In 1984, Audre Lorde, black lesbian feminist writer, published an essay entitled “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Though was speaking about ways feminist women might find to begin to “dismantle” the patriarchy that has afflicted us for so long, I’ve applied her thesis to many other situations. Just now, I am recalling Lorde’s challenge to find radically different “tools” rather than adopting those used by the very people/institutions we were trying to change. A friend alerted me to the recent appearance of statues of a nude Donald Trump positioned in several US cities. I found them on Google.com and then found them very disturbing to me. While I deeply lament what this obscene man has done to the English language and to any idea of civility, I could not embrace the manifestation of outrage and disgust that I assume lies behind this gesture.
I do not think of myself as a prude, nor do I shy away from political satire as an outlet for moral and political outrage. I even found the statement put out by the New York City Park Board clever. (The statement said in essence “Erections are forbidden in the park, no matter how small.”) Maybe I can respond with a guffaw to the statement while finding the statues outside my framework because the printed word is different from the visual image. Certainly we know the last assertion is true in many instances, especially in this technological era in which the visual is so omnipresent. Perhaps I also understand the moral outrage being felt and expressed by many serious Mormons in Utah, Republicans who say they can’t vote for Mr. Trump because of his obscene language on television and at his rallies. These people do not think it is a good thing to curse and make reference to women’s and men’s sexual anatomy in so public a forum.
If I try to analyze what it is about the statues that pushes them beyond my limits of what is culturally positive for me, I discover several specific objections. The sculptor has made the “flesh” of the naked figure laced with cellulosis, something women certainly have been made to feel ashamed about having as we age. Such imperfections of our skin is seen as unappealing to the male gaze. Similarly, the sculptor has given the statues a large, sagging stomach that falls over the sex organs. Once again, women are encouraged to experiment with dangerous diets or procedures to lose such flab, to have it “tucked” or removed/reshaped. So I arrive at what I did not grasp at all in my initial negative reactions: These statues make the big tall MAN look like an aged and no longer sexually appealing WOMAN. So my responses relate to my very old and very strong resistance to stereotypical depictions of women’s bodies for the comic pleasure of male viewers.
So we arrive back at Audre Lorde’s essay written 40 years ago: It will NOT make any serious or permanent change or even dent in patriarchal abuse of females if we define “liberation” as allowing for a similar abuse of males, even one as unworthy, dangerous, and offensive as the Republican nominee for President of the United States.