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More Fluid Than Blood: Vampires and Bisexuality

More Fluid Than Blood

Vampires and Bisexuality

  1. H. Bradford

      12/10/17

 


Each month, Pandemonium meets to discuss issues related to bi+ identities and organizing.  This month, the group gathered to discuss vampires and bisexuality.  Anyone who has watched or read vampire themed media might have observed that vampires are often portrayed with ambiguous sexualities, if not outright gay, lesbian, or bisexual.  The following presentation seeks to uncover the history of how vampire sexuality has been depicted as well as the implications of these representations.  Vampires are very much a reflection of the times in which they were imagined.  As monsters, they represent challenges to the social order.  Since bisexuality, or for that matter any non-heterosexual sexuality, is a challenge to heteronormative patriarchy, it makes sense that vampires often lend themselves to a queer reading.


Before they were the subject of books or television series, vampires have long been imagined beings from the folklore of many cultures.  Blood drinking spirits appear in the stories of many cultures, but vampires as they are understood today were mostly based upon the tales of Eastern Europe.  These stories entered the public consciousness of Western Europeans during the 18th century with several highly publicized cases of vampirism within East Prussia and the Hapsburg Empire.  Incidents of vampirism and the related hysteria was investigated by 18th century scholars and Maria Teresa of Austria sent her physician to uncover the truth about vampires.  He concluded that they were not real and she subsequently passed laws against opening graves or desecrating the dead, which put an end to outbreaks of vampire panics. From then on, vampires, at least in Western Europe, were mostly a matter of fiction.  Thus, vampires began appearing in Western European fiction in the early 1800s.   The spread of vampires in Western Europe from Eastern Europe represents a transition of folklore and superstition from the lesser developed parts of Europe to the large, urbanized, mostly literate population of the West (Paolucci, 2000).  

A “vampire” skull from 1500s Venice, found among plague victims

One of the first works of vampire fiction was Polidori’s 1918 story The Vampyre, which featured a vampire named Lord Ruthven.  Polidori served as Lord Byron’s physician and his character, Lord Ruthven, established the trope of that vampires should be aristocratic and seductive (Primuth, 2014).  The plot of the book involves Lord Ruthven travelling around Europe as he seduces various women, often accompanied by his friend Aubrey.  Ruthven and Aubrey have a falling out, but reconcile.  Later, Aubrey watches Lord Ruthven die and makes a promise not to tell anyone of his death.  Aubrey stays true to the promise, even after Ruthven is later discovered to be alive.  Only when Ruthven tries to marry Aubrey’s sister, does he confess his oath in a letter.  Ruthven kills Aubrey’s sister on their wedding night and Aubrey dies as well.  While the story is interesting because it establishes the notion that vampires are alluring, sexual, and aristocratic, it is also of interest because Lord Ruthven may have been based on Lord Byron.


Early Vampire Literature

Prior to the publishing of The Vampyre, Byron wrote a poem about a vampire in 1810 while touring Greece.  The poem entitled The Giaour takes place in Greece, then ruled by the Ottomans, wherein a character named Leila is killed for her infidelity to her husband, Hassan.  Her lover avenges her death by killing Hassan, but Hassan curses him to become a vampire.  This early take on the vampire does not have common conventions such as fangs, sleeping in coffins, aversion to sunlight, etc. Yet, the vampire character in the poem is a Byronic hero inasmuch as he is cursed, dangerous, and an outsider (as Giaour means infidel) (Luchsinger, 2015).  Later, in 1816, Lord Byron stayed in Lake Geneva with his physician, Poliodori, as well as Mary Shelley and Percy Blythe Shelley and his mistress, Jane Clairmont.  During their stay, there was a snow storm, during which they challenged each other to invent stories for entertainment.  Mary Shelley developed the story of Frankenstein.  Byron began a story about a vampire, which Polidori fleshed out and published as The Vampyre (Lord Byron’s image inspired modern take on vampires, 2010).    


Lord Byron, or George Gordon, was a controversial, larger than life figure in his day.  He may have had a child with his half-sister Augusta.  It is also speculated that he may have been more than friends with Mary Shelley and Percy Blythe Shelley.  There is evidence that he was not strictly heterosexual.  He wrote poetry under the female name Thyzra to John Edelston, a young choir member who he fell in love with at the age of 17.  In letters that he wrote during his travels in Greece and Turkey in 1810, he expressed his interest in seeking same sex encounters in these places, which were more tolerant at the time.  He also bragged to friends back home that he had 200 sexual encounters while in Greece and Turkey.  At the same time, the punishment for sodomy in England in the early 1800s was death.  In 1815, he married Annabelle Milbanke, who left him a year later with their infant daughter.  She went to stay with her parents and requested a separation, which unleashed various rumors about his relationship with his sister, adultery, and sodomy.  He negotiated a separation from his wife outside of the courts and left for Europe, where The Vampyre was written (MacCarthy, 2002).  Certainly, the plot line of the story mirrors his life, as the vampire travels through Europe seducing and harming women in locales such as Italy and Greece, then eventually England.  The plot line of Aubrey following Lord Ruthven around Europe, then having a falling out, also mirrors the falling out that Polidori had with Lord Byron.  Finally, while Ruthven mostly preys upon women, the relationship between Ruthven and Aubrey may hint at bisexuality.  Paolucci (2000) suggests that a cave scene between Ruthven and Aubrey is suggestively sexual and that Aubrey’s refusal to believe in the supernatural is a rhetorical denial of queerness.


It is difficult to classify Lord Byron’s sexuality, since modern sexual identities were not yet developed.  The word bisexual was not used until 1892 in the Psychopathia Sexualis, a book about sexual pathologies.  While Byron might be viewed as bisexual, inasmuch as he expressed attraction to both men and women, caution should be used in applying modern notions of sexuality to people and situations that pre-date these understandings.  Still, he was one of the first famous writers to be labeled bisexual.  Though, literary scholar Emily Bernard Jackson warned against this, arguing instead that his sexuality was too fluid and complex for labels (Lord Byron, n.d.).  Nevertheless, in studying the history of bisexuality and vampire’s in the media, it is certainly important to recognize that the first vampire in English literature was modelled after Byron, who was controversial, charismatic, and attracted to both men and women.  In this sense, bisexuality, is built into the fabric of vampire literature, even if Ruthven’s character is not overtly bisexual.  At the same time, this inclusion isn’t necessarily positive, as homosexual/bisexual behaviors and attractions were viewed as deviant.

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Lord Byron- the inspiration of Lord Ruthven- an early vampire in Western fiction

In the 1840s, Varney the Vampire appeared as a newspaper serial (Primuth, 2014).  Varney the Vampire introduced some modern staples of vampire stories, such as fangs, nocturnal visits, entry through a window, super strength, and hypnotic power.  He is also a sympathetic vampire, even though part of the plot of the series involves him trying to take advantage of Bannersworth family.  Varney is important because he was the first sympathetic vampire.  He feels guilty and alone, and tries to control his predatory nature.  He mourns his wife and children from 180 years earlier and is the first vampire to commit suicide.  He is attracted to young, virginal women and seems primarily interested in women (Paolucci, 2000).  Varney is not a virtuous vampire, but he is a conflicted vampire that is not always villainous.  It is possible that his perceived heterosexuality is used to cast him as a “good” vampire rather than a deviant, villainous vampire.  There is less scholarly work on the sexuality of Varney, as opposed to other vampires of the 1800s.        


Carmilla and Lesbian Vampires

While Varney the Vampire has not lent itself to extensive and rigorous analysis for sexual themes, the novella Carmilla has.  Published in 1871, the novella Carmilla predates Dracula by 26 years. Joseph Sheridan Fanu’s novella follows the story of a girl named Laura, who befriends a mysterious girl named Carmilla.  Carmilla makes romantic advances on Laura, does not join her family in prayer, sleepwalks at night, and sleeps during the day.  Girls in the nearby village begin to become sick and die, while Laura herself begins to have strange dreams, poor health, and mysterious bites on her chest.  Eventually, it is discovered that Carmilla is actually Countess Mircalla, a noblewoman from two hundred years prior who had a relationship with a woman whose decedent became a vampire hunter.  Laura, whose memory of the events is unsteady, does not grasp the romantic inclinations of Carmilla towards her and even theorizes that perhaps Carmilla was a boy in disguise. Laura explains how Carmilla took her hand, breathed heavily, and kissed her neck.  The novella is unique in that Carmilla is not interested in the blood of women and men, but exclusively females.  She also explicitly has sexual interest in women with no interest mentioned of men.  She was, by modern understandings of sexuality, a lesbian vampire.  Since Carmilla visits peasant girls in the area, she may also be viewed as polyamorous as she is not uniquely attracted or bonded to Laura.  In the end, it is male power which restores the patriarchal, heterosexual, monogamous order as Carmilla is staked, then beheaded and burned by Baron Vordenburg and General Spielsdorf (Künnecke, 2016).  

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Perhaps owing to Carmilla, lesbian vampires are stock characters in vampire media.  For instance, between 1968 and 1970, there were 20 lesbian vampire films released in the US, Britain, and Western Europe.  These films often drew from the story of Carmilla or from the tale of Elizabeth Bathory.  Elizabeth Bathory was a 17th century aristocratic woman who used the blood of young women to stay youthful and whose history includes rumors of lesbianism and vampirism.  The accusations of lesbianism ignore the fact that she was married to a man, so, perhaps she would more accurately be considered a bisexual woman.  Bi-erasure aside, there was a proliferation of lesbian vampire films in the 1970s, which may have been in part to generate interest in horror films, a dying genre at the time.  Censorship was also relaxed in the United States in the 1960s along with the sexual revolution which opened society up to sexuality. Another explanation is that lesbian vampires, especially those who preyed upon men, appealed to male anxiety regarding feminism.  In these films, the vampire woman must compete with mortal men for the mortal woman.  The vampire is killed and the threat to the order of patriarchy is destroyed.  Lesbians are doubly marginalized, in that they are women and homosexuals.  They are also doubly threatening to patriarchy, which makes them particularly dangerous or sinister vampires.  Whereas Lord Ruthven escaped without punishment, this is not possible for Camilla, because of her claim to male power.  While many films of the 1970s had lesbian vampire characters, the use of violence to restore male power is graphically evident in the 1974 film Vampyres in which the opening scene depicts two women having passionate sex until they are suddenly shot.   Through flashbacks, it is revealed that these two women are vampires who take men home with them to suck their blood after sex (Uygur, 2013).    


The most well known of the lesbian vampire film genre were The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, and Twins of Evil, which featured Carmilla, but changed her to a bisexual woman.  A 1973 film called Female Vampire is a pornographhic film wherein the vampire Irina has graphic sex with men and women, yet is classified as a lesbian vampire film.  Again, there has been a problem with conflating of bisexuality and lesbianism in film discussions.  In The Vampire Lovers Baker (2012) cites the argument of Weiss that this represents a bisexual triangle, wherein the man is aligned with the forces of good and the vampire with evil, with the woman sought after by both is a neutral party.  After Carmilla is destroyed, Emma is united with Carl and Emma’s response to Carmilla’s seduction is reframed as delirium.  In seven of the twenty films of the era, the bisexual triangle is employed as a plot device (Baker, 2012).  Later films also use the bisexual triangle.  For instance, The Hunger uses bisexual triangulation by centering the story  on the love triangle between John, Miriam, and Sarah.  Miriam is a married bisexual vampire who falls in love with Sarah, who is also bisexual.  Miriam is haunted by her male and female lovers from over the centuries.  Blood and Roses and Daughters of Darkness, are two additional films which feature bisexual love triangles (Ritscher, 2013).

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A scene from Daughters of Darkness

 Despite the common use of bisexual love triangles, many of these films are classified as lesbian vampire films.  Richter (2013) argued that bi-erasure is a perennial problem in media studies, as bisexual characters are often miscategorized as gay, lesbian, or queer.  For instance, the movie Brokeback Mountain is often called a gay film in the media.  However, several bisexual theorists have argued against this and used this as an example of bi-erasure as the men in the film are romantically and sexually involved with each other, but also their wives.  Ritscher identifies several ways that bisexuality is erased from film.  The first way that bisexuality is erased is when scholars or reviewers refer to same-sex attraction or behaviors as homosexual.  This creates a false dichotomy wherein sexual acts are either gay or straight.  By this logic, only threesomes can be coded as bisexual.   In The Hunger, bisexuality is rendered invisible when Sarah and Miriam have a “lesbian sex scene” which is discussed and remembered by critics, scholars, and film viewers.   Another way that bisexuality is erased is by downplaying opposite sex relationships.  For instance, in the film Daughters of Darkness, Elizabeth who is a vampire, has an erotic scene with Tom, a human.  Despite this, she is still considered a lesbian.  In Blood and Roses, the character Camilla is depicted as in love with Leopold.  In the end, she kills her female lover Georgia and takes her place, so that she can marry Leopold.  Nevertheless, Carmilla is classified as a lesbian character.  Down playing opposite sex relationships is done to bolster same sex relationships, but in doing so reinforces the binary between straight and gay.  Richter (2013) cited Kenji Yomito, who argued that both straights and gays have an interest in erasing bisexuals.  Though, this may not be intentional and malicious, but an unconscious social norm.  Lesbian vampire film theory is problematic because it has assigned homosexuality to characters that may instead be viewed as bisexual.  In doing this, homosexuality is contrasted against heterosexuality as an opponent.  According to bisexual theorists, bisexuality is not merely a sexual identity, but an undoing of  the two oppositional poles of of sexuality and a challenge to the notion that sexual identity as a category.  As such, the goal of bisexual scholarship should not be to spot the bisexual, but instead to challenge thinking about the gay straight binary.  Bisexual theorists argue that bisexuality threatens not only the order of male supremacy but is also a threat to sexual rigidity (Ritscher, 2013).  I would argue that both male supremacy and sexual rigidity uphold patriarchy.  Sexualities that are fluid or non-monogamous threaten capitalist patriarchy because they threaten the structure of family and the gendered roles of men and women.  In doing so, these threaten the social reproduction of labor.     


Examining Dracula:

While Carmilla serves as the foundation of lesbian and female bisexual vampirism, it is not the most famous or generally influential vampire novel.  The most famous vampire novel, Dracula, was published in 1897 by Bram Stoker, an Irish writer.  Bram Stoker himself was believed to have been gay, or at least this was an argument made in ‘Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula.’  Bram Stoker wrote letters to his close friend, British author Hall Caine, which may be interpreted as romantic.  He also wrote a gushing letter to Walt Whitman regarding his ability to be natural and unashamed when speaking to him, but how his is shackled or unfree (Cardamone, 2017).  Presumably, the letter was about his closeted homosexuality.  In 1895, when Oscar Wilde, a friend of Stoker’s, was convicted gross indecency, Stoker disavowed the twenty year friendship in a panic.  Perhaps this was due to his own anxiety as a closeted, gay man when being out of the closet was a criminal offense (as in the case of Oscar Wilde who was sentenced to hard labor).  It is in this context that Dracula was written.  McCrea (2010) suggests that the novel depicts closeted heterosexuality, that is, it is written from the view that heterosexuality is foreign and frightening.  This interesting argument follows that the story of Dracula is a marriage plot.  In the story, Mina and Jonathan are going to be married, their lives are interrupted by the chaos wrought by Dracula, and when this resolves, they become a happily established married couple with a son.  At the same time, Lucy, Mina’s less sensible friend, considers her marriage prospects but her life is cut short by vampirism and death.  McCrea (2010) notes that many scholars have analyzed Dracula as an “other” in post-colonial, feminist, Marxist, queer, etc. interpretations of the novel.  However, McCrea (2010) proposes that Dracula is familiar.  For instance, Jonathan Harker passes deeper into Eastern Europe in the novel, into increasingly uncomfortable superstitions, spicy food, slow trains, and unnerving sights.  Yet, when he arrives at Dracula’s home, his first thoughts are to pause and consider how he is moving up in his career and what Mina would think of this.  Even Dracula himself is courteous, well read, and welcoming.  Dracula saved Jonathan from the three vampire women who tried to seduce and bite him, for which he is thankful.  Dracula even treats Jonathan’s stay at the castle as a marriage contract, saying that he has entered freely of his own will.  When Dracula leaves on unknown business, Jonathan waits for him in the castle, like an imprisoned wife (McCrea, 2010).  In this way, the novel is a dark fantasy about heterosexual marriage.   


Although Stevenson’s (1988) analysis is dated, it does make specific mention of bisexuality in Dracula.  His piece is mainly focused on the theme of exogamy.  That is, Dracula represents a foreigner who is trying to seduce the female characters and as such, represents an external threat that must be fought against.  He represents British imperialist anxieties over their racial order of the world.  Aside from exploring this theme, Stevenson (1988) took time to examine female sexuality in the novel and suggested that vampires are bisexual.  However, his view of bisexuality was very narrow and conflated with understandings of gender or even sexual roles.  His main argument is that vampires are bisexual because both female and male vampires are penetrators and receivers.  Their fangs penetrate and at the same time, they ingest the fluids of their victims.  Female vampires in the novel become more sexually aggressive, a demonstration of their masculinity.  Stevenson’s (1988) analysis is interesting, but lacks the language and nuance to explore gender as something apart from sexuality, which unfortunately is generically labelled as bisexuality.  However, this may be due to the fact that in 1988 there was less knowledge and awareness of bisexuality as an identity and little visibility as a distinct part of the LGBTQ movement.  BiNET USA, the oldest bisexual organization in the United States was not founded until 1990.  To broaden this analysis, it might be argued that if blood sucking is a metaphor for sex, then vampires are bisexual in that they prey on any human victim, male, female, trans, gender non-conforming, etc.  Gender is not as important to vampires as blood itself.  Even if drinking blood is not viewed as a metaphor for sex, it is an intimate act in that it usually involves drinking directly from the neck, which is often viewed as a sensual location for kissing in Western societies.  This act is usually done privately and at night, again, if not blatantly sexual, at least following social conventions regarding sex.  Upon closer examination, there may be hints of bisexuality in Dracula.  One example of a homoerotic or bi-erotic scene is the passage wherein Jonathan Harker is passively seduced by a group of vampire women living in Dracula’s castle.  This is interrupted when Dracula arrives and tells the women that Jonathan belongs to him (Künnecke, 2015).   Dracula affirmed the trope that vampires are threatening to both men and women.   


Many of the vampires of the 1800s have “deviant” sexualities.  According to Foucault, the development of capitalism resulted in the increased repression of sexuality, so that by the Victorian Era, when many of these famous vampire novels were written, sex had become relegated entirely to the personal sphere. That is, sex and sexuality were not to be expressed or discussed in public.  At the same time, the roles of men and women were more sharply defined than any other time in history and homosexuality or any other “deviant” sexual behavior or identity was driven underground.  Male homosexuality became highly regulated, whereas female homosexuality was given less attention.  Women were viewed as more emotional in general and given more social leniency to express affection towards one another (Künnecke, 2015).  Perhaps this accounts for why Carmilla was depicted as a lesbian, whereas male vampires were not overtly homosexual or bisexual.  Foucault also noted that monsters are individuals whose behaviors must be corrected.  At the core of monstrosity is deviance and irregularity.  Monstrosity is threatening because it calls into question social norms.  To Foucault, homosexuality became understood as something deviant because society had come to the understanding that the strength of a nation was bolstered by its citizens, their marriages, and their families.  In this understanding, sex was a tool used by the state for regeneration.  A monstrous vampire always represents a threat to the order and is constructed as somehow deviant.  Defeating a vampire results in the re-establishment of order.  As such, if blood drinking is a metaphor for sex, a vampire is a bisexual or homosexual threat to society.  Early folkloric vampires may have represented fear of Plague.  However, 18th century vampires were written about in a time that was beginning to fear homosexuality, and as such they represent anxieties over violations of sexual norms (Uygur, 2013).  


