broken walls and narratives

A not so revolutionary blog about feminism, socialism, activism, travel, nature, life, etc.

Archive for the month “August, 2016”

White Lies: Another Poem

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I wrote this poem when I was trying to catch some sleep in Charles de Gaulle Airport.  I had just experienced an 11 hour flight from Johannesburg and everything around me was becoming whiter and whiter as I returned to Minnesota.  I closed my eyes and could hear the conversations around me.  It was the banal banter you’d expect in an airport.  The interactions between white middle class parents and their children played as a chorus around me.  A few lines popped into my head as I dozed off.  I jotted it down into a poem.

White Lies

White shirts

White sheets

White shoes that don’t leave scuff marks on the gym floor.

When did everything get so white?

When you became a mother?  When you became a wife?

White schools,

ones without crime, with good teachers and extra curriculars

White parents

with organic snacks and time to volunteer on field trips

and field days.

White Christmas,

with snow and gifts,

once a year in church,

and resolutions for more moderation.

White power,

with friendly police,

responsible choices,

long, healthy lives,

fortified isolation,

feigned ignorance,

polite conversations,

sterile politics,

two child fertility,

and all the other

white lies.

 

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Someday a Woman Will be President: A Poem

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I haven’t written poetry since about the 5th grade.  I am not trained in poetry.  I don’t know poetic techniques or structures.  I really don’t even appreciate poetry.  But lately, poems have just been coming to mind.  They are mostly political poems.  The pop into my mind in a few lines at a time.  This is one of them.  And while I am embarrassed of this endeavor to write poetry, I suppose that there is no reason to feel ashamed.  It is an expression of  a feeling or thought.

When I was a senior in high school, I had a homemade poster in my locker that said “Someday a woman will be president.”  At the time, so many eons ago, I thought it was a radical sentiment.  This was in my pre-feminist days…in my pre-socialist days…when I was just starting to think about the world and politics.  Of course, my consciousness as a feminist has changed since then.  Hence…the poem.

Someday a woman will be president

Someday a woman will be president,

and we will see that girls can play with dolls and drones

and we can menstruate

while shedding foreign blood

or there can be menopause

without giving pause

for Iraqis, Haitians, and Hondurans.

 

Someday a woman will be president,

and we will trade our hope chests for war chests

of trillion dollar atomic trinkets.

We’ll sing Suffragette songs

as troops march on

in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

 

Someday a woman will be president,

but rest assured trade will fly on free trade wings,

and we will marvel

at all of the things

we can buy at Walmart prices.

Someday a woman will be president.

 

 

 

A Socialist Feminist Suicide Squad Review

Suicide_Squad_Women (image from DCcomicsmovies.com)

A Socialist Feminist Suicide Squad Review:


I love comic book movies.  When I was young, I collected comic books.  I created my own comic books.  While I am not a full-fledged citizen of comic book geekdom, I am at least a traveller in the realm.  So, of course, I went to see Suicide Squad.  I knew it was poorly reviewed, so I expected the worst.  I was surprised to find that it was better than I anticipated.  It was better than Batman v. Superman, Antman, and Deadpool.  However, it contained more overt sexism than other superhero films I’ve seen.  More than other comic book films, it gave me some feminist food for thought.  Thus, it is my duty as a feminist to pop any sexist pop-cultural bubble.  It is my passion to rain on any patriarchal parade.  I must be the ants in the misogynist picnic.  There will be no fun and games where feminists lurk about.  So, here it is, a review of Suicide Squad, or at least a review of some of the female characters.


Amanda Waller:

I enjoyed Amanda Waller because she is a powerful female character, who, unlike the other female characters in the film is not sexualized.  In fact, she is presented as fairly asexual character clad in professional clothing and a self-possessed, cold, and reserved personality.  In contrast to Nick Fury, there is no point in the film where she comes across as a savior or hero.  While both characters are powerful and duplicitous, Nick Fury, at least in the films, can be counted upon to do the “right” thing.  He is generally on the side of the Avengers, or at the very least is not going to kill them or any of his underlings.   Waller is on her own side.  Unlike other minorities in the film, she does not adhere to common racial or gender stereotypes.  In this way, she is a refreshing contrast to the other characters.  She is a sturdy African American woman who ruthlessly pursues her agenda to control metahumans and promote U.S. security interests.   To this end, she kills a group of employees who do not have an appropriate security clearance, puts herself in danger to better study Enchantress’ powers, and orchestrates her own rescue by the Suicide Squad.  Waller is the villain of the movie inasmuch as she coerces a group of criminals to protect U.S. security interests.  In this sense, the villain wins in the movie.  After Enchantress is defeated, the Suicide Squad returns to prison with a few miniscule benefits such as an Espresso machine, letter privileges, and shortened prison times.  These are token payments considering that they saved the world from destruction.  Although Waller is responsible for the mass destruction wrought by Enchantress, her only consequence is having to provide Batman her files.  I enjoyed that she was “evil” without being campy or maniacal.  She represented the ordinary “evil” of militarism, capitalism, patriarchy, and bureaucracy.


