Archive for October, 2010

Women in Agriculture

Kofi Annan states, “Study after study has shown that there is no effective development strategy in which women do not play a central role. When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately; families are healthier and better fed; their income, savings and reinvestment go up. And what is true of families is also true of communities, and, in the long run, of whole countries”(Gaag).

Women in agriculture all over the world have had a positive effect on their families and transforming their communities. In the Feminist Food Revolution, Jennifer Cognard Black states, “Women have been changing the way food is produced, prepared and consumed(37)”. Michelle Obama has been an advocate for this movement. She began an organic farm at the White House where she has had educational programs on farming and buying local and organic foods. The New York Times publicized Michelle Obama’s garden and many families started to build small scale farming in their own backyards. Michelle Obama stated, “My hope is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.” I realized how easy it would be to begin my own garden plot. For about $100-$200 for seeds and soil, I could have a substantial garden supplying me with seasonal and organic fruits and vegetables for my family and myself.

http://clio.fivecolleges.edu/umass/photos/130women-students/

However, the majority of women in agriculture feel unappreciated for their hard work and dedication to their land. Carolyn Sachs states, “Although women do the majority of work in agriculture at the global level, elder men, for the most part, still own the land, control women’s labor, and make agricultural decisions in patriarchal social systems”. While women in Africa are appreciated in their communities for tending to the land and educating their families on agriculture, other women in places such as India are prohibited to work the fields because it is a man’s business. Recently, a group of women joined together to work the ploughs, weeding, and irrigating, in spite of negative cultural attitudes and discrimination from men. Women began to break the “patriarchal social system”. “If the women of the village have access to land, they can provide food for the family instead of needing money to buy it…that there may be a long way to go until women in her community get equal rights to own land, but through this farming effort, the women of Bara village have taken a bold step towards that”(Women Master Art of Farming). These women pursuing equal land rights has given them a sense of empowerment for themselves, their children and their community.

Women Master Art of Farming

After visiting the Dickinson College Farm, reading the stories of the powerful women in Bara, and the efforts of Michelle Obama I was truly inspired by how women and agriculture can truly shape a community in a positive way.

Work Cited:

Gaag, Nikki van der. The No-Nonsense guide to Women’s Rights. Oxford: New International Publications, 2004. Print.

“Women Master Art of Farming.” 15 October 2010.< http://blip.tv/file/4123559>.

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Soil is Not a Dirty Word

Lying facedown on the grass, inhaling the scent of the grass and decaying leaves, my fingers worming their way through the soil, I was beginning to feel nostalgic. When was the last time I played in the grass and smelled the humus that fosters it? I walk over grass and soil everyday yet the scent and feel of it remind me of a time long ago when I wasn’t too busy to lie down and absorb the wonder of the ground. I dig my hands in deeper and feel the soil’s texture, temperature and – EW A BUG. The soil has temporarily lost its magic.

The good ol' days.

My relationship with soil is as temperamental one. Sometimes I recognize it as a provider, a nourisher, something to plant my zinnias in. Other times I instead perceive it as dirt – something on the bottom of my shoes that my housemates yell at me for tracking in. One wonders whether there actually is a difference between the two terms, however it is easy to see that “soil” and “dirt” tend to have very different connotations. Most people associate soil with gardens, fertility and nutrients, though “soiling” something is certainly a negative action. People tend to view dirt as something unwanted: dirty shoes, dirty little secrets, getting paid dirt. How have these words that define a life-giving substance come to describe things that are unwanted or need to be cleaned?

Merriam-Webster dates “dirt” back to the 13th century and is from the Middle English word drit, which likened to Old English’s drītan to defecate. According to the Online Entymology Dictionary, soil can be traced as far back as the Latin word solum – “soil, ground.” Its most recent relative is from Anglo-French c.1300, soil – “piece of ground, place.” It  In Old French, soil was the wallow of a wild boar which transformed in Old French into souillier, “to foul, make dirty.” Perhaps we can blame pig’s muddy habits for our use of soil as a negative term, but the use has certainly expanded beyond that of describing a soil-covered animal. It is interesting to note that when one searches “soil” in Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, the verb form is the first entry to come up: “to stain or defile morally, to make unclean especially superficially.”

