A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Category Archives: Audre Lorde

Sister Outsider: Discussion Questions and Wrap-Up

Happy holidays to all who celebrate them, and a lovely few weeks to all who don’t! I hope you’ve been able to take some time off for yourselves and your loved ones, and maybe even been able to curl up with a good book or two 🙂

Having seen Audre Lorde referenced all over the place within feminist circles, I was relieved to finally read her work for myself. This collection was more diverse than I thought it would be. I wasn’t expecting so much about poetry as a means of expression, for example, or the first and last pieces about Russia and Grenada, respectively. And honestly, I didn’t find those topics as striking as the others.

My favorite parts of Lorde’s essays were the ones in which she details some of the microaggressions she faces regularly as a black, lesbian, feminist woman by feminists and non-feminists, men and women, and people of all races alike (the bullet points on p. 126 in the essay “Uses of Anger”, for example). These allow us to see just how insidious notions of superiority really are, and how easily dismissal of others disguises itself as something benign. As Lorde makes clear, this is no less true for feminists than it is of anyone else, regardless of their academic standing or level of “awareness”. This is a really important criticism that remains relevant as feminists (and others) continue learning to understand each other better through the acknowledgment of difference while moving away from generalizing experience in attempts to build solidarity.

At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that Lorde made some uneasy generalizations herself. I felt this mainly in her discussion of female eroticism…(what the heck is that?!). In her interview with Lorde, Adrienne Rich asked her to speak to similar criticisms, one of which was that, in response to the essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury”, she’d “heard it remarked that here you are simply restating the old stereotype of the rational white male and the emotional dark female” (p. 100). Her response was complex and nuanced. Personally, I wasn’t completely sure what to make of it, so my first question is:

Did you find her response to this question convincing and/or satisfying? Do you think the criticism itself is valid?

Another thing I think we should discuss is the theme of anger. I understand that anger is a contentious topic within feminism, because it is so often used to unfairly belittle, dismiss, misdefine, or oversimplify feminist claims and arguments. At the same time, I agree with Lorde that anger is an appropriate response to oppression, that it can lead to productive work, and that it’s important both to feel it when it occurs and to be willing to deal with it. Feminism is not defined by anger, nor are feminists. We are all human, though, and anger is a human emotion. So:

How do you understand the relationship between anger and oppression, or anger and feminism? Is there one? What kind of role can/should it play? Why does it so often seem easily dismissed?

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. I know I wrote in my introduction that I would be focusing on this essay, as it seems to be the most widely quoted. It was one of my favorites, but I hope no one minds terribly that I ended up inspired to ask questions about others as well 😉 In any case, it was easy for me to agree that real change requires a complete restructuring of power relations and that Lorde’s expression of this need was effective and particularly eloquent. But, easier said than done! My question is:

How do we recognize the master’s tools for what they are?

Finally, I was interested in Lorde’s discussions of parenting a boy as a lesbian feminist in an era when separatism was more seriously regarded (by some) as a serious option. In recent years I’ve seen a lot more discussion about not only feminist parenting, but feminist parenting of boys, which I see as a really positive development. Girls seem to receive the bulk of feminist education, be it from their teachers or their parents…but boys need it too! I don’t have any specific questions about this, but if any parents would like to weigh in on what they thought of Lorde’s essays on the subject, or on their own experience, I’d be delighted.

Anything else? If there’s something you’d like to discuss or think I’ve neglected anything important, do feel free to bring it up!

Oh, and please stick around for updates on plans for 2012. We may have slacked off on hosting duties at times (ahem, sorry)…but I know the first year of feminist classics has been both challenging and fulfilling for us and hopefully some of you as well. Looking forward to hearing from you (even if it has to wait until the holiday season has passed) and thanks for your participation!

Introduction to Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde

I am excited to be hosting discussions about Sister Outsider this month, as I’ve been looking forward to this one all year! I know that many of us will be very busy leading up to the winter holidays, but most of these essays look short and, well, anything’s bound to feel a breeze in comparison to Butler! (I admit that I did not get to it last month, but have struggled through the section on performativity for many a college course).

According to Wikipedia, Audre Lorde was, in her own words, a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” who wrote throughout the ’60’s, ’70’s, and ’80’s. Like bell hooks, she wrote compellingly about racism within U.S. feminist movements and argued that recognition of, and respect for, differences amongst women is crucial for any movement seeking to build meaningful relationships of solidarity between them. This is pretty standard feminist discourse, now, I think; back in Lorde’s day, though, this was a highly contentious claim and a lot of other feminists reacted defensively, marking her an “outsider”.

Still according to Wikipedia,

In her essay “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”, Lorde attacked the underlying racism of feminism, describing it as unrecognized dependence on the patriarchy. She argued that, by denying difference in the category of women, feminists merely passed on old systems of oppression and that, in so doing, they were preventing any real, lasting change. Her argument aligned white feminists with white male slave-masters, describing both as “agents of oppression”.

This is the essay I see mentioned most frequently in conjunction with Lorde’s name, so it is the one around which I will probably focus discussion. I will be reading all of them, though, so if there’s another essay you think is particularly interesting or important that I don’t bring up in my next few posts, please don’t hesitate to interject! Lorde had a huge impact on feminist thought, so I’m sure there will be no shortage of worthy discussion topics 🙂