation. Total Liberation means women and particularly black women in the United States. These theorists argue that freedom at the same time liberty is incomplete if you cannot free the other sex. It means that if you cannot free the man in society, you cannot free women in society. That’s why it is different from feminism. Therefore, the novella Their Eyes Were Watching by God is based on Womanism philosophy as it focuses on the recognition of people as human beings beyond their class or gender. 

Primarily, a black woman goes through many things when she comes into contact with feminist writing written by white women. A black female novelist who is familiar with feminism has to re-adjust herself in the racial context. This is because, in the feminist discourse, a black female is not even recognized as a human being. For instance, the text Oroonoko is written by white female writer Aphra Behn. In this text, she objectified the black female character by addressing her as “polluted things” and at the end, this black female character embraces death (Behn 172). Then, in the essay, “A Room of One’s Own” Virginia Woolf tells us Shakespeare had a sister who came to London like Shakespeare with the dream of becoming a poet and play-writer. But her fortune was not like Shakespeare’s; she ended up being pregnant and then committed suicide due to the system of patriarchal society. Therefore, as a female Shakespeare’s sister had the same fate that was faced by black writers. From the perspective of scholar Long Shi, 

As the feminist critic Virginia Woolf in her A Room of One’s Own declares that men have and continue to treat women as inferiors. It is the male who defines what it means to be a female (Bressler, 1999: p. 181). Their Eyes Were Watching God not only shows men’s absolute domination over women but also represents the spiritual link between nature and women. Murray Bookchin indicates that “the very idea of the domination of nature by man comes from the very real domination of human by human”. (3).

So, if a black woman has “A Room” (a metaphorical word that refers to opportunities), they are not going to have it as successfully as a white woman writer. Moreover, during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras in America, black women writers emerged. They fought for their rights in paper and ink. Black women joined the fight against the European and American patriarchy. For instance, when the black female writer wrote in the United States in 1926 that is the time when the first wave of feminism fought for voting rights. White women were fighting for their votes whereas black women did not even have the right to be recognized as human beings. 

Secondly, white feminism fights against sexist behavior in society. That means people are discriminated against based on gender not necessarily based on their race. Black women have to fight for their racial identity and gender identity whereas white women fight for only their gender identity. A black female writer has to fight on so many levels. She has to address gender discrimination at the same time to address racial discrimination on two levels. Therefore, black women often do not ally with white feminists. Many black women did not align with white feminists. This is true because white writers and white feminists are not going to understand the problem faced by black writers or black feminists. For instance, during the colonial period, African-American/ Afro-Carribean women faced oppression while living on the plantation. So, they addressed the issue of discrimination from other positions. Those who talk about their problem from very flexible positions are identified as womanists as their fight is not only against gender discrimination but also against racial, political cultural, national, and other forms of discrimination that indulge her position as a human being. 

If a black female writer wants to establish herself, and wants to make recognize people in society herself as human beings, she may not only consider her skin color but her life from a political, cultural, national, and gender perspective as well. So the moment a woman incorporates all the dementias identity, she goes beyond the feminist identity. Despite the differences, African-American women share similar attitudes even though African-Americans are comparatively in a better position because they are living in a first-world nation. So, black women are distinct from white women. They are unique because, as women, their reality was different from white American women. For hundreds of years, African American women were forced to work on plantations. Today, they are not entitled to benefits that many black men enjoy. So these issues often find expression in literature written by black women. During the colonial period, they experienced a lot as black women because first of all they live in plantations, that’s why are forced to live in a segregated society. The concept of marriage was destroyed by slavery. They find themselves frequently in very difficult situations. We also find the same thing in the novella Their Eyes were watching by God, Janie finds difficulties in her marriage. 

Janie experiences a different sort of feeling in her marriage… but rather she experiences what Nanny warns about branches without roots, as if she is hovering in a strange world. She is cut from her ideal world of nature and forced into a bitter rootless one, but she is still hopeful. (Sepideh 126)

The realities for black women and realities for white women were completely different and because of these differences, black women take a unique perspective and understanding at the same time establishing themselves as a human being in society. This issue shaped womanist aesthetics. Several critics tried to understand the novella Their Eyes Were Watching by God from a feminist perspective but they failed as this text is not based on feminist European mainstream white feminism rather it is based on a black womanist aesthetic.

Hurston masterfully represents racial and gender issues without resorting to the anger and hostility that appe….. allows her to draw an accurate image of the African American woman in the early 1900s. Her choice of the African American dialect grants Janie Crawford a voice of her own despite society’s constant attempts to silence her. (Qashgari 1)

So this novella focuses on people’s rights as human beings, not on their race or class.


Moreover, a feminist novel oftentimes is a form of protest which is directed at both men and women. It is not necessarily against men, it is also against women. Living in a patriarchal society women are also often conditioned to think like men and they are not even aware that they are sexist that means they are physically women but mentally they think, act and behave like a man and that is why a feminist often time protest against man and woman in a patriarchal society. So it is against power structure, it is also propagandist. Propagandist means it has some agenda as it has some objective that is addressed in the form of arts. A feminist novel also upholds feminist ideology that means different rights not necessarily political and economic rights but also aesthetic rights to be interpreted from the perspective of third-wave feminists. Feminism ideology is the critical perception of a reaction to patriarchy. Patriarchy means a woman has a husband or father who discriminates against her. We need to understand patriarchy in its different forms because we are living in a patriotic society for quite a long time. That is why even our thought process is conditioned by the norms that are revised by patriarchy. The moment we focus on the understanding of patriarchy we are trying to understand it critically. And a common aspect of understanding feminist ideology is to address gender equality. For example, I am a girl and encouraged to some selective profession. For example, nursing and teaching. It also talks about female victory, that once we are fighting against discrimination at one moment we should be motivated by the desire to win, and that feminist ideology also talks about style based on feminist discourse. 

