Notes Towards Day 16 (Thurs, Nov.1) : Ecofeminism?

Anne Dalke's picture

weather prediction:
49 degrees, 10 mph winds,
10 % change of precipitation, mostly cloudy

SaraL has located us in Taylor E (and will write about this):
mtran will decide on Tuesday's location (and e-mail us the night before)

I. Let's start today w/ the postings you did Tues/Wed nights...
which will also let us start by discussing the hurricane,
and what an "ecologically literate" response might be...

wildly successful experiment of posting/responding…

went back to something that bothered her in Ursula LeGuin's essay about science fiction--her imperialist use of "we" vs. "them"--probably too far back to excavate now, but something for us to watch in the future, as we do more careful reading: who does the writer assume she is writing to? who is "we" in any given text?

kicked off a conversation by asking how to start a new habit: consider it a must or a norm instead of an alternative?

wanhong agreed on the importance of determination and patience--and added belief: you have to believe that you can make a difference, in order to be motivated to act

SarahC was a little more skeptical: habits are hard to change, in part because we are part of a larger culture that has its "own" habits/addictions-- to machines, that has actually developed a will/direction of its own (apart from our individual wishes)--so we have to look for openings/opportunities to change that

Barbara picked up on another comment of Sarah's, from last week, about cities as habitats for people,
to reflect on our power and our vulnerability; and

wanhong elaborated: that the "powerful mask" of our cities emphasizes how vulnerable we really are

appropriately, a # of you reflected on your own habits during our 2-day "hurrication"
(this gave us a concrete example of the more general question about habit-change)

mbackus and her dormmates were speculating about why the most destructive hurricanes have female names, so she did a little investigating & found out that destruction was actually equally distributed, name-wise --so why had they thought differently?

Susan also investigated and found out that the system alternates male/female names (and often uses androgynous ones); she read this as rehabilitating women

SarahC: its matriarchal thinking: hurricanes are wonderful projections of MOTHER nature's uncontrollable power… It's in awe...that we feminize them.

[Cf. one of my other students, who questioned our habit of naming hurricanes, as a way of making them more manageable/less frightening]

that relates nicely to
CMJ's reflections on the tragic v comic duality we discussed; she asked if your  hurricane "parties" &  mini campouts were "comic" responses to a "meteorological tragedy" (a common impulse, like Alison Bechdel's comic reaction to her father's tragic death?)

alex used exactly the same framework, cf'ing her "comic" celebration on campus
w/ the "tragic" news reports  she saw the day after; 

SaraL also reported being safely "cocooned" in her dorm, while receiving anxious messages
from family and friends in Europe, who had a larger picture of the destruction; and

Rochelle was also "living in the comic mode" before pulling herself back into the reality/
tragedy of it all: "realizing the tragedy in a tragic situation is always important"

mtran added that 1.5 billion people in the world today are living without electricity on a regular basis

further discussion? what is an "ecologically literate" response to a hurricane?

Hannah? (Zoe? Shengjia?)

II. coursekeeping
we are going to continue this experiment:
by 5 p.m. next Tuesday,
Rochelle, wanhong, Zoe and all 4 S's (SaraL, SarahC, Shengjia, and Susan) should post on Serendip any reflections on the discussions we've had/readings we've done this week (you can do it this afternoon! you can do it even if you are not assigned to! you can go back and respond to something we didn't get to today! you can write further about something you yourself already put on the table!); by Wednesday @ 5, the rest of you should read these postings, and respond to @ least one of them; we agreed to require this of one another...]

For Friday's (8th!) paper, please either revise or expand the one you wrote last weekend (we've been discussing this individually--some of you want to move into a 2-week cycle on your papers, revising or expanding one week what you wrote the week before, and reading through the mid-semester evaluations and these papers, I decided that everyone could benefit from this shift: BUT LET ME BE VERY CLEAR WHAT THIS MEANS. YOU ARE NOT "EDITING"/CORRECTING THE PAPER--YOU ARE REVISING/RE-ORDERING/RE-THINKING. This complete re-drafting should take as much time as the first draft did. You are also free move on to our next topic, reflecting on the possible intersections (or absence thereof) that you see among ecology and the hierarchies/varieties of oppression that are marked by gender, race, ethnicity, or class.

Because we're playing catch-up, you won't be meeting w/ your writing partners in class today; you are of course encouraged to be in touch w/ one another outside class, and tell each other what you've seen....we'll keep the same partners for next week (when many of you will be revising your papers...); so you should mail your paper on Friday both to me and to the same woman you wrote last week:
Barbara <-> mbackus
Rochelle <-> Zoe
Susan <-> Sara L
Cahier <-> Hannah
mtran <-> Sarah C
Shengjia <-> wanhong
CMJ <-> alex

On Sunday night, please post about your next site sit. The last one seems long ago, and I won't take time now to review the postings,** but I was pleased to see what a difference Prof. Crawford's visit made, how it enlarged the perspective many of you have on the campus...

