In 2017, most of us like to consider ourselves “open-minded.” Phrases like, “I don’t see color,” run rampant throughout modern society. And, hopefully, the intention that such a declaration is made with is positive. The unfortunate fact is that, though positive, pretending that you “don’t notice” color within race is actually ignorant and detrimental to progress. Audre Lorde, author of the 1984 essay “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” explains in the work how women are aiding the overarching patriarchy in its oppression, even if it is unbeknownst to them.
When Lorde writes of feminism in this essay, she writes with an engaging voice about how women of every race, age, sexual preference, class, etc. need to band together to fight for equality. However, while doing so, she writes of how imperative it is that differences be noticed and acknowledged. What may be a struggle for a black lesbian woman greatly differs from the daily struggle encountered by a white heterosexual woman. Therefore, to believe that all women fall under the same umbrella of oppression is not just false, it is perpetuating the oppression that is not experienced by the more dominant women. She even argues against this type of grouping women together blindly, and says, “There is a pretense to a homogeneity of experience covered by the word sisterhood that does not in fact exist” (Rivkin & Ryan 855).
Lorde acknowledges the danger of sexism, homophobia, racism, and classism not just on the part of men, but of other women. According to Lorde, some women seek to ascend from their oppression by trying to appease the patriarchy that has become so institutionalized in society. She writes that, for some white women, it is easier, “[t]o believe the dangerous fantasy that if you are good enough, pretty enough, sweet enough, quiet enough, teach the children to behave, hate the right people, and marry the right men, then you will be allowed to coexist with patriarchy in relative peace…” (Rivkin & Ryan 857) This concept is understandable–in fact, it is indicative of human nature. Everyone wants to be aligned with the “best” or the “top.”
The hierarchy of society becomes etched into our minds, and this process begins at a young age. White, heterosexual, financially-sound men are at the top of society’s pyramid. So, naturally, those who see a way to align themselves with the highest rank are going to work to do so. Therefore, white women (who do not have privilege in sex, but in race) have incorrectly deciphered what will please the men in their lives over time. Many of these forms of pleasing are typical female stereotypes–be sweet, be quiet, do not be bossy, tend to the children, cook the food, clean the house, etc. And, by doing this, many white women see “a way out.” They see ways in which they can please the patriarchy, and maybe, just maybe, be of enough merit to hover somewhere near the highest rank’s spot on the social pyramid. But, in doing so, they have not only perpetuated a myth that the patriarchy embedded within them through years of conditioning; they have left behind other women.
Audre Lorde does not want all women to simply band together as women; she wants a revolution that fights for equality within every facet of oppression. Her essay speaks of not being so naive or ignorant as to ignore or not notice difference. However, she wants the difference to be embraced. Women, people of color, and all who are oppressed struggle, but struggle differently. These struggles must be differentiated and noted, but they must not divide.