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Joker through the Lens of Violence against Women

Joker through the lens of Violence against women

Joker through the Lens of Violence against Women

H. Bradford

10/26/19


October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.  This month also saw the release of Joker, a film which had a controversial release due to fears that it would incite violence.  The film is the story of how Arthur Fleck, a solitary, impoverished man with mental illness, becomes the infamous Batman villain.  Joker centers on the experiences of the titular character, whose perceptions and narrative are unreliable.  The movie focuses on the perspective of a violent male and one that the sidelines experiences of the women around him.  The violence against several female characters in the film as well as Arthur’s own experience of domestic violence warrants attention because the film, like the character, is politically neutral on this violence.  Even the concerns that the film would inspire violence were gender neutral, as the type of violence feared was mass shootings rather than the everyday violence that occurs in households and in relationships.  There was no mass panic that a film would inspire this sort of violence, as it is beyond the cognitive horizon of most people to care.  Of course, mass shootings are themselves often carried out by men with a history of domestic violence and misogynistic attitudes.  In this way, the film offers some lessons about the ways in which violence against women continues to be normal, invisible, and misunderstood, as well as its place in capitalist patriarchy.


Domestic violence includes such things as physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and financial abuse, along with stalking and coercion.  The word generally applies to violence which occurs between intimate partners, but can also include violence in familial relationships, such as against children, parents, siblings, and elderly family members.  While the factors that cause this violence are complicated, a popular feminist theory is Power-Control theory, which originated with the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program in Duluth, Minnesota during the 1980s.  Through discussions with survivors of domestic violence, the Power and Control Wheel was developed based on patterns and themes in their experiences.  This is a widely used tool for identifying the ways that power and control are exerted by abusers.  Power-Control Theory posits that abuse is the outcome of the abuser’s desire to maintain power and control in their relationship(s).  While this began by examining the dynamics between individuals, it has been expanded to examine the ways that male power and control are maintained within patriarchy as a whole (Evolution of Theories of Violence, 2015).  Within patriarchy, men have had the lion’s share of power and control in society.  Control over women is expected and violence enforces their subservience.  Women and children are particularly vulnerable to violence because of their inequality in economic, political, and social status.  From a socialist perspective, violence against women can be understood as a means to enforce patriarchy, which historically hinged on the transmission of property from father to son and the fact that women themselves have been treated as property.  Violence enforces gender roles and a gendered division of labor.  Within capitalism, the lesser status of women and their economic dependence upon men, helps to extract their unpaid labor.  As such, prior to the efforts of the feminist movement, domestic violence was viewed as private problem within individual families rather than a social problem symptomatic of women’s place within patriarchy.  Today, one in three women have experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime and 95% of the victims of domestic violence are women.


The film is set in Gotham, a fictional city torn apart by class tensions, an infestation of rats, cuts to social programs, and crime.  It is against this backdrop that Arthur Fleck, a white male in his 30s, tries to eke out a living for himself and his mother, who exist on the edge of the working class.  Along the way, Arthur becomes increasingly violent and through violence, becomes self-actualized as the vengeful, confident, smiling, and dancing Joker.  Arthur Fleck is immediately depicted as having little power and control in his life.  Early in the film, he is attacked by youth while working as a clown.  His employment itself lacks control as is based on the tenuous availability of clowning gigs and as his coworkers and employer are unaccepting of him.  He lives with his mother, Penny, who is the dominant figure in his socially isolated life, and dependent upon him for income and care.  To make matters worse, the medications that Arthur uses to try to control the symptoms of his mental illness become unavailable to him after social services are cut in the city.  Rats and the amassing garbage left uncollected due to a sanitation worker strike, create an atmosphere wherein the entire city seems out of control of patriarchal capitalist power.  As a malnourished, eccentric, mentally unstable, outsider living with his mother and barely getting by, Arthur isn’t privy to much of the power and control that other white males enjoy.  After sustaining a beating, Arthur’s coworker lends him a gun, which he is at first reluctant to take, but quickly becomes the key to accessing the power he has been exiled from.


A turning point in the film is when Arthur uses his gun against a group of young, wealthy white men who attack him on the subway.  Prior to the murder, the young investors are shown talking about a woman, then go on to harass a woman who is riding alone on the subway.  When she ignores them, food is thrown at her and she is verbally accosted.  She is called a bitch when she gets up and leaves.  This is a relatable scene, as 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime (Chatterjee, 2018).  The trio of men themselves are a patriarchal trope.  They are Brock Turner, Jacob Walter Anderson, or young Brett Kavanagh.  They are the kind of guys that wear black face at Halloween parties, bullied kids in high school, rape women in college, excel at sports, and probably get called Chads by Incels.  They are smug masters of the universe.  The woman’s escape is made possible by Arthur, who has a condition which causes uncontrolled laughing.  This draws attention away from the woman, but in turn, causes him to be beaten for laughing at them and then defending himself.  He kills two of the men as they beat him, but pursues the third after he flees.