In her book Soil Not Oil, Vandana Shiva details the climate, energy, and food crises the world now faces and how they are tied to the way we use (and misuse) soil. Soil degradation is happening at an alarming rate: topsoil is being depleted 16 to 300 times faster than it can be replaced with current farming methods (Suzuki 100). This is all for the sake of development and industrial agriculture, an industry that relies on chemicals to simulate what organic soil could do if it was maintained properly. The soil’s value is incomparable because nothing can truly mimic do what it accomplishes. In addition to growing plants that provide us with food and oxygen, soil and vegetation are two of the world’s largest carbon sinks (Shiva 113). Just one hectare of organic soil is capable of sequestering up to four tons of CO2 per year (Shiva 98).

Soil, dirt, the stuff that grows our vegetables, trees, and flowers: there is no substitute for it, yet the way the world produces food and develops land does not support soil’s continuation. Shiva points out that “the most creative and necessary work that humans do is to work with the soil as coproducers with nature” (Shiva 6). It is time we start recognizing soil for its power and beauty and using “dirty” or “soiled” as a compliment.

Sources

Shiva, V. 2008. Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis. South End Press.

Suzuki, D. 2006. “Made From the Soil.” From The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre.

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The Erotic: A Common Misconception

Today I decided to take a poll. I asked my friends, fellow residents, and students of Dickinson College, “When I say ‘erotic’, what is the first word that comes to mind?” I was not surprised by the answers I received, as I have a strong understanding of the associations related to the erotic compared to what the erotic actually means. There was definitely a general theme to the answers I received. The words were as follows:
Sexual, kinky, turned-on, desire, porn, fetish, sex, evoking, arousal, intense, dirty, sexy, stripper, dance.
All of the words that came to mind were directly related to sex. Kinky, fetish, turned-on, and dirty all allude to a more intense or exotic sexual experience. Evoking, arousal, desire, and sexy all seem to involve the stimulation of a sexual experience. Put together, the general college student believes the erotic to be an extreme sexual desire or wild experience. I find this to be particularly interesting because in the mind of most ecofeminists, the erotic is much more than a sexual experience, feeling, or desire. Audre Lorde, in her essay “Sister Outsider” describes the erotic as “a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling” (Lorde, 1983). The way that Lorde describes the erotic insinuates that it is a spiritual fixation derived within each and every one of us. Both men and women are capable of reaching the erotic, and the unique experience it has to offer. But why is it that the erotic is mostly associated with women, sex, and desire?
The misconception of the true meaning of the erotic is leading to the suppression of such a feeling. Because many sexual acts are looked down upon for women, women attempt to restrain feelings of the erotic. For example, when I asked a particular person what the erotic means to them, they replied “stripper, strip club, erotic dancer, etc.” These terms that this person chose to associate with the erotic describes something that is often looked down upon in society today. Although some women believe that women in the sex-working field are empowered and strong, like Annie Sprinkle, stripping, pornography, and exotic dancing are mostly frowned upon. Does this in turn imply that the erotic is something that is frowned upon as well?


Because the erotic is misnamed by men and society as a whole, women are refused the right to experience such an incredible feeling of sense of self, internal satisfaction, and self-respect. Don’t get me wrong, the erotic is capable of coming from some form of sexual experience; however, the associations with sex and the erotic are over-exaggerated. The erotic can mean any number of things to a particular person. Because the erotic lies within everyone, only that person is capable of deciding the feeling or affect of the erotic. The erotic can mean intense love, joy, happiness, knowledge, meditation, sex, chaos, power, self, sensation…the list goes on.
Audre Lorde describes the feeling of the erotic as our sense of self, the chaos of our strongest feelings, sharing deeply, open and fearless underlying of a capacity for joy, and so much more (Lorde, 1983). When the erotic is released from a particular person, a strong energy is provided throughout the entire body to strengthen and sensitize that person. Although I have not yet found the erotic inside of me, I hope to one day discover the impeccable feeling it has to offer.
Unfortunately, so many women are unable of reaching the erotic that they crave. Because women today do not live by the guidelines and objectives of the erotic, our lives become exterior to us as women. Instead of following our own erotic, we (women) are conforming to the structure of society. When we are finally able to live within ourselves and truly recognize the meaning of the erotic, we can reach the deepest feelings and sensations of the self. Women who reach the erotic will no longer be associated with the “other” and can finally live in a state of self-worth, and deep emotions, that cannot be stepped on by culture or man.