With that said, her character raises some important issues.  She is a strong Black woman in a non-traditional role.  However, this doesn’t mean that her character promotes feminism.  The inclusion of strong women in films is nice, but I wouldn’t consider it feminist unless it somehow challenges patriarchy.  Amanda Waller is strong, but her strength comes at the expense of other women.  She literally controls the heart of the Enchantress, which she uses to bend the witch to her will.  In order to gain the approval of the old, white, military men, she demonstrates her control over Enchantress, treating her like a trained dog.  She has her trained pet pick up a secret file from Iran.  Her career depends upon navigating a white man’s world.  To accomplish this, she must dress like a professional.  She must talk like a white person.  She must control women.  She must use and abuse prisoners.  She must threaten people of color with the death penalty (by remote control).  She must live a solitary life.  There is no room for kids, husbands, or people to care for.  A woman can have a career or she can have kids, but it is hard to balance both.  She is reminiscent of leaders like Condoleeza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, or Margaret Thatcher, who like Waller, do not represent gains for women in the sense that they are war mongers who step on the working class, minorities, women, and the poor in their promotion of imperialist interests.


Waller is an essential part of the film.  She brings everyone together and is responsible for the plot (as disjointed as it is).  The characters respect and fear her, which may send the message to women that in order to be respected you must be asexual and act/dress/think like a white man.  While her character is not well developed, there is a sense that she has history and a vision.  What is going on inside her head?  What does she think of the Suicide Squad?  In my opinion, I think she worked hard to get where she was.  Perhaps she feels bitter about the hard road.  Her intelligence, strategic mind, and composure helped her to succeed, but in doing so, she can’t identify with the plight of criminals, women, or racial minorities.  She thinks she is better and different from them.  Because she is better and different, she doesn’t have qualms with exploiting the exploited.   Afterall, there’s room at the top of the hill if you can learn how to smile as you kill.  She doesn’t smile, but she does restrain a smirk.


 

Enchantress:

Enchantress has been reviewed pretty harshly by critics because of her revealing outfit, convoluted motive, and lack of character development.  Really, I didn’t mind the Enchantress.  I was happy to see a female villain in addition to Amanda Waller.  I was not particularly bothered by her revealing outfit, but perhaps this is because of my own interpretation of the character.  Little is revealed about her in the film, but it is mentioned that she is a witch from another dimension.  An artifact containing her soul is discovered in an unidentified jungle temple.  Now, based upon the fact that she was worshiped by a temple building jungle dwelling society, it could be extrapolated that this culture had private property and social stratification.  After all, if everyone was equal, there would be no excess labor to build temples.  It is also unlikely that there would be a sufficient population to build a temple if this society was hunter/gatherer.  With that said, I imagine the culture having private property and therefore some degree of patriarchy.  However, there may have been some elements of female power through respect or worship of female fertility.  Perhaps Enchantress represented a female fertility deity to them.  Or, perhaps she crafted herself as such to appeal to pre-existing notions of goddesses.  The fact that she was worshipped alongside her brother is consistent with my interpretation.  The society that worshiped her was patriarchal with one foot still in the matriarchal or matrilineal past.  In any event, her skimpy outfit might have showcased her body, highlighting her sexuality and fertility, sources of female power.  The fact that she kissed people or gyrated to perform spells would also support a theory that she was worshipped as a representation of female sexuality.  Also, if she resided in a jungle, she might choose to wear less clothes because of the heat.  Thus, I feel that it is possible that her apparel and behavior might have a historical/geographical context.  Certainly the modern context is that it makes her visually appealing for the audience.  However, the camera does not pan over her body in the same way it does for Harley Quinn.  The camera does not zoom in on her butt or chest.  Her body is often contorted or crouched, which obscures her figure.  In other scenes, she is shown with debris, smoke, or magical aura around her, which again takes the focus off of objectifying her body.  This may give too much credit to the film, but to me, she did not suffer the same longing and lingering gaze as Harley Quinn.


In any event, the Enchantress is revived in the modern world.  However, her power is limited by the fact that Amanda Waller controls her heart.  She is clearly a chaotic and independent character, as she is always eyeing the heart and obviously plotting her escape from Waller.  To aid her escape, she revives her brother, who lends her his power.  Her brother plays more of a sidekick role to her, as he is always off to the side or the periphery of her activities.  Once free, she concludes that humans worship technology, so she must build a machine that punishes them for abandoning their old beliefs.  Really, she could come to many conclusions.  Maybe she could have decided that people worship money or possessions.  She might have concluded that people worship men, after all, three major religions of the world worship a singular male god.  Instead, she focused on technology.  Perhaps she awoke to see young people wandering around parks, staring at their phones as they played Pokemon Go! And didn’t understand that it is helping them get outdoors and exercise!  Ah, like so many she was so quick to judge what she does not understand.


Enchantress is rather powerful in that she can teleport, has telepathy and telekinesis, can materialize a giant machine, and can become incorporeal.  She seems far too strong to be a match for the Suicide Squad.  And, there isn’t a compelling reason for them to fight her.  Like the rest of them, she was a prisoner of Amanda Waller.  Only, she escaped.  Unlike them, she is not a criminal and doesn’t have mundane goals.  But, she also hasn’t harmed them.  Her first major act of destruction is destroying various military facilities and an aircraft carrier.  This isn’t a bad thing.  She might even find some support among eco-feminists or primitivists.  After all, she is basically a goddess who wants to destroy technology.  She even shows mercy by offering to spare the Suicide Squad if they join her.  Even she recognizes that the world has failed them and tells them as much.  This is after they killed her brother.  Now, I do think she has to be defeated.  I don’t believe the solution to climate change or any of the world’s problems is reverting to a superstitious pre-feudal society.  However, it doesn’t seem that the Suicide Squad should be the ones to do it.  Really, I can’t think of any heroes who are up to the task.  Batman represents capitalist interests.  Superman represents American interests.  It begs the question of how she was defeated in the first place?  Did people organize or plot against her?