The trio of murdered men work for Thomas Wayne, the father of Bruce Wayne.  Thomas Wayne represents the pinnacle of patriarchal capitalist power in the film.  He is a wealthy, robust, white, heterosexual, father who is running for mayor because only he can take control of the city.  When Wayne decries the murders of such bright, talented young men and calls the poor of the city “clowns,” his insult launches a movement of clown masked demonstrators who protest the wealth gap in the city.  Arthur becomes emboldened by the murders and the movement it sparked, but remains on his individualistic, anti-social path of violence rather than joining the movement.  This path culminates in the Joker’s live TV murder of Murray Franklin, a popular talk show host and icon of patriarchal power in the form of celebrity, self-assurance, wealth, and bullying.  Both Thomas Wayne and Murray Franklin are fallen father figures to Arthur Fleck, who lose their esteem in his mind as he loses his mind and violently take control of his life.  Along the way, several female characters are casualties in his brutal metamorphosis.


The first casualty is his mother, Penny.  Arthur’s relationship with his mother has unhealthy elements.  Although she is mobile, he baths her, and although she is capable of dancing, he cuts her food for her.  They also share the same bed.  The nature of her health needs are not specified, but the depiction of their relationship is strongly suggested to be codependent.  Penny is portrayed as incapable of meeting her own needs and those of her son’s.  She is verbally and emotionally abusive, as she shoots down Arthur’s idea of becoming a comedian by telling him that he isn’t funny and shows complete indifference to him when he says he went on a date.  His experiences and needs are secondary to her obsession with Thomas Wayne, who she believes will lift them out of poverty.  When Arthur discovers that Thomas Wayne may be his father, she fears he will kill her because she kept this secret.  He eventually kills her after discovering that he is not Thomas Wayne’s son and that she spent time at Arkham Asylum because of her role in the abuse he experienced as a child.  In searching for the truth of his parentage, Arthur learns from an asylum employee that his mother’s boyfriend chained him to radiator, beat him, and starved him when he was a child.  Upon learning this, he smothers her in her hospital bed.


Throughout the film, Arthur suffers from uncontrollable laughter, which is attributed to a brain injury.  This history of abuse is used to explain where this condition originated, as well as give insight to some of his other behaviors.  In 60-75 percent of families where a woman is battered, children are also battered.  Children are 15 times more likely than the national average to be neglected and physically abused in families experiencing domestic violence.  Exposure to domestic violence can impact children in a number of ways, including increased aggression, depression, lowered independence, social withdrawal, reduced social competence (Rakovec-Felser, 2014).  All of these are characteristics that Arthur displays throughout the movie.


When confronted with her son’s abuse, Penny says she didn’t know he was hurt.  She is charged with criminal neglect and sent to Arkham Asylum.  It is not known what happened to her abuser.  Although the film is not clearly focused on this matter, Penny is a victim of domestic violence.  The narrative focuses more on her failure as a mother to protect her son from abuse, but both characters are victims.  The blaming narrative of the film implies that Penny is at fault for failure to protect her son, which begs the question, “why did she stay?”  Why did she stay if her boyfriend was abusing her son? Why did she allow it to happen?   This blaming narrative is very real.  For instance, Ingrid Archie is a real life example of a California woman who fled domestic violence, but had her children taken away and was charged with failure to protect, even though she obtained a restraining order and went to a shelter (Albaladejo, 2019).  Arlena Lindley, was sentenced to 45 years in prison after her boyfriend killed her three year old son.  A witness testified that her boyfriend had threatened to kill her if she intervened and that when she tried to escape with her son, she was dragged back inside the home.  In another case, Robert Braxton Jr. was sentenced to two years for breaking the ribs and femur of a three month old infant.  Tondalo Hall, the infant’s mother, for whom there was no evidence that she had abused the child, was sentenced to thirty years in prison for failure to protect her baby (Banner, 2015).