-Maggie Rees
Sources:
Lourde, A. (1983). Sister Outsider. Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.

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…the grass really is greener on the other side of the mountain

3 girls enjoying the view of Perry County from Waggoner's Gap

Before Ecofeminism became part of my Dickinson College class schedule, I knew little about my surroundings or the history of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.   Cumberland County symbolized a place that was only real to me from the end of August until May. Carlisle equaled school and nothing else really. Somewhere in my college career, I lost sight of the beauty of the land around me.  I stopped noticing things such as: worms everywhere after it rains, where Orion was flying in the night sky, and the disappearance of the un-worked land. As a Women and Gender Studies major, I would often spend a lot of my time focusing on the oppression of people. I would try to find ways to change societal framework to alter the norms and pre-scripted thoughts of other people. What I failed to understand was that the environment suffers as a result of rape and oppression in the same ways women so often have.

The environment is over worked and severely under appreciated. We, the human race, take and take and take from the land and don’t give enough back. Whenever new land is found, historically society has wanted to conquer the land and reap its benefits. For example, in the historic text by Thomas Hariot, states that “And by the means of sowing & planting in good ground, it will be farre greater, better, and more plentifull then it is.” It appears that all Hariot wants is to find a way to use the land, not enjoy it. He sees it as one giant commodity, a place to farm and prosper. Why can’t he and all the others that came before and now those after him coexist with the land?

Today we still do not appreciate the beauty of the Earth until we are required. This past week our class visited Waggoner’s Gap, which lies on the county line dividing Cumberland and Perry County. It was a class trip of sorts, so everyone in Ecofeminism came along. At first this “class trip” was annoying. It required class to start earlier and stressed me out about getting back to campus for my next class.  We loaded into our vans and started the drive, making a few turns, we got to the outside of Carlisle It was then that I realized that I had never seen this drive, from the passenger vantage point. I looked at everything in sight out the window. I really took it all in, every house, tree and cow. As each minute passed, I felt less stressed. When our class finally reach Waggoner’s Gap and climbed to the top of Hawk Watch Point, calm rushed over me. During our 10 minute meditation period, I looked to both Cumberland County and Carlisle to my left and Perry County to my right. They looked so different from each other. Cumberland was much more urbanized and Perry seemed so wild and natural. At some point I started daydreaming about exploring Perry County and found myself getting lost in the sea of colors, which made up the mountainside of tress. The thought of even that small bit of wilderness and forest was enticing to me. Prior to when Ecofeminism was a part of my weekly schedule, I would not have wanted to explore the area surrounding where I spend so much of my time. I would have said “This place is pretty, but I have homework to do.” During the class trip I didn’t want to leave the mountain and go back to the real world or Carlisle, industry, and school. I wanted to stay right where I was enjoying the sunlight and the view. There was something exhilarating about being outside in that fresh air, doing nothing but taking in my surroundings. It gave me a chance to really understand how much the Earth does for us. It provides us with life. The majority of society doesn’t ever stop and thank the plant for all it does for us on its own, without humans. It is working to help us stay alive even when we do not appreciate or care for it. That day at Waggoner’s Gap showed me how much I have to be thankful for and how important it is to stop for a few minutes, take a deep breath, and really observe and take in my surroundings.

