Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde is a collection of speeches and essays written in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Lorde, a self-described “Black lesbian feminist socialist”, emphasises the necessity of celebrating difference and recognising the tools of the oppressor in her groundbreaking feminist work. In a speech entitled Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference, Lorde asserts that “the true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us”. Her essays challenge us to identify these pieces of the oppressor within ourselves and ultimately to discard them.
Throughout this collection, Lorde offers a defence of poetry, feeling, and those deep, non-rational elements of womankind, which are dismissed by the “white fathers” as useless and dangerous. In Poetry is Not a Luxury, Lorde asserts that poetry is essential to life and especially to women for it is through poetry that we illuminate and give shape to our ideas, hopes and fears. She challenges patriarchal, rational, Enlightenment ideals by arguing that no thought could be articulated without the aid of poetry.
Lorde similarly defends the non-rational in Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power. This thought-provoking essay explores how men have confined the erotic to sex, for they view it as a dangerous force in other areas of life. Lorde explains that the erotic is an empowering, creative energy, which should be included in all aspects of life, from work to love. It is the force which enables us to feel deeply all aspects of our lives, to scrutinise our existence and the world around us. Naturally, it is a force that is oppressed by a patriarchal society, terrified of any disruption to the status quo. Perhaps our own reluctance to embrace the erotic is another piece of the oppressor within ourselves to be discarded.
Lorde’s criticisms are certainly not reserved for the patriarchy. She also critiques women for failing to acknowledge and celebrate difference. In An Open Letter to Mary Daly, Lorde criticises the radical white feminist for ignoring the differences between women in her work, thereby excluding the unique voice of black women. Lorde does not advocate a homogenous society in her search for equality but rather she calls on all women to use their differences to “enrich our visions and our joint struggles”. Lorde’s message is timeless – when society leans towards uniformity we must remember to celebrate difference. And we must always remain vigilant for those pieces of the oppressor which find their way into ourselves.
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Image courtesy of S Pakhrin at Flickr.