There are many reasons why women remain in abusive relationships, even when their children are abused.  Fictional Gotham, like the real world, has substandard housing and a lack of social services, making it likely that if she left, she would have been homeless with her son.  The setting of the film is the late 1970s or early 1980s, which was before domestic violence shelters and community responses to domestic violence were well established.  The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the victim leaves, so leaving might have further endangered them both.  Statistically, women have a 75% higher chance of being killed if they leave than if they stay (Banner, 2015).  Some women fear that their abuser will report them to social services and they will lose their children, which also causes them to stay.  Since failure to protect laws have punished women who have fled domestic violence, this is not an unfounded fear.  Abusive relationships are based on power and control, she may have felt powerless to leave or incapable of living independent of her abuser.  It is possible that she was prevented from leaving.  Whatever the case, Arthur clearly blames her for the abuse, which is not an uncommon response for children to have.  The blame took on its own fatally abusive character when he murdered her.  In the arc of the story, this was done for revenge over the abuse but also as part of his letting go of his life as someone controlled by his mother’s needs.  Rather than remain the care giving, weak, traumatized, and abused son, the murder ushers him deeper into a toxic masculinity wherein he has the power to inflict abuse.


As a final observation about Penny, the character may also have been abused by Thomas Wayne while she was employed by him.  Although there is no direct evidence of abuse, he could have certainly abused his power to silence her and as her employer, would have had immense power over her very livelihood.  Her mental health struggles and dependence upon him for her livelihood renders the relationship far from equal and consensual.  Wayne denies that they had an affair, though Penny tells her son that he made her sign paperwork to cover up the truth.  Arthur discovers his adoption certificate, which seems to support Wayne’s claim that she is delusional.  But in a flashback, Penny again claims that it was drawn up by Wayne.  Both Wayne and Alfred, the butler, insist that she is mentally ill.   While all evidence seems to indicate that this is true, Arthur later discovers a photograph with a message from Wayne on it.  Although he may not have physically abused her, he is able to exert patriarchal power over her without having to resort to violence.  Penny does not need to be beaten or killed to keep quiet, she only needs to be delegitimize.  By calling her crazy, her claims to reality are called into question.  It is an attempt to gaslight her memories and beliefs about the relationship, even though she retains the claim that they were together.  It is clear in the film that she experiences mental illness, but this could be either an outcome of abuse she experienced, a factor that made her more vulnerable to abuse, or both.  Women who experience domestic violence are three times more likely to develop serious mental illness.  Survivors of domestic violence are also three times as likely to have a history of mental illness such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (Dyson, 2019).


The second victim of domestic violence is Sophie Dumond, Arthur’s neighbor and imagined love interest.  Even before he murders anyone, Arthur begins stalking Sophie and imagines that they are in a relationship.  In this imagined relationship, he has perfect control over her, as she laughs at his jokes, is never threatened by his eccentricities, supports the murders of the men on the subway, and offers comfort when his mother is hospitalized.  After the murders on the subway, he kisses her, as his sexual confidence was bolstered by violence.  The kiss never happened, along with the many other scenes.  This is revealed when he enters her apartment, begins touching her belongings, and sits on her sofa.  She is terrified that he has entered the apartment.  The outcome of this encounter is never depicted on screen, but her character is never seen or mentioned again.  It is easy to read this omission as she was murdered or sexually assaulted.  Certainly, by stalking her, entering her apartment, handling her belongings, and creating a fictional romance with her, Arthur behaves in a way that shows entitlement to her personal space, privacy, safety, and body.  Glimpses at his journal reveal disembodied and altered images of naked women and sexual scenes.  Again, this points to an unhealthy, sexual, and violent imagining of women.


Another woman in the film who is murdered by Arthur is an unnamed therapist.  At the end of the film, he is seen walking out of her office with blood on his shoes.  The fate of both Black characters is left up to the imagination, but statistically, Black women experience a higher risk of sexual assault and domestic violence.  In the United States, 20% of Black women have been raped and 40% have experienced domestic violence.  Black women are also two and a half times more likely than white women to be murdered by a man and 9 out 10 victims knew their murderer (Green, 2017).  It is also important to point out the racial dynamics of a white male perpetrator murdering at least one Black woman and perhaps murdering or sexually assaulting another.  Arthur attempts to exert control over Black women several times in the film, such as when he tries to verbally defend himself against a Black mother when he talks to her child, when he chides his Black social worker for not listening to him, through his imagined romance with Sophie, and through the murder of his therapist.  Angela Davis argued that violence by white men, especially sexual violence, was used to control Black women during slavery.  Their bodies and sexuality were the property of white men.  Sexual assault was used by the KKK as a weapon of terror against Black women. During the Civil Rights movement, white police officers raped Black activists they had arrested (Davis, 1990).  Black women are killed at higher rates than any other group of women.  Yet, Black women are seldom viewed as victims. Violence against Black women continues to be ignored and Black women blamed because they are viewed as violent, sexual, less innocent, their lives less valuable, or somehow deserving of their victimization.   When they defend themselves against violence, they find themselves punished by the criminal justice system, such as CeCe McDonald, Cyntonia Brown, and Alexis Martin (Finoh and Sankofa, 2019).