Another consideration regarding her character is the issue of national sovereignty and indigenous rights.  Remember, her artifact was found in a jungle by an archaeologist!  Well, what right does the U.S. have to use her as a weapon?  What if Brazil or Guatemala, or whatever country that contained the mysterious temple, claimed that it was a stolen artifact?  What if the temple actually exists in territory inhabited by indigenous people who are decedents of the people who originally used the temple?  They too could demand that the artifact is returned.  So, Amanda Waller is basically trampling on the rights of indigenous people and sovereign nations in the interest of U.S. security.


Finally, it is interesting to consider her weakness.  Basically, she is a goddess-like sorceress whose only weakness is her heart.  This sends an interesting, but not terrible message to women.  In society, we tell many stories about love and romance.  These stories aren’t always healthy or realistic.  We idealize romantic love.  For some women, this idealization results in bad situations, such as unhealthy or abusive relationship.  While it doesn’t have to be, narratives of love reinforce feminine gender roles as selfless givers.  A woman’s weakness can be her heart.  Enchantress does not want to be limited in this way.  She reclaims her heart at the first opportunity.  She also tries to kill her host’s boyfriend by sending her minions after him.  Like Amanda Waller, she really isn’t interesting in men, love, or relationships.  She has a close relationship to her brother, but she is otherwise autonomous of men.  In a way, perhaps she represents what men fear the most about feminism.  Enchantress is a dirty (covered in soot), wild (tangled hair, glowing eyes, twisting body), powerful woman who wants to destroy modern capitalist society entirely.  (The movie did not deviate from female beauty standards in that she is young, thin, pretty, and groomed.)  She even teases Rick Flag that he doesn’t have the balls to attack her.  This eye-roll inducing attack panders to masculine insecurity, and predictably, he does attack her.  But, at the very least it uncovers the fragility of masculinity through his willingness to defend his masculinity with violence-even if it risks the death of his girlfriend.  In sum, I think she is a likeable villain, even if she doesn’t have a story or personality.

 

June Moon:

June is the archaeologist who serves as the host to Enchantress.  She has a terrible name.  I also think she is a bland character.  There is the potential she could be awesome!  After all, she must be an adventurous, capable, independent, and intelligent woman to adventure into a jungle, alone, to search an unknown temple.  To do this, she must survive disease, insects, heat, isolation, patchy public transportation, and… graduate school.  Archaeology has traditionally been a male dominated specialization within anthropology, so she must be willing to challenge gender norms to some degree.  Perhaps she is even a feminist archaeologist and this is what attracted to her the particular temple wherein Enchantress was entombed!  Her ethics seemed a bit lacking, since upon finding an artifact she decided to break off the head!  Who would do that?!  Unless of course she knew that there was something inside…


Whatever the case, she does not come across as a cool, independent, adventurer in the rest of the film.  Instead, she is the quivering girlfriend of Rick Flag.  True, it is probably traumatic to be possessed by a powerful witch.  Her fear, sweat, and tremors show her anxiety over being taken over by this dark entity.  Yet, she could act as more of an agent on her own behalf.  Instead, she depends upon Rick Flag to protect her.  They seem like an odd couple.  Assuming that she is both intellectual and adventurous, she might seek out someone similar, rather than a super soldier with an equally stupid name.


 

Zoe Lawton:

Zoe is Deadshot’s well adjusted daughter.  Despite the fact that her father is imprisoned and works as an assassin and her mother suffers from addiction, mental health issues, and is perhaps a prostitute, she is mature, caring, and polite.  She takes care of her mother and forgives her father.  She is wise to the world, knowing full well that her father kills people.  The fact that she is a good kid makes her a sympathetic character.  This also makes Deadshot more sympathetic, since he wants to be a good dad to his likeable child.  If she was rebellious, disrespectful, or angry, the audience might not care as much about their relationship and hope that she ends up in prison herself!  Thus, she mostly serves the purpose of making Deadshot seem like a family guy with something to fight for.   I will praise her for not being a racial or gender stereotype (she is seen doing math and is not presented as an at risk youth).  But really, she seems like she could be one of Barack Obama’s kids…not the kid of an assassin.


Katana:

Katana is a katana wielding Japanese woman who joins the Suicide Squad to assist Rick Flag.   The character is faintly developed and generally just clutters the movie with another character.  I suppose she might be interesting in that she represents a stereotype reserved mostly for Asian men: stoic and honorable warrior.  But, a stereotype is a stereotype.  There are things she could add to the plot.  For instance, there could be more tension because she doesn’t like criminals.  She is pretty dedicated to her dead husband, but probably sharp enough to cut through some of the sexist bullshit in the movie.  Perhaps she could be a foil to some of the sexist statements such as the suggestion that Rick Flag spank his girlfriend or Deadshot is not above hitting Harley.  Maybe she could have befriended Harley.  This might help her find a life outside of the lonely existence of talking to her dead husband’s soul and might help Harley find a voice of reason who isn’t looking to exploit her.  Harley did say that she thought she seemed nice and complimented her perfume.  If she is going to be a killjoy, maybe she should be a feminist killjoy.  Instead, Katana is invisible in the movie.  She wears a mask and speaks in Japanese.  While I am not sure why she was working with Flag in the first place, she eventually decides to leave the mission.  As she becomes more comfortable with the Suicide Squad, she speaks more English and even follows them to the bar.  In the end, she rejoins the team for the final battle, but her character is so peripheral this is hardly noticed.