Hariot, Thomas “A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia” http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/hariot/hariot.html

Photo: Emily Olman

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Balance and Connection

Last week our class took a field trip to Waggoner’s  Gap in Cumberland County. We spent fifteen minutes sitting in silence and taking in our surroundings, observing the land, listening to sounds, and doing our best to ignore/appreciate/tolerate the stink bugs that flew into our faces. Suddenly a man’s voice interrupted our peaceful moment asking who we were and what we were doing there. Once we said that we were there for an ecofeminism class, instead of inquiring as to what ecofeminism was, he simply remarked that this explained why there were no “dudes” there. Now from here, I could go into several tangents about what exactly a “dude” is and wonder why he felt the need to point out our lack of “dudeness” and ask why he wasn’t curious enough to ask us about what ecofeminism was because surely he had no idea. Instead, I will leave anyone reading this to ask those questions herself, and I will address the question that was not asked, “What is ecofeminism?” Even as I write this on my new computer with the newest version of Microsoft Office, every time I write the word ecofeminism, I get the red squiggly underline telling me it’s not a “real” word. Fortunately I already have much skepticism about what is defined as “real” (real woman, real man, real dude…), so I will let the red underline be for the moment.

So, what is ecofeminism? In this blog I am trying to give a midway through the course definition of this newly acquired way of looking at the world and the challenges it is presented with. One of the ideals I have begun to associate with ecofeminism is balance. Balance between nature and culture, tolerance and intolerance, human and other, nature and technology. These dualisms restrict my ability to experience life genuinely and with depth and compassion. Balance nature-time with culture-time. Balance expertise with new beginnings and inexperience. Balance productivity with active restfulness (sleep is not active restfulness). Balance knowledge with being. It is difficult to find a way to balance all of these extremes. It is easier to let one take over and so we tip the scale to wherever it best suits us.

Instead of balance, or in addition to it, ecofeminism suggests connectedness. Instead of precariously adding values to each end of the scale, we connect values in whatever ways we can. In A Garden Planet, Natalie Merchant discusses our environmental history and the record of how we connect with nature. She addresses different recovery narratives of how to get back to a state of “Eden” with our planet and she suggests this connectedness I mentioned; “I propose an environmental ethic based on a partnership between humans and the nonhuman world: rather than being either dominators or victims, people would cooperate with nature and each other in healthier, more just, and more environmentally sustainable ways. I show how complex interconnections can weave us into cyclical melodies and envelop us within new enigmatic, sacred tales (emphasis added)” (Merchant 8).

One of the values I’ve begun to connect with in ecofeminism is the value of the soil. Breath is one of the most important life forces. Energy and breath come from the soil that surrounds us. Soil supports us literally and metaphorically. It gives us food, it holds our water, it holds together our “land.” It has no say in who owns it, how it is used, where it is taken, what is dumped into it, who walks on it or drives over it. Yet, it perseveres. It continues to support life of all kinds. It continues to create magnificent scenery that we only occasionally stop to admire and appreciate. It grows around the obstacles we create for it and it never complains. Never criticizes. And how do we, humans, show our support? A few of us try to preserve land and the habitats it provides for non-human beings. Some of us find the time to admire it. Some of us cultivate it. But few of us learn about it or even realize actively that it is there. I search daily for peace and happiness, paying therapists and taking medicines. I search high and low. Yet never am I more relaxed and content than when I take the time to breathe, to be conscious of what surrounds me and what I am a part of. And when I am face down with my nose in the soil, it smells magnificent. Experiencing this connectedness, physically, spiritually or emotionally, with the soil, the earth, our surroundings, other people, other non-humans, beings living and not living, is a part of being able to understand ecofeminism and the unity and appreciation it strives to create.                                      http://www2.redbubble.com/people/agent7/art/5597883-1-angels-with-dirty-faces

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Things That Make You Go “Hmmm”

In her essay, “Uses of the Erotic:  The Erotic as Power”, Audre Lorde states that the term “erotic” has “been misnamed by men and used against women” (Lorde, p 54).  Specifically, the term has been associated with pornography that “emphasizes sensation without feeling” (Lorde, p 54).  But, Ms. Lorde seeks to expand the meaning of the term “erotic”, taking advantage of the “fullness of … depth of feeling … in honor and self-respect … of what we do … [and] how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing” (Lorde, p 54).  In other words, Ms. Lorde is expanding the unbridled sense of joy and power that a woman typically feels while erotically engaged and applies that joy and power to any activity that a woman might undertake.  It is an uplifting and empowering message for all women.