Early vampire characters were mostly constructed as monstrous and evil, with some exceptions, such as Varney the Vampire.  The ability for vampires to be portrayed as anything other than overtly heterosexual and is a function of social movements which sought to expand the rights of the LGBTQ community.  In general, if gays or lesbians appeared in the media before the late 1960s were tragic, unstable, or miserable characters.  Some films, such as the 1943  Creature of the Devil may hint at homosexality or bisexuality, in that the main character becomes jealous of his twin brother’s relationship with a woman and sends a hunchback to kill him.  The 1944 short story, The Bat is my Brother may allude to homosexuality or bisexuality, in that the main character is shown how to be a vampire by an older vampire mentor.  The younger vampire is guided through his vampirism, coming out and and coming to accept his condition.  Still, there are no overtly bisexual or homosexual vampire characters.  The 1931 film version of Dracula was directed by Tod Browning, who was gay, but in general, queerness was consigned to the shadows due to social conservative and active persecution of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (Primuth, 2014).  Vincent (2015) noted that 1960s and 1970s saw an opening of sexuality in America with the feminist movement and gay rights movement.  The FDA approval of birth control in 1960, its legalization in 1964, the elimination of homosexuality as a disease in 1973, and the Stonewall riots in 1969 all contributed to the process of broadening the expression of sexuality in society.  The most landmark piece of vampire media created during this era was Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.  She created morally ambiguous characters that usurped traditional sexuality.  For instance, Louis described his first encounter with Lestat in suggestive terms, describing Lestat as extraordinary, graceful, like a lover, and opening up new possibilities.  Yet, even though the transformation into a vampire is coded in homoerotic imagery, Louis becomes interested in woman named Babatte Freniere who spurns him as unholy.  Louis and Lestat have fluid sexualities, which may be due to their dependence on the blood of women and men, their outsider status to human societies, and sexuality that is unbound by reproduction (Vincent, 2015).

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The 1980s saw a backlash against the gains of the 1960s and 1970s.  During the 1980s, vampires were often villainized again, such as Fright Night in 1985 and The Lost Boys in 1987.  The AIDs epidemic also influenced vampire media.  For instance, in the 1991 novel, Dracula Unbound, Dracula contracts syphilis.  In the 1998 film Blade, Blade takes a serum to stay alive, which might be comparable to the cocktail of pills that HIV patients must take to ward off AIDS (Primuth, 2014).   It was not until the 1990s that more positive representations of LGBTQ characters began to appear.  For example, the heroine of the 1990s young adult book series, The Last Vampire, is a bisexual, though this series mostly focuses on her relationships with men.  In 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer began airing and featured Willow as a positive lesbian character.  


Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

Willow was a popular character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer because of her dialectical nature.  She was a character with destructive power, but also the power to help.  She was also one of the first characters on television to be depicted in a lesbian relationship, when she entered a relationship with her fellow witch Tara.  However, Willow is also an example of bi-erasure because her sexual fluidity is ignored in the series.  For instance, her previous heterosexual relationships were ignored or dismissed when she asserted that she was “gay now.”  In the series, she was depicted as heterosexual, with a crush on Xander or her relationship with Oz (Muscat, 2014).  Mo (2016) noted how in seasons one and two, Willow was depicted as interested in men.  First she was interested in Xander, which was unreciprocated in season one.  She later became involved with Oz, but cheated on him with Xander, eventually reconciling with Oz who she dated until season four.  However, in season five she reminded Anya that she was gay now when Anya expressed concern that she would steal Xander away from her.  Later, Tara was worried that Willow wasn’t really a lesbian and would return to dating men.  Willow defended herself against this accusation that her sexuality was fluid, which was reinforced by the narrative of the story which did not allow for any deviation from being fully lesbian from then on.  Muscat (2014) argued that Willow was reduced to a binary of totally straight or totally gay, which denied the possibility that she might have been bisexual or fluid.  In an episode wherein all of the female characters vied for the love of a character named RJ due to the effects of his magical letter jacket, Willow only falls for him when she uses her magic to alter his gender.  This reinforces the notion that homosexual attraction is only authentic when absolute.   Muscat (2014) also noted that within the Buffyverse, bisexuality is coded as dangerous and often associated with vampire characters.  For instance, Vamp Willow, an alternative universe version of Willow was coupled with Xander, but propositioned a girl at The Bronze and licked the neck of regular Willow.  In the series Angel, there are homoerotic undercurrents to both Drusilla and Darla’s relationship as well as Spike and Angel’s.  Only if a character is evil or morally ambiguous can they experience fluid sexuality.   Even Willow called her vampire self skanky (Mo, 2016).   

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Mendlesohn (2002) argued that in contrast to other characters, the series denies a queer reading of the relationship between Buffy and Willow.  A “queer reading” is when a reader, or in this case viewer, constructs homosexual desire in situations wherein this sort of attraction is not overt and heterosexuality is normalized.  It is way for readers who was oppressed or excluded to identify codes for same sex relationships or cues that two characters may be flirting, loving, or passionate towards one another.   Willow is coded to be young and innocent, as she wears pinks and reds rather than darker colors.  Throughout the series, her behaviors are rarely sexualized.  Intimacy with male or female partners is usually shown off screen.  Buffy, on the other hand, has more overtly sexual behavior.  Buffy also tends to look to male characters for support and validation.  Throughout the series, Willow grows, changes her appearance, makes new friends, and becomes more confident.  On the other hand, Buffy does not grow, nor does her appearance change.  Their relationship lacks the necessary tension to drive it towards a queer reading.  In contrast, it is easier to do a queer reading of the Buffy and Faith relationship because Faith is the opposite of Buffy in appearance, unrestrained, and sexual.  Willow is more of a backdrop to Buffy rather than her equal or antagonist. (Mendlesohn, 2002).  Casano (2013) agreed that while While there is no overt bisexuality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the relationship between Buffy and fellow slayer, Faith is sometimes speculated to be bisexual.  Faith appeared in season three of the series, following the death of the slayer, Kendra.  Eliza Dushku, who played the character, felt that Faith had feelings for Buffy and was bisexual.  Faith is promiscuous, fearless, bad girl, who is an outsider to the Scooby Gang (Casano, 2013).  Any hinting that her character is bisexual would play into the stereotype that bisexuality is deviant or that only a morally ambivalent character could be bisexual.  Certainly, in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the series aired, there was growing awareness of bisexuality with the establishment of BiNet in 1990, the release of the book Bi any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out in 1991, the first international bisexual conference was held in Amsterdam in 1991, the bi flag was invented in 1998, and the first Celebrate Bisexuality Day was celebrated on September 23, 1999.  The 1990s was a pivotal time for biseuxals because it saw the establishment of organizations and inclusion of bisexuals in Pride Festivals.  Still, despite the flourishing of bisexual identity in the 1990s, it is disappointing that Buffy the Vampire Slayer did not handle the issue of bisexuality as well as it might have.

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An example of wholesome, non-sexualized Willow

In the decades since the 1990s and early 2000s, there has been some improvement in the portrayal and visibility of bisexuals.  HBO’s series, True Blood, which aired from 2006-2014 and was based upon Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries novel series, depicted many LGBTQ characters.  One prominent bisexual character was Sophie-Anne LeClerq, the Vampire Queen of Louisiana who was sexually, romantically involved with male and female characters, including Sookie’s cousin Hadley (Reynolds, 2014). Sophie-Anne appeared in eight episodes and was portrayed as a mentally unstable, but powerful antagonistic vampire.  She wears glamorous clothes, longs to be in the sunlight, collects birds, plays Yahtzee, and seems genuinely attached to Hadley.  In the series, she acquires some debts and resorts to selling vampire blood.  Facing an IRS audit, she is forced to marry Russell Edgington, the vampire King of Mississippi.   Sophie-Anne is a capricious, immature, unstable, frivolous character so in a way, she may pander to some stereotypes about bisexuals being mentally unstable.  However, the character was a survivor, who clambered her way up in the world to become the vampire queen of Louisiana, then submitted to marriage to Russell Edgington to overcome her financial troubles.  Evan Rachel Woods played Sophie-Anne and is openly bisexual.  At the same time, in an interview with US Magazine, her character was called a lesbian, even as she says her bisexuality has been a part of her for as long as she can remember (Ravitz, 2011).   

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Sophie-Ann in True Blood

Pam de Beaufort, the bar manager of Fangtasia, was also depicted as bisexual and had a relationship with Tara Thornton (Reynolds, 2014).  Pam appeared in 63 episodes and is loyal to Eric Northman.  She is depicted as more interested in women than men, has a dry sense of humor, and dislikes children.  In her human life, she ran a brothel and was romantically involved with Eric Northman, who later turned her into a vampire.  Generally, the character was developed well enough that she doesn’t particularly fall into any bisexual stereotypes.  Like most vampires in the series, she is morally ambiguous and in some ways deviant, but generally she is a well-rounded likeable character for the setting and tone of the show.  Pam does have a fun quote, “Let bygones be bygones and bigirls be bi girls.” (Nicolaou, 2017)  At the same time, her bisexuality was erased when Sookie told her that she didn’t have time for her lesbian weirdness.

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Pam- attacking Sara Newlin

Tara Thornton  was the most prominent bisexual character in the series (Reynolds, 2014).  Tara is Sookie’s best friend in the show.  She is sour towards vampires and a survivor of abuse.  When she becomes a cage fighter, she begins dating a fellow female cage fighter.  She later is turned into a vampire by Pam de Beaufort and the two eventually have a relationship (Zakarin and Fleenor, 2017).   Eric Northman is also depicted as bisexual.  He is the owner of Fangtasia and a love interest of Sookie Stackhouse.  In the series, he seduces Talbot, the partner of Russell Edgington the King of Mississippi (Nicolaou, 2017).   The series features many bisexual, gay, and lesbian characters.  Even characters that are not portrayed as bi or gay are never rigidly straight.  For instance, in season three, Sam the shapeshifting bartender, has a sexual dream about Bill Compton (Gray, 2011).  Finally, while Sookie Stackhouse, the main character, is depicted as straight, Anna Paquin, who portrayed her, is bisexual.  She has been very open about her bisexuality, but it has been the subject of confusion.  In an interview with Larry King, she discussed her marriage to her co-star Stephen Moyer and the birth of her twins.  Larry King assumed this meant that she was no longer bisexual.  She had to correct him by stating that a straight person does not stop being straight if their partner dies or they become single, so her bisexuality does not change if she is in a monogamous relationship (Nichols, 2014).  This demonstrates the misunderstandings that persist about bisexuality.     

Image result for tara true blood

Tara had a variety of relationships in the series, including a relationship with Pam, a short lived relationship with “Eggs,” a longtime crush on Sookie’s brother Jason, and a relationship with Sam.

The series itself was produced by Alan Ball.  Other than portraying a variety of queer characters, the show had many clear and obvious parallels to LGBT issues.  For instance, the series takes place after vampires have “come out of the coffin” and are publicly known to exist.   Obviously, coming out of the coffin is the vampire equivalent of coming out of the closet.  Vampires themselves have their own vampire rights organizations and vampire-human marriage has been legalized, again mirroring the LGBT movement.  Not everyone is on board with vampire rights, which mostly include far right Evangelical Christian figures.  One hateful church has “God hates Fangs” as a slogan on a sign outside the church, again, a parody of “God hates Fags.”  (Primuth, 2014).  According to Campbell (2013), queer politics seeks to challenge heteronormativity, resist assimilation, embraces differences, and combats social forces that discipline and normalize.  Rather than focusing on identity, it focuses on fluid and contextual opposition to dominant norms of gender, race, class, and sexuality.  In True Blood, vampires are a metaphor for queerness and queer politics.  Campbell (2013) cites Cathy Cohen when he argues that U.S. institutions seek to appropriate and assimilate queer life and in doing so, marginalize queer women, poor, working class, and queer of color.  This mirrors the vampires of True Blood.  While all vampires drink blood, some vampires are better than others.  For instance, some vampires drink “True Blood” a Japanese blood substitute which allows these vampires to assimilate into society and are viewed as safer than others.  Bill Compton, for instance, is presented as a protagonist in early seasons.  He is a white, heterosexual vampire who values monogamy, in contrast to other vampires.   Bill is gentlemanly and better than other vampires, such as the hedonistic Malcolm, Liam, and Diane.  Malcolm was presented as a gay character, who was against coming out of the coffin and assimilation.  As such, he is seen as dangerous, immoral, and a stand in for an anti-assimilationist queer identity.  In the series, deviant vampires are signified drug use, hedonism, and promiscuity.  Cohen called this secondary marginalization.  So, although there are many queer characters in the series, many of the characters are vampires, which enjoy power, wealth, comfort, beauty, and immortality.  Many, like Eric Northman, Bill Compton, Pam de Beaufort, Sophie-Ann, etc. are white, conventionally attractive, and generally privileged.   The show could be critiqued for promoting an assimilationist viewpoint. Nevertheless, the show generally did a good job portraying a large number of queer characters and developing many of those characters beyond stereotypes.  

Image result for malcolm liam and diane

Other recent television and film series have not handled LGBT issues as well.  The television series, The Vampire Diaries, did not introduce its first same sex couple until Season Seven.  The characters were Nora and Mary Louis, villainous vampires.  Mary Louis was captured by an organization that hunts supernatural creatures called the armory, where she was injected with vampire hunter blood.  She and Nora both died together in an attempt to destroy Rayna, the vampire hunters, magical sword (Anders, 2016).  Their deaths were rather pointless and the characters were not allowed to stay in the series long enough to become compelling.  Also, their sacrificial deaths harkens back to film norms that LGBT characters must die or experience tragedy.  The Vampire Diaries introduced, Luke, a gay character in season five.  He was a witch and had a twin sister named Liv.  He sacrificed his life to save Liv, but was never well-developed nor shown in a relationship.  Again, the series used the old trope that gays must die tragic deaths.  While Caroline Forbes’ father was gay, he was never shown in the series and was referred to disparagingly.  Once again, this was not a positive depiction.  Finally, Matt, Rebekah, and Nadia had a threesome in the series, but Rebecca and Nadia’s bisexuality is never expanded upon beyond this scene.  Because this is the only context for their bisexuality, it seems that the show depicts bisexuality as a performance for the pleasure of men (LGBT Characters in the Vampire Diaries and the Originals, 2015).   

Image result for nora and mary louise

While vampire fiction has historically been an arena for expressing subversive sexualities, this is not the case with Twilight.   Twilight goes against earlier traditions of gender non-conforming characters by creating characters that are very traditional.  Edward Cullen and Jacob Black are brave and muscular, while Bella and female characters have female slumber parties, bake cookies, and cook meals for men.  Bella is often a damsel in distress and Edward Cullen shuns intimacy before marriage.  When Bella and Edward are finally married and do have sex, Bella finds herself bruised from the encounter and blames herself (Ames, 2010).  The Cullens themselves, though not related by blood, live as a family unit of heterosexual couples, with Edward being the only character not coupled until he meets Bella.  Other vampires, such as the Nomads and Volturi, do not live in the same traditional family units.  They drink blood and act more like traditional vampires.  The Volturi allow for more of a queer reading, as the Volturi consist of a trio of men, Aro, Marcus, and Caius, who spend more time together than with their wives.  The Volturi are also presented as feminine men.  The Nomads are also a trio, which begs the question of how the third person relates to the couple.  In contrast, the Cullens consist of Carlile and two males and two females.   The Cullens represent the monogamous, heterosexual ideal.  Bella marries early in life and become immediately pregnant, then fights the keep the pregnancy even after it threatens her life.  Throughout the relationship, Edward is protective and watchful of Bella, which could be viewed as controlling and stalking behavior.  When Bella is injured by sex, she is mostly concerned about comforting Edward than her own well-being (Hofstatter, 2012).  In this sense, the series is not only heterosexual, it is violently heteronormative.   Despite the confining heterosexuality and gender roles in Twilight, Kristen Stewart, who played Bella is openly bisexual and told the guardian that she was not confused about her sexuality and that in general, she saw sexuality as grey or fluid (Brooks, 2017).

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“Move along…nothing queer here…we assure you” -Actual Volturi Quote…or not.

The popularity of vampire fiction has declined over the last several years, but more recent vampire stories offer insights about the future.  Obviously, True Blood came along way from Dracula in its overt depiction of sexuality and other media in general for its positive and prominent depictions of LGBTQ characters.  At the same time, Vampire Dairies was centered upon heterosexual relationships and kept queerness in the margins.  Twilight was even worse in its hammering assertion of heterosexuality.  The stark differences between these series demonstrates that queer liberation is incomplete.  Twilight represents the alluring hold that tradition and conservatism continue in society.  It represents a world where deviance from heterosexuality does not dare name itself or where it simply does not exist.  This is the same world of Dracula, where sexuality is quieted, impulses controlled, and deviance is exiled or destroyed.   In The Vampire Diaries, queerness can exist as an auxiliary to heterosexuality, so long as it stays quiet, does not distract, and dies when necessary.  True Blood made the most ground, but it still portrayed queerness as preferable when it is expressed by those with beauty, wealth, power, and whiteness.  As for bisexuality, there have been many mis-steps in its presentation over history, the largest being its invisibility, fetishization, or conflation with gay or lesbian identities.  However, bisexual social movement organizations are only a few decades old.  Better representation of bis in the media hinges upon the success of this movement along with the larger LGBTQ movement to assert itself in society as a whole.  Hopefully this is done with a mindfulness towards the rights and representation of people of color, people with disabilities,  the working class, people who are poor, people of diverse sizes and appearances, and all the many other ways that groups of people are marginalized in society.  Liberation expands the lense of who is portrayed and how they are portrayed in the media.  Vampires have long made for fascinating characters and storylines.  They are also a mirror for how society constructs deviance and acceptability.  In this reflection, there is plenty to see.             



Sources:

Ames, M.A. (2010) Twilight Follows Tradition, Analyzing Biting Critiques of Vampire Narratives for their Portrayal of Gender and Sexuality, Faculty Research and Creative Activity. 36.  

 

Anders, C. J. (2016, April 04). The Vampire Diaries Picked the Worst Month for These Pointless, Tasteless Deaths. Retrieved December 02, 2017, from https://io9.gizmodo.com/the-vampire-diaries-picked-the-worst-month-for-these-po-1768964780

 

Baker, D. (2012). Seduced and abandoned: Lesbian vampires on screen 1968–74. Continuum, 26(4), 553-563.