Grace Santana:


Grace is El Diablo’s dead wife.  He killed her when she confronted him about his criminal activities/arson and threatened to leave with the kids.  In this way, she is a strong female character in that she was going to stand up against her husband, even though she knew he had horrible powers.  Those horrible powers are used against her and the kids.  El Diablo wants to atone for this.  He turns himself in to the police and refuses to use his powers from then on (except when jumped in prison and egged on by Deadshot.)  For the most part, he does own this past.  He recognizes that the past can’t be changed and rejects Enchantress’ vision of a do-over.  He sacrifices his life to kill Incubus.  As for Grace, she mostly serves as a tragic character in his story of redemption.


Harley Quinn:


Harley is the most polarizing character in the film.  In the entire film, she was the most interesting character, both visually and in terms of development.  There are certainly aspects of the character which were deeply troublesome.  For one, the depiction of her mental health was portrayed as a joke.  When she spoke about the voices in her head, this was supposed to solicit a laugh from the audience.  Again, this occurred when she said she was off her meds and uncertain if Enchantress’ machine/magic was real.  Each character made a point of remarking on how crazy she was.  The terrible thing is that she was a psychologist, but because of the abuse that she was subjected to, she became mentally ill.  This seems far fetched, but in my own experience at the shelter, there are certainly cases of professional women who lose their careers, health, children, houses, and otherwise comfortable lives in their abusive situations.  Of course, unlike Harley they do remember what they once had and who they once were.  Mental health isn’t a laughing matter.  It isn’t sexy, adventurous, or fun.


Beyond the insensitive treatment of her mental health, is the portrayal of her sexuality.  Because of her mental health, the audience should view her as pretty vulnerable.  If she has mental health issues that are so severe that she hears voices, hallucinates, has flash backs, and doesn’t remember much of her past, she is not really able to provide consent in most situations.  This isn’t to argue that she is incapable of consenting to sex or having a relationship, however, this would require a lot of communication about boundaries, safety, health, emotional needs, etc.  It would require equality and security.  Yet, all of the men, who all know that she has these problems, ogle and flirt with her.  The camera pans up her body and focuses on her butt.  The audience is therefore invited to gaze upon her and enjoy the show.  She has some awareness that her sexuality is power, so she is not mindless.  She uses her sexuality to tease the prison guard, for instance.  But, the power between them is deeply uneven.  He has the power to restrain her, electrocute her, and force feed her.  Taunting and enticing offers her a tiny bit of leverage in an otherwise powerless situation.  Granted, she might be seen as empowered insofar as she announces that she sleeps with who she wants, when she wants.  And, she shamelessly flirts and taunts.  However, in her fantasies, she is a monogamous housewife in curlers.  Her sexuality is a survival tool.  Despite this, she is treated like a broken sex doll to shamelessness fetishize.  She’s so hot and crazy!  Nevermind the fact that she is mentally ill and abused.  Look at that ass!  The audience’s lack of respect of the character was best demonstrated when Batman punched her.  Both times I saw the movie, the audience laughed at this scene.  Like the leering men in the movie, her humanity was lost of them.


The worst part of the film is the treatment of her relationship with the Joker.  I was surprised to find the Joker treated as if he is Edward Cullen.  He just loves her so much.  Usually I think of the Joker as more indifferent to her.  Instead, he rescues her twice and jumps into a vat of acid for her.  He comes across as engulfed in her as she is in him.  The depiction obscures the abuse.  He is instead treated like a partner who truly loves her, can be depended upon, will make sacrifices for her, and will save her.  Certainly abusers do charming things and loving acts.  And this serves to keep her more committed to the relationship.  However, since the Joker’s main role in the movie is to rescue her, it gives the impression that he isn’t that bad, there is a strong bond between them, and the relationship might even be admirable in its passion.  I mean, they were pretty passionate as they kissed in the acid vat.  Again, abusive relationships can be passionate and exciting, but giving too much emphasis on those traits and not on the negative elements sends a dangerous message about what relationships should look like.


There are some positive aspects of the character.  For one, she is actually relatable.  I can relate to wanting to be in a relationship with someone more charismatic, interesting, and magnetic than myself.  I sometimes feel boring, shy, reserved, and timid.  I would love to be vibrant and visible.  In the past, I have felt attracted to people who have these things I lack…as if by some magic they could elevate me.  In this sense, it isn’t implausible that a person could fall in love with the Joker.  He is a fascinating, magnetic, visible, bizarre character.  And, women give up their careers and goals all of the time for love.  Love is a cruel mythology of self-sacrifice, patience, endurance, hope, triumph, and redemption.  Harley believed what every woman believes: love is both real and magical.  Few people approach it logically as a ploy to get people to reproduce and raise babies.  This cynical world view doesn’t really lead to happiness or good movie plots.  It leads to an exhausted nihilistic sigh.  Thus, I think that women can probably relate to Harley, or at least more to her than Amanda Waller.  Besides her relatability, she defeated the Enchantress by stealing her heart.  This was a great moment for her character, as she feigned interest in Enchantress’ offer in order to get close enough to attack her.  She also showed independence after the Joker presumably died.  This should have made her into a sobbing, incapable mess.  Instead, she wiped her tears, rejoined the Suicide Squad, and went on to defeat the villain.  She also showed independence when she tried to escape the Suicide Squad.  Of course, this was to join the Joker, but more than this it was a way to escape prison, Angela Waller, and the bomb in her neck.  The Joker may be abusive, but he is no worse than prison or Angela Waller.  It is trading one abuse for another, though the former offers the veneer of love and the pleasure of passion.  There is no savior.  Even Batman, the good guy, punched her.  So, I would like to see the storyline continue wherein perhaps she has enough lucidity to question the relationship.