http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.sculpturegallery.com/austin3/thinker_lg1.jpg&imgrefurl=http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2006_12_01_archive.html&usg=__tCsTbXQWoVuFAwwzM6r8i1u4CJg=&h=360&w=355&sz=59&hl=en&start=0&zoom=1&tbnid=nDYS1_a0-vyDqM:&tbnh=142&tbnw=145&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dpicture%2Bof%2Bthinking%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26biw%3D1358%26bih%3D746%26tbs%3Disch:1&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=1096&vpy=237&dur=353&hovh=226&hovw=223&tx=137&ty=142&ei=WWq3TOK4F8KB8gb9iImlCQ&oei=WWq3TOK4F8KB8gb9iImlCQ&esq=1&page=1&ndsp=29&ved=1t:429,r:14,s:0

Personally, I loved the message.  I thought about one of my favorite activities: listening to old classical music while drinking a glass of wine and soaking in the bathtub.  I relish the softness of the music as it fills my consciousness, the warmth of the water surrounding my body, the chill of the white wine in my hand, and the feeling of relaxation and joy that I experience.  But, now the word that I use to describe that experience has changed; the word is no longer “indulgence”, it is “erotic”.

http://www.google.com/imgresimgurl=http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1311/816806307_cf67ad0dbf.jpg&imgrefurl=http://shelbydupree.blogspot.com/2007_09_01_archive.html&usg=__gFUKlSjArwUNYqij1QNM3B1Uc-A=&h=500&w=366&sz=115&hl=en&start=0&zoom=1&tbnid=Y86Z2nIVodAo0M:&tbnh=151&tbnw=110&prev=/images%3Fq%3Djoyous%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26biw%3D1358%26bih%3D746%26tbs%3Disch:1&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=569&vpy=52&dur=878&hovh=262&hovw=192&tx=94&ty=161&ei=Dcu3TKXhD4O8lQfN-9zKDA&oei=5sq3TPG1A8P58AaWr_jhCA&esq=7&page=1&ndsp=30&ved=1t:429,r:3,s:0

Ms. Lorde’s message is not really new.  There have been many expressions or writings that suggest the same message.  In “Desiderata”, Max Ehrmann told us to “strive to be happy.”  In a Christmas letter to a friend, Fra Giovanni Giocondo told us that behind very trial there is “a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power.  Welcome it, grasp it”.  There have also been popular sayings along the same lines, such as “stop and smell the roses” or “live for the moment” or “go for the gusto”.  And it is among these same messages that Ms. Lorde’s adaptation of the word “erotic” becomes lost.

If Ms. Lorde had chosen to articulate her message with expressions like “strive to be happy” or “go for the gusto”, we wouldn’t be reading her essay in our class.  It is because she has chosen a sexually-charged, male-dominant, bordering-on-pornographic term that her essay has a place in our curriculum.  And, this is the paradox.  While feminists (and other groups) flight battles against oppression, these groups use the same vocabulary weapons to spread the message.  In her article, “Feminist Epistemology: An Interpretation and a Defense”, Elizabeth Anderson says that “the use of a term with established colloquial meaning … permits the … transfer …of its colloquial connotations” (Anderson, p 68).  Is Ms. Lorde transferring the sexual “erotic” connotation onto the joyful “erotic” experience through her use of the term?  Why does sex always have to be the analogy against which many messages are drawn?  Are we confused … or offended?  Does it make you go “Hmmm”?

http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.montanaheritageproject.org/images/jpgs/dice.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.montanaheritageproject.org/index.php/edheritage/questions_classroom/&usg=__iHFNMKz7BENkiZpsDAq6nQSFAH4=&h=229&w=225&sz=11&hl=en&start=29&zoom=1&tbnid=zRfxqPKL2bEWhM:&tbnh=147&tbnw=143&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dpicture%2Bof%2Bquestioning%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26biw%3D1358%26bih%3D746%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C474&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=499&vpy=436&dur=366&hovh=173&hovw=170&tx=135&ty=102&ei=z8u3TLn0D4W8lQfH2qy3DA&oei=asu3TMXJFYH-8Ab36_j6CA&esq=21&page=2&ndsp=30&ved=1t:429,r:10,s:29&biw=1358&bih=746

Bibliography

Anderson, Elizabeth, “Feminist Epistemology: An Interpretation and a Defense”, Feminist Theory: A Philosophical Anthology, Eds. Ann Cudd and Robin Andreasen. Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 2005. p 188 – 209.