 

Brooks, X. (2017, March 09). Kristen Stewart: ‘It’s not confusing if you’re bisexual. For me, it’s the opposite’. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/mar/09/kristen-stewart-bisexual-personal-shopper-trump-tweets

 

Campbell, P. O. (2013). Intersectionality Bites: Metaphors of Race and Sexuality in HBO’s True Blood. Monster Culture in the 21st Century: A Reader, 99-114.

 

Casano, C. (2013, October 24). Buffy and Bisexuality: Faith as a Subversive Bisexual Character and Willow as. Retrieved November 28, 2017, from http://girlsincapes.com/2013/10/24/btvs-bisexuality/

 

Cardamone, T. (2017, October 31). ‘Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man… Retrieved November 27, 2017, from https://www.lambdaliterary.org/reviews/10/31/something-in-the-blood-the-untold-story-of-bram-stoker/  

 

Gray, E. (2011, October 28). Vampires And Sexuality: What Are ‘Twilight’ And ‘True Blood’ Saying About Sex? Retrieved December 02, 2017, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/emma-gray/vampires-sexuality_b_1063907.html

 

Hofstatter, B. (2012). Representations of Gender Relations in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Graz.

 

Künnecke, L. (2015, March). Blood, Sex and Vampirism: Queer Desires in Stoker’s Dracula and Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Retrieved November 30, 2017, from https://www.academia.edu/12280616/Blood_Sex_and_Vampirism_Queer_Desires_in_Stoker_s_Dracula_and_Le_Fanu_s_Carmilla

 

LGBT Characters in The Vampire Diaries and The Originals. (2015, April 24). Retrieved December 07, 2017, from http://www.fangsforthefantasy.com/2015/04/lgbt-characters-in-vampire-diaries-and.html

 

Lord Byron. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2017, from https://lgbthistorymonth.com/lord-byron?tab=biography

 

Lord Byron’s image inspired modern take on vampires. (2010, June 23). Retrieved November 30, 2017, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/nottingham/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8517000/8517132.stm

 

Luchsinger, A. (2015, March 13). The Vampire – How Lord Byron and The Byronic Hero Influenced The Classic Character. Retrieved December 03, 2017, from http://www.uwgbcommons.org/archives/26418

 

MacCarthy, F. (2002, November 08). Was Byron hounded from Britain because he was gay? Retrieved November 30, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/nov/09/classics.poetry

 

Mendlesohn, Farah. “Surpassing the Love of Vampires; or Why (and How) a Queer Reading of Buffy/Willow is Denied.” Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ed. Rhonda V. Wilcox and David Lavery. Lanham, MD: Rowman Littlefield, 2002. 45-60.

 

Mo. (2016, September 13). Kinda Gay: Bi Erasure on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from https://butchplease.net/2016/09/13/kinda-gay-bi-erasure-on-buffy-the-vampire-slayer/

 

Muscat, K. (2014, October 4). ‘Ain’t Love Grand’: The Erasure of Bisexuality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer — Kill Your Darlings. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from https://www.killyourdarlings.com.au/article/aint-love-grand-the-erasure-of-bisexuality-in-buffy-the-vampire-slayer/

 

Nichols, J. (2014, July 31). Anna Paquin Brilliantly Schools Larry King On Bisexuality. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/31/anna-paquin-larry-king_n_5638081.html

 

Paolucci, P. L. (2000). Re-Reading the Vampire from John Polidon to Anne Rice: Structures of lmpossibility Among Three Narrative Variations in the Vampinc Tradition (Doctoral dissertation, York University Toronto).

 

Primuth, R. (2014, February 11). Vampires Are Us. Retrieved November 30, 2017, from http://www.glreview.org/article/vampires-are-us/

 

Reynalds, D. (2014, June 20). PHOTOS: The LGBT Characters of ‘True Blood’. Retrieved November 28, 2017, from https://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/television/2014/06/20/photos-lgbt-characters-true-blood

 

Ravitz, J. (2011, September 16). Evan Rachel Wood: Being Bisexual Is “a Big Part of Who I Am”. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from https://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/evan-rachel-wood-being-bisexual-is-a-big-part-of-who-i-am-2011169/

 

Richter, N. (2013). Bisexual Erasure in ‘Lesbian Vampire’Film Theory. Journal of Bisexuality, 13(2), 273-280.

 

Stevenson, J. A. (1988). A Vampire in the Mirror: The Sexuality of Dracula. PMLA, 103(2), 139. doi:10.2307/462430

 

Uygur, M. A. (2013). QUEER VAMPIRES AND THE IDEOLOGY OF GOTHIC. Journal of Yaşar University, 8(Special), 47-59.

 

Vincent, R. (2015). Vampires as a Tool to Destabilize Contemporary Notions of Gender and Sexuality. Ellipsis Vol 42. Article 25. https://scholarworks.uno.edu/ellipsis/vol42/iss1/25

 

Zakarin, J., & Fleenor, S. (2017, October 06). 5 bisexual characters who deserve recognition on Bisexual Visibility Day. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from http://www.syfy.com/syfywire/5-bisexual-characters-who-deserve-recognition-on-bisexual-visibility-day

 

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Frankly, It Isn’t My Feminism

Frankly, It Isn’t My Feminism

Reflections on Al Franken

H. Bradford

I haven’t weighed in publicly on the Al Franken sexual harassment debate.  I don’t have the time to engage in internet debates and I don’t want to alienate allies in the Democratic party, who feel very personally hurt and confused by his resignation.  At the end of the day,  all feminists must work together to end sexual harassment/assault.  Further, as a Marxist feminist, I am in the extreme margins of feminism.  I feel that my opinion means little to most people or that my opinion is a quaint anachronism that is tolerable so long as I do my best to work well with others.   Still, I do want to share my opinion, as I feel very frustrated by some of the ways this debate has been framed.   Thus the following is a laundry list of my Marxist feminist “pet peeves.”

1: Al Franken was a feminist/ally to women


Many people have expressed a sense of grief, loss, disappointment, anger, etc. because of the argument that Al Franken was an ally to women.   I fundamentally disagree with this statement.  He supported the Iraq war in 2003, he has supported airstrikes in Syria, voted for increased sanctions against Iran, approved the national defense budget, voted in favor of PROMESA, he supported Israel’s 2014 attacks on Gaza, against closing Guantanamo Bay, etc.   I have said this many times, but internationalism is central to my feminist beliefs.   US foreign policy is based upon promoting US interests in the world.   The US has violently exerted its power in the interest of profit making.  This has been done through countless coups and wars.  What benefits the continuation violent US hegemony does not benefit women, does not benefit working people, does not benefit oppressed nationalities, does not benefit people of color, does not benefit the environment, and does not benefit the vast majority of the world that lives in poverty.  It does not benefit our own people, who fight in these wars and who pay for these wars (at the expense of social spending towards education, health, jobs, environment, etc.).   Supporting Palestinians is a feminist issue.  Supporting Puerto Rican independence is a feminist issue.  Supporting the end to US wars is a feminist issue.  Politicians who support the status quo of US foreign policy- that is, those who do not question our right to play world police or the assumed moral superiority that nationalism grants us the right to starve, bomb, or destabilize other countries… is not in my opinion a feminist.  Women happen to live ALL over the world.  American women are no more important than women in Syria, Palestine, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, North Korea, or Iraq.

This woman in Gaza matters, along with thousands of other people who were killed/injured in Gaza in 2014.  (Image from International Business Times).

 

2. It isn’t Fair that He Stepped Down

The “it isn’t fair” that he stepped down while worse Republicans remain in office is weakest, least morally courageous argument I have heard.   If someone does something bad…something that has hurt women…isn’t the morally responsible thing to do …is take accountability, step back from public life, and quietly work to rebuild trust through atonement?  It doesn’t matter if someone is worse, has done more, or others are not taking accountability.  The “grown up” thing to do when a mistake is made is admit it, apologize, bravely face the consequences, reflect on what happened and how to prevent it again, and work towards remedying the offense.  Yes, it certainly stinks to get in trouble for something when others are evading the consequences of their actions- but if a person truly believes that what they did was wrong, then the punishment of others should be of little concern.   This could have been an opportunity to set an example of how to gracefully, genuinely handle the serious issue sexual harassment.  Instead, Al Franken’s unapologetic resignation made him look like a petulant child- the same sort of behavior one would expect from Donald Trump.


3. Victim Blaming

One of the grossest things throughout this ordeal is the amount of victim blaming.   Despite photographic evidence of Al Franken groping Leann Tweeden, her credibility was attacked because of the bawdy nature of comedy, her conservative interests, her history with Playboy, etc.   Victims who have not identified themselves have even been blamed for not having the courage to reveal themselves- which implies perhaps they are not credible.  Worse, some people bemoan the fact that Al Franken was SUCH a good politician.  Why, he might have had a chance at becoming president some day!  Oh my!  Well, Brock Turner was SUCH a good swimmer!  That pesky sexual assault got in the way of such a promising athletic career.  When people bemoan “what could have been” it blames victims for ruining the careers and futures of offenders.  It is true that groping a sleeping woman is not the same as raping an unconscious woman.  However, there has been a great deal of minimizing Al Franken’s behaviors.   Eight accusations of unwanted touching and kissing IS a big deal.  And yes, Trump’s pussy grabbing and Roy Moore’s grabbing, dating underage women, forcing an underage woman’s head to his crotch, and other allegations of nastiness also matter.  ALL of this matters.  Everyone should resign.  Everyone sucks.  But please, believe victims!!


 

4. Get a Woman into Office!

Another pet peeve has been that the solution to all of this should be the appointment or election of more women into office.  Indeed, the socialization and social position of women in society has not lent itself to the same kinds of oppressive behaviors.  Women are more often the victims of sexual harassment and assault because women it is a method of social control of all women, this keeps women in their place, men feel entitled to women and have historically been entitled to women, women are not socialized to be sexually aggressive or exert control over men in this manner, victims historically and currently are not often believed, this behavior often goes on without consequence, etc.   However, this argument is troubling for a variety of reasons.  For one, it reifies gender.  That is, men and women are different, women are naturally better or less violent/gross/terrible, and the solution must be to include more women in power.  I think that this oversimplifies the problem while reinforcing the gender binary.  It assumes that there is some evil kernel within all men that makes them sexually harass/assault people.   This also ignores transgender, gender queer, gender fluid, or the many other ways to express gender and that these individuals are ALSO often the victims of sexual assault.  It also makes the issue a matter of who is in power rather than a matter of power itself.  Returning to the first point, women in power can be just as terrible- if they are promoting capitalist interests.  The world does not need more Condoleeza Rices, Madeline Albrights, Angela Merkels, Margaret Thatchers, and Hilary Clintons.  Yes, these are women, but they all promoted policies that have hurt women.  While it is less common, men can also be victims of sexual assault and harassment.  Women can sexually harass and assault each other in same sex relationships.  So…this argument is very base to me.  It does not tackle some fundamental issues of power or broader issues of feminism beyond sexual harassment. Image result for madeleine albright starved iraqi children


Beyond this critique, this is a disempowering message to feminists.  This message says that the best thing we can do is hope for a female politician to save us!  Gross.  We should be out in the streets.  Every night should be Take Back the Night.  We should be blocking roads and walking out of our work places in protest of sexual harassment/assault.  We should make power FEAR US.  We should not accept that power should be replaced by a female face.  We should take back power.  We should become power.  Politicians of both parties should fall over themselves to resign, because they fear the rage of millions of mobilized men, women, gender non-conforming, queer, trans, etc. people in the streets demanding  not only accountability….but the destruction of patriarchy itself.   This is a great opportunity for building a mass movement against the machinery of sexist oppression.  A woman will not save us.  We must save ourselves….and this planet.  The politicians will scramble to follow our lead.  If we are smart, we won’t give them the luxury of promises.


Conclusion…

I am sure I could go on, but these are some of the main “peeves” that have angered my socialist sensibilities.   I know that everyone is struggling with these issues.  I know that activism is a path- there is always room to grow and change.  I don’t wish to shame my fellow feminists.  I just…feel like I am alone in the wilderness sometimes.  I am not a Republican or a Democrat.   I don’t have any skin in that game.  I want a new game, with new rules, and new players, and a lot more winning for everyone.  I’m tired of playing Monopoly or Risk.  We are ALL losing.  We will ALL keep losing if we can’t change the discourse and step out of the realm of elections and politicians and into the realm of building the power of mass movements…and labor movement.

Beating the Winter Blues

Beating the Winter Blues

H. Bradford

11/30/17

It seems that winter came early this year.  Although I have lived my whole life in either Wisconsin or Minnesota, winter still arrives with shock and disappointment.  This year, it seemed to begin on October 27th with our first snow storm of the season.  The following weeks remained fairly cold and that initial snow didn’t melt until mid-November.  Daylight Savings Time, which sets the sunset back an hour, only seems to worsen the onset of winter, since suddenly it is dark at 4:30 pm.  I escaped for two and a half weeks to warmer climates, so this only added to my “season shock” this year.  (I have coined my experience season shock- which is like culture shock- but about seasonal adjustment).  Yes, upon returning home after visiting my brother in Texas- I felt demoralized by the cold and darkness.  He will be moving back to Minnesota next year.  I wanted to warn him not to.  It is miserable here.  This place is a cold, dark hell.  In some mythologies, it might be akin to the imagined land of death- white, sterile, and quiet- where bones crack in the cold, snapping like icicles off ledges.  My work schedule of night shifts makes things worse- since I live in the the long dark space between sunsets and sunrises.  I felt crabby, lethargic, and disappointed.  Well, I really don’t want to be that way!  So, here are some things I have done to make the most of winter and try to changed that attitude.


Bentleyville:

Each year, Duluth features a free light show- with free cookies, hot cocoa, popcorn, marshmallows, costumed characters, bonfires, and more!  I have gone twice already this year.  Perhaps, this will even be the year that I finally try to volunteer there.  While winter isn’t awesome, I will say that the darkness creates the canvass for stunning light displays.   I can relate this to the concept of Metaxu (from Simone Weil and Plato), which roughly describes things that separate us in some ways but connects us in others.  Darkness separates us from the visual world.  Night is bothersome since it makes it harder to enjoy the outdoors or do activities that we might enjoy during the day.  In this case, while darkness connects us to the beauty of light displays.  These displays would not be a pretty in daylight.  So, in this way, the darkness connects us to beauty and light.   Plus, there is so little that is free in capitalism!  You can’t complain about free cookies, hot cocoa, popcorn, and wholesome fun!  I think that Bentleyville is wonderful.

Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, outdoor and nature

The Night Sky:

Following the same logic as the last point, the darkness of winter and the long nights make it an optimal time of year for stargazing.   While I have not gone star gazing yet this month, I do plan on rescheduling a Feminist frolic for the planetarium and trying to catch the Northern lights (which are predicted to make an appearance early next week).  So, one great thing about winter is that it is a nice time of year for enjoying the night sky.


Birding:

I was a little sad to see all of the birds migrate.  While I was on my trip, I was reminded of all of the birds that were gone for the winter.  I even saw some of the species of birds which had migrated south!  However, on Sunday I drove to Two Harbors to hike around and do some geocaching.  I actually saw quite a few birds.  There were a few Common Goldeneye ducks, diving and bobbing in Agate Bay.  I watched them, getting a closer view than I’ve had of that species.  I also saw a NEW species of duck- a female Harlequin duck.  I was surprised, since I didn’t expect to see many new birds this winter-if any at all.  I think that it was a good reminder that there are still plenty of birds around.  On December 9th, the Sax Zim Bog will open to winter visitors and host a few birding/nature hikes.  I hope to attend.

Image may contain: outdoor and water

Geocaching:

I tried geocaching for the first time in March.  While it isn’t the most educational hobby, it is fun to search around for these hidden treasures.  I am not great at it, but it does bring a sense of accomplishment to me each time I manage to find a hidden container.  While I don’t do it all of the time, I decided to go geocaching on Sunday in Two Harbors and Monday at Pattison State Park.   Today, I found my 100th cache.  I think that winter is a great time to geocache since there is less foliage and vegetation to thwart my view of the caches.  Also, there aren’t any wood ticks.   It is also a nice hobby for winter since it doesn’t compete with birding as much (since there are fewer birds out and about).

Image may contain: tree, plant, outdoor and nature  Just a photo from Pattison State Park, where I geocached earlier in the week

Winter’s Solitude:

On Monday, I went to Pattison State Park for hiking/geocaching.  I was the only at the park.  The park office was closed and the parking lot was desolate.  It was wonderful to haunt the park, wandering the trails as the only soul on the premise (there were park service people somewhere, but I didn’t see anyone at the park office and there were no other park visitors).  In the summer, parks tend to be busier.  The beach would be full of swimmers and the tables occupied by picnic-ers.   On Monday, it was only me.  It was wonderful.  I enjoyed it too much and kept reminding myself of the moral lessons of the Twilight Zone (don’t wish for people to go away.  You might lose your contact lenses).  It was a really enjoyable time.  This is something to really be thankful for- a whole park to myself!  I found a few caches and enjoyed the waterfall (the tallest in Wisconsin- though that doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment for a waterfall).

Image may contain: sky, tree, cloud, outdoor, nature and water    Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, outdoor, nature and water

Embracing the Indoors:

During the summer, I sometimes feel guilty for sleeping during the day after a night shift.  I feel like I am missing out on a beautiful, sunny day.   In winter, while I still feel like I am missing out on sunlight, this is unavoidable.  So, I guess that if nothing else I can embrace the season because the cold and darkness give me a good excuse to stay indoors.   In my ideal world, I would use this wonderful indoor time to write, read, study, create art, try to practice violin, do fitness DVDs, or any number of other hobbies that I could explore.  But, this is not my ideal world and I am not my ideal self.  I haven’t done many if any productive indoor hobbies lately.  However, I have embraced the indoors by taking advantage of indoor fitness classes.  While I am not a member at any gyms, I have gone to a few fitness classes with my coworkers Kaila and Katie at CSS.   I have attended a dance cardio class and a barre class.  I also try to do a ballet class through Sterling Silver Studio in Superior.   Since it is cold outside, I may as well embrace the indoors by attending indoor fitness classes.  Walking on a track or treadmill is no substitute for a walk outdoors, but it helps to combat the cooped up/inactive feeling that I dislike about winter.


Embracing Winter Hobbies:

Snow does allow for winter hobbies.  We don’t have any snow at the moment, but maybe later this winter I can go cross country skiing and snow shoeing again.  There are other winter hobbies I could try as well.  One of my goals is to try out a fat tire bicycle this winter.  We’ll see if I finally try one out this winter…


Embracing Warm Things:

One positive thing about winter is that it makes warm things far more enjoyable.  I can definitely say that soup, hot tea, hot cocoa, or generally any hot food or drink is much more pleasant in the winter.   Even if I don’t have a cold, Throat Coat is my favorite and most soothing hot tea by far.

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Embrace Seasonal Sweaters:

I like being warm.  A fun way to stay warm is with seasonal sweaters.  The other day, I went to Goodwill and bought a few seasonal sweaters.  By seasonal, I mean the sort of sweaters that an elderly woman might wear- with snowmen, mittens, cats, or cardinals on them- some are embellished with sequins, tiny rhinestones, and puff paint textures.  Having an arsenal of winter themed sweaters/sweatshirts helps me get into the mood of winter.  It is hard to be grumpy when you are wearing a sweatshirt of three snowmen sharing hot cocoa.