The violence inflicted upon women in the film goes without police or community response, though police response is often met with blaming, disbelief, or threats of violence and incarceration from the state itself.   Police themselves are often abusers, as 40% of police families report domestic violence, which is four times more than the general population (Police Family Violence Fact Sheet, n.d.).  Two incidents of violence against women occur off screen, whereas violence against men in the film is used to shock the viewer and drive the narrative.  As a whole, women are ancillary to the film.  They are not prominently depicted among the protestors, the violence against them goes unnoticed, several of their roles are unnamed characters, one role primarily exists in Arthur’s mind, and none of them are shown making it out of the movie alive.  Violence against women is canon, as in other iterations of the Joker, the character has raped Barbara Gordon and has an abusive relationship with Harley Quinn (Dockterman, 2019).  Gotham is a world of men and Joker is story of a beaten down male, beating down powerful men.  But, it is also a story of violence against Black women, domestic violence, narratives that blame mothers for their abuser’s actions, the intersections of mental health and victimization, and the continued normalcy of violent masculinity.


The universe of Batman is always a story about capitalism.  The hero, Bruce Wayne, is a capitalist who fights bad guys in the form of villains with mental illness.  He does this with the help of the militarized Gotham police force.  To side with the hero is to side with the ruling class and its enforcers against the dangerous elements of the lumpenproletariat.  Joker takes place before the advent of the central hero or the militarization of the police. If there is a central message of the film, it is that capitalism creates villains. If there is an argument, it is that austerity and trauma begets violence. Through the narrative of the film, Arthur Fleck’s violence can be attributed to childhood trauma, unmet mental health needs, social instability, isolation, and unchallenged misogyny.  But, the film says little about how this impacts women.  This part of the narrative is truncated. Capitalism may indeed create some villains, but it also creates its own grave diggers.  The power of workers and social movements against capitalism is depicted in the form of a sanitation strike and masked protest movement.  These mobilizations must ultimately fail for Batman to rise as the capitalist vigilante who keeps the order of capitalism and patriarchy.  As for the women in the movie, they too fade into Gotham’s eternal night. The dark city swallows their stories. In this way, art mirrors the life of many women.  If there is a feminist message to be drawn from the film, it is the need to Take Back the Night.  Rising above the erasure of capitalists, vigilantes, police, and misogynist villains means doing things that these female characters were unable to do: uniting together, being heard and seen, demanding social provisioning, fighting oppressive narratives of abuse, holding abusers accountable, and creating safety that doesn’t rely on punishing the mentally ill.


Sources:


Albaladejo, A. (2019, October 18). Child Law Penalizes Moms for Abusive Partners. Retrieved from https://capitalandmain.com/child-law-penalizes-moms-for-abusive-partners-10-16?fbclid=IwAR2MyXXcyUclO4IW_NFztLOtUSx8uK2MdjueEbd8jvhx0hIcYmPKfK4RzFk.

Banner, A. (2015, February 3). ‘Failure to Protect’ Laws Punish Victims of Domestic Violence. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/do-failure-to-protect-law_b_6237346.

Chatterjee, R. (2018, February 22). A New Survey Finds 81 Percent Of Women Have Experienced Sexual Harassment. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587671849/a-new-survey-finds-eighty-percent-of-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment.

Davis, A. Y. (1990). Women, culture & politics. Vintage.

Dockterman, E. (2019, October 8). The History of Joker Movies and Character’s Origin Story. Retrieved from https://time.com/5694280/joker-movies-history-origin-story/.

Dyson, T. (2019, June 7). Women suffering domestic abuse have triple the risk of mental illness, study says. Retrieved from https://www.upi.com/Health_News/2019/06/07/Women-suffering-domestic-abuse-have-triple-the-risk-of-mental-illness-study-says/8981559918365/.

Evolution of Theories of Violence. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.stopvaw.org/evolution_of_theories_of_violence.

Finoh, M., & Sankofa, J. (2019, August 22). The Legal System Has Failed Black Girls, Women, and Non-Binary Survivors of Violence. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/blog/racial-justice/race-and-criminal-justice/legal-system-has-failed-black-girls-women-and-non.

Green, S. (2018, August 7). Violence Against Black Women – Many Types, Far-reaching Effects. Retrieved from https://iwpr.org/violence-black-women-many-types-far-reaching-effects/.

Police Family Violence Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://womenandpolicing.com/violencefs.asp.

 

Rakovec-Felser Z. (2014). Domestic Violence and Abuse in Intimate Relationship from Public Health Perspective. Health psychology research, 2(3), 1821. doi:10.4081/hpr.2014.1821

 

Josephine

Josephine

H. Bradford

9/11/17

He must have said something shocking

as they walked in the garden

or talked conspiracy over tea.