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Beyond Bashing Binaries

“C’mon! We’re better than that!”


Binaries. Dualisms. Dichotomies. Opposites. Distinctions that can assist human understanding, but also limit the clarity of connections between that which is supposedly oppositional. Val Plumwood lists various dualisms in her book Feminism and Ecofeminism — reason vs. nature, male vs. female, mind vs. body, human vs. nature, self vs. other — showing that the different distinctions form a matrix of separation. It is also easy to tell which ones society commonly considers as good or acceptable. During the first few weeks of my study in the Ecofeminism course we  “laid the groundwork” of theory and criticisms, especially of binaries, for the rest of the semester. We read a chapter from Julia Serano’s book Whipping Girl, another exerpt from Anne Fausto-Sterling’s book Sexing the Body, and the chapter from Plumwood’s book, critically considering these dualisms, their interconnection, and how they affect our perspectives towards the various supposedly “opposite” entities. It was clear that understand and deconstructing these dualisms was pertinent for our study in Ecofeminism. Direct quotes from the Course Objectives on the syllabus: “Embrace systems-thinking, non-binary thinking, and critical thinking skills […] Unravel and critically examine deep-seated binaries.”

After reading these criticims, I personally fell into the mindset that binaries are bad! That whoever created them and employed them as subordination tactic was bad! It’s not that binaries are bad, like Ramsay said in class: it is hard to reconcile the philosophical use of dualisms for understanding different concepts. It makes perfect sense for the human mind to psychologically categorize in order to understand. However, binaries do not allow us to make connections between various entities, meaning they disable systems thinking and the ability to see the interconnected web of all life, whether human or not.  As Plumwood says, “It it not just the fact that there is a dichotomy […] it is rather the way the distinctions have been treated, the further assumptions made about them and the relationship imposed upon the relata which make the relationships in question dualistic ones” (Plumwood 47). Difference happens over and over in nature, but dualisms point out the differences as defining, thus limiting, and dividing. They focusing on how various ideas or entities are dissimiliar, justifying their domination. This is plainly seen in the distinction of nature as different from mankind, allowing the exploitation of various natural resources.

I was worried that we would only bash binaries for the rest of the course, but was pleased that a few weeks after reading the dualism criticisms that our class discussion turned towards connections, instead of focusing on discussing the negative aspects of viewing the world through a dualistic “lense.” What made a specific impact on me was Sarah Brylinsky’s discussion and drawings of a balance beam and a wheel. Dismissing the idea of finding a balance between different aspects of our lives (I’m a Libra, no fair!), she showed that thinking in terms of interactions, like the spokes of a wheel, actually makes much more logical sense when considering humans, nature, culture. Each of the different spokes of the wheel is an individual, yet important element in the function of the bike as a whole. It is just as Julia Serano shows in her book, that we can acknowledge differences and the variety of individual experiences! They don’t have to be hierarchical or dualistic. They can be appreciated for their unique contribution. This idea is also found in one of my favorite articles from crimethinc.com, called “One Dimensional Life in the Three Dimensional World.”

I am glad that as a whole we have begun to establish connections and think more in systems rather than focusing on dualisms and their negative effects, for these new ways of thinking are very important for forming an ecofeminist view of seeing, and ultimately healing, the world.

“All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man does not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

-Chief Seattle

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It’s all about Choices

As we read Rape of the Land, by Andrea Smith, the conversation trickled down to how we consider and connect population and the environment.  From my past experience (interning for Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program this past summer) and our conversation in the Ecofeminism classroom, I gathered a good over-arching point: we must consider quantity of the global population AND the quality of lifestyles that drastically vary – not just quantity.  Let me explain…  When we discuss population, it should not be about the number of people in the world or they carrying capacity of the globe.  Our conversations should be about resource consumption, the range of lifestyles across countries, and the recognition of lifestyle quality choices and changes.  Quantity can also come into play but along side the idea of reproductive justice, informed choices, and basic human rights.