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I don’t own this sweater, but it represents the spirit of winter whimsy.

 

Season Shock:

The reason that I feel that I experience “season shock” rather than seasonal affect disorder is because my experience is more of an adjustment issue.    I feel that the transition to winter is disappointing because it means a loss of freedom, outdoors, health, light, and warmth.  It means that life is harder- since the weather is harsh, the day is short, the roads are icy, cars need to be warmed up, and illness spreads more easily.  Adjusting to the “new normal” of winter isn’t an easy process.  But, I don’t feel that for me, it is a form of depression.  To me, the difference is that when winter hits, I want to be active, I WANT to be outdoors, I WANT all of the fun of fall and summer.   Winter is an insult to my drive to live and experience.   When I am actually depressed, I don’t want to do anything….and don’t even want to want to do anything.   I think that by being intentional, setting goals, and taking advantage of the 40 degree weather we’ve had lately has helped me escape my winter funk.   But…we’ll see how it goes when the temperature continues to decline next week- and we see highs in the teens….

Oh No, it’s Norovirus!

Oh No, it’s Norovirus!

H. Bradford

11/28/17

(Trigger warning for anyone with emetophobia or an aversion to stories about gastrointestinal illness…and anyone who doesn’t want to read about gross sickness stuff)

I haven’t really written anything this month.  Sorry that the one thing that I took time to write is about…getting sick.  But, it was a big event this weekend.  This narrative is not flattering or fun.  It is the story of me and my pal, Norovirus.  I feel that if we were both characters in a novel, there is enough tension and antagonism that we might even love each other…in that Batman/Joker sort of way (that the “other” defines you).  What a weird thought.  I had a lot of time to have weird thoughts this weekend.   Norovirus is my nemesis, but like any nemesis, it grows familiar through obsession.  It was certainly no stranger on Thanksgiving.


I’ve come a long way in my journey to overcome emetophobia.   In other years, I had panic attacks as the holidays approached since it is prime time for winter vomiting bug…aka…norovirus.  I would fret over my food and stay inside.  But, having come a long way, I didn’t think much of it this year…or at least not as much as other years.  Even though Thanksgiving at the shelter inevitably means norovirus.  As predictable as the shortening days, the shelter will experience norovirus in November.  Sure enough, many residents, though mostly children, vomited through my nine day stretch of shifts.  One person vomited in the kitchen and in the office.  I always find this befuddling.  The kitchen and dining room are the absolute worst places to vomit- seeing as norovirus can spread through vomit particles launched through the air.  Yet, this seems to rank highly on everyone’s Top 5 Best Vomit Spots in the shelter.  In any event, it isn’t really surprising that at 2am on Thursday night I began to feel a little ill.  At first I thought it was hunger, since I hadn’t eaten since 6pm.  I ate some leftover stuffing, but became increasingly bloated and uncomfortable.  At 4am, the liquid diarrhea began.  This was followed by nausea and a single retch.  By 4:30, I had used the bathroom three times and felt that this was just the beginning.  I decided that I needed to leave (leaving my coworker alone and rushing home).


I drove home without incident, hurried to unlock the door, and raced upstairs to the toilet to dry heave twice and turn around for some more diarrhea action.  This was about when the searing stomach ache began.  It felt as though someone was stabbing me in the stomach with scissors.  The next two hours was a lovely relay race from my bed to the bathroom to take turns retching and shitting green swamp water.  (Yes, this is all very unpretty, but this story isn’t meant to be attractive).  I dry heaved hard four times at six a.m.  (I am not sure why nothing comes up, but it had already been four hours since I had eaten so maybe there was nothing to come up.)   My usual sources of relief: emetrol and pepto bismol did nothing.   I felt weak and was not able to drink much, but sometimes sipped tiny amounts of water through my teeth.  The stomach pain continued nonstop for eight hours.  This time was spent in moments of fitful sleep or pitiful whimpering.

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My trusted allies failed me…


I watched the time.  Time is a friend when stomach bugs hit.  The worst symptoms don’t last forever and do tend to slow down over time.  It took time for things to slow down.  It took eight hours for the stomach cramps to go away.  The nausea did improve and the dry heaving stopped (mostly because I willed myself to stop it- as I was too worn out to endure the effort of punching up my innards).   But, the diarrhea was remarkably constant.  Another remarkable characteristic of the diarrhea was how uncontrollable it was.  While I have certainly had my share of the “green apple trots” as my grandpa used to call it, I have never had uncontrollable “trots.”    Yes.  Indeed, the deluge of darkness arrived without herald or the slightest urge.  In other words, I pooped myself….more than once…without even feeling like I needed to go, was going to go, or that “going” was going to happen.   It was as if a magical spigot was suddenly turned on…and ta da!  That was a first in my life time.   Now, admitting this makes me feel like a swamp monster.  But really, it was not in my capacity to predict or control this bodily function.  That is humbling.  And disgusting, of course.  But, as I mentioned earlier, time is a friend.  By the late evening on Friday I was able to suck on ice and everything had slowed down.  However, I was met by a new symptom: severe body aches. Image result for green apple


Being sick is a learning opportunity.  The body aches were severe and made it hard to rest.  Still, they were preferable to the other symptoms.  I could not take any Tylenol because I had no desire to ingest more than ice.  So, I just wined quietly to myself as I curled up into various positions.  These body aches, while annoying, at least show that my body was trying to fight the virus.  The lower half of my body was where most of the pain was concentrated.   I guess that when the immune system makes antibodies, it also releases histamines to the infected area- which dilate the blood vessels and allows for more antibodies to pass through.  But, the histamines can pass to other areas of the body, where they trigger pain receptors.   I am not knowledgeable about health or medicine, but it is comforting to think of when I don’t feel well.   Once I felt well enough to drink enough water and have something in my stomach, I eventually took some Tylenol and this pain subsided (but by then it had been another eight hours).  From then on, I slept until about 2pm on Saturday.  This meant that I spent about 34 hours in bed (or between bed and the toilet).


When I awoke, the sun was shining and it was a balmy 34 degrees F.  I put on several layers and decided that the most logical thing I could do was celebrate my recovery with a brisk, wintery hike in the Superior Municipal Forest in search of a geocache.  This was certainly an ambitious goal after sustaining myself on ice cubes.  I didn’t have my appetite back yet, but set out anyway….since I was done being sick.  Nope, I wasn’t done being sick.  I went for a hike, against my better judgment, feeling weary and light headed.  But, I stayed out anyway (yes, I know this was foolish but I wanted to be better and was tired of staying in bed).  I didn’t find the cache, but was determined that the hike was what I needed.  After an hour of hiking/searching for the cache, I returned to my car.  Even though I felt rather weak, I decided to try to find another cache.  I also failed to find this one.  By the third attempt to find a cache, I felt that I could no longer stay awake.  I promptly went home and fell asleep for several more hours.  However, by the time I awoke, I did have my appetite back and a bit more energy.  By Sunday afternoon, I had indeed recovered (and had a more successful attempt at hiking and geocaching).


The illness gave me a lot of time to think.  My roommates were gone-celebrating Thanksgiving with their families over the weekend- spare one roommate who I don’t know well yet.  The internet was not working Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.  So, I was alone and a bit bored.  Even the television converter box was malfunctioning.  I didn’t have the energy for reading books- so I mostly sat in bed and thought about things.  The topic at the top of my mind was norovirus, of course.  There is something so terrible about norovirus.  Really, there is very little that can be done to prevent its spread.  While it is only spread through the oral-fecal route or by airborne vomit particles, it is extremely virulent.  A tiny drop of vomit or pooh contain millions of viral particles.  It only takes a few to become sick.  At the same time, many cleaners do not destroy the virus.  For instance, clorox wipes do not destroy it.  Alcohol sanitizer does not destroy it.  At work, I bleach surfaces and door knobs at night, but it isn’t actually known how much bleach is needed to destroy norovirus.  The diluted bleach solution that I use to clean the office and shelter may be as ineffective as the commercial cleaning supplies at the shelter.  Therefore, if norovirus is around you…it is safe to assume that you will probably become ill (though hand washing does work and is probably the only way to really avoid it.)

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Kills 99.9% of germs.  Guess what that .1% includes?  Hmmph….I say rise up against the .1% and take back the means of cellular reproduction!!


I also thought about viruses themselves.  Viruses are just plain weird.  Scientists had no idea that they existed until speculations in the late 1800s that there might be something smaller than a bacteria.   There really is something impressive about the idea that viruses were discovered at all- considering they are so tiny and not even alive.  Norovirus was discovered in the 1920s (which seems recent, but ALL viruses are pretty recently known).  Viruses are all around us.  Relatively few make us sick, but they attack all life forms.  Thinking about viruses made me really, really, thankful for vaccines.  I mean…anti-viral drugs are rare and really complicated (involving confusing the process by which viruses replicate themselves in cells).  So, vaccines are pretty awesome and a lot easier to understand and seemingly to develop than anti-viral drugs.  Norovirus does not have a vaccine, but there have been clinical trials for a vaccine in Japan and Ohio.  So, someday there could be a vaccine- which would be pretty awesome- since norovirus kills about 200,000 people in the US each year (and of course, countless more in developing countries).  Plus, norovirus is the second most common illness in the US after the common cold.   Some may say that I am a dreamer, but I want a world where people don’t poop themselves or at least not as much.  But on a more serious note, it would actually end a lot of mundane human suffering/real suffering and death.   Yep, as I sat in bed, I thought- give me ALL the VACCINES.   I also thought about the anti-vaccination movement.  While I know that for those who are against vaccination it is a serious issue- I just have to think- c’mon…viruses suck SOOOOO much.  HIV/AIDS has killed 25 million people!  Influenza killed like 3-6% of the global population in 1918/19!  In the throes of my viral misery, it was very easy to be on TEAM VACCINATE. Image result for norovirus I will admit that this orange tinted version of norovirus is sort of cute.  You are my sunshine…my only sunshine….


Oddly enough, I also thought about Rick and Morty, a cartoon I have seen a few times.  I thought that maybe Rick is such a jerk because he can see himself in the past, present, future, and all universes.  I can only see myself in the past and present.  I thought that if I could time travel, my advice to myself would be “don’t be afraid.”  One of my fears has been throwing up, but there are lots of little things.   I was too miserable to even fear throwing up.  This is what actually happens when I am truly sick.  The anxiety really happens in the expanse of calm moments between illnesses.  And, norovirus is unpleasant and traumatic enough to worry about- but, it does end.   It may take a day or three days, but it ends.  Ultimately it is hard to control and possible to survive, so it is not worth fearing or worrying about.    So yes, past self- don’t be afraid.  Don’t be so fearful.  I really want past self to know that.  Present self is not really an adventurer.  I like tea, birds, books, hikes, quietude, etc.  Past self was always too afraid.  I want to be a jerk to past and present self.  I wish present self liked scuba diving, parasailing, rock climbing, roller coasters, sky diving, etc.  I don’t.  I am more of the bookish, timid sort.  Present and past self- you suck.  See, I only see two parts of myself and I am already a jerk.  So, maybe Rick just sees so many versions of himself that it lends itself to being awful.  I mean, in at least several multiverses I am still pooping myself.  That is gross and intolerable. All humans are limited by their own mediocrity, mortality, and social conditions.  Even if I were entirely fearless, I would be met by the limits of being born into this particular place and time- this person-this body- this class and gender within patriarchal capitalism.  To live is to come to terms with limitations of what is possible and to compromise wants against realities.  At least I can only see two worlds of disappointment, but if I could see all versions of myself I would probably become soured by the infinite pointlessness of all of our struggles.   So…that is what I thought about.  Rick and Morty and how it relates to norovirus.


I thought about other things as well, but it would be boring to write about all of my thoughts.   I am happy that I am feeling better.  At least I probably won’t get norovirus for a few months (immunity does not last very long).   I survived it.  It was the second worst bout of stomach illness I have had in my life.  The number one worst was only worse because it was on an airplane.   Now that I am feeling better, I had some fun outdoors and even saw a new bird yesterday.  Things aren’t so bad.  Norovirus won a battle, but didn’t win the war….

 

My Raven Tattoo

My Raven Tattoo

H. Bradford

10/27/17

This year, I decided that I should mark my bird listing by getting a bird tattoo for every 100 species of birds that I identify.  I like the idea of earning rewards.  The life of an adult lacks enough little rewards.  When I was young, I could get girl scout badges, letters on my letter jacket, or certificates of participation.  Now…well, not a lot!  Aside from rewarding myself, this plot to earn bird tattoos seemed like a good idea, since I already have an archaeopteryx tattoo, which historically was believed to be the first bird.  The name Archaeopteryx means “first wing.”  There are other fossils that have since been found, but archaeopteryx remains an iconic bird/dinosaur because it helped scientists of the 1800s connect birds and non-avian dinosaurs.  Plus, the Berlin specimen really is an elegant fossil.  It is like a prehistoric dancer, passionately arching backwards and shrugging its arms.  Thus, although it was not my intention when I got the tattoo, archaeopteryx can be my first “bird” and a marker for the first 100 species on my list.


I have identified about 230 species now.  Therefore, I have “earned” another tattoo.  To mark this milestone, I decided to get a raven tattoo.   Now, there are 229 other birds that I could have chosen from.  The very first bird that I added to my list was a stray Ivory gull that found its way to Duluth a few days after I began birding.  The pretty white gull from the arctic might have made a nice tattoo or could find its way in one in the future (perhaps with Lake Superior).  However, I wanted something that matches my aesthetic a little better.  I tend to wear dark colors and dye my hair blue and black.  Perhaps if I wrote jaunty sailor costumes all the time, a gull would be a good tattoo.  But, that isn’t me…at the moment.   A nautical themed version of myself is probably not going to happen any time soon as I hate water and am prone to seasickness.  Ultimately, I decided to pick a raven because they are attractive, interesting birds.

 


That is a shallow reason to choose that bird, I know.  They just look cool.  But, ravens and other corvids ARE cool.  They are incredibly intelligent birds- and some of them have the ability to problem solve, make tools, identify themselves in the mirror, remember where food is stored and try to trick competition with fake caches, and learn new behaviors-like safely crossing the street.   Many cultures have stories about ravens, often connecting them to death- since they eat carrion.  (Though Native American cultures seem to connect them to creation and trickery).  I suppose that I like this connection to death over say….the bluebird of happiness or a patriotic bald eagle.  I think about death too much.  Not in a dark, suicidal sort of way- but in an existential, everything is meaningless, how to do I live a good life sort of way.   Finally, I saw two ravens last spring when I was camping at Wild River State Park.  For most of my life, I was not able to differentiate ravens and crows.  I think that I am finally able to tell the two apart by the way they fly (crows flap quite a bit and ravens soar), their faces (ravens have a thicker, more square looking bill), and their sound (ravens have deep, almost barking  voices).   So, in a way it is a milestone bird since it represents the sorts of things that I have been trying to train myself to pay attention to when I see a bird.


As for the tattoo itself, I think it turned out beautifully.  I had it done at Ink Tattoo in Superior, which is where I went for my archaeopteryx tattoo.   I will say that I don’t particularly like getting tattoos since the buzzing noise and stinging pain can be a bit much.  It starts off alright, but after a while, it is hard to sit still and distract my mind.  Still, I feel very comfortable there and it helps that two of their artists are female (I am not sure if they have other artists at the moment).   Jill did both of my tattoos and was able to really capture what I had imagined.  I also like that the shop is full of LGBTQ themed art.  It creates a welcoming, positive, progressive atmosphere.  I think that tattoo shops can be a little intimidating since they may seem dark, aggressive (sometimes with skulls, dragons, flames, or other motifs in the signage.).  Overall, it was a great experience and I can’t wait until I get to 300 birds.  (Admittedly, it is harder to add more to the list as the list starts to grow).

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What will my 300th bird be?      There are many wonderful birds!   A chickadee would be nice, as it is symbolic of winter and our ecosystem.  A blue jay is another corvid- and would also be a nice symbol of winter and our region.  Or, perhaps I could choose birds that are symbolic of my travels as well.  A rosy starling could be symbolic of my trip last summer to the ‘stans.   The Asian magpie is the national bird of South Korea (a trip that I remember fondly).   The whooper swan is the national bird of Finland and steeped in cultural meaning,  as The Swan of Tounela is a song by Sibelius about the mythical swan floating on a river in the land of the dead.   Hmm….  well, who knows!

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Book Review: War Against All Puerto Ricans

Book Review: War Against All Puerto Ricans- Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony

H. Bradford

10/23/2017

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Like many Americans, I know precious little about Puerto Rico.   I traveled to San Juan briefly in 2016, which piqued my interest.   When I attended a Letters to Prisoners event a few months later, I wrote to Oscar Lopez Rivera, who I didn’t even know about and was surprised that he was still in prison after 36 years.  Last January his sentence was commuted as Barack Obama was leaving office and he has since returned to Puerto Rico to live with his daughter.   After writing to him, I purchased one of his books and a book by Nelson Denis about Puerto Rican’s history entitled: War Against All Puerto Ricans-Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony.   Both books sat in my room, quietly collecting dust until Hurricane Maria hit the island in September.   The climate and colonial nightmare inspired me to finally make time for War Against All Puerto Ricans-Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony something that the U.S. has been making time for since 1898.   The following are some things that I learned from the book.


Denis’ (2015) book does not cover much history prior to the Spanish-American war.  So, the narrative pretty much begins when Puerto Rico shifts hands between Spain to the United States in 1898.  Though, there was an interesting story about Taino resistance to Spanish conquest- as a Taino named Urayoan tricked a Spaniard named Diego Salcedo into believing he was being led to a lake full of virgins. (Why a lake would be full of virgins or the importance of such a lake is another question…).  Instead of finding this lake, he was ambushed, killed, and his body was watched as it decomposed to make certain he was human (as there was some doubt due to immunity to smallpox).  When it was determined that he decayed like everyone else, riots broke out across the island-only to be squashed by Ponce de Leon, who had 6000 Tainos killed.   In any event, other details regarding Spanish rule are not covered in the four pages dedicated to this four hundred year time period.  I suppose that information is left to be discovered in other sources.


What is discussed in the book is an overview of the long history of terrors inflicted upon the island by the United States as well as some of the resistance against this.  It is hard to even know where to begin, but one of the worst things that the United States did includes a forced sterilization project that began in the early 1900s and continued into the 1970s.  For instance, in the town of Barceloneta alone, 20,000 women were sterilized.   And by the mid 1960s, one third of the entire female population of the island had been sterilized, the highest incidence of sterilization in the world.  Women were not told nor did they consent to sterilization, which was done for purely racist motives at Puerto Ricans were seen as inferior, promiscuous, over populated, etc.  Besides literally trying to kill off Puerto Ricans as a people through sterilization, the U.S. sought to kill of their culture and identity through their education system.  English became compulsory in schools, but since this drove up drop out rates, this policy was overturned in 1909.  Today, fewer than 20% of the population speaks English fluently, which could be seen as an accomplishment in resisting U.S. designs for the colony.  However, the biggest theme in the oppression of Puerto Ricans in the deplorable labor conditions.