 

Sexism:

Sexism plays a cameo role in the film.  While Sexism is not an official member of the Suicide Squad, it sneaks around many scenes.  Sexism has some really awful scenes.  For instance, when Slipknot punched a female prison guard in the face because she had a “mouth on her.”  Sexism also appears each time a male character drools over Harley or when Batman punches Harley, then proceeds to give her sensual CPR.  He checked her pulse, but not her breathing.  He also didn’t say, “Harley, Harley, are you okay?!” and didn’t tilt her head back before he started breathing.  I am not a CPR expert, but Batman was really being weird about it.  When Deadshot asks what sleeping with a witch is like or tells Rick Flag to spank his girlfriend, Sexism appears again.  Each time a man reacts to being called “pussy” it is Sexism.  Why?  Because they felt that they must violently defend their masculinity.  This reaction is only possible if they believe that being female is inferior.  Sexism.  Racism also appears in the form of stereotypes.  Classism also cameos in the depiction of criminals (lumpenproletariat) as inherently sexist. Of course, sexism slithers around in most films.  It is the costumes, roles, lack of roles, relationships, etc. that establish or cement what a woman is.  Usually it is an object or something to give meaning to the more interesting lives of men. So, I can’t say that I am surprised to see Sexism’s role in the film, but there were some truly shocking scenes.


This is my take on Suicide Squad.  It is a little lengthy and certainly more could be said.  So crows the feminist harpy.  The end.

Patriarchy in the Parks: Six Ways that Gender Shapes Our Relationship to the Outdoors

 

Sexy-Climbing-GirlPatriarchy in the Parks: Six Ways that Gender Shapes Our Relationship to the Outdoors

 

Because gender and gender inequality shape so many aspects of our lives, it comes as little surprise that our relationship to the outdoors is also a product of patriarchy. Generally speaking, women account for about 46% of all outdoor recreation participants, so, slightly less than men. However, the ways in which women engage in the outdoors is gendered. For instance, women make up about 11% of hunters, 27% of anglers, and 25% of snowmobilers. 25% of Appalachian Trail completers are women, 30% of mountain climbers are female, and about 24% of cycling trips in the U.S. are completed by women, though 60% of bicycle owners are female. About 18% of International Mountain Biking Association members are women, 32% of snowboarders are women, and women make up 45% of cross country skiers. Even birding, which may seem like a feminine pursuit, is gendered. Birding that involves open ended checklists and extensive travel, involved 57-83% male participants. Competitive birding activities had 80-99% male participants (Cooper, 2011). This scattered constellation of statistics from across the internet offers a peek into how the outdoor activities are gendered, but begs the question, why do these differences exist?


 

History:

 


One reason why men and women participate differently in the outdoors is history. According to Niemi (1999) outdoor pursuits did not really become popular until the turn of the 19th century. For most of human history, people lived closely with the outdoors or wilderness, so it was not seen as a separate space for recreation or leisure. It is only in recent history that hunting became a sport rather than a method of survival or canoes were used for leisure rather than navigation. Wade (2015) adds that hunting emerged as a sport or leisure activity only after the industrial revolution and the subsequent urbanization of America. The entire concept of “wilderness” could be thought of as a social invention. It is nostalgic idea of a place untouched by industrial society or modernity. It is a fantasy place, which ignores the existence of people who may have once or may continue to live there. From a feminist perspective, it is a masculine space of conquest, freedom, and exploration (Raglon,1996). American thoughts about the outdoors or “wilderness” is itself shaped by a history of expansion and colonization. Wild lands were places for men to test themselves and conquer in the interest of farming or industry. With the end of the frontier era and the growth of cities, the adversarial relationship to nature softened into one of using nature to compliment or escape from so called civilized life. Thus, in the late 1880s saw the founding of groups such as the Sierra Club and Boy Scouts (Waters, 1986). It is also around this period that the first campsites were established in the United States, national parks were established, and the conservation movement emerged as part of the larger Progressive Movement. Women were involved in the conservation movement and early outdoor organizations, however, these were middle or upper class women with the time to devote to these activities. They also justified their involvement in conservationist causes in feminine terms, such as that they were caretakers of the nation (Lewis, 2007). Despite women’s participation in the outdoors and conservation, the main leaders, writers, and seekers of wilderness were wealthy men. The wealthy purchased remote estates and camps, complete with servants and amenities, cattle ranches where they could pretend to be rough riders, hunting trips, local guides, and tourism to nature. Nature was a something to consume and to role play a fantasy of empty land or frontier trials (Cronon, 1995). Women of that time period did not have the same control and access to wealth or for that matter even basic political rights. Women also did not have the same autonomy for solo adventures. So, the transformation of the outdoors into a place of leisurely pursuits was not something that most women enjoyed. Though, the participants in this transformation were upper class white males. Even today, as we look at the state parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin, none of them are named after women. The parks are often named after mine owners, land owners, and governors. Parks are named after people like Jay Cooke or Martin Pattison, wealthy men who owned enough land to donate it to the park system. Access to nature, participation in nature, ownership of nature, and the social construction of nature were largely reserved for men.


