Audre Lorde, the feminist icon of the 20th century, who described herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” committed her entire life to fighting against the injustices of white supremacy, homophobia, racism, misogyny and classism.
While all of her iconic works remain immortal, one of the finest and the most important works is Uses of Erotica: The Erotic as Power published in 1978 in which Audre Lorde defines eroticism and how it is a profound woman’s power, so much so that it is seen as a threat to the white patriarchal order.
Audre Lorde’s definition of erotic
Erotic, as defined by Audre Lorde is a profound power that rests within every woman. While the term has evolved having sexually charged connotations, according to Lorde, it is much more than that. It is a power that lies within the spiritual plane of every woman and brings a deep sense of satisfaction to her. This satisfaction is not sexual, rather it lives as an agent of joy and fulfilment within every woman’s body. This is also precisely the part that disturbs the white supremacist and thus the white supremacy feels it must shun it down, time and again.
Women end up suppressing and devaluing this power, or better to say, they have been conditioned to. It is also true that the erotic has been presented as a symbol of female inferiority and thus women end up rejecting it to become better versions of themselves.
However, according to Lorde, this suppression only worsens a woman’s state and she feels even weaker than before. This belief rests in male dominance and if anything, women need to live through their eroticism to be equal to their male counterparts, in the case of America, to be equal to the white man.
The erotic has been modified by the men according to their whims and fancies. It has been presented as the ‘other,’ which needs to be shunned, trivialised and ultimately vanished. It has also been presented as a villain for any woman’s existence by the men so that women end up becoming tools for the patriarchy.
Audre Lorde also argues that once any woman has felt the importance of this satisfaction, she will know what she deserves and what her aspirations in life are. The erotic then is not just what we as women want from life but also what brings us the most amount of happiness, strength and power in achieving it.
The dangers of erotic
Audre writes, “Women so empowered are dangerous.” Women who know what is erotic for them, what brings them fulfilment and what they want from their lives are dangerous and are perceived as potential threats in society. They have been conditioned to separate the erotic from their lives and live a life of monotony, one which is suitable to the white patriarchal order.
Erotic is then a profound feeling of knowing and sensing what empowerment feels like. Once women know it, it is difficult for the men to control them and thus they feel that what is best is to present the empowerment as ‘dangerous,’ something that will affect women negatively in the longer run. If anything, it is standing up equally with the men and knowing our worth as women in the societies we are very much a part of – something that disturbs the masculine hegemony.
Lorde also argues that the erotic has been presented to women as synonymous with pornography, and thus something that has to be kept away from them. The men have created fear and anxiety amongst the women regarding the erotic so much so that they have detached themselves from this powerful feeling for the longest time. She also argues that, unlike pornography which only emphasises sensation without feeling, erotic is a sensation with feeling, fulfillment and utmost joy for any woman.
The power of recognising the erotic
Once any woman has recognised the power of erotic, she has the potential to bring a positive change in her world and the world in general. Audre Lorde also argues that once we can search for this erotic within ourselves, we are also able to be responsible for our deepest desires. We embrace them and eventually use them as powerful tools for ourselves.
Once this power of erotic is felt, women free themselves from powerlessness, despair and sadness. They are not just happier but feel more fulfilled and satisfied. The erotic also becomes a critical lens for women where they tend to analyse everything in detail and take up the things and emotions beneficial for them. They tend to discard anything that brings control over them and stop settling for the conventional path men, specifically the white men might claim to have paved for them.
For the Black women, the need to search for erotic becomes even more prominent. They are not just fighting against the prejudices of the patriarchy but also their voices and their desires are overlooked because of their blackness too.
The fight against the masculine world then becomes even more prominent and the tool of power, which is erotic can function to dismantle the masculine control better. It is also important for women to fight against the social and political aspects of this control and search for our layered identities, fight for them and stand up for them whenever needed.
The erotic is not just a source of happiness and fulfilment for any woman but it is also a need that every woman wants. Without it, one might feel dejected and lost in a world that is largely growing more prejudiced and discriminatory against women. To survive and to live in such a world, a woman needs the power of erotic in her life, feel it and be able to exercise it.