"The Fate of the World is in your hands... and in your Pants." - Sierra Club Global Population and Environment Program

"The Fate of the World is in your hands... and in your Pants." - Sierra Club Global Population and Environment Program

Understanding how the global population will be effected by climate change is a major importance when looking at the connection between population and the environment.  Unfortunately, not all parts of the world and not all people will be affected the same way.  As we read in Soil Not Oil! by Vandana Shiva, those least responsible for climate change are those worse affected by its consequences.  For instance, global challenges like over consumption, rapid population growth and climate change all affect the quality and accessibility of water.  This particularly puts a strain on already limited freshwater systems (fresh accessible drinking water is less than 1% of the earth’s water – the rest is in impractical forms like of salt water and ice).  In addition, water scarcity, as well as contamination, disproportionately impact poor women and girls.  For many girls, the time commitment and effort that is required (and is increasing) to walk miles to access clean water impedes their schooling.  These obligations to their families withhold basic education or the ability to get a formal wage-earning job.  As a result, many women become locked into a vicious cycle of poverty and inequality. This consequently has a ripple effect that impacts entire communities and countries socially, economically, and environmentally.

Last summer, I learned that the best way to address rapid population growth and the pressing consequences of environmental degradation is sustainable development via choice family planning and services.  Meaning, for instance, not forcing a woman to take birth control or forcing sterilization; not enforcing a law that discourages women from having the family she chooses, but providing the resources to allow women to make educated reproductive choices for themselves.  In fact, there are many women who want help – they want the choice of how many children to have because they see the effects having a large families has on their lives and the environment around them, but do not have the access to those resources required to make those choices.

Paying attention to the reproductive health of women around the world only concentrates on one side of the issue (quantity) – the other side is the connection between population and the environment = lifestyle choices (quality).  As a woman in America, I consume much more than an average women in, for instance, India.  My lifestyle is highly energy consuming (from the production and transportation of my food, clothing, and other items, to my travel by car and plane, to the heating and cooling my house).  The waste I produce and the resources I use are extremely high (not matter how much I recycle).  In order to break this vicious cycle we must choose a different lifestyle, which includes things like eating locally, limiting the amount of driving time, growing a backyard garden, being prudent about energy use at home.  It’s all about choices.

“Everybody thinks of changing humanity but nobody thinks of changing themselves.”

– Leo Tolstoy

Rebecca Yahiel

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Made for…who?

I spend about eight months of the year in this American state, but I am not from Pennsylvania. No, no. I’m from a much flatter, colder, and developed part of the United States: Chicago. To anyone from the area I would identify my actual hometowns, Park Ridge and Wilmette, the two suburbs just north of city in which I actually grew up. It was in these two places, these two homes, that my dad would softly sing me to sleep one of two songs in his repertoire of the “Notre Dame University Alma Mater” and “This Land Is Your Land.” Until recently, I had not realized how these two songs– one Christian and the other North American, privileged, and racialized — are cultural narratives which have had significant influence in forming my identity, specifically “This Land Is Your Land.” Reading exerpts from Carolyn Merchant’s  book Reinventing Eden inspired my recognition of these narratives as so formative to my identity and how I view, or have previously failed to acknowledge my own culture and interactions and views of nature.

Upon moving here for college, I was amazed at the rolling hills (my friends from West Virginia and Ithaca, NY refuse to let me call them “mountains”) of the Cumberland Valley, but I never ventured into this beautiful land outside of the college campus. However, this year I have spent more time at various places in the Valley through my own personal interest and through Ecofeminism: rock climbing at Whiskey Springs, biking North of campus and feeling awed by this, and of course, our class field trip to Waggoner’s Gap. Experiencing the beautiful land surrounding my college has helped me feel much more at home here in Pennsylvania, that I do indeed belong here, that I am a participant of this land. It was biking through McClure’s Gap Road and spending time atop Waggoner’s Gap in which I finally understood what bell hooks is talking about in her newly published book Belonging: A Culture of Place, when she says that our “sense and sensibility [of home is] deeply informed by our geography of place” (hooks 9).