Labor conditions require special attention because this offers insight to why Puerto Rico is a territory rather than a state.   In 1899, Hurricane San Ciriaco devastated the island, but instead of providing hurricane relief, the U.S. further impoverished the populace by outlawing the Puerto Rican pesos and announcing that the currency was valued at .60 cents to the dollar.  This caused Puerto Ricans to lose 40% of their savings overnight.  In 1901, a land tax called the Hollander Bill forced farmers from their land in a classic capitalistic ploy to proletarianize farmers and amass capital in the form of land.   The farmers sold their lands to US banks and moved to the cities.   At the same time, the first governors of the island were unelected U.S. men with ties to sugar or fruit companies.   In 1922 the island was declared a colony rather than a state, as this was a way to avoid U.S. labor laws such as minimum wage and collective bargaining.   Thus, by 1930, 45% of all arable land was owned by sugar plantations and 80% of these plantations were US owned.  During the 1930s, prices were 15-20% higher on Puerto Rico than in the US and wages were half of what they were under Spanish rule.  At the same time, while FDR is often lauded for providing relief to Americans during the Great Depression through the New Deal, his policy in Puerto Rico was to militarize the island, suppress nationalism, and appoint a hard-line governor named General Winship to oversee the island.   Winship tried to reinstate the death penalty, constructed a Naval-Air Base, expanded the police, and imported more weapons to the island.  Winship also ordered the Ponce Massacre, in which 19 men, one woman, and one girl were killed by police while participating in or viewing a non-violent, unarmed nationalist parade.  200 others were injured when police opened fire on the march, shooting people as they fled.  There were 85 strikes in Puerto Rico during 1933, and in a sugar cane strike, workers went on strike because their wage for a 12 hr day was cut from 75 cents to 45 cents.   The workers actually won that fight and saw their wages increase to $1.50.  However, it is important to note that both Democrat and Republican politicians have historically sought keep the island in colonial status to extract as much profit as can be gained from the beleaguered island.   Over the decades, the island has become a tax haven for corporations and currently it produces 25% of the world’s pharmaceuticals.  Yet, in 2015 the unemployment rate was 15% and the poverty rate was 45%.  33,000 government jobs were eliminated between 2010-2015 and utility rates in 2015 were 300% higher than in the U.S.  Both parties supported PROMESA, which put the island under a bipartisan financial control board in order to control the countries finances (i.e. impose austerity measures to balance the budget).  Of course, the book predates PROMESA….which I believe is Spanish for our promise to allow the corporate plunder of the island.  The book is not overtly theoretical or anti-capitalist, so there is no specific critique of imperialism, capitalism, or how both parties follow the logic of American exceptionalism.

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Image of the 1937 Ponce Massacre


This history of racism, sexism, and economic exploitation sets the backdrop of nationalist struggle in War Against All Puerto Ricans-Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony.  The book mainly focuses on nationalist struggle from the 1930s to 1950s.  The book follows the history of the Nationalist Party and does not discuss other independence parties or socialist/communist history.  Because it covers one party and a specific time period, it obviously does not provide a full overview of social struggle in Puerto Rico.  Even the labor movement is given passing attention.  Still, the events and personalities that are covered are certainly interesting.   Albizu Campos is given a lot of attention.  He was an impoverished orphan turned American educated lawyer turned nationalist revolutionary.  He created the Cadets of the Nationalist Party, a youth organization and formed the Workers Association of Puerto Rico with striking sugar cane workers.  He was arrested under the rule of Governor Winship, who made nationalist expression illegal (such as owning a Puerto Rican flag or organizing for independence) and spent seven years imprisoned.  After his release, he tried to organize a revolution in 1950.  This revolution failed due to heavy FBI infiltration into the Nationalist Party (which comprised plans, members, and weapons stores) and the fact the US actually bombed the city of Jayuya.  The US National Guard even shot nationalists after they had surrendered.  The saddest part of Albizu’s story was after the failed 1950 revolution, he was arrested and experimented on at La Princessa prison.  He was sentenced to life in prison, kept in solitary confinement for months, then given doses of radiation as an experiment/torture.  Even though he showed signs of radiation poisoning, U.S. psychologists deemed him insane for thinking that he was being experimented upon.  However, the global community was not as convinced of his lunacy and a petition to have him released was brought to the United Nations.  Pre-revolution Cuba (an ally of the U.S. still) also passed a resolution to have him moved to Cuba for medical treatment.  He had a stroke in 1956 in which he lost the ability to speak and died 10 years later.

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An image of Albizu Campos as a prisoner-covered in sores and burns from alleged radiation poisoning.


Another interesting nationalist discussed in the book was Vidal Santiago Diaz.  He was a barber who availed himself in the Nationalist Party by stockpiling weapons and commanding the Cadets while Campos was imprisoned.   He was arrested and tortured for his role in gathering weapons- but never provided information about the nationalist movement to the police- even when he was electrocuted, beaten, water boarded, starved, and isolated.  When he was released from imprisonment, he even managed to tell his allies who among them were actually informants (based on what he learned while imprisoned).  His most amazing feat was fighting off 40 members of the US National Guard/Puerto Rican police from his barber shop during the 1950 uprising.  The battle was broadcast live on the radio and it was assumed that the shop was full of nationalists as he fired the various weapons he had stored upon them for several hours.  He was shot various times, but continued fighting until a stairway collapsed upon him.  He was then shot in the head once authorities entered the shop and assumed to be dead, but as he was dragged into the street by the police he regained consciousness.  He was imprisoned until 1952 and lived until 1982.   His story was the most interesting in the book, since he was an everyday person of astonishing conviction and determination- who alone put up the best resistance in the whole nationalist movement in the 1950 revolt.

 


There are other interesting stories in the book, such as the extensive surveillance of the Puerto Rican population.  The Carpetas program collected files of information on 75,000 people.  This information was used to arrest people involved with the Nationalist Party, but also used to blackmail, threaten, and bar employment from dissidents.   Another theme of the book was the lack of coverage in the U.S. media of events in Puerto Rico and how the media framed issues in Puerto Rico as internal and inconsequential.  Even a nationalist assassination attempt on President Truman was framed as a communist plot (even though the assassins were Puerto Rican National Party supporters).  It is no wonder that the movement for independence was not successful, as organizers were challenged by infiltration into their organization, extensive surveillance of the populace,  torture, medical experimentation, imprisonment, military occupation, lack of media attention, and other facets of a fully U.S. funded and supported police state.   Unfortunately, the book ends after the 1950 uprisings (the October 30, 1950 revolt and failed the assassination attempt on Truman).


In all, War Against All Puerto Ricans-Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony, was an engaging read that covered some interesting events and characters from history.   My main critique of the book is that it does not provide much analysis or critique.  Certainly, the book does not provide any solutions.  Also, because the book covers history until 1950, it seems incomplete.  How does this history connect to today?  What about the nationalist movement of the 1960s and 1970s?  How is this connected to other nationalist struggles?  What is the nature of social movements in Puerto Rico today?  Therefore, the scope of the book tends to be narrow in many ways.  The narrative itself is jumpy, moving back and forth between the decades as the first half of the book focuses on events and the second half focuses on people.  While the book is short, there are parts of the narrative that seem less necessary.   For instance, there is a chapter on an OSS agent who runs a club in Puerto Rico.  While it may be useful in creating a U.S. villain to highlight the “terror in Amerca’s colony” aspect of the book, the tone of this chapter is playful and forgiving.  After all, the chapter ends that he “never watered down his booze and brought a touch of class to colonial espionage (156).” As a minor detail, the book specifically mentions coqui frogs croaking at least a half dozen times.  The scene setting novelty of the endemic amphibian wore off eventually.


One book cannot be everything.  After I read it, I did feel that I wanted to learn more.  There are facets of the book that could certainly be their own books, such as the history of the sugar cane industry in Puerto Rico, the history of hurricanes, the labor movement,  socialists and communists on the island, or the nationalist movement after 1950.  And, certainly there are books on at least some of these topics.  Thus, I don’t feel that the book is the best introductory reading to the topic of Puerto Rico, as it offers a truncated piece of history.  It does provide context, but I think the book would best be read after a survey of history or along with other books.  Since I do intend to read other books, I didn’t mind the read- though I was left hoping for more.  Nevertheless, the book is very accessible, quick to read, and full of fascinating people and events.   It is also a timely read, as Puerto Rico has finally BEEN in the news lately because of Hurricane Maria.  Oddly enough, Guam was also in the news this past summer.  With the spotlight on our forgotten colonies, it is a great time to learn more about them to contextualize current events and make certain that their struggles stay pertinent to activists.

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Fall Camping! Camping Fail.

Fall Camping! Camping Fail.

H. Bradford

10/15/17

I like camping since it offers me a mini- adventure and time alone.   I like this new ritual of leaving for a day or two and unplugging from Facebook, activism, my phone, and people in general.  So, I was looking forward to camping at Savannah Portage State Park.   I visited the park back in August and March, but had not camped there.  It has become one of my favorite state parks due to the fact that it is not very busy, has great bog walk, and some nice trails.   Thus, I made it a goal that I would camp there this fall.   Here is how it went:

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Firstly, the forecast called for clear, sunny weather when I made my reservation at the campsite.   However, as it grew closer to the date, the weather looked like rain, more rain, light rain, clouds, and thunderstorms.  I am not a huge fan of being wet, but the days are getting shorter and my opportunities for camping will come to an end by the end of this month.   So…I looked up tips of how to comfortably camp in the rain.   I decided that it would not be a big deal and made plans to go birding and hiking- rain or no rain.


Like always, I stopped at Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the way to Savannah Portage.  I immediately felt chilled by the rain and wind.   Nevertheless, I spent almost the entire day birding and hiking.  I was wet, but not not drenched.   Despite the inclement weather, I saw many birds.   One highlight was a flock of Pied billed grebes.  These grebes are adorable.  They have cute little fluffy white bird butts, big eyes, and a compact shape.  Another highlight was dozens of Trumpeter swans, even though they were pretty far away- near an island on Rice Lake.   I took a stroll down a service road and came upon two Sandhill cranes.  At first, I thought they were gray stumps or poles.  I guess I wasn’t expecting to see the cranes.   There were many other birds as well, including more ducks than I could hope to count- or identify.  The ducks were some distance away and I am not knowledgeable enough about birding to identify ducks by their flight pattern or shape.   While walking along the service road, I spotted a Lapland longspur.  This isn’t an uncommon bird, but the first time I have identified one.   I thought it was a fun and productive day of birding, but traipsing through wet grass, soggy trails, and drizzling rain left me feeling chilled.

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After leaving the refuge, I headed towards Savannah Portage State Park, picking up some campfire wood along the way.   I spent most of my day birding and I arrived a bit later than I had planned.  The park is remote enough that it is not well staffed and the park office closed at 2pm.  However, there was a notice on the door of what to do if I needed anything.  There are over 50 campsites, but only two were in use that night.  So…I pretty much had the whole state park  AND campground to myself!  There wasn’t even any staff.  Since it was drizzling rain when I arrived, I decided not to set up my tent.  The wind was also picking up.  I concluded that I was already soggy and wasn’t going to enjoy setting up and taking down a wet tent.   Instead, I would save time and effort and sleep in my car.   With nothing to set up, I set off for another hike (as I wanted to make sure that I visited the Bog Walk and did the loop trail around Lake Shumway).   I quickly did both short hikes, beating sunset.   After sunset, I decided to take advantage of my solitude and hike in the dark.   I haunted part of the Continental Divide Trail before the wind picked up again and I decided that hiking in the dark…alone….makes me feel a little uneasy.

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Back at my campsite, I pulled out my firewood and did my best to make a fire.  For whatever reason, this didn’t work out.  The wood that I had purchased was a little damp from being outside.  But, I had purchased some eco-friendly firestarting chips.  These did little to help the flame sustain itself on the wet wood.  I tried burning notebook paper and furiously fanned the flames.  Sometimes the fire lasted as long as five minutes, but after an hour of trying, it never really took off.   This was disappointing because I was going to make myself some hot tea, s’mores, and instant soup.  Instead, I ate cold snacks and drank cold water- which didn’t really do much to dispel the chilled feeling from being outside in the rain all day.   It hadn’t been a particularly cold day and I didn’t get drenched- but there is a certain, demoralizing chilled feeling that rain can bring.


Since the fire wasn’t going to work out, I decided to change clothes, read a book, do some journaling- and snuggle into my sleeping bag- in the backseat of my car.   It wasn’t exactly comfortable- but it was warm and dry.  Also, it was nice to be out of the wind.  Even though it wasn’t that late, I started to feel drowsy.  The wind rustled the leaves outside and droplets of water fell from the foliage onto the roof of my car.  I decided that I would head to bed early- feeling like my camping adventure was a bit of a fail (in terms of setting up the tent or making a fire anyway).  I had strange dreams.  I even had a frightening dream wherein I awoke to the sound of a male voice shouting my name.  It was an auditory hallucination- the sort a person has when they are half dreaming and half awake.  This is not a usual sleep occurrence, so I pondered it for a moment (maybe I had felt anxious being alone?).   I curled up into my sleeping bag and drifted back to sleep.  The rain and wind increased during the night, which again made me feel okay with the decision to sleep in my car- even if I was a bit bunched up.


The next morning, the sky was overcast, but the rain had stopped.  I got ready for the day and set out on a hike.   My goal was to do the Continental Divide Hike (which was perhaps 3.75 to 4 miles round trip from my campsite).  This was a nice hike.   The forest was yellow and the park was entirely empty (spare one other camper).  It was odd to be the only human on the trail.  The trail itself followed…well, a continental divide…or a ridge.  On one side of the ridge, water flowed into the Gulf of Mexico.  On the other side of the ridge, water flows into the Atlantic Ocean.  The trails were wet so it was interesting to think about the long journey the water could take- on either side of me.  Although the hike was often up hill and along a ridge, it was pleasant and not particularly challenging.  I hate hills- but none of them were that steep.   Towards the end of the trail, there was an overlook deck- where a person could admire the lowland Tamarack forests and Wolf Lake.   I spent some time there reading the interpretive sign, then finished the rest of the trail before turning back.

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With the trail done and little to pack up, I left the camp site.  I headed back to Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge to see if I could catch a few more birds.  The sky cleared a little and I did see several birds, such as a Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue heron, Trumpeter Swan, Pied Billed Grebes, and what I believe was a pair of Blackducks.   I didn’t spend as long as I had the day before, but managed to devote a few hours to it.  I turned my phone back on.  I left the wildlife refuge and I started listening to radio news.  The first story that I heard about was the mass shooting in Las Vegas.  I was only gone Sunday into Monday, but it seemed that I had been gone much longer.  There is so much “world” to digest on a daily basis.   I like to escape it all.  I am not sure how others remain so engaged and yet sane or even happy from day to day.   Maybe I am weak for always wanting to run away.   On the drive home, I listened to the news coverage.  I saw a hawk perched over a swamp.  I turned the car around and watched it until it flew away (harassed by another bird).   I then headed home to change clothes and go to a feminist meeting.

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It wasn’t much of an adventure and I pretty much failed at some of the most basic elements of camping (setting up a tent or making a fire).   I was also somewhat miserable, but encouraged by my hardiness to at least TRY to be outside.  Yeah, I am not much of an adventurer.  I think about my co-worker who just spent two and a half weeks hiking the Superior Hiking Trail.  She was probably wet and muddy most of the entire time…without a place to warm up.   I wish I was more like that.   Maybe someday.  Who knows.  For now, it was nice to relish an opportunity to be outdoors- as winter is just around the corner.  With colder and shorter days, I won’t be as enthused to be outside.  We’ll see if I can squeeze one more camping trip in this fall.  Hopefully it won’t be as wet next time!

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My First Hawk’s Ridge Weekend Festival

My First Hawk’s Ridge Weekend

H. Bradford

10/15/17

Although I have lived in this area of Minnesota/Wisconsin for most of my life,  I have never actually gone to Hawk’s Ridge in Duluth until this fall.  For those who don’t know, Hawk’s Ridge is a bird observatory and nature area that is one of the best places in Minnesota (and North America in general!) to watch migrating birds of prey.  Each year, over 90,000 pass over the ridge during the fall migration.  This is pretty amazing!  And yet, I never bothered to pay a visit to the observatory.   This year, I was finally drawn there my interest in birding and had hiked several times in August and September.  However, the thing that I was really looking forward to was their Hawk’s Ridge Weekend Festival event, a three day event of birding field trips, hikes, presentations, and bird watching.  The event happens each year, but I had never attended as my interest in birds is fairly new.  Hawk’s Ridge is a great place to watch hawks and other birds migrate, because the sun warms the basalt rocks that form the ridge creating thermals that the birds can use to ascend into an easier glide (i.e. flap less or expend less energy in moving).   The ridge also serves as a natural highway that the birds can follow along Lake Superior, rather than crossing the cold, expansive lake as they head south.  Well, I signed up for a weekend pass on their website as well as a membership.  This is how the event went:

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The view of Lake Superior and fall colors from Hawk’s Ridge

 


The event started on a Friday, but I did not attend the first day of hikes and presentations since I was tired and stressed from work/activism and the weather was gray and windy.  Saturday also turned out to be a gray day, but I went on a guided hike.  The bird activity was not too intense, but we did see many Sharp Shinned Hawks.  Now, I am really terrible at identifying birds of prey.   That was the appeal of attending the festival: to learn how to identify hawks.  With that said, the birds fly pretty high.  Somehow I imagined that the hawk migration was going to be something more like a scene from The Birds.  I imagined that there would be dozens of birds flying all around me at close range.  After all, if there are thousands of birds migrating, it must be like a swarm!  Not really.  While there were various falcons and Sharp shinned hawks that came closer to us, it really wasn’t how I imagined it.  Most of the birds are watched from a distance.  This meant that even with binoculars, I couldn’t always see them very clearly.  Yet, everyone else seemed able to easily identify the hawks.  This is pretty amazing, but at that distance, other cues are used to identify the birds.  Attending the event taught me to pay attention to details like flight pattern and shape.  Sharp Shinned Hawks, which I saw a lot of that weekend, are long with short heads- making a t-shape silhouette as they pass through the sky.   Their flight pattern is flap, flap, glide.  I heard a naturalist repeat this dozens of time, until it was drilled in my head to think “flap, flap, glide” as the birds moved across the sky.   In another area of the observatory, some naturalists were banding hawks.  A Sharp Shinned Hawk was brought to the crowd for closer inspection.  I was surprised by how small it was, since it seemed larger from a distance or in the sky.  I also learned to start thinking of hawks in terms of genus.  Sharp Shinned Hawks are Accipiters, or forest dwelling hawks that can easily navigate around trees.  Cooper’s Hawks are another Accipiter, which is slightly larger and said to look more like a crucifix in flight.  We saw at least one of them, but I was not be able to identify it at close range or in flight in the sky.  Goshawks are a larger Accipiter, but none were observed while I was there.  They migrate later in the season and I have seen a few on my visits now that it is October.  Despite the slow activity at Hawk’s Ridge, I went away feeling satisfied that I am slowly building my knowledge about birds.

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Clint, a naturalist with Hawk’s Ridge, holding a Sharp shinned hawk.