After World War II, there was a shift in outdoor recreation. Rather than the solo adventures of upper class men and some upper class women, it became a middle class family activity. In the post war years, partaking in national parks and national historical sites through automobile trips increased in popularity. But, because of female roles and expectations within families, female participation in nature was centered upon making their families comfortable. Magazine articles in women’s magazines offered suggestions of how to pack or prepare for family vacations and how to cook over a fire. Women were also told what to wear on these adventures. A 1950s era study conducted by Yellowstone Park concluded, “Women want good trails, trails that they can walk on in high heels. Many are not prepared to change into walking shoes for short walks to points of interest. Trails to points of interest should be hard surfaced for all-weather use and smooth enough for all kinds of shoes (Barringer, p 131).”


While attitudes about nature and participation in nature has changed since that time, especially since the emergence of the feminist movement in the 1960s and the increased autonomy that women have enjoyed as a result, history can help to understand why things are the way they are today.


 

  1. Gender Socialization:

 

Another way in which patriarchy shapes relationships to the outdoors is through gender socialization. Gender socialization is the process by which institutions, artifacts, and individuals shape how gender is expressed or performed. In other words, it is how we are taught to behave like males or females. There are many institutions in society that structure how gender is experienced and thought of. One example is the media, such as television, news, magazines, books, etc. A study by McNiel, Harris, and Fondren (2012) looked specifically at magazines. In a study of Backpacker and Outdoors magazine, they sampled 424 advertisements from 2008-2009. They found that women are depicted very differently than men in this advertisements. In their analysis of these advertisements four themes emerged: women need guidance, women go outdoors to escape home or recreate home, women have low level of engagement with the outdoors, and women with higher outdoor engagement need to be feminized. In these ads, women were not shown to be dirty or unkempt and the focus was instead on posing for the photos to show off the gear or accessories. Only 28% of the ads featured women who were alone in the wilderness, 46% of the ads depicted a woman with a man, and 24% featured a woman with a group. The women who were paired with men were shown to be in an implied relationship through holding hands or sharing a sleeping bag.   Most advertisements featured women doing activities such as hiking, rock climbing, or camping. When women were shown kayaking, the water was calm, as opposed to men who were shown with rapids. Women who hiked alone were depicted as crazy through the language of the advertisement. Finally, when women were portrayed as very engaged in their environment, they were given gender markers such as long hair or pastel colored clothes. Together, these ads send a message to women about what it means to be a woman in the outdoors: they shouldn’t be alone, they shouldn’t be dirty, and they should maintain their femininity. This is just one example of how we are socialized to think about gender and the outdoors, but we receive hundreds of thousands of messages about what it means to be male or female in the outdoors throughout our lifetimes from teachers, parents, TV, movies, school activities, politicians, advertisements, books, friends, etc.


Now, it could be argued that gender socialization is an interactive process. Women can make choices of how they present themselves, what activities they participate in, rejecting media messages, and defining themselves on their own terms. Indeed, every individual interprets societal messages their own way. However, these trends, unspoken rules, norms, etc. set a parameter of what is considered normal behavior. They also create structures that make other decisions more difficult. For example, a coworker of mine enjoys hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling. When she goes to buy products for these pursuits, she finds that the clothing and gear are often pink and purple. She could avoid this by purchasing male apparel, but they do not fit as well. Thus, she is corralled towards these products. The products themselves send a message that females are different than men. They need special fishing poles with breast cancer awareness ribbons on them, pink Swiss army knives, or feminine colored clothing. It even shapes what is considered feminine colors but reinforcing pink and purple as colors for ladies. There is nothing wrong with choosing these items or liking pink and purple, but it does create cognitive schemas, or templates in our mind, of how gender should be performed in the outdoors.


 

  1. Gender Roles:


Closely related to gender socialization is gender roles. While gender socialization is a PROCESS which teaches individuals how to behave or think about gender, gender roles are the actual behavioral and social expectations. In order to behave a certain way (role), individuals must first learn what is expected of them (socialization). With that said, there are many ways in which gender roles shape how males and females interact with the outdoors.   For much of white American history, a woman’s place was considered to be in the home, which is opposite of the outdoors. Within the home, female roles were the roles of mothers, caretakers, cooks, cleaners, clothing makers, wives, etc. Men, on the other hand have had more outdoor or worldly roles (Raglon, 1996).


 

While there are many female gender roles, one gender role that women have traditionally experienced is that of mother. While being female and becoming a mother are not as connected as they once were, around 85% of women between the ages of 40-44 have had a child. As mothers, women are expected to be self-sacrificing, loving, supportive, protective, and engaged with their children. Women are expected to put the needs of the child before their own needs. They are also supposed to construct a happy childhood for their children. The various roles and expectations of motherhood are not conducive to outdoor adventures. For instance, when Alison Hargreaves died on K2 in 1995 in launched a debate over if a woman should leave two young children to climb a mountain. Male climbers are unlikely to face the same criticisms. Mountaineering is more closely associated with death and injury than other outdoor activities, but there is not much mention in literature about mountaineering regarding fatherhood. A Danish climber, Lene Gammelgaard, did voice criticism over fathers who chose to leave their families to climb. Many of the men who climbed with her when she climbed Mount Everest were fathers. When a woman dies climbing, media emphasis is on her status as a mother. Hargreaves was portrayed as a selfish and obsessed woman who left her children and husband to pursue climbing. However, her own writings about her career as a climber makes many mentions of her affection for her children. She even mentioned her fear of getting frostbite as it would prevent her from holding her children. Yet, she dared to behave like a man, leaving her family to adventure in the world. For that, she was lambasted in the media. Two men who died on K2 a few days before her death were not given the same media treatment, even though they were fathers (Summers, 2007). Mountain climbing is an extreme example because it can result in death, but mothers who leave their children for any extended period of time are looked down upon by society. Women who have vibrant and interesting lives beyond their horizon of their children’s needs are not viewed as devoted or caring enough. These expectations make it less likely that women are going to go on prolonged adventures without their children or put themselves at risk.