My participation in this ecofeminism course has assisted my new identification with the Cumberland Valley, through methods such as the Bioregional Quiz and holding class at Waggoner’s Gap. It was in that specific class, hearing Sarah Brylinsky talk about how fertile our land is here that I really came to appreciate all that this place has to offer. That same day, we talked about the gendered conquest of land, specifically in relation to Thomas Hariot’s inventory of the new land of Virginia in 1585. I challenged the idea that a masculine interaction with new land would be different from a feminine one (we only have one history, it’s hard to use my imagination to rewrite American history as though English women would have explored this place). But either way, the masculine  mindset of extraction possessed by the men exploring the new world still has an obvious legacy. Just consider the lyrics of one of the songs that formed my childhood, “This Land is Your Land.” They go like this: “This land is your land, this land is my land […] this land was made for you and me…” I found myself humming this song, amazed at the idea that this land could have been MADE for us, humans, to use. The European paradigm of man and nature quite obvious: that humans are separate from the earth, for these natural resources were placed by God for humans to exploit. This song also communicates much privilege when considering those who would consider the United States as their land. Would the daughter of two migrant workers, possibly not even a “citizen” of this country, consider this her land? What about the people from whom this land was usurped from (Native Americans)?

Since beginning my Ecofeminist study, my thoughts about land have changed a bit. For one thing, I rarely thought about actual land. Where I come from, a metropolitan area, land is a commodity. Spare land = $. Not only have I found a new appreciation for this land around me, the Cumberland Valley, but I have also come to consider it my home, a geographical location affecting not only my physical sense, but also my spiritual sensibility.

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Enjoying Complexity

As I live my daily life, I do not often think about what the land provides for me or how important and complex the land is beneath my feet.  When I thought about the beauty of the earth before this course, I had a picture of a romanticized fantasy.  For instance, I love watching Planet Earth and the beautiful images they captured on film.  However, this experience of the earth is through a television screen – I am not actually touching the land as we did during class.  I feel like I have grown up with an appreciation for food (from the art of preparing it, to the act of enjoying what I made), yet I am still ignorant.  My food growing knowledge is limited to volunteering at the college farm and my mother’s small garden, much like my restricted view of nature through a TV screen.  In general, I do not grow my own food – it is packaged and shipped to my nearest market.  By not hunting and growing food for ourselves (ourselves, meaning the majority of the people living in “developed” nations), we have lost that true connection with the land, and thus the true appreciation and understanding of its complexities.

When I lay on the ground, observing the soil from that level, I started to re-learn to appreciate nature for its complexity – I was physically seeing the extent of the grass system and witnessing the intricacy of the soil.  What we value in life, like food and beautiful landscapes, originate from the soil.  This realization gives me a sense of awe towards the earth’s system – something that appears so simple can be the base of all life.  The association of dirt and soil with negative conations comes from an uneven balance of knowledge about the earth.  The beauty of soil comes from what it can support, what it is composed of, how it is made – not what can we get from the soil.

The complexity of the earth’s systems is much like the complexity of the human body.  Once I let go of the social constructed views of a body (male or female) that cloud my eyes, I can see the beauty of its complexity.  I think about the digestive system (as we read and discussed from The Sacred Balance by David Suzuki) and how my hormones and emotions effect my every moment…. And more interestingly, how most of these simple complexities are shared globally 🙂 I love to be reminded that I am not only connected to the land, but also to the people around me.

I may have known or understood these concepts in the back of my mind, but bringing them to the forefront of my mind affects my daily thoughts.  Soil and my connections with it and the land is not just something to wash off at the end of the day – it is the source of all life (inanimate and animate – including mine!), it is growth, it is fertile, it is productive, it is nourishing, it is home – every day of my life.

Sunset at the Dickinson College Farm (Courtesy of Alex Smith)

Rebecca Yahiel

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