On Sunday, the sky cleared, making for a gorgeous sunny day.  In the morning I did the Color Run, then I zipped over to Hawk’s Ridge for more presentations and birding.  The warm, clear weather created a massive migration.  I quickly learned a new word as birders kept saying, “Check out that kettle of Broad Winged Hawks.”  That was the theme of the day, as 20,000 Broad Winged Hawks passed over Hawk’s Ridge on Sunday.  The Broad Winged Hawks were very high in the sky, flocking together or “kettling.”  They were so high up, I could not see them with my naked eye.  With binoculars, they looked like black specks or Amazing Sea Monkeys.   My binoculars are not very powerful, but it was pretty amazing to have dozens and dozens of birds come into view as they peppered the sky.  Again, they were high enough in the sky that it would be impossible for me to learn to identify them through markings.  As the name suggests, they have broad wings.  They also have short-ish tails.  Sunday was the biggest migration day that Hawk’s Ridge has had (at least that is what I overheard).  When it comes to identifying Broad Winged Hawks, I would have much more trouble.  I learned that they are in the genus, Buteo.  They have a thicker profile in the sky and a much shorter tail.  However, from a distance, I found that their shape looked pretty similar to Red tailed hawks and other buteos, or raptors built for soaring.   I did learn that Broad winged hawks are often seen migrating together, if that offers a clue.

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Some of the birds that were seen that day.


There were other birds viewed that day as well.  One highlight was a flock of Sandhill cranes which honked loudly overhead.  Some Osprey passed over on Saturday, undeterred by the overcast sky.   They look like the letter M in the sky.   There were also turkey vultures and bald eagles.   Peregrine falcons, American kestrels, and Merlins also passed by.  They flew low enough that we could catch a closer glimpse of them.  Still, I would be hard pressed to identify them at a distance or as they are speeding by.   Their profile looks pretty similar to me.   As they season progresses, the species of migrating birds changes.  Since visiting that weekend, I have returned several other times, including twice yesterday!  I really, really, want to see a golden eagle, a goshawk, and a rough legged hawk (since I have not seen any these birds before).  All of these are late season migratory birds, so they may appear more often later in October.  (The first two golden eagles of the season passed over the ridge yesterday…15 minutes after I left for the day!!).    Despite missing out on the golden eagles yesterday, I did see an American pipit, which is a new bird for my bird list.  I doubt I would have noticed it without birders around, since it looks like a drab, brown bird (easily overlooked).

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The more I try birding, the more overwhelmed I am by the amount of detail that a person must learn.  Thus far I have mostly tried to become familiar with birds by memorizing their appearance- though this relies on a close up view of a stationary bird.  Of course, a person does get better at recognizing birds by sight and there are field markings which aid with a quick identification.  I have seen a lot of white outer tail feathers lately.  I don’t need to see the whole bird to identify the flocks of Dark eyed juncos as they dart for the ditch.   Or, when I see a waging, white tipped tail, I think…Eastern Kingbird.   I have since tried to learn some bird songs or calls, but this is daunting as it is like learning another language.   Attending Hawk Ridge Weekend taught me to pay attention to flight pattern and body shape from a distance.  This adds yet another layer to the detail that a person must learn to become proficient at identifying birds.   I am not a natural when it comes to this.  It is a concerted effort to pay attention to the birds around me.  Though, the hope is that someday I can look at some distant bird and know exactly what it is.   This has brought me back several times this season- quietly watching the birds- and trying to learn from the other birders.   The benefit of building my birding skills is that it reshapes my relationship to nature.  Nature is often the background- the repeating, bland landscape of green.  (Sort of like a video game wherein all the trees and rocks look like they are the same- or some variation on a limited template).   By paying attention to the details, nature announces itself- its variety, its sounds, its hidden life forms- that we have taken the time to study and name.   There is something really amazing and overwhelming (soooo much information!) about becoming acquainted with the planet.

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Capitalism and Witches

Capitalism and Witches

 H.  Bradford

10/14/17

The following was written for the Feminist Justice League as part of a monthly “Feminist Frolic.”  These events are a way for local feminist activists to get together and educate each other on a feminist topic while enjoying the outdoors.  This was written for an event wherein activists gathered to learn more about the history of witches followed by a fall themed night hike to a cemetery.  


Since the advent of the feminist movement, there has been increased interest in the history of witches.  In contrast to earlier scholars on the topic who often approached this history with gender blindness, feminist scholars have sought to connect the history of witches to larger issues of gender based oppression by framing the persecution of witches as organized violence targeted specifically against women.  Thus, over the past few decades there have been numerous books and articles which have explored different facets of witches and their place in women’s history.  It would take months if not years to do justice to this vast and interesting topic.  Regrettably, this paper only scratches the surface of this history by highlighting some of the research on the topic.   With that said, although there are debates on the actual numbers of people who were killed or tried for witchcraft, there were at least 110,000 people tried in the Americas and Europe between 1450 and 1750.  Historians have many different interpretations of the causes of these witch hunts, ranging from hallucinations, religious fundamentalism, to economic instability (Thompson, 2003).  However, one of the most intriguing arguments regarding the cause of the persecution of witches is the development of capitalism itself, which coincided with the dates wherein witch hunts were at their height.  Thus, while there are many ways to approach the topic of witches, the focus of this piece is to understand the economic roots of the persecution of witches.


Female Power in Early Europe:

To understand witches (in European context), it is important to go deep into European history.  While the world today is steeped in male power, it was not necessarily always so.  Feminist anthropologists have argued that women once enjoyed more power and status than they do today, though there is caution in going as far as to say Europe was once purely matriarchal.  One of the more classic texts to make this argument was Raine Esler’s (1987) book, The Chalice and the Blade.  I read Esler’s book over a decade ago, but it was eye-opening and one of those wonderfully memorable works that opens one’s mind to the possibilities of history.  Esler (1987) posited that for 30,000 years the women of Europe were important and equal members of society and that in general, European societies were more egalitarian.  One example of the evidence of the importance of women was the discovery of Venus figurines.  Venus figurines are artifacts made of bone, clay, ceramic, stone, ivory, etc. that have been found all over Europe and date from 11,000-35,000 years ago.  Esler (1987)  argued that these figures may have represented a fertility cult or fertility goddess, as their sexual characteristics were exaggerated and some of the figurines appear to be pregnant.    She also argued that Neolithic settlements in Turkey, such as Catal Huyuk and Hacilar do not have striking differences in the sizes of houses or the size of gifts used with burials.  In all, Neolithic art was centered around nature and fertility and burials were largely equal.  The book argues that European societies based upon sharing relationships, with an aversion to warfare, and gender equality were ended about 7000 years ago when nomadic Indo-Europeans spread across Europe, bringing warfare, male gods, and patriarchal social relationships.  European history since then has been the gradual destruction of the remnants of its more female centered early history.  Thus, early female goddesses from more matrifocal societies were turned into villainous, evil characters in European folklore or religions until they were wiped out entirely.  A particular example used by Esler (1987) was the Minoan snake goddess.  In Minoan culture, during the Bronze age on the island of Crete, women played an important role in society as administrators, priestesses, traders, and other occupations.  The Minoans also worshiped more female goddesses than male gods, including a Snake Goddess which appears in various figurines on Crete dating back as far as 5700 BC.  The Snake Goddess is believed to represent fertility and the earth and other goddesses associated with snakes or snake cults existed in the Near East.  Elser (1987) believed that snakes and snake goddesses were later vilified or turned into evil figures to usurp the power of women in society.

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There has been a backlash against the hypothesis that early human societies worshiped goddesses, fertility, were more egalitarian, and matriarchal.  For feminists, viewing patriarchy as a particular system that is less than 10,000 years old can be empowering because it creates space to imagine a world wherein women were not always oppressed.  In this viewpoint, most of human history was not a story of gender oppression.  It is absolutely true that we will never have all of the archaeological evidence necessary to reconstruct the many diverse societies that existed tens of thousands of years ago.  It is also true that purely matriarchal societies are not common.  The Mosuo ethnic group near Tibet features female heads of household and female lines of inheritance, with a mother goddess and ancestor veneration.  The Minangkabau ethnic group in Indonesia is the largest matrilineal society in the world, wherein inheritance is through the female line of descendants and women are the head of the household.  However, there are no examples of matriarchy in the sense that there have or are societies wherein women dominate society in the same way men dominate society in patriarchy.  Though, our ability to imagine what female power may look like is stunted by our experiences of patriarchal oppression.  Still, it is impossible to piece together complex societies with what little remains of them.  The Venus figurines may not represent goddess worship or admiration of fertility.  They could represent objects to curse women or fat shame them for all we know.  However, we can see by looking back at history and even looking at the world today, that there are differences between societies and that the oppression of women varies.

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Marxists approach history through historical materialism.  That is, from a Marxist perspective, societies develop upon a base structure consisting of economic conditions.  For most of human history, humans were hunters and gatherers.  The nature of hunting and gathering economics means that there is little social inequality because there is little accumulation of surplus.  Hunter and gathering societies tend to have smaller populations and less specialization in roles or occupations due to the fact that specialization requires enough surplus to liberate some members of society from basic sustenance work.  Thus, in Ancient Egypt, where there were settled societies, slave labor, and agriculture, there were also people who specialized in working as priests, bakers, scribes, or any number of professions that did not require direct procurement of food or the means of survival.  To Marxists, economic conditions shape social conditions such as class relationships, gender inequalities, religious beliefs, and relationships to nature.  Thus, while we can’t know what Europe was like tens of thousands of years ago, we do know that societies are built upon a particular economic foundations.  Societies with different economic bases have different ways of treating women.  For instance, many Native American groups were matrilineal.  Colonialists particularly noted this among the Iroquois, among which when men married they joined the wife’s family or when they separated, the children remained with the mother.  Women were also involved in tribal decision making through councils of senior women who could appoint male leaders and attend meetings.  Because women provided an average of 75% of the calories consumed among Native Americans, they had a socially important role of providing the means to survival.  Native American women were not treated as property by men, had the right to divorce, and the means to support themselves.  While Native American beliefs are varied, many feature important female figures, especially in creation stories (Mays, 2004).   Women were treated differently among these societies because they were not based upon private property, amassing capital, or class inequalities.  Before Europe colonized the world, imposing Christianity and patriarchy, it colonized itself, over centuries and in various ways, until its societies became unrecognizable from its earlier hunter gatherer or agrarian traits.   The oppression of women is rooted in the social and economic function that sexism plays in supporting systems of inequality.  Patriarchy oppresses women as a way to control their reproductive power, support other social inequalities, control their labor, and ensure the continuity of private property.  Thus, understanding the persecution of witches is connected to understanding the larger economic and social conditions of patriarchy itself.


The Evolution of the Witch:

The hypothesis that women once had more power and importance in European societies is evident in the understanding of what a witch actually is.  Max Dashu’s (2016) book Witches and pagans: women in European folk religion, 700-1100 provides a detailed history of early origins of witches.  According to Dashu (2016), various European cultures had the notion of powerful women who controlled the fate of humans.  Often these mythical women were grouped as a trio and involved in weaving the future of each human.  In Greek mythology these women were called Moirai.  In Slavic mythology they were called Suddice and in Roman mythology they were called Parcae.  In Norse mythology, they were called the Norns.  Across Europe, from Lithuania, Ireland, and Italy to as far east as Tadjikistan, there were variations of the myth of three spinning women.  In Latin, they were called Fata or fatae, translating to fates.  The words fae and fairy actually come from fata, so prior to the concept of tiny winged women, fairy or fae was more connected to a woman with supernatural control of fate.  The three Fates each had a name.  In Saxon, the oldest of the sister name was Wuro.  In German it was Wurt and in Anglo it was Wyrd.  The word “weird” in English, originally meant destiny.  In old English, werding meant worship and a witch was a “weird women” which was roughly understood as a woman with control over destiny.  And, the “weird sisters” in MacBeth, which were portrayed as witches, represents a shift in how “weird women” were understood.  In the play, the women certainly have some knowledge of the future, but their “weirdness” is not their understanding of destiny, but the oddness of being haggish women using body parts in a cauldron.  The word witch itself may come from the German word wikke or Anglo-Saxon word, wiccian, which both mean wise woman.  The main point that Dashu (2016) makes is that at one time in European history, the prototype of witches were wise women or women with control over fates.  This original understanding was warped over time into the more modern notion that witches were evil women, with dark powers, and an alliance with the Devil.  In fact, a significant turning point in this understanding was the 1600s.  The example of MacBeth and the change of the word “weird” is indicative of that pivot in history, a point that will be explored later.

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The Greeks, Norse, Slavs, etc. whom Dashu (2016) wrote about were all patriarchal societies.  However, these patriarchal societies had enclaves of female power in the form of deities and female spiritual leaders.  Perhaps these bastions of female power were the remains of much earlier female centered societies.  What is know is that witches were once understood as wise women and the process of villainizing witches was slow and uneven.  In some cases, the three sisters were Christianized, such as the Three Sisters, a trio of Belgian Saints and Las Tres Marias-the three spinning Mary’s in Italy and Spain.  Throughout the early middle ages, it was common for people to associate weaving with supernatural power, just as the Fates used their weaving skills to weave destiny.   For instance, there is a story in the Annals of St. Neots in 1105 which mentions a magical banner that shows a raven in times of war.  It was common for various cultures to use knots for protection.  Celtic crosses and manuscripts feature knots, another example of the Christianization of pagan beliefs, and the Russian word for wizard, vzol’nik means knot tier.  Before 800 CE, the punishment for witches was flogging or fines.   In 800, Charlemagne decreed that heathens and diviners could be enslaved or imprisoned, death to those who would not convert, as well as death to anyone who would not fast for lent.  In 845 CE, Ramirol, a Spanish King was said to have burned a large number of sorcerers, Jews, and astrologers.  In 873 CE, the Frankish King Charles the Bald is also said to have engaged in a witch hunt.  The first European witch whose name and execution was recorded was Gerberga, who was killed for befriending the step-mother or Prince Lothair and helping her mary King Louis with a spell.  In 853, an unnamed serf woman was killed for poisoning the daughter of a lord,  Engilpercht, who was then awarded land for his loss.  In 800, a Tyrolean Bishop decreed that if someone practices witchcraft, they should have their head shaved for the first offense, have their tongue and nose cut off for the second offense, then execution or enslavement for the third offense.  Some of the worse laws, and certainly some of the most clearly gendered laws were from Spain.  In 1176 CE the Forum Turdii Code of Aragon stated that a male witch should be banished after having a cross shaved in his head, whereas a female witch should be burned.  Death by fire was the punishment for ending a pregnancy, leaving a husband, or having sex with a Muslim or Jew.  Women could prove their innocence through the Trial by Iron, in which they had to hold a fire heated four foot rod of iron as wide as their palm and thick as two fingers, eight steps without dropping it.  Alfred the Great called for death or exile to unchaste women and witches, but there was no law against male promiscuity.  Across Europe, the notion of witches and whores were paired together.  For instance, in 1030, the Archbishop of Trier accused a nun of making him a pair of magical shoes that would cause him to lust after her.  For her lustful magic, she was banished (Dashu, 2016).


It isn’t know how many witches were killed between 800 -1100, since records were not always kept or preserved.  It can generally be said that among peasants, there were many remnants of paganism in the form of fortune telling, herbalism, or even worship of herbs through song or chants.  The control of women’s sexuality through its connection to witchcraft is a perennial trend in patriarchy.  Patriarchy is based upon private property and controlling women’s sexuality is a way to control property by ensuring the its is passed on through male lineages.  Thus, using witch accusations to control women’s sexuality comes as little surprise.  While the persecution of witches has a long history in Europe and certainly spiked under certain rulers or in certain times, full scale witch hunting did not come into being until 1500s.


According to Silvia Federici in Caliban and the Witch (2012) in the 5 th through 7th centuries serfdom began in Europe after the breakdown of slave systems.  The lot of a serf was better than a slave, inasmuch as serfs were not punished as much as slaves, were given plots of land, and were granted access to commons, or commonly held land such as forests, pastures, or lakes which were open to public use.  Of course, the lives of serfs were not that great and over the course of the feudal centuries there were various peasant revolts and heretic movements.  Movements such as the flagellants, Bogomils, cathars, and millenarians are examples of heretic movements that Federici (2012) framed as liberation theology of their day.  There were also less religiously based uprisings, such as when in 1377 clothing workers in Ypres took up arms against their employer, the Peasant wars in Germany, or the 1379 Ciompi Revolt wherein workers briefly seized power in Florence.  Women participated in and sometimes led peasant revolts.  Thus, the first “women’s movement” might be seen as some of these early expressions of resistance to feudalism.  The Black Death, which killed 30-40% of the population of Europe created the social space for peasants to advocate for themselves due to labor shortages.  This resulted in rent strikes and uprisings.  Generally speaking, between 1350-1500 prices went down, rents went down, and work days decreased.  To curtail the power of peasants, something had to change to shift the balance of power.  This shift was the development of capitalism.

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Witches and the Advent of Capitalism:

Federici (2012) noted that capitalism’s early development was made possible by such things as the exploration of the New World, the enclosure or privatization of commons, slave trade, the development of workhouses and systems of mass incarceration, and witch hunts.  These are all characteristics of what Marxists call primitive accumulation.  Primitive accumulation is the process by which the initial capital was generated to make capitalism possible.  For instance, for capitalism to work, there needs to be capital, which can include such things as land, buildings, raw materials, and labor.  Within feudalism, peasants were able to obtain the means to support themselves through small plots of land and use of commons, such as hunting, fishing, or gathering from commonly held land.   This commonly held land was also a place for peasants to meet and even organize against injustices in the world.  Any modern activist can surely relate to the lack of free meeting spaces to utilize for public events, which represents an often overlooked facet of what a lack of commons in capitalist society means.  Peasants were evicted from their land because capitalism depends upon workers who support themselves with a wage.  People who can support themselves do not require wage labor.  Thus, in order to turn peasants into workers who relied upon a wage, common land had to be privatized, rents had to be increased, and people needed to be evicted from their land.  At the same time, not working had to be criminalized.  This resulted in the passage of vagrancy laws, which criminalized begging, loitering, or non-work.  This process of primitive accumulation increased starvation and malnutrition. In the mid 16th century, population increased, food production decreased, and inflation was up across Europe  (Barstow, 1994).  Meat, oil, salt, wine, and beer disappeared from the menus of common people during the 16th century.  At the same time, work days lengthened and incomes deceased.  It was not until the middle of the 1800s that wages returned to before the Enclosure movement (Knight, 2009).

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The first witch hunts coincided with the birth of capitalism.  For instance, the Malleus Maleficarum, the famous guidebook for exterminating witches, was written in 1482,  In 1532, witchcraft became punishable by death in England.  At the same time that land was being privatized and “idleness” criminalized, Federici (2012) argued that there were important changes to how women were treated which also played an important role in the early development of capitalism.  The 16th century saw severe fines passed against women who used contraceptives, engaged in infanticide, or sought abortion.  These became capital crimes.  In the 16th-17th centuries, the number one crime that women were executed for was witchcraft, but the number two crime was infanticide.   During this time period, midwifery was banned and folk healers were persecuted (Federici, 2012).  Sollee (2017) noted that in 1556 the French Parliament ordered women to register their pregnancies and to have a witness watch their deliveries.  A woman could be penalized if their infant was stillborn or died after birth and there were no witnesses.  Judge Henry Boquet of Burgundy claimed that all witches were abortionists (Barstow, 1994).  He pronounced over 600 death sentences against witches and sometimes had them burned alive.  Witch hunting was a way to control women’s reproduction.  Witches themselves were often punished publically, through burning, hanging, or torture.  Witches were punished in front of their community, but also in front of their daughters.  The daughters of witches were also subjected to punishment.  By making witch hunting a public spectacle, all women were collectively punished and cowed into submission to the new social order of capitalist patriarchy.  Within Feudalism, women often worked together sewing, harvesting, tending to animals, or washing in common.  This solidarity between women was broken as witch hunting cultivated the fear, suspicion, and isolation necessary to divide women from one another and relegate them to atomized households (Knight, 2009).