And what exactly was he?

That tsar?

Was he dashing and magnetic like her ex-husband?

Or was he a terror to behold?

She died suddenly after he left.

All of her lovers wept.

After all, she was still pretty in her old age.

Even I felt a little sad.

I can be as grandiose as a general or a tsar.

The tyrant in me mourns her beauty.

Image result for josephine bonaparte

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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Sources:

 

Bialeschki, M. D. (2011). Fear of violence, freedom, and outdoor recreation: a feminist     viewpoint.

 

Casper, J., Gacio, M., & Kelley, K. (2012, March). Active Living Research. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://activelivingresearch.org/gender-differences-physical-activity-and park          and-recreation-facility-use-among-latinos

 

Child S, Kaczynski A, Barr-Anderson D, et al.(2015). Demographic differences in perceptions of outdoor recreation areas across a decade. Journal of Park & Recreation Administration     [serial online].33(2):1-19. Available         from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA.        Accessed July 31, 2016.

 

Cooper, C. (2011, January 15). Men and Women Approach Bird Watching Differently. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/men-and-women-approach-bird  watching-differently/

 

Delay, R. H., & Dyment, J. E. (2003). A Toolkit for gender-inclusive wilderness leadership.           JOPERD: The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 74(7), 28.

 

Fisher, M. (2015, April 14). Women of color and the gender wage gap. Retrieved August 10,        2016, from            https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/report/2015/04/14/110962/women-of     color-and-the-gender-wage-gap/

 

Heinerth, J. (2015, January 11). Sexism: Alive and well in scuba diving. Retrieved August 10,      2016, from http://divermag.com/sexism-alive-and-well-in-scuba-diving/

 

Johnson, C. Y., Bowker, J. M., & Cordell, H. K. (2001). Outdoor recreation constraints: An           examination of race, gender, and rural dwelling. Southern Rural Sociology.17:111-133

 

Lewis, M. (Ed.). (2007). American wilderness: A new history. Oxford University Press.

 

McNiel, J., Harris, D., & Fondren, K. (2012). Women and the wild: Gender socialization in wilderness recreation        advertising. Gender Issues,29(1-4), 39-55. doi:10.1007/s12147       012-9111-1

 

Morin, E. A. (2012). “No Vacation for Mother”: Traditional gender roles in outdoor travel    literature, 1940–1965.   Women’s Studies, 41(4), 436-456.     doi:10.1080/00497878.2012.663257

 

Niemi, J. (1999) Women in the Outdoors (Vol. 2). Globe Pequot

 

Outdoor Participation Report. (2014). Retrieved August 10, 2016, from            http://www.outdoorfoundation.org/pdf/ResearchParticipation2014.pdf

 

Raglon, R. (1996). Women and the Great Canadian Wilderness: Reconsidering the Wild.  Women’s Studies, 25(5), 513-531.

 

Summers, K. (2007). Unequal genders: Mothers and fathers on mountains. Special Issue of        Sheffield Online Papers in Social Research, Gender and Extreme Sports: The Case of       Climbing.

 

Smith, S. (2015, Spring). Capitalism and sexual assault. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from            http://isreview.org/issue/96/capitalism-and-sexual-assault

 

Virden, R. J., & Walker, G. J. (1999). Ethnic/Racial and gender variations among meanings         given to, and            preferences for the natural environment. Leisure Sciences, 21(3), 219       239. doi:10.1080/014904099273110

 

Wade, L. (2015, December 29). A short history of trophy hunting in American Sociological           Images. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from       https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2015/12/29/a-short-history-of-trophy  hunting-in-america/

 

Warren, K., & Erkal, N. (1997). Ecofeminism: Women, culture, nature. Indiana University Press.

 

Watters, R. (1986). Historical perspectives of outdoor and wilderness recreation in the United       States. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://www2.isu.edu/outdoor/history.htm

 

William Cronon, ed., (1995) Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, New     York: W.W. Norton & Co.