For next Tuesday's class,
please also read 4 short essays by Winona LaDuke, all written @ the turn of the century, about the ecological knowledge of Native Americans; you'll see the connection with the material we'll be talking about today: we are continuing to explore what difference cultural positioning makes, in understanding environmental issues...think particularly about how her narrative resembles/differs from those of the black writers we will begin discussing today, and reflect especially on her proposal for a "seventh generation amendment"

Also! sometime before 5 p.m. on Sun, Nov. 18, you need to plan a get together, outside of scheduled class time, w/ several members of the 300-level English course on "Ecological Imaginings." They will be prepared to lead you on a botanical exploration of the campus; and you should be prepared to share with them what you learned in our geological exploration --you are welcome to use my notes @
You should plan to spend about 2 hours together: 1/2 an hour sharing w/ one another what's been most useful/interesting to you in our journey so far, then 45 minutes w/ you leading them on a geological exploration, 45 minutes w/ them leading you on a botanical one. Describe this experience on-line.  

In order to make this happen, I'd like you to self-organize into 5 groups (4 groups of 3, 1 pair). I'll ask you to identify those groups next Tuesday (so I can make up the larger groupings, and connect you w/ one another electronically).

questions about any of this course-keeping?

today, we move (finally!) into "ecofeminism"

as guide, I asked you to read Charlene Spretnak's 1987 essay on the movement

as proto-guide, last week, I gave you Rachel Carson,
who published Silent Spring in '62, and died of breast cancer in '64
she hid her cancer (to deflect attacks that she had a personal,
vested interest in attacking pesticides as carcinogenic);
her work was dismissed as amateur/scientific journalism/unpatriotic/communist (anti-business);
she was called a hysterical/emotional-laden "spinster"

attacks on Carson revived today: “Rachel is Wrong” website,
blaming her for millions of malaria deaths
great accomplishments and disappointments of her work:
we have not become “the future generation unlikely to condone…
the lack of prudent concern for the integrity of the natural world that supports all life”

how to teach env’l studies w/out leading to despair?
what sustainable practice, for concerns that are so pressing?
how to shift from short term to long term thinking…?

IV. the ecofeminists have some thoughts about this....
large sheets in the center of the circle
"When I think of feminism, I think of...."

[to discuss: liberal, vs. radical....?]

"When I think of environmentalism, I think of...."

"When I think of ecofeminism, the overlap
between 'feminism' and 'environmentalism' looks like..."

Spretnak's essay is old (1987), dated, and downright cheesy
("roots, flowering, nutrient-rich compost...")
andbut it offers some significant insights:

*3 paths:
political theory (Marxism revised from class to gender)
nature-based religion (Divine as immanent)
* interlinked dynamics:
terror of nature and of the female
* willingness to deepen our experience of communion w/ nature
(we are "tourists in the natural world," "backward in our direct knowledge of nature")

de Beauvoir situates women firmly in the familiar nature-culture binary. Women represent the chaotic ambivalence of nature, both idolized fertility and reviled uncontrolled sexuality, both life-bringer and destroyer: "She is all that man desires and all that he does not attain." Women represent the immanence
of the flesh, both maternal and sexual.

radical feminism = "big-picture feminism":
examines deepest assumptions, values, fears that inform patriarchal structures
debate w/ the deep ecologists: not anthromophic but androcentric
(not human-based, but placing masculine point of view/experience
at the center of one's world view, thus denigrating all others)

deep ecology: "well being and flourishing of nonhuman life on Earth has value in itself;
humans have no right to reduce the richness and diversity of life forms,
except to satisfy vital human needs"...

how much of our concept of 'vital needs' is shaped by patriarchal values?

"To care empathetically about...the universe is the framework
ecofeminists use to address the issues of our times" (ex: population control);
refusal to banish feelings of interrelatedness and caring from theory/practice

This document answers some of our questions about teaching environmental studies w/out giving into despair--andbut raises another whole series of questions about the relationship of gender and the environment, inviting us to think about interconnected oppressions; it's an early emergence of the environmental justice movement, which views the environment as encompassing "where we live, work, and play," and seeks to redress inequitable distributions of environmental burdens (pollution, industrial facilities, and crime....).