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The transition to capitalism saw other changes to the status of women as well.  In the 16th century, women were barred from highly skilled work and relegated to part time, low investment, home related trades.  Women, unlike men, were allowed to take up more than one trade, but this was indicative of the devaluation of their work.  In the 1500s, women were also forced out of guilds (Barstow, 1994).  While women certainly worked, their public work was devalued, as evidenced from their ban from guilds and professions.  Of course, women’s work is still devalued, as evident in the wage gap between men and women but also the amount of unpaid labor that women perform.  Within capitalism, women are tasked with the social reproduction of labor.  This means that women are supposed to reproduce the next generation of workers but also care for the current generation of workers by taking care of their health, cooking, cleaning, or tending to the household.  Thus, control of women’s reproduction is a way to ensure the production of more laborers and their relegation to the household and denigration of their work ensures that women provide the free service of upkeeping capitalism.  Witch hunting served the purpose of both controlling women’s reproduction and collectively punishing women into submission.

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The Peasant Wedding-Pieter Bruegel 1567

It is no wonder then that Barstow (1994) noted that witch hunts did not simply target women, they targeted elderly, single, and poor women.  Barstow (1994) cited many examples of women who lived in the margins of society as beggars or widows who were accused of witchcraft.  For instance, two impoverished families living in the Pendle Forest selling trinkets and charms were accused of witchcraft in 1612.  The head of the Demdike family was an 80 year old woman who was believed by locals to have practiced witchcraft for 50 years and the head of the the Chattox family was also an elderly widow.   A dispute between the two families was taken to court, wherein Old Demdike’s granddaughter accused her of witchcraft along with the Chattox family, resulting in the executions of 10 people as witches.  The complicated story involved a family fued, but also overzealous judges and a landlord, Robber Nutter who accused Anne Red Fearne of the Chattox family after he failed to seduce her and threatened her with eviction.  In another example, Margaret Flower of Rutland England was keeper of poultry who was fired by the earl that she worked for in 1613.  After the firing, the earl’s son got sick and several years later, his eldest son died.  He attributed this to witchcraft and had Margaret and her two daughters arrested.  Margaret died en route to prison and the two daughters were hanged.  Barstow (1994) observed that on average, European victims of witch hunts were over the age of 50.  In New England, women who had inherited land were more likely to be accused of witchcraft.  Single women and postmenopausal women were also more likely to be accused.  Women with outspoken personalities were also more likely be accused and scolding actually became a crime in Britain.  The punishment was that a woman could be put in a scold’s bridle, an iron cage with spikes in the tongue.  While upper class women were sometimes targeted, it was often an act of revenge.  So, sexism, ageism, and class conflicts were compounded in witch hunts.  This supports Federici’s (2012) argument that witch hunts supported the foundation of capitalism, because targeting outspoken women enforced submission to the new order.  Targeting poor women who were beggars or outsiders to society enforced the virtue of work and the victimization of poor.  Even today, the poor are often blamed for their lot in life.  Targeting women without male heirs or widows also served to keep property out of the control of women.


Although Barstow’s (1994) book Witchcraze does not connect capitalism with witch hunting as clearly as Federici’s (2012) work, it supports some aspects of her hypothesis.  Barstow (1994) argued that the persecution of witches coincided with changes in systems of governance.  For instance, in the 16th century, governments became more powerful and centralized, with higher tax rates.  At the same time, secular courts had been developing since the 15th century, often based upon inquisitional courts of the 13th century.  This transition also marked a change from punitive justice, which consisted of community administered justice to less personal state administered justice consisting of fines, punishment, or execution.  The changes that Barstow (1994) outlined made witch hunting possible, but also represents a shift towards more secular, rational institutions which are characteristic of capitalism.   This is important to note since witch hunts are often framed as religious extremism, the scientific and secular minds of the day participated in and supported witch hunts.  For instance, both Hobbes and Bodin participated in witch hunts.  Most witch trials were conducted by secular courts and both Protestants and Catholics used the same arguments against witches (Federici, 2012).  While the sort of evidence used against witches, the notion of witches, the trials and punishments, etc. seem wildly irrational, the phenomenon of witch hunts was rational inasmuch as it was conducted by increasingly rational, or standardized and predictable state apparatus.  This same state apparatus made possible the centralization of power necessary for such elements of capitalism such as national banks, stock exchanges, overseeing the appropriation of commons, and the enforcement of property rights.   Federici (2012) also noted that the Enlightenment or Scientific revolution is sometimes credited with ending witch hunting, but posits that witch hunting ended when it became more of a nuisance to those in power than an effective tool in terrorizing women into submission.


Federici’s (2012) argument is both confounded and supported by the fact that Barstow (1994) found that some areas of Europe had higher numbers of deaths than others and some areas engaged in witch hunts earlier than others.  For instance, England was the first capitalist country but not the earliest or largest scale site of witch hunting.  In England, primitive accumulation began in the 15th century, but it was not until the 17th century that 70-75% of the land was under the control of landlords.  Marxists argue that capitalism began in England because that was where landlords were first successful at evicting peasants from common lands. The peak of the witch hunts in England were in the 1640s-60s which is precisely the same time that the English state transitioned from supporting the traditional rights of lords to supporting the development of capitalism following the English Civil War.  Tenant farming became common along with state sponsored enclosures (Poynton, 2011).  Most witch trials in England occurred where land was enclosed but where land remained public, there were no witch hunts.  In the highlands of Scotland and Ireland, where there was slower development towards capitalism, there were no witch hunts (Federici, 2012).  Nevertheless, it is confounding that England did not have the most witch hunts nor the earliest.  It had some significant witch hunts such as the Pendle witches killed in 1612 and the witch hunts conducted by Matthew Hopkins between 1645-1663 which resulted in 300 executions.  More research is needed to explore more precisely why England, the first capitalist country, was not the country with the first or largest scale witch hunts.  It can only be said that its witch hunts did coincide with a shift towards a more state driven effort towards  primitive accumulation.


The rest of Europe was slower to enclose land and developed capitalism later.  According to Barstow (1994) German speaking parts of Europe had the most deaths from witch hunts, accounting for ½ to 3/4s of the deaths.  Catholic areas of Germany put more witches to death, with 900 witches executed by the Prince-Bishop of Wurzburg and 600 put to death by the bishop of Bamberg alone.  But, both Protestants and Catholics vigorously persecuted witches.  German speaking regions were the center of witch hunts, but also experienced the strongest peasant movements and the harshest persecution of heretics and Jews.  In the 16th century there were some enclosure laws, but the project to privatize lands was not complete until the 1800s. Barstow (1994) suggested that the Germanic witch hunts were a continuation of earlier persecutions and the newest form of social control.  However, this answer is unsatisfying because it does not connect the hunts to capitalist development itself.  German speaking areas were not centralized into a singular state, but numerous principalities, baronies, and smaller political units under the umbrella of the Holy Roman Empire.  Nevertheless, the breakdown of Feudalism in Germany was particularly painful.   100,000-300,000 peasants were killed in the Great Peasant Revolt that began in 1524 and lasted about a year.  It was the largest mass uprising in Europe until the French revolution.  Protestant reformation also began in Germany in 1517 and resulted in various social conflicts, including the 30 Years War which began in  began in 1618 and cost the lives of up to eight million people living in central Europe, broke up the Holy Roman Empire, and was ended with the Treaty of Westphalia, which set the groundwork for modern secular, pluralistic, nation states.  Witch hunting was far more extensive in German speaking areas than anywhere else in Europe and certainly these 16th and 17th social upheavals played a role, even if the economy itself was not advancing towards capitalism at the same pace as England.

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Image of the 30 Years War

France was the number two area in Europe or witch hunts (Barstow, 1994).  Yet, property rights in France were complicated.  The Feudal state in France collected taxes directly from peasants and sometimes competed with lords for their surplus.  Sometimes the state intervened at the expense of lords on behalf of peasants and often made it difficult for lords to evict peasants or obtain vacant lands (Poynton, 2011).  Scotland also had many witch hunts, resulting in around 4000 deaths, whereas Ireland had very few.  Some areas experienced witch hunts later, such as Scandinavia where witch hunting peaked in the 1670s or Hungary, where it peaked in the 1720s (Barstow, 1994).  The timeline and scale of witch hunts does not exactly follow the timeline of capitalist development in Europe, but as a general rule countries which developed capitalism sooner tended to have witch hunts sooner.  It would be useful if Federici (2012) would have accounted for these differences.  It can only be said that during the witch hunts many European societies were dealing with the contradictions of Feudalism.  The birth of capitalism was not linear or inevitable and various societies had different elements of capitalism such as merchants, lending, industry, wage labor, markets, rents, speculation, etc.  It is only in England where landlords were able to appropriate the land of peasants that capitalism got the spark that it needed to take off.  The witch hunts could be framed as a part of the general growing pain that many transitioning economies were facing, though not necessarily specific to primitive accumulation.


Witches and witch hunts are a women’s history and gender issues.  Victims of witch hunts were mostly women, who were subjected to male power in the form of male accusers, male juries, male religious leaders, male dominated state power, etc.  On average  80% of the people accused of witchcraft were women, though in some areas the numbers were higher.  For instance, in France and England, 92% of the accused were women.  However, in other areas, more men than women were accused, such as Finland, Estonia, and Russia.  The fact that some men were killed has been used by some historians to challenge the notion that witch hunts were gender driven acts of violence.  For instance, Thompson (2003) noted that although the majority of the victims of witch hunts were women, but ¼ to ⅕ were men.  There are some areas of Europe such as Iceland, Burgundy, and Normandy wherein the majority of victims were men (Thompson, 2003).  It is true that in some areas, men were persecuted in greater numbers than women.  Nevertheless, that in the majority of Europe, it was a gender based persecution.  This is very similar to how although there are male victims of domestic violence in today’s society, the vast majority are female and violence against women plays a role in the systemic oppression of women.  Still, male victims require some explanation.  In Russia, 60% of the accused were men and 40% were women.  In general, there was less persecution of witches and no cases of harsh torture, no children persecuted, and no spectral evidence used in courts.  Witnesses were allowed in the defense of witches and there were never multiple burnings of witches.  At the same time, Russia was not any less sexist than the rest of Europe.  The Orthodox church was repressive of women and sex negative and Russian society had a high tolerance for violence against women (Barstow, 1994).  It is also important to note that although Russia had fewer witch hunts and a different gender dynamic, it was experiencing social change in the form of the consolidation of the Russian state.  Ivan IV or Ivan the Terrible came to power in 1547 and centralized the Russian empire by naming himself tsar of all Russia, by creating a secret police to terrorize other nobility, by conquering various khanates and territories, and by giving positions of power to the emerging commercial class.  He also encouraged men in Russia to beat their wives and distributed propaganda that promoted domestic violence.  Still, witch hunts remained a mostly Western European phenomenon.  If sexism cannot be blamed for the differences in gender makeup of witches, then there must be other answers.  Again, one answer may be the development of capitalism.  Areas which had more men who were persecuted or fewer women, were often less developed in terms of their transition to capitalism.  Finland, Estonia, Iceland, and Russia were all on the periphery of early capitalism.

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Ivan the Terrible by Viktor Vanetsov-1897

Witches Today:

Witch hunting peaked in Europe in the 1600s and declined in the 1700s.  The 1734 Witchcraft Act of Britain decriminalized witchcraft.  While some professional fortune tellers were persecuted, the punishment became less severe.  Witch hunting itself was abolished in 1736 in England, in 1776 in Poland, and 1682 in France.  Maria Theresa, the Queen of Bohemia and Hungary and Archduchess of Austria outlawed witch hunting in the late 1700s.  By the 1800s, witch hunts in Europe were rare.  Despite the end of witch hunting in Europe, there are many places in the world today where women continue to be persecuted as witches.  For instance, women in Papua New Guinea are still murdered for accusations of witchcraft.  In 2008, there were 50 people killed for sorcery, most of whom were women.  In Ghana, women accused of witchcraft are widows who are punished with exile to witch villages.  Those accused are often elderly women and widows with families who are looking to take over their property (Backe, 2014).   In remote parts of Northeast India, over 2000 people have been killed in the last 15 years for witchcraft.  Most of the victims are women who have been blamed for bad harvests or illness, but many have been accused due to land disputes (Singh, 2016).  2000 is a high number as it is greater than the number of witches killed in France, the British Isles, Eastern Europe, and Southern Europe respectively.   ISIS beheaded two women and their husbands in 2015 for using magic as medicine.  In Saudi Arabia witchcraft is a criminal offense and in 2006, Fazwa Falih was sentenced to beheading for using magic that caused impotence.  She was sentenced on the basis of one man’s testimony but died in prison before she was executed.  The entire sad story is very similar to the stories of European women who lingered and died in jail before execution and the absurdity of the accusations and evidence used against them.  Witch hunts also happen in Nepal, which target low-caste women.  Around the world, women, but especially poor women, continue to be persecuted as witches.


Federici (2012) argued that witch hunting continues in the so called developing world because this is where capitalism is still in transition.  While capitalism is certainly a global system that impacts the furthest corners of the world, the process of proletarianization is not complete.  That is, there are still places in the world where people support themselves through gathering, subsistence farming, and use of common lands.  At the same time, institutions and agents of globalization put pressure on every country and region of the world to become a part of capitalism.  An example how capitalism continues to privatize the commons is how Monsanto has sought to patent the genes of crops that have traditionally been grown by subsistence farmers.  By patenting the crops, the farmers must buy the seeds or face fines.  Because farmers must buy seeds, they must somehow earn money to grow what they once grew from saving or sharing the seeds.  This forces them to become a part of the economy as consumers, but also as workers.  Governments and international organizations adopt or promote policies which allow international corporations to restructure the economy towards the interests of global capitalism.  For instance, in 2013 in Colombia, peasants went on strike and blocked roads in protest of new laws that outlawed exchanging seeds.  In 2011, the government of Colombia actually destroyed 70 tons of “illegal” rice and raided the trucks and warehouses of rice farmers.  The places in the world which continue to persecute women for witchcraft are often the very same places where people are still in the process of being forced into the capitalism.


While witch hunts have ended in more industrialized countries of the world, the idea of witches continue to be a tool of sexist oppression.  For instance, in Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, by Kristen Sollee (2017) noted that Hillary Clinton was often compared to a witch by her political opponents.  By calling her a witch, she was associated with something feminine, evil, ugly, and old.  It was a gendered insult.  Certainly, Hillary Clinton could and should be critiqued for her support of neoliberal policies that promote America’s agenda for a more violent and impoverished world.  However, by calling her a witch, it sent the message to all women that it is not alright to be public, old, outspoken, and female.  Sollee (2017) also made the argument that the word slut today is similar to witches in the past.  They are similar because victims of sexual assault are blamed for the crime and it is a label that only applies to women.  Sluts are like witches because they are persecuted for seeking control of their reproduction.  While witches have become a part of popular culture, actual witches are still stigmatized in society.  According to the General Social Survey in 2016, just over 70% of Americans identified as Christian.  Traditionally, witchcraft has been viewed as evil by Christians.  The Bible very famously states that “Thou Shall Not Suffer a Witch to Live,” in Exodus 22:18.  Suffice to say that a majority of the U.S. population comes from a religious background that is uneasy if not hostile towards witches.  Furthermore, the idea of a witch is used as an insult and often a negative comparison.  For example, a Texas Preacher named Lance Wallnau said that the Women’s March in January 2017 was the result of witchcraft and the work of the devil.  This comparison was meant to delegitimize the protest and frame expressions of female power and solidarity as evil.  Pat Robertson said, “feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”  It is interesting that witchcraft is connected to feminism, but also associated with capitalism and abortion.  This trifecta of feminist characteristics is precisely what Federici (2012) argued that the witch hunts were all about.  They were about forcing women into submission, reproductively and socially, in the interest of capitalism.


Witches often capture the imagination of women today because feminist historians have done much to uncover the history of witch persecution and in doing so, redeeming witches as healers, midwives, and wise women.  Therefore, to many women witches can be a symbol of resistance or counter-culture.  Women may also be attracted to witches because they represent female power in the form of knowledge and defiance of social norms, but also in the more mythical and magical sense wherein witches may be depicted as actually possessing supernatural power.  Witches offer an alternative role model to young women.  Witches are self-reliant, they don’t need to be conventionally attractive, and they don’t need to be saved by men (Theriault, 2017).  It is no wonder that witches have sometimes been associated with protest.  Glinda the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz was based upon Frank Baum’s mother in law, Matilda Joslyn Gage.  Gage was a visionary woman who was a suffragist, abolitionist, and supporter of Native American rights.  She also wrote about witches not as evil women, but wise women.  Gage lived with Baum and served as his intellectual mentor.  When he created Glinda the Good Witch, he drew from Gage’s insights that a witch did not have to be evil and thusly created a beatific and wise witch.  In another example, W.I.T.C.H or the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell was formed in 1968 as a group of thirteen women who used costumes and the imagery of witches as a form of protest.  They hexed the stock exchange on Halloween of 1968 and protested the inauguration of Nixon in 1969 and a bridal fair that same year.  They developed various chapters called covens around the country  (Sollee, 2017).  Dianic Wicca, a goddess centered form of paganism with feminist roots emerged in the 1970s, again indicating the interest that women had in reclaiming witches not only as a political symbol but spiritual inspiration.

 Image result for Glinda the good witch

Interestingly, the modern idea of witches can also be oppressive to women.  The word witch is a gendered term and several branches of modern day neo-paganism were developed by men (Gardnerian/Alexandrian/Crowleyan) and reflect the worldview of men drawing from medieval texts and 19th century British esoterism.  For instance, the moon was envisioned as female and the sun male or masculine fire and feminine water (Theriault, 2017).  Some Dianic Wiccans have been criticized for being trans-exclusionary.  Beyond this, while witches appear in the media, the mainstream media is mainly controlled by men.  Thus, the witches that appear in popular culture are not examples of positive, feminist role models.  For instance, in Hocus Pocus, the witch characters receive their power from a man (a book), are trying to kill children, and are motivated by anti-aging.  The Craft involves a plot line of social outcast teens engaging in witchcraft to punish an attempted rapist, but stopped by a middle class white women who practices a kindlier magic.  Both films were directed by men (Dommu, 2016).  Finally, just as feminism has been commodified by t-shirts and product advertisements, the image of witches and practice of witchcraft has also been tamed by the market.  As a testimony to the money making potential of witches, Etsy has 28,000 results for the query of witchcraft.  Searches for witchcraft were up 30% and witchcraft related purchases were up 60% between 2105 and 2017 (Faif, 2017).  Salem, Massachusetts has cashed in on its history of witch persecution through tourism, gift shops, and specialty shops.  While witches may represent subversive female power, the market often seeks to subvert the subversive if it is profitable.  Thus, in an odd contradiction of late capitalism, we live in a society which disdains witches as evil and uses them to denigrate feminism while at the same time profiting from them and taming them into something more benign.