 

Women and Poverty in America. (n.d.). Retrieved August 10, 2016, from            https://www.legalmomentum.org/women-and-poverty-america

 

 

My Two Cents on Two Twenty Five Cent Books

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The Superior Public Library hosted its annual book sale a few weeks ago.  Usually I pick up way too many books, but this year was pretty modest.  This is partially because the house I live in has over 2,000 books and there isn’t much space for more.  With that said, I picked up the following two books for 25 cents.  Here is my two cents on two twenty five cent books:

Beyond Beef-The Rise and Fall of Cattle Culture by Jeremy Rifkin, 1994

I had some misgivings about the book because it was from 1994.  I thought that the book would be about factory farming and all the horrors of meat consumption.  There is nothing wrong with this.  However, I thought that if it was about these things, it would be dated and inaccurate.  While this is one aspect of the book, the book is more of a multifaceted history of beef.  Therefore, I think that a meat eater and vegetarian could be both frustrated and pleased with the book.  The following are some of the ideas that I found the most interesting about the book:

Beef and Patriarchy:

A vegetarian or vegan feminist reader might enjoy the connections between beef and patriarchy in the book.  Basically, the book posits that beginning in about 4000 BC, nomadic herders from the Pontic Steppes conquered Europe.  Over three thousand years there were several waves of conquest, which introduced cattle culture to Europe.  This also introduced private property in the form of cattle and as such, more patriarchal social relations.  Prior to this, Europeans were more agrarian, female centered, and less warlike.  Essentially, this perspective is part of the Kurgan Hypothesis of where Indo-Europeans came from.

The author posits that beef as movable wealth was a form of proto-capitalism, but this isn’t elaborated upon in the two chapters on this topic.  I would have liked to see this argument developed and what the author meant by proto-capitalism.  Capitalism is based upon private property, but so is any deeply stratified society.  This does raise some interesting questions about the relationship between animals, property, and patriarchy.  Perhaps it is nice to think that at one time Europeans were more peaceful, collective, agrarian, and equal.  Then, suddenly invaders came on horses with herds of cattle…plundering, destroying, and introducing property/patriarchy.  Modern Europeans are descendants of those plunderers.

A knee jerk reaction to this is, “Aha, beef is terrible.  Beef is the food of patriarchy!” I certainly had this reaction.  But, many things could have and probably did serve as the basis of early private property: land and other kinds of animals for instance.  In this sense, an aversion to beef on the basis of its connection to private property can only be a kind of guilt by association.  And, the book points out that the relationship between humans and cows has changed over history.  For instance, the book argues that over time cows became sacred in Hinduism because of their value for fuel, housing material, fertilizer, and dairy, as well as depleted land resources, popular unrest against beef eating overlords, and Buddhist influences.  The book also notes that cows can be symbolic of fertility, bounty, and the feminine divine.  In this very materialistic perspective, the relationship between humans and animals is based upon economic relationships and necessities.

The book later discusses the relationship between gender and meat.  Like clothing, hair styles, emotional patterns, and career choices, food is gendered.  There are foods that are seen as masculine and foods that are viewed as feminine.  It is not because of an inherent characteristic in the food, but rather, because of such things as the function and value of the food in society.  Unsurprisingly, salads, diet food, and vegetable based foods are viewed as feminine.  Steaks as masculine.  The book spends a chapter or so discussing this.  Again, the chapter is short and this topic could be explored at greater length.  It made me wonder what should be done about this?  Meat is idealized because it is associated with masculinity, which is valued over femininity.  The nihilist in me does not want anyone to idealize anything.  We could unhappily eat gray mush and endlessly contemplate our meaningless existence.  The feminist in me recoils at anything that promotes a masculinity based upon conquest, subjugation, mastery of nature, and rugged individualism.  The socialist in me wants what is sustainable and equitable for the environment and society.  These three ideas run around in circles, like dogs chasing each other’s tails.  Conclusion: dismantle gender, don’t idealize foods, think about nature and the future of society.

 Beef and Ecological Imperialism:

Another interesting thread in the book was the association between beef and imperialism.  Basically, the book argues that one reason or at least benefit of slaughtering all of the bison was so that the West could be used as pastureland for the beef industry.  There were definitely some startling passages about the slaughter of bison and the subjugation of Native Americans.  It is no wonder why many Native Americans feel that their fate is connected to the fate of animals.  They have been.  The book included stories of tribes looking for the last buffalo so that they could perform certain ceremonies, but found none.  It is hard to imagine how such a dramatic and quick change in something that was taken for granted as plentiful and central to survival is suddenly entirely gone.  Can we imagine that?  It would be like the sudden end of electricity or automobiles.

Europeans introduced cattle to the Americas pretty early on, letting them go wild for future colonization efforts.  The cattle themselves introduced invasive grasses that are now taken for granted as having always been here.  So, we really changed the landscape.  Like aliens terraforming a new planet…we introduced our animals and plants at the expense of what…AND WHO… was there.  Again, in reading this there is a tendency to hate cattle as a symbol of conquest.  Really, the book did a good job introducing me to new ways of thinking about cattle.  However, this is again guilt by association.  Cattle didn’t ask to come here.  They have no adversarial relationship with bison.  The fault is with European conquest.  Of course, it isn’t always easy to separate a symbol from an action, event, or system.  Cattle did not ask to replace bison.  Red, white, and blue did not ask to be colors on our flag.  Bald eagles did not ask to be our national bird.  Cattle are not widely seen as a symbol of conquest.  Though, it seems reasonable that those who relate to this symbolism might have an aversion to beef in the same way a socialist probably doesn’t wear patriotic clothing and a Lutheran does not keep statues of Mary in their home.  These things can always be explained away, but if something has a symbolic meaning that a person doesn’t want to associate with…it is challenging to navigate the expression of the self (i.e. it’s just a nice statue) with the perceived meaning of the self (i.e. you worship Mary! Catholic!).