V. Bruce's addendum to our conversation @ Harriton:
I also meant to mention that the dairy operation c. 1908-1929 was operated for the family by a woman - Mary Vaux.  It was in fact quite common for women to operate successful commercial enterprises such as this--- examples of eco-feminism?   The operations were very much a nurturing endeavor and a responsible relationship with or the use of "resources"  ... very much a reaction or response to  a growing and impure factory food supply (sound familiar?).... It wasn't just the meat packing industry - it was nearly the entire urban food supply including the dairy industry -- and the effects of impure or adulterated dairy products were even more immediate.  The major urban fluid milk suppliers in the second half of the 19th century weren't the pastoral bucolic farms of our dreams; rather, they were the urban breweries and malt houses with thousands of gallons of malt waste to dispose. Cattle ate it in places which would make the worst slums look good, and the maltsters made a second profit! Growing reactions to practices such as this, coupled with the growing acceptance of the work of Louis Pasteur, sanitary fairs, the development of the "milk jar" or bottle, the temperance movement (believe it or not!), and dying babies (back to your grieving mothers),  led the way to a response of purity which resulted in a hearty dairy industry in SE PA in our case (pure white fat-rich milk), and white eggs instead of brown, white doctor's smocks, cute white nurses caps for more than half a century, white barber's aprons, white butcher's aprons etc etc etc. The distaff side played a major role in all of this by way of acceptance perhaps as much as demand.  In dairy alone, I can think of four examples of women running the operations within 2000 feet of Bryn Mawr College alone, and off the top of my head a major woman breeder nearby in New Jersey.

--are these ecofeminists?

VI. You'll have seen already some links to ecofeminism
in the essays by Kincaid, White, and Anthony & Soule...
with them, w/ the move from ecolinguistics to ecofeminism,
we are moving into the realm of environmental justice
we are also moving from first- to second-wave environmental criticism:
the main difference is that the 2nd-wave ecocritic is not worried about anthropocentrism--
quite the reverse! she sees the ecocritic/the human as not extricable from social institutions

2nd wave ecotheory acknowledges cultural complexity-->ecocultural complexity;
evolving varieties of ecofeminism has been one catalyst in this movement
(and I thought might give us an interesting way in, since we are women @ a women's college);
second-wave ecocriticism notes that natural and
built environments have long since been "all mixed up,"
so it is particularly interested in urban/degraded landscapes;
social ecocriticism questions organic models of nature,
differs from the older "praise-song school" that saw landscapes as scenes for reconciliation;
and thinks more inclusively of environmentality as a property of any text

**reports from your site sits (so long ago!)-->

The geological exploration really gave me a whole new perspective …billions of years…was the hill where the Labyrinth is located made by …landfill maybe? Does the pipe connects to the lake next Rhoads go under the Labyrinth? …I am curious about the hidden story. But … a bit worried about if this type of inquisition will make me skeptical to everything that I see.…Does simplicity exist for people who have ecological literacy?

mtran: what struck me is amount of work that makes a stone building and its beauty. In order to build up the castle-like Rhoads where I am, people had to excavate an area to form a quarry, rocks were then delivered to the construction site from the quarry and then cut and grinded to become perfect rectangular blocks that can be stacked into straight walls. Laying rocks is also an art as each pattern has its own characteristic. It create individuality for the building itself.

Rochelle: The changed leaves covered the ground and it looked like a mosaic. The individual leaves themselves were like small mosaics. It was hard for my eyes to take it all in. It was surprising to see how much the back yard of the English had changed [cf. mtran: I used to think of nature as layers of randomness.… But … randomness can be a pattern…..?]

alex: while change is good, you shouldn't force it--so for now, you can still find me at Rhodes every Sunday, writing behind the pond.

Zoe: Professor Crawford's different aspect has made me realize the importance of all the things that we do not think to do, like looking at the rocks on the ground instead of the trees

SaraL: Visiting the cloisters with other people made me feel safer

Susan: it is cold, it is dark, but it does not seem like there is a catastrophic storm coming….I wonder if the landscape at the labrynth will change by the next time I come here.

CMJ: Today I changed my sit site….and happened upon a tumblr blog dedicated to old Bryn mawr photos....timeless and uniform qualities of the architecture really struck me….

Cahier: Today, I used an umbrella….it’s okay to supplement nature a little bit to make ourselves more comfortable.

Shengjia: I wonder what is the history of my on-campus site. I wish rocks could tell me a story…I have sat under fluorescent lights and breathed recycled air for too long, it is time to start digging.

wanhong: How did a town of civilization emerge? How did it settle?How did it develope? After our historical and geological explorations, I got basic answers to these questions.

SarahC: stopped and greeted by a man asking directions....

Hannah: nothing like letting myself run fast and free through a storm

mbackus: rather than change my spot on campus I would like to try and change my perspective or mindset