 

  1. Safety:


When I moved to Mankato for graduate school, I decided to go for a walk in Rasmussen Park. The entrance of the park featured a woman’s photograph and some flowers. I was not sure what had happened in the park, but it made me more worried about my safety as I explored the trails. When I asked other students, they told me that they did not think that park was safe and said that a woman had been murdered there. I learned that the victim was Svetlana Munt, a woman who in 2010, was murdered by her ex-husband in front of her children at the park. The murderer had a history of abuse and decided to kill her during a meeting for visitation because he was disgruntled over their custody arrangement. More recently, in July 2016, a woman reported a sexual assault by a stranger in another park in the Mankato area.


Of course, violence against women is not unique to parks in Mankato. Parks themselves are not the most usual places where violence occurs. But, when violence does occur in public parks, especially the violence of strangers against women, it is picked up in the media. So, while violence in the context of relationships and homes is much more common, random or public acts of violence against women gets more attention and creates a consciousness that parks or remote outdoors are not safe for solo women. Thus, stranger violence is a spectre that haunts women as they go out anywhere alone.


The fear of violence is not unfounded. One in four women have reported sexual assault, but only 3% of men. Violence against women is something that is taken for granted in society and something women are socialized to know at a young age. On my first trip overseas, my grandmother warned me that I would probably get raped, with the same inevitability that I would probably find London expensive! To make matters worse, when bad things happen to women, they are often blamed for the way they dressed, what they drank, where they went, who they associated with, or not leaving sooner. Fear shapes how women relate to the outdoors. In depth interviews with 25 active outdoors women aged 18-mid 60s, found that these women felt that the outdoors was often viewed as a man’s place to be and they experienced some fear. Their fear was overcome by the importance of the outdoors to them. They also felt that if they were alone, people would blame them if something bad happened to them. The women reported that they felt that they were given messages that women who are outdoors are vulnerable and needed to be careful. At the same time, they felt there were some positive social messages, such as decreasing vulnerability through building skills and that outdoorsy women were role models (Bialeschki, 2011).


Supporting Bialeschki’s (2011) findings was a study by Johnson, Bowker, and Cordell (2001) which analyzed NSRE survey data from 17,000 participants who were interviewed by phone. The study found that women were twice as likely as men to report safety as one of the constraints for outdoor activities. Another study found a correlation between perception of safety and use of outdoor recreation areas. Child, Kasczunski, and Barr-Anderson (2015) found that older women are most likely to report fear of using outdoor recreation areas and females in general report more fear than men. Women expressed fear sexual assault as a specific deterrent from using outdoor recreation area and were 25% less likely than men to feel safe in outdoor recreation areas. Finally, Virden ad Walker (1999) also found that safety was a significant variable for women as they thought about forests. Females in the study were presence of law enforcement and maintenance as factors that shaped their decision to use an outdoor space. Female respondents were also more likely to view outdoors as a place to be with family and friends than males.


Violence against women exists in a social context and serves a purpose in capitalism. Laws regarding violence against women, how they are enforced, and who enforces them can all be connected to a larger capitalist framework. For instance, within capitalist society, the police exist to protect the rights and property of the ruling class. That is, they enforce laws that maintain the social inequality that benefit the capitalist system as a whole. The mass incarceration of Black men or the deaths of young African Americans at the hands of the police illustrate the racist nature of the criminal justice system, which is a part of racist capitalist system as a whole. Racism benefits capitalism by dividing workers, pinning them against one another rather than fighting for shared interests. In this same way, sexism benefits capitalism by justifying the unequal pay and status of men and women. How rape is defined or enforced has evolved over history, but as a general trend, women who are rape are not believed. The only “legitimate” rape is its most violent extreme: forceful stranger rape, rather than the more common rape that occurs in relationships. In fact, it was not until 2012 that the Department of Justice changed the definition of rape to be penetration of the anus or vagina without consent from the previous definition of “forcible” penetration. The new definition also added oral penetration by a sex organ. Likewise, laws regarding sexual assault required women to prove that they had struggled and it was not until 1975 that spousal rape entered into U.S. law. Despite this, women must still prove that they were raped by their husbands (usually through signs of injury) and prosecution is not as punitive as stranger rape (Smith, 2015). This legal atmosphere supports a larger culture wherein women are not believed, are blamed, and are shamed for the sexual violence against them. Rape and the threat of violence have an impact on women as a group in that it makes them afraid and keeps them in the private sphere. It also reinforces the idea that women do not own their sexuality.


