Story 6: Coming Apart: By Way of Introduction to Lorde, Teish and Gardner
Walker talks about her experience writing an introduction for a chapter in a book called Take Back the Night, about pornography and sexual violence.
The editor of the book sends Walker three articles to read to give her some context. They are from Audre Lorde, Luisah Teish, and Tracy A. Gardner.
Walker is inspired by these articles to write a piece called "A Fable," which was published in Ms. magazine before it was included in the book.
In the story, Walker imagines an African American husband and wife who run into a bit of a problem in their marriage.
When the man comes home in the evening after work, he finds that his wife has dinner waiting for him. But he takes a little "me time" in the bathroom with his porn mag.
And, of course, the wife finds the magazine in the bathroom later. She's pretty darn upset about it, especially because the magazine features beautiful white women.
The wife feels inferior at the idea that her husband might really think of these women as the height of beauty. She tells him that these types of mags hurt her and asks why he needs them.
But inside, the wife feels like she is at fault. Maybe she's overreacting. Anyway, maybe it's just time for her to grow up and accept that this is the way men are.
The husband thinks he knows why his wife is mad—because of the white women in the magazine. So off he goes to buy a new kind of porn—porn that features Black women.
But this is no good. The women are shown in degrading positions. His wife thinks they look like "a human turd at the man's feet." Ouch.
The husband and wife go to New York City together. He totally digs the seedy side of the city, prostitutes and sex shops and whatnot. She does not.
The wife looks into a shop window for a moment while her husband walks ahead of her. She's confronted by a pimp who wants to know if she's "on the job."
The wife is pretty appalled, but her husband laughs and tells her that she should take it as a compliment. She's not buying that.
Also, there's the matter of the shop window. Inside are plastic sex dolls posed in some seriously compromising positions. The husband is shocked and aroused by them; the wife is horrified and traumatized.
Back at the hotel, the wife sees images of Black female enslavement on a popular TV show. She asks her husband what he thinks of it, but he doesn't say much.
The wife checks herself out in the mirror and decides that she isn't hip or beautiful. Maybe she's turning into her mom at an early age. But she thinks, "What's wrong with that?" Her mom is a pretty sexy lady, even if her hair is gray and she likes to go to church to praise Jesus.
So, the wife decides to push back on all this stuff that oppresses her. She starts reading feminist texts and shares them with her husband.
The husband thinks his wife is nutters and says so. But she gives him an essay by Audre Lorde to read. When he realizes that Lorde is speaking of a lesbian romance, he backs off. He won't be schooled by a lesbian, he tells his wife. She reminds him that plenty of his porn mags feature random lesbian encounters, and he likes those. Bam.
The wife reads a bit of Lorde's essay, where the author talks about using people's feelings instead of sharing them.
The husband realizes that he won't be able to think of his wife sexually in the same way as before and is pretty sure that their marriage is doomed. You know, because change is hard.
The husband is annoyed by all this, as if his wife were violating his manly rights. She hangs Lorde's essay over the kitchen sink as a reminder.
Their sex life changes. The wife tries to connect more deeply with her husband, but he's having none of that. He's used to "using her" sexually, not really being with her.
The wife eventually shares another essay with her husband, this one by Luisah Teish. See how Walker is working these essays into her fable?
This essay is called "A Quiet Subversion." It discusses how aspects of the Black Power Movement glorified Black masculinity at the expense of Black women.
The husband is super annoyed at this essay because he knows that his wife knows that the Black Power Movement really shaped him. It's another nail in the coffin, so to speak.
Walker notes that the husband thinks of his wife as "still black," while he's moved on to something more awesome. Something beyond Black.
Walker also stops to give a definition of a "womanist": a Black feminist. This is how the wife identifies herself, rather than as a feminist.
But her husband accuses her of becoming a tool of white feminism and of being a bra burner (horror of horrors) and a minion of Gloria Steinem.
The husband feels that his wife hanging out with "dykes" and whites is an insult to him as a Black man. After all, Black men are still being lynched for their involvement with white people.
And that's when his wife whips out Tracy A. Gardner's essay. She's prepared. Gardner talks about the historical view of the abuse of Black people.
Gardner focuses especially on how Black women have suffered. She sees racism everywhere—even in the women's movement. Now that's something the hubby can get behind.
Gardner goes on to talk about how American slavery was especially destructive to the role of the Black man in his family, how he could no longer protect or provide for his own family.
Slavery also brought Black women into a society of white male dominance.
After the Civil War, says Gardner, new problems popped up for Black people: joblessness, and violence against them and harassment by whites.
Then there are the lynchings. Nearly 50 percent of Black men who were lynched were accused of rape or attempted rape.
Both husband and wife are depressed by this stat. But they also learn that Black women were lynched, too.
A light bulb goes off in the husband's head. He understands why his wife is so upset about porn that shows Black women in chains. She sees porn as a continuation of this disgusting past. The lynching keeps on happening.
The wife shares another passage: how the white man's hatred of Black bodies translated into inhuman treatment of women in porn and real life.
And it's not just poor treatment of Black women. Because white women fought for equality, it puts them in the same category as Black people in the minds of white men.
Hubby is having some seriously conflicting emotions. He realizes that he also wants to humiliate white women for trying to gain power. This makes him uncomfortable. For him, this all reflects back on his sexuality. He understands now that if he really wants to be with someone, he has to face the person he actually is. And that's just not pretty.
And Gardner's essay supports this. She says that Black men have taken on the white man's perspective. The white, blonde woman has become the ideal.
When a Black man sees a Black woman, he feels shame: that he was unable to protect her, that they really need each other equally for protection. He can't be dominant.
The wife winds all this up with a question: how does her husband think she feels when she sees his white girl porn on the table at home?
The wife also wants her husband to understand that Black women are exploited differently by the porn industry. White women may be objects, but Black women are shown as animals.
The husband feels pretty sick about his own use of porn now. But his fantasies are really all he has to arouse himself. What now?
The husband realizes that he's been so far into his own needs and fantasies that he's really never been making love with his wife. It's been all about him.
The two of them decide to take a break from each other. And they really do spend their time differently.
At first, the husband can't let go of the porn. But eventually, he starts to read his wife's books and begins to miss her. By the time she returns to him, there's some healing in his sexual response to her. But there's still room for improvement.