Other Ideas:
 Throughout the book, beef is associated with many things.  Beef, or meat in general, is discussed in its relationship to social classes.  For much of history and much of the world, meat was not eaten much my lower classes.  Women and children ate it even less.  Meat was also connected to race and warfare.  There were some interesting passages about how British people viewed their racial superiority as evidenced by their meat consumption.  In the refrigerator logic of Social Darwinism, superior people eat meat because they are higher on the food chain.  Thus, British people looked down upon their imperial subjects as lessers, partially because of their plant based diets. The British even attributed their military successes to their larger rations of meat.  There was even a weird quote from the head of Japan’s McDonalds, Den Fujita, that if Japanese people eat beef for 1,000 years, they will conquer the world and grow blond hair.  Thus, a common thread in the book is the long connection between cattle and conquest.

There are other ideas as well.  Attention is given to factory farming and the rise of McDonalds.  This itself is connected to Taylorism or quick, rational, efficient production.  Horrors of factory farms are given attention.  I am alienated from the production of meat, I can only shiver at the thought of rotten meat, pus, and feces mixed into sausages and hamburgers. Yikes!

The information on hamburgers was quite interesting.  The book observes that hamburgers are deconstructed meat.  This is true, as hamburgers really don’t resemble any particular part or aspect of a cow.  The burger itself could be made from many cows.  This very aspect of the hamburger has historically made them so palatable to me.  They are not a fatty, bony, cow part that advertises its existence as an animal.  It is like red and brown Play Doh.  But, interestingly, many people don’t want their meat to look like living animals.  For instance, people don’t want fish that have eyes and heads.  In contrast, in medieval times, animals were reconstructed.  Bird feathers were put back onto the bird carcass to create the illusion of a living animal.

Conclusion:
The book was a hodgepodge of ideas.  Each chapter was short and no topic was visited for very long, though there were themes.  The goal of the book was to make a case for giving up beef or meat, but the goal was not always overt.  Arguments were not followed to their logical end and ideas were not given enough depth to support some arguments.  So, perhaps the book tried to do too much with too many different ideas and histories.  I don’t think that anyone would read the book and give up beef.  Someone who is already against meat might have a few new ideas to think about.  The conclusion did not seem to flow from the rest of the book, as the conclusion was that more people would question beef eating and work towards a kinder, gentler, more sustainable world.  The flaw of this was that the book never made a convincing argument that beef was the problem.  There is a cart load of problems: Imperialism, conquest, capitalism, and corporate agriculture…but the cart is hardly ox driven.  Thus, the idea that giving up meat will solve these problems is odd.  It is also odd that people would magically reach this conclusion without a social movement or social upheaval.  Thus, while I like that the book covered a lot of economic and historical topics, I dislike that it does not question economic systems which meat is a part of.  In this way, it is materialist, but not Marxist.   Because the materialism is not given direction by any theories regarding social movements or social change, there is no gelatin to hold the ideas and history together.  That is my beef with  Beyond Beef-The Rise and Fall of Cattle Culture  and far too many meat metaphors.

Book Review Two:  The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages

The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages- by Joyce Salisbury, 1994
Have you ever wondered what people in the Middle Ages thought about animals?  I hadn’t either until I saw this gem of a book.  Like Beyond Beef, this book was written in 1994.  It is also a book about meat, but this time, without a political agenda.  This book is much shorter and tighter than Beyond Beef.  The thesis of the book is that throughout the Middle Ages, people came to view animals as less different than humans and humans as less different than animals.  The book is pretty short and sticks to building this thesis, making it a tighter narrative than Beyond Beef.  
 