Next, in contrast to a feminist novel, a womanist novel is different. A womanist novel shares most of the feminist ideologies but there is a difference. For example, there in Jane Eyre is a feminist Nobel there is no doubt. Jane is a reviling against male dominance because she married three times and she was against her mistreatment. It is again against male dominance but now for black readers are not a feminist novel because it is the celebration of white survival ethics. As she is biracial she is betrayed by a white woman. Jane becomes the epitome of white feminism, and Bertha ends in tragedy. A feminist novel often celebrates the authority of the female characters and celebrates women’s position in power. A feminist novel often celebrates the authority of the female characters and celebrates women’s position in power. They celebrate the radical stance taken by a character so particularly in this novel Jane Eyre is often feminist because it is the celebration of white survival ethics. 

In contrast, Their Eyes Were Watching by God is not a feminist novel in the sense Janie was not fighting against any white oppression. She was fighting for her rights in the society as a human being.

 Their Eyes Were Watching God from a perspective of black feminism, which portrays the heroine’s… Janie’s resistance, Janie’s fulfillment, including the independence of personality and the independence of economy could be witnessed by time and history, which expresses black feminist consciousness. (Long Shi 6)

 This text is bitrates the various ideologies that are upheld by white feminism. If the text is feminist that put them into a more appropriate position in the power who is she was not. That is why we can say that this text betrays white women. Jean faced oppression by white feminism because she is biracial. After all, she is not white; she ends in tragedy because the white character is depicted as successful whereas a biracial character does not. It is because the writer was more racist unconsciously which is why she could not put racial character into a position of power or depict her as a successful person. That is how the feminist text does a disservice to the black characters in a novel. Bronte’s lesson is learned by many novelists because they are less careful. Feminism subtly demands total white control. So feminism even though they talk about brown black women having the right but the white woman always want to be in the position of power. So this is why Womanism is necessary. Because if someone tries to address the problem faced by black women in society and she should not use an ideology that is developed by white women because that ideology is designed to put white women in the center, not black women. And the classical example works by Nigeria’s BuchiEmecheta. These are deeply grounded in British and Irish feminism. BuchiEmechetais from Nigeria and she is living in London. So even though she is also black she is feminist. She tends to feminize the black man making him weak and unsuccessful because she is a feminist and then she is also a black person and then because of his understanding of gender discrimination in society from the perspective of White feminists. She always tends to show her male character as weak because she is fighting against gender discrimination in society and she considers males as her opponents. That is something that is un-expectable by womanists and they always think that you cannot achieve total liberation if you do not include males. So being and black person from Nigeria is doing a disservice by embracing white feminism. Our female characters are present as rebellious but they are unaware of their sexiest dilemmas. Because they had embraced white ideologies they are prone to understanding the problems in the society only in terms of gender discrimination they are not able to perceive themselves as human beings. They always perceive themselves as victims of oppression.

In a womanist text we will find that novelists often provide very integrative holistic portray by the end of the novel where there we will find there is a more acceptable reconciliation between to sexes. And because of this commitment that means one is committed to liberate herself not in isolation which means she is going to liberate herself as a community and in that community one has a male partner as well. Because she fights for communal liberation because of her communal sense of belonging, a black feminist is quite different from a white feminist. A black woman shares the problem faced by men in society that’s why she incorporates these entire things white feminists never share this thing. White women missed often against the patriarchal society which is ruled by men. So patriarchy for white women is real-world power what does it mean because a white feminist she born into a patriarchal society for her patriarchy is the real power. Patriarchy for black women is a domestic affair it is not power. A black womanist does not have any problem in expecting her husband brother or son’s position in power that is designed for him. It does not mean that he is going to impose on her; it does not mean that he is going to dictate her affairs. Black women live in a more peaceful domestic environment nothing is imposed by anyone whether it is any male father or mother.

Black Womanism is the philosophy that celebrates black rules and tries to uphold the ideals of black life and it tries to portray black womendom. For hundreds of years black men or women, they are not interested to separate themselves as men or women. As an ideology, it tries to unite men and women who have been victimized even though not equally.

Black women lived at the bottom of society; they suffered from the oppression of both sexuality and racial discrimination. In Their Eyes….Janie’s struggle expresses black feminist consciousness-awareness, which becomes an independent female individual bursting her voice in the male-dominant world. (Long Shi 1)

So in this novella, we found that a black woman goes beyond her race and wanted to establish herself in society as a human being. Janie was not against his society’s male but she wanted her right and respect from the society’s people. She became a person through the experience of her three marriages. Then she also spread her knowledge in the society.  

                         To shed light on the above discussion, feminism focuses on their equal right in society and to establish their rights most of the time they go against the male person of that society. Womanism philosophy is quite different from feminism. Womanism focuses on self-respect and the rights of a human being in society. The novella, Their Eyes Were Watching by God also finds the same scenario. Janie bravely came out from the racial or class boundaries and establishes herself as a human being. 

                                                                                                                                                             Work Cited 

Neale Hurston, Zora. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1937. 

Shi, Long. “Black Feminism in Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Scientific Research Publishing,

 vol.8 No.1, Jan 2020. 

Qashgari, Sawsan. “Racism, Feminism and Language in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were

 Watching God.” Arab World English Journal, Vol 1, No 2, May 2017. 

Hozhabrossada, Sepideh. “Illuminating nature and Gender Trouble in Zora Neale,” International

 Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature, Vol 4. No 5, 2015.  

Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko, 1688.