Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

ems, Old and New ( 1992). The selection is a 1979 essay from her collection of feminist essays and talks, Sister Outsider ( 1984). Here, Lorde frames an earlier version of the fractured identities perspective as a critique of white, academic feminism. This and her famous open letter to Mary Daly of the same year are early statements of the distance women of color sometimes felt, and continue to feel, from whitedominated academic feminism. Implicitly, Lorde's argument is a critique of standpoint feminism in that she affirms that her identity is not simply that of her gender but also of her race and sexuality. Audre Lorde died in 1992 after many years struggling with cancer, about which she wrote in Cancer Journals ( 1980).


The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House

Audre Lorde ( 1979)

I agreed to take part in a New York University Institute for the Humanities conference a year ago, with the understanding that I would be commenting upon papers dealing with the role of difference within the lives of American women: difference of race, sexuality, class, and age. The absence of these considerations weakens any feminist discussion of the personal and the political.

It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. And yet, I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminists and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable. To read this program is to assume that lesbian and Black women have nothing to say about existentialism, the erotic, women's culture and silence, developing feminist theory, or heterosexuality and power. And what does it mean in personal and political terms when even the two Black women who did present here were literally found at the last hour? What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.

The absence of any consideration of lesbian consciousness or the consciousness of Third World women leaves a serious gap within this conference and within the papers presented here. For example, in a paper on material relationships between women, I was conscious of an either/or model of nurturing which totally dismissed my knowledge as a Black lesbian. In this paper there was no examination of mutuality between women, no systems of shared support, no interdependence as exists between lesbians and women-identified women. Yet it is only in the patriarchal model of nurturance that women "who attempt to emancipate themselves pay perhaps too high a price for the results," as this paper states.

For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is rediscovered. It is this real connection which is so feared by a patriarchal world. Only within a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social power open to women.

____________________
Excerpt from "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House", in Sister Outside: Essays and Speeches ( Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1984). © 1984. Reprinted with permission from Crossing Press.

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