Thursday, March 13, 2014

You Said What Now? or, Teaching Audre Lorde

Yesterday I used the word "fuckable" in class for the very first time.

Mind you, it's not that I keep my word choice PG in the classroom anyway.

(In fact, part of my first-day lecture includes the comment, "Any questions?  Any problems?"

They all gaze at me, some in bright anticipation.

"Worried I'ma say fuck in class a lot?" I always add.  "Don't worry, I will.")

We have reached Audre Lorde in my Women's World Lit class, and before we started Zami, I had them read Lorde's speech on The Master's Tools, which, if you've taught it, you know students always need some help with.

So I was outlining on the board just what sort of tools the patriarchy might be using, and asking them which tools Lorde specifies white upper-class heternormative feminists were using in their attempts to destroy the master's house.  And one of the tools, obviously, is by erasing the existence of anyone who is not a white upper-class heternormative feminist.

"This isn't always done deliberately," I said.  "In fact, Lorde implies that she understands the erasing is not willful.  That is, these white upper-class heternormative feminists have failed to include anyone of color, or anyone who is LGBTQ, not out of malice, but out of ignorance.  They tell Lorde it's not their fault; that they just don't know any black Lesbian feminists.  Well, is that okay?"

"Why don't they know any?" one of my students demanded.  "That's the point."

"Exactly," I said.  I've got excellent students in this class, btw.  "It's like the people who claim they aren't racist, that they don't even see color.  What's wrong with that statement?"

"It's bullshit," another student said.

I grinned.  "That's true, too," I agreed.  "Almost everyone who says they don't see color just happens to also be a racist.  But besides that, what do you mean when you say you don't see color?  You mean you don't see people of color.  You mean you're erasing the existence of anyone who isn't a white upper-class heternormative feminist."  I paused.  "Or, you know, a white upper-class heteronormative rich guy, if you're really in charge."

They thought this over.

"It's like that guy," I explained.  "John Derbyshire.  Who said that women over 20 were past their sell-by date* -- what did he mean?"

"Women over 20?"

"He really said that?"

"He means women over 20 aren't useful to him," I said, "because they're not fuckable anymore."

This got a big laugh.

"And a woman who isn't fuckable," I said, "well, what is she good for?  Derbyshire and guys like him erase women they don't want to fuck from the world entirely.  Why aren't you publishing essays and short stories by women? you ask them and they say, oh, we just don't know any women writers.  Well, that's because they've erased women from their landscape."

They thought this over, too.

"And that's what the white feminists were doing -- to some extent, still tend to do -- to anyone who isn't white, and upper-class, and heteronormative, and from their neighborhood: erase them."  I spread my hands.  "You don't build with the master's tools and get anything except the master's house."

I would have gone on, but we were already two minutes past the hour.  So I sent them off to read Zami instead; or tried to.  About half the class wanted to hang around and talk about the speech.

These are such good students.

*Obviously, I am not quoting Derbyshire precisely here.

1 comment:

Karenne S said...

I really miss the dialogue that takes place in your classes.