Image result for the craft

Conclusion:

Witches can inspire feminists today as a both a symbol of resistance and victim of persecution.  We live in a disenchanted world.  That is, capitalism destroys all that is sacred in the name of profit- family relationships, solidarity, dignity in work, relationships to the environment, leisure time, the time and autonomy to pursue passions, etc.  Like witches that were denuded, poked and prodded in search of birthmarks or devil’s marks, the market economy strips us bare of our humanity and connections.  Naked, cold, and alone, we live and die as workers in the home and public workplaces with little protection from the ups and downs of wages, costs of living, the economic strain of endless war, inflation, recession, and depression.  At the same time, poverty is punished and punishment breeds poverty as formerly incarcerated individuals often serve as auxiliary labor as unemployed and contingent workers.  Women are still cloistered in their homes and devalued in the public sphere.  The great witch hunts of the 17th century have ended in the industrialized world, but continue in the impoverished, socially strained, and economically exploited regions of the world.  There is no magic to fight this.  There is no actual “hexing” of Wall Street.  Everything magical in the world is long dead.  But, there is solidarity.  Witch hunts served to pit women against women and entire communities against their more vulnerable members.  The worst horrors inflicted by the state and the economy are often those that we have internalized and inflict upon one another.  If there is a lesson from history it is to stand against the persecution of the outsiders, the poor, the different, the elderly, women, the mentally ill, the marginal, the Other.  An injury to one is an injury to all.  By reclaiming our solidarity we can stand against the injustices of society, many of which are very similar to those faced by witches in the 17th century.  Our criminal justice system can be just as illogical.  Victims are still blamed.  Public enemies are always socially constructed.  The tragedy of the witch hunts is that no one organized against them.  In one instance, in Basque country in Spain, a group of women were to be executed as witches but when their husbands and brothers, who had been fishing returned, they stopped the whole ordeal.  It goes to show that the persecution of witches could have been stopped.  All that is needed is the will and solidarity to do so.


 

Sources:

Backe, E. (2014, December 20). Something Wicked This Way Comes: Witches and Modern Women. Retrieved September 25, 2017, from https://thegeekanthropologist.com/2014/07/25/something-wicked-this-way-comes-witches-and-modern-women/

Barstow, A. L. (1994). Witchcraze: a new history of the European witch hunts. San Francisco, CA: Pandora.

Dashu, M. (2016). Witches and pagans: women in European folk religion, 700-1100. Richmond, CA: Veleda Press.

Dommu, R. (2016, October 20). Witches on screen: good for fashion, bad for feminism? Retrieved September 25, 2017, from https://mic.com/articles/157194/witches-on-screen-good-for-fashion-bad-for-feminism#.soR3gmPwI

Eisler, R. (1989). The chalice and the blade: our history, our future. New York, NY: HarperOne.

Faife, C. (2017, July 26). How Witchcraft Became A Brand. Retrieved October 12, 2017, from https://www.buzzfeed.com/corinfaife/how-witchcraft-became-a-brand?utm_term=.heA0yv6ANY#.cc2N940VY3

Federici, S. (2014). Caliban and the witch. New York: Autonomedia.

Knight, A. (2009, November 05). Who Were the Witches? – Patriarchal Terror and the Creation of Capitalism. Retrieved October 12, 2017, from https://endofcapitalism.com/2009/11/05/who-were-the-witches-patriarchal-terror-and-the-creation-of-capitalism/

Mays, D. A. (2004). Women in early America struggle, survival, and freedom in a new world. Santa Barbara (Calif.): ABC-CLIO.

Metcalfe, T. (2016, July 18). Black Magic: 6 Infamous Witch Trials in History. Retrieved September 25, 2017, from https://www.livescience.com/55431-infamous-witch-trials-in-history.html

Peoples, H. C., Duda, P., & Marlowe, F. W. (2016, May 06). Hunter-Gatherers and the Origins of Religion. Retrieved September 28, 2017, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12110-016-9260-0

Poynton, D. (2011, August 08). The Rise of Capitalism. Retrieved October 12, 2017, from https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2010s/2011/no-1284-august-2011/rise-capitalism

Singh, V. (2016, February 24). Fighting Modern-Day Witch Hunts in India’s Remote Northeast. Retrieved October 12, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/25/world/asia/india-assam-state-witch-hunts.html

Sollee, K. (2017). Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive. Consortium Book Sales & Dist.

Theriault, A. (2017, February 16). The Real Reason Women Love Witches. Retrieved September 25, 2017, from https://everydayfeminism.com/2017/02/real-reason-women-love-witches/

Thompson, D. (2003, March 16). The victims of the witch hunt history would rather forget. Retrieved September 25, 2017, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3591284/The-victims-of-the-witch-hunt-history-would-rather-forget.html

Counting Countries

Counting Countries

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H. Bradford

9/26/17

I like to count things.  I keep track of the number of books I read in a year.  I count the number of species of birds I have seen.  I track the number of activist events I have attended and blog posts I have written.  Numbers provide a snapshot of life and data that can be analyzed over time.  The meaning should not be overstated, but keeping track of things is useful for goal setting.  It therefore seems logical that I should also count the number of countries I have traveled to.  Other travelers have mixed feelings about this.  Some have traveled widely and simply don’t care how many countries they have been to.  They may even feel that keeping track of countries is pretentious.  Others may focus more on quality, visiting a few countries for longer periods of time or paying repeated visits to a few favorite places.  And then, there are some who indeed count, but try to do this modestly.  Like many things, there are social norms about travel and counting countries might be seen as arrogant or “the wrong way to travel.”  At the same time, there is an entire club of globetrotters called “The Traveler’s Century Club” wherein members must have been to at least 100 countries (per their list) to join.  While I sense there is debate about the travel etiquette of whether or not a person should count countries, there is actually little debate over…what exactly is a country?!

Image result for world map

It’s one big happy world full of 195 countries…or is it?


I shamelessly count countries.  But, with counting everything, there must be rules and the “thing” must be operationalized.  Take birds for instance.  A person can count a bird for an official count if they make a positive visual or auditory identification.  There is wiggle room, since honesty is required when adding birds to the list.  Listing a bird also depends upon correctly identified the bird (so error is possible).  I try to photograph the birds as evidence that I can later check against a bird guide, but this is not always possible.  Birds are feathered, warm blooded, egg laying, beaked animals.  There is little ambiguity today of what a bird is, though if we went back millions of years in history bird identification would be more difficult.  Since birds evolved from dinosaurs, there are birds with teeth and tailbones or dinosaurs with feathers.  Where does bird begin and dinosaur end when looking at the therapods in the lineage of bird evolution?  All aves are therapods, but not all therapods are birds.  Birds are small, feathered dinosaurs but there are many gradiations of birdlike dinosaurs that are not birds.  Whatever a “bird” is or might include in a broader, evolutionary sense, today I don’t have to puzzle over it much as there are clear parameters of what counts as a bird.  However, a kiwi bird is considered an honorary mammal because of its mammal like characteristics such as heavy bones, hair like feathers, and lower body temperature.  But, kiwis aren’t related to mammals, they simply evolved mammal like traits.  Despite the uniqueness of kiwis, there is no debate of if they should be counted as birds.  The main debate in counting the 10, 000 or so species of birds today is what constitutes a separate species.  There may be as many as 18,000 species depending upon how species are defined (for instance, two birds may look similar enough to be thought of as the same species, but actually have different evolutionary histories ).    The big idea is that counting something is never as easy as one, two, three….  http://www.audubon.org/news/new-study-doubles-worlds-number-bird-species-redefining-species Image result for feathered dinosaur

Heeeey, want to add me to your birding list?!

 

Zhenyuanlong suni


Like birds, counting countries can also be confounding.  However, this is a stickier issue as the definition of countries is often a matter of power.   For instance, a country might be defined as a sovereign state – or a self-governing political entity that has diplomatic recognition of the international community (i.e. the UN).  According to the US State Department, there are 195 independent states in the world.   Independent state is often conflated with “country” so it is often said that there are 195 countries in the world.  The UN counts 193 countries plus two permanent observer states, Vatican City and Palestine.  There are many problems with this understanding of “country.”  One problem is that it relies upon international consensus to define what a “country” is.  However, because countries are political constructs- often constructed by more powerful countries that sought to colonize, acculturate, absorb, or otherwise control other territories, the independence status of a country is often a question of successful struggle against power or a matter of interests of some powers against others.   For example, around 135 UN member countries recognize Palestine as an independent country.   Interestingly, almost all of the countries of Africa, South America, Eastern Europe and Asia recognize Palestine.  Countries of North America, Western Europe, and Australia are among those who do not recognize Palestine.  Countries that often have less political power and a history of colonization seem more inclined to recognize Palestine than countries such as the United States, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom (who are allies of Israel and often played a role in the construction and sustenance of the state of Israel).  If countries that are recognized by some UN members but not others are added to the country list, there would be 206 countries in the world.   This is the same number of countries recognized by the International Olympics Committee.   Other countries with partial recognition include Kosovo (recognized by 100 countries), South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Northern Cyrprus.   Whether or not a country is recognized is related again to power.  Russia and a handful of other nations recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but most countries do not.   On the other hand, most of Western Europe + the United States recognizes Kosovo, but Russia and a hodgepodge of countries in Africa, Asia, and South America do not.  The question of recognition of countries is a diplomatic question of how countries relate to players in a particular struggle.  In the case of Kosovo, Russia had close ties with Serbia.  In the case of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the United States is more closely aligned with Georgia than Russia.  However, Russia’s intervention in those break-away regions of Georgia was justified by the same logic that the United States and NATO allies used to support Kosovo’s independence: namely the threat of ethnic violence and need to keep peace.   In general, the quest to figure out what exactly should count as a country needs to move away from statist and often imperialist definitions of what a country is.  After all, the definition that a “country is a country when other countries define it as so” sounds like a tautology.   Aside from this logical issue, this definition gives powerful entities, with different stakes in the definition, the right to determine the nature of a country’s independence status.

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South Ossetia’s flag- which is pretty cool looking.


Rather than relying on State Department or UN recognition of countries, a more nuanced approach might be to evaluate the history, politics, and culture of a country in question.   The central idea would be to determine if a particular region, territory, semi-autonomous state, or recognized country has been historically oppressed by another country.   Do the people of this area consider themselves an oppressed nationality?  Did they fail to gain independence or concede to colonial power?  Have they or do they have an independence movement?  Are they treated as a colony today?  What is their power relationship to other countries?  By this criteria, there are many territories that could be considered countries.  For instance, Puerto Rico could be considered a country.   The territory does not have the full rights of a U.S. state, has had an independence movement, and was once a Spanish colony that the United States gained from the Spanish-American war.   Its colonial relationship to the United States has been highlighted by Hurricane Maria, which knocked out power to millions of Puerto Ricans.  Power outages may last months and even up to a year.  The struggling utility infrastructure (and infrastructure in general) of Puerto Rico is the result of its debilitating debt and austerity imposed upon it by the U.S.  Elsewhere in the Caribbean, in 2009  Great Britain removed the government of Turks and Caicos due to allegations of corruption and appointed their own governor of the islands.  Voting rights of citizens of Turks and Caicos is limited to about 7000 people out of a population of 38,000 on the basis of individuals who were locally born on the islands.  Although this reeks of colonialism, small countries such as Turks and Caicos may not have strong independence movements because of the economic challenges of being a micro-state (without a diverse economy).   Other countries such as Curacao, Sint Marteen, and Aruba are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but have their own governments and autonomy outside of military matters and foreign policy.   Aruba in particular had made an agreement with the Netherlands to work towards full independence by 1996, but this process has since been postponed (per the request of the Prime Minister of Aruba).  Again, these countries exist in a gray area, wherein they do not have full sovereignty and maintain a relationship with a colonial power.   Supposing that a person counts all of the dependencies or territories in the world, this would add about 61 “countries” the the list.  But that is pretty generous- since some of these territories are not even inhabited!  Though, I suppose if someone travels to Baker’s Island, an unincorporated island in the Pacific that was claimed as a guano island in the mid 1800s, a traveler may as well count it.  Uninhabited territories aside, there are plenty of former colonies that could be counted as countries as a matter of recognizing their right to self-determination.  Thus, I would count any former colony that has not achieved full independence on my “country count.” Image result for hurricane maria puerto rico

An image of the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico


Beyond counting territories, there are other nations of people who have been oppressed by imperialist relationships.  A nation is not synonymous with a state and there are many nation states that consist of various nationalities.  I believe in the right of self-determination to oppressed nationalities (i.e. groups of people with shared history, culture, customs, etc. who are oppressed by another nation within the context of capitalism).  Nations within nation states are often oppressed on the basis of their nationality (unable to learn their language in school or speak it in public life or face other cultural restrictions).  They often also serve as cheap labor or military fodder.  At the same time, their region may not be as economically diverse or prosperous.  Thus, aside from territories and former colonies, there are oppressed nations within nation-states.  For instance, today the people of Kurdistan voted on an independence referendum.  The referendum does not grant or even create a process for independence, but can serve as an example of a nation within a nation (in this example Kurds within Iraq, though they also live in Turkey, Iran, Armenia, and Syria).  In the example of the Kurdish people, the reason they lack a “country” or state of their own is a matter of history.  Many modern countries today were constructed by imperialist powers.  After the break up of the Ottoman Empire after WWI, Kurdish people were promised their own state by the Allies, but this did not happen.  Rather, French and British diplomats established the boundaries of modern Turkey, Syria, and Iraq from the former Ottoman Empire, dividing Kurdish populations between these countries.  In this sense, is a person travels to Kurdish regions of any of these countries, it may be perfectly legitimate to count “Kurdistan” as a country.  After all, its claim to country status and call for self-determination is no less legitimate than any other nation state.   With a population of 30 million people, they are the largest oppressed nationality in the world.  In another recent example, the government of Catalonia is moving forward with an (illegal) independence referendum on Oct. 1st.   Catalonia has been a part of Spain since the 1500s but Catalans want independence on the basis of their economic prosperity compared to the rest of Spain, history of oppression under Franco, and on the basis of shared history and language.  If a person travels through Spain, visiting Basque Country (in both Spain and France) or Catalonia, both of which have had nationalist aspirations, it seems reasonable that a person might count these as “countries” in solidarity with their struggles and recognition of the factors that have thus far stymied autonomy.

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A rally in support of Kurdish independence


Considering all of this, a person has to revisit the United States.  The United States grew out of our own colonial conquest of Native Americans.  There are 562 federally recognized tribal groups in the United States.  However, there are also around 250 unrecognized tribal groups.  This means that the United States consists of over 800 nations within our nation.  All of these groups have been and continue to be unquestionably oppressed by the United States.  All of these groups deserve self-determination, including the right to succession.  They are a part of this country because they were exterminated into submission.  A person might count legitimately count visits to Native American reservations as a visit to a “country” though I think that this should probably be discouraged as it might encourage unwelcome tourism to people who have struggled to protect what remains of their land and culture.  But, supposing one travels as a welcome visitor, it seems legitimate that this too could be counted as a “country.”  At least theoretically, a person could visit 800 nations without even leaving the United States! Related image


The Traveler’s Century Club is a club for someone who has traveled to 100 countries or territories.  Their list is fairly generous, as it includes 325 countries and territories.  Inhabited territories are included, as are island portions of Sovereign nations with populations of over 100,000 people, and regions with disputed autonomy but common culture.  The list does not make mention of issues like self-determination, but does include such places as Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and even Hawaii.  Some of the entries on the list are places I have never heard of, such as Lampedusa, an Italian island of about 5,000 people and Umm Al Qaiwain, one of the United Emirates.  The list includes Abkhazia, Trans Dniester, but does not include Nagorno Karabakh, a break-away territory of Azerbaijan nor does it include South Ossetia.  Kurdistan, Basque land, and Catalonia are not counted, but Jeju Island in South Korea is!   The list is a bit hit or miss when it comes to including the regions of oppressed nationalities that could be counted as countries.  In all, it has a heavy emphasis on islands, which sometimes do correlate to areas nationalist struggle (at least historically).   But, since it is a travel club for people who want to claim they have been to a 100 countries it at least creates some sort of parameter for counting countries.  And, since it includes 325 countries and territories, it is more inclusive than using State Department or UN standards.


Counting countries is a political question and one I do not have a precise answer for.  It also raises the question, how many countries HAVE I traveled to?  I don’t know!  I haven’t definitively developed a standard of how to count countries.  But, if you are curious, here is my list- by my own standard.  I came up with 62 countries (which I listed in the order that I have traveled to them).  This list does not include Hawaii and Jeju Island, which can be included on the Traveler’s Century list.  Hawaii seems like it could be an independent country and certainly exists as a state as the result of colonization, but I am not sure how to include oppressed nationalities within the United States on my list.  I wanted to reach 80 countries by 40, but I suppose that depends upon my ability to save and take time off of work.  I also don’t want to share this list to in any way glorify travel.  I do think that homebodies are far more ethical than myself, since they aren’t destroying the environment through travel nor are they directly interrupting the lives of other people  (especially poor or oppressed people) as a tourist.  I also think that while there are some countries that I have explored for longer periods of time (like Russia, Ireland, or South Korea) many of these are brief visits on account of my lack of time and trust fund.  Still, it is interesting to think about!

  1. USA (well, I’ve been here quite a bit…)
  2. Canada
  3. Mexico
  4. England (I tend to break up the UK into its four countries, but am open to including islands such as the Isle of Man or Channel Islands)
  5. France
  6. Switzerland
  7. Italy
  8. Vatican City
  9. Austria
  10. Germany
  11. Belgium
  12. Netherlands
  13. Russia
  14. Denmark
  15. Ireland
  16. Wales
  17. Scotland
  18. Venezuela
  19. Cuba
  20. Finland
  21. Cayman Islands
  22. Honduras
  23. Belize
  24. South Korea
  25. Japan
  26. China
  27. North Korea
  28. Czech Republic
  29. Poland
  30. Slovakia
  31. Slovenia
  32. Hungary
  33. Croatia
  34. Bosnia
  35. Serbia
  36. Bulgaria
  37. Turkey
  38. Greece
  39. Montenegro
  40. Albania
  41. Ukraine
  42. Belarus
  43. Estonia
  44. Lativia
  45. Lithuania
  46. Sweden
  47. Puerto Rico
  48. Barbados
  49. St. Kitts and Nevis
  50. St. Lucia
  51. Grenada
  52. Trinidad and Tobago
  53. US Virgin Islands (St. Thomas)
  54. South Africa
  55. Namibia
  56. Botswana
  57. Zambia
  58. Zimbabwe
  59. Turkmenistan
  60. Uzbekistan
  61. Kazakhstan
  62. Kyrgyzstan

 

http://www.polgeonow.com/2011/04/how-many-countries-are-there-in-world.html

http://www.economist.com/node/14258950

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