  1. Leisure:


Women experience a greater pressure to be caregivers of children, elderly, and men. Because of this caregiver role, women often do not consider their free time their own. In their review of research, Johnson, Bowker, and Cordell (2001) noted that women may feel constrained from pursuing leisure because of the responsibilities that they have about being mothers, caregivers, wives. Worldwide, women spend 4.5 hours a day doing unpaid labor. In the U.S. it is 4 hours compared to 2.5 hours for men. Girls 10-17 years of age spend two more hours doing unpaid work each week than boys. Boys are also 15% more likely to be paid. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/23/upshot/how-society-pays-when-womens-work-is-unpaid.html). Resulting from the gender roles that women must fulfil, they have less leisure than men. As such, they do not have the same amount of free time to adventure outdoors. It makes sense then that the average time spent per person in outdoor recreation activities was 2.6 hours per week for men compared to 1.4 hours per week for women.


Additionally, as the discussion of gender roles posits, when women chose to abandon these roles, they are looked down upon by society. In addition to time and gender role constraints, even the concept of leisure was first philosophized about by men like Plato and Aristotle. Female philosophers such as Theano II and Perictione, who had more restricted gender roles in Ancient Greece, wrote instead about harmony and their roles in families and community. At least some research has suggested that women view their leisure time as a way to connect with others (Warren and Erkal, 1997). So, even when women have leisure time, they may view it differently than men. Rather than time for solo adventures in the outdoors, it may be seen as time to connect to others. Again, this has to do with gender roles and gender socialization.


Traditionally, women’s gender roles have been defined as not to allow for leisure time. For instance, women have traditionally been responsible for the care of family members. As society began to view childhood as valuable, children benefited at the expense of women. However, the biggest beneficiary of unpaid female labor is capitalism itself. Every time a woman changes a diaper, cooks a meal, cares for a sick child, does laundry, or any other unpaid household activity, she is providing a service for society. Mainly, the service she is providing is ensuring another generation of workers and the upkeep of the present generation. In Marxist feminist terms, this is the social reproduction of labor. Thus, women serve the perpetuation of capitalism through the work they do in their homes. This work serves to increase the profits of capitalists as it means that they are not obligated to pay taxes for or devote resources to public childcare, public health care, public laundry services, public dining services, or any number of household functions that could be made into public services for working people. In short, there is an insidious reason why women have less leisure time and have traditionally been relegated to the home: it allows capitalism to maintain itself at little to no cost.


  1. Money:


Beyond their findings regarding safety concerns, Johnson, Bowker, and Cordell’s (2001) survey analysis found that money was one of the leading reasons why individuals of all genders and races felt constrained from participating in outdoor activities. As of 2015, when comparing the median income of men to women, women made 79 cents for every dollar that men earned. As of 2014, African America women made 64 cents to each dollar earned by white men. Hispanic women earned 54 cents to each dollar earned by white men, and for Native American women, it is 59 cents (Fisher, 2015). Anti-feminists are quick to point out that this only compares two medians to each other and obscures the fact that women make different life choices, may be employed part time, may take time out of the work force, etc. There could be thousands of reasons why women make less, but the bottom line is that on average, women and especially women of color, do not earn as much each year as men do. Women make up 60% of the lowest paid workers, are 35% more likely to be in poverty, and 70% of the country’s poor are women and children. There are also 11.5 million single mothers in the country. They must spend their incomes on childcare and take time off of work to care for children. Thus, the simple fact that women make less money than men and are more likely live in poverty may impact a woman’s access to outdoor recreation.


Outdoor recreation costs money. Current camping fees at MN State Parks are between $18 and $25 a night and this does not include the cost of a tent, transportation, park sticker, or camping supplies. An all-time anytime ski pass at Spirit Mountain is over $300. An all-day mountain biking pass is $25. A chair lift ride with a bike is $15. Even low end cross country skis from Play-it-Again Sports will cost over $150. Use of city trails requires daily or seasonal fees which are usually $5 a day or $20-$25 a season. A MN fishing license is $22. Snowshoes, winter clothes, skis, hiking boots, backpacks, fishing poles, snowboards, bug spray, sun screen, ropes, climbing shoes, boats, ATVs, licenses, guns, bows and arrows, transportation, park fees, parking fees, cars, bus passes, etc. all cost money and are barriers to participation in outdoor activities.

 

Conclusion:

       

History, gender roles, gender socialization, leisure, safety, and money are just a few reasons why women may participate in the outdoors differently and less than men. Experience, lack of role models, and sexism could also be added to the list, along with dozens of other factors. The common thread between all of these factors is that it shows how patriarchy shapes our everyday lives. Even something as mundane as taking a walk in a park is impacted by gender inequality. As such, feminism must be fought on thousands of fronts. The fight against violence against women, sexual harassment, and rape culture can help women feel safe enough to enjoy the outdoors, but also walking down the street, college campuses, homes, and work places. The fight for better working conditions, wages, unions, paid sick and maternity leave, and the building of the labor movement can help eradicate the wage divide between men and women and the economic challenges women face as single mothers. The fight against racism and sexism and the fight against mass incarceration, racist policing, and the destruction of welfare can eliminate the economic and social disparities between women and minorities and white men. Recognizing the value of unpaid work, paying for unpaid work, and providing more public services to alleviate some of the burdens of unpaid caregiving can give women more leisure time to enjoy the outdoors. But, everyone in general could enjoy more leisure time with shorter work weeks, paid vacation time, and better pay. Finally, all of these movements must connect to the environmental movement to make certain that there are outdoor areas to enjoy. Together, this makes for a daunting task. However, every right and freedom we enjoy was hard fought in centuries of struggle. Social change is not a walk in the park. It is a constant fight to build movements and educate others.

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