One of the most compelling aspects of the feminist movement is the diversity of thought and action from various women throughout feminism’s history. Decades of research, activism, hurdles, barriers, and victories for women have been a crucible for a wealth of curated knowledge from some of the world’s most brilliant minds. Two of those minds are Audre Lorde and AnaLouise Keating. Both Lorde and Keating recognize that humans are all inherently different and contain within them a variety of identities that both subjugate and strengthen a person within society. While both argue that these differences are inherent, they do not necessitate animosity. Lorde explores the history of these various differences and what they have meant for oppressed groups, while Keating explores tangible ways to overcome the divisiveness of difference and move towards a unified future.
Lorde argues throughout her essay that although there are varying systems of oppression that created hierarchies within society, members of society must work to bridge the gap between differences. She argues that “…refusing to recognize the difference makes it impossible to see the different problems and pitfalls facing us as women…” (Lorde). In other words, by seeing all women just as women, we allow members of society with varying stratifications of identity to fall through the cracks. For example, by not seeing the impact that being a lesbian of color can have on a woman in a homophobic and racist society, then we cannot work towards making her recognized as equal. One size fits all solutions will not work for equality of all women, Lorde argues. When solutions for women’s inequality is centered around white, straight, middle-class women’s values, we ignore the majority of women who do not fit into these identities. All women face inequalities but in different ways. Lorde says, “ignoring the differences of race between women and the implications of those differences presents the most serious threat to the mobilization of women’s joint power.” In order to advance equality for all women, we must recognize our differences. Jewish women must stand hand in hand with Muslim women. Black women must stand with white women. Able-bodied women must stand with differently abled women, and so on. Women must be able to put discomfort with difference aside to lift one another up into a new era of equality.
Keating outlines the tangible ways that women, and all members of society, can bridge our inherent differences in three lessons. The first lesson is about making connections through differences and seeking commonalities. Keating acknowledges that our individual differences can be vast: “…[they] are formidable; they cannot be fully understood or entirely anticipated. At times, these differences are so sharp, so profound, and so deep that they seem permanent and impossible to span…” (Keating). Yet, she argues, differences don’t disappear because we ignore them, they grow bigger. Therefore, differences are not in and of themselves divisive. Our refusal to acknowledge them and understand them is what divides. Second, Keating insists that we must forge an ethics of radical interrelatedness. Keating claims that “…we are interrelated and interdependent-on multiple levels and in multiple ways.” So even though as individuals, we can seem vastly different from our neighbors, there is still so much that unites us as humans. We are all in the same boat. Lastly, Keating’s final lesson is about listening with raw openness. We must listen without preparing to refute another’s point. We must listen and put aside our biases. We must listen with good intention, even if we are listening to someone who is very different from ourselves. A person with privilege or an identity that is valued in our society must be able to radically empathize with people with oppressed identities. A heterosexual woman, therefore, must be able to listen to her lesbian neighbor, when her neighbor discusses the various discriminations she faces. Following these lessons, we can pave the way for a future that unites all women who are able to strive for justice and equality.
Both Lorde and Keating acknowledge and argue that it is impossible to ignore differences between individuals and groups of people in society. Both know that, due to the type of society we live in, social hierarchies and varying values based on certain identities cause inequity and inequality among different people. This is unavoidable at this time. But in order to move past and work against these varying inequalities, we have to recognize they exist. More simply put, in order to solve the problem, we have to name the problem. Both authors understand that we must unite as a society to overcome these problems, but applying one size fits all solutions to these problems undermines and ignores the most marginalized people- the people who need the most help.
But both authors differ in their perspectives of this phenomenon. Lorde takes extensive time to discuss the history of the women’s movements and the shortcomings of the dominant white, heterosexual, able-bodied, middle-class feminist values that were able to lead the movement. She explores the varying identities, and who is left out of the mainstream narrative of ‘sisterhood’ within the feminist movement. Lorde lays the foundation for the need for understanding difference. She explores difference and what stratifications of identity exist. She focuses on the differences between black and white women. She discusses the past while offering perfunctory solutions for the future. In the end, I find Keating’s work to be more compelling than Lorde’s, though both have their merit and necessity.
Keating’s argument was easy to follow throughout her essay and her message is simple: listen, empathize, act accordingly. With three steps (steps that might not be easy to do but are straightforward in principle) we as a society can begin to heal our collective wounds but with an individualized treatment for each patient. Keating offers concrete ways that we can bridge those intrinsic, inherent differences between groups of people. It is with her steps that society can come together as individuals without either (collectivity and individuality) being mutually exclusive and work towards true equality for all people.