To begin, the book discusses how Europeans viewed animals in the Early Middle ages, which has some echoes to today.  Back then, animals were seen as separate and beneath humans.  They were created for humans or in the very least, humans were created above them.  In this understanding, animals had value inasmuch as they had use value.  Since they had tremendous use value as food, labor, and transportation, there were many laws to protect animals from theft or misuse.  But, they did not have value for their being living things with any independent value as a life form.  This view makes sense, in that it was a pretty agriculturally centered world so animals had value based upon their usage in this arena.  At the same time, religious views played an interesting role in shaping how people related to animals.  For instance, when there was a larger population in Europe and less land, there were more fasting days in the Catholic calendar.  It is also interesting how Monks ate fetal or just born rabbits as a way to circumvent fasting rules, as this was not considered meat.  Perhaps the criteria was life began with breath, so fetal or just born life could be taken.  Certain kinds of meats were viewed as corrupting forces.  As such, young men were told not to eat rabbit as this would make them promiscuous.  Oddly enough, people believed that hares grew an extra anus for every year they were alive as a sign of their promiscuous nature.  I feel that some of these old fashioned, silly ideas are still with us.  For example, when I wanted to become a vegetarian, my parents told me that God made animals for us to eat them.  This is a very Middle Ages idea!  Even the concept of you are what you eat, which isn’t taken too seriously today, has a Middle Age history.  Finally, the weird things that people give up for Lent, such as Pepsi and Facebook, probably result in no more suffering than baby bunny eating monks endured when they fasted.

It was also interesting to learn how breeds of animals and uses for animals changed over time.  For instance, the book said that Germanic tribes were very fond of pig meat and that in the early middle ages, pigs were allowed to wander and forage in forests.  With time and changes in property, pigs were enclosed in pens.  Also, sheep were mostly used for meat during the early Middle Ages, and only with the introduction of Mediterranean breeds of sheep with heavier wool did they begin to be used more for textiles.  The book also described the rituals surrounding hunts and how dogs were fed special animal parts from a fancy glove as a reward for the hunt or how hawks and dogs were trained to work together to take down larger prey, like cranes.  The breeding and value of horses was also discussed at length.  Like cars today, the coloration and unique markings of a horse became a status symbol.  This was all pretty fascinating.  Also interesting was the evolution of food taboos.  Christians wanted to differentiate themselves from Pagans, which is why they made it taboo to eat horses as this was viewed as a pagan practice.  Likewise, eating animals that gruesomely bled out was also taboo, perhaps a throwback from Jewish dietary laws. Eating raw meat was also viewed as taboo.

I didn’t care for the chapter about sexuality and animals.  It was mildly interesting to learn about laws and punishments for bestiality, but I thought that the book could do without this chapter.  It didn’t add much to the book or the narrative that over time, humans began to see themselves as more animal like and animals as more human.  The book became a bit more interesting again when it discussed myths and stories about animals.  These stories about animals were connected to social relationships.  For instance, animals were used in fables to teach lessons about a person’s place in society.  Fables were used in churches as part of the sermon, as they were popular and easy to understand.  Though, over time secular fables became more popular as well.  Also over time, the types of animals in the stories shifted, with a growing popularity of apes.  Salisbury believed that fables might have helped people to imagine themselves as more animal like and animals more human, though these characters.  There were also a few examples of Saints which according to legend preached to animals or showed exceptional kindness.  This also indicates a shift from a merely utilitarian view of animals.  There was also a growing interest in Bestiaries, or guidebooks which depicted some animal/human hybrids.

While the book maintains a tight and easy to follow thesis, it does not support this thesis adequately.  To support the thesis would require a systematic cultural analysis of 10 centuries and diverse regions.  The book mostly focuses on England, France, and Germany.  It is not clear which years or time periods are discussed throughout the book.  I would like much more social context.  Also, the approach to the supporting the thesis is pretty mixed.  Much of the book focuses on changing ideas, but I would like more political, religious, and economic context.  Why did these changes happen?  Why would viewing animals as more like humans benefit 14th century societies over 4th century societies?  The book is lacking a strong material grounding.  Instead, it flits around between ideas, finally settling on fables.  While a content analysis of fables is provided, it still leaves me wondering why the fables changed over time.  The stories that we tell have a social purpose.  They way that humans relate to animals has some social logic (or at least had some social logic at one time).  With that said, I am not entirely convinced by the thesis.

Still, the book is entertaining and fun.  It provides some interesting tidbits to consider.  If nothing else, it made me consider how we relate to animals today.  Modern relationships to animals are complex and contradictory.  Some farmers continue to have a utilitarian view of livestock.  There are imaginary lines between animals that can be eaten (cows) and those that cannot (dogs).  There are class, gender, and racial lines of how animals are related to.  Cats are seen as feminine.  Steak is masculine.  Girls love ponies.  African Americans do not have the same opportunities to experience wilderness and wild animals.  While science has taught us that humans are indeed animals, this is still hard for people to accept.  It is hard to accept that humans might not be as special and above the rest of nature.  Evolution is still controversial.  So, accepting our connection to animals is still an incomplete process.

Never Alone…in Patriarchy

I do many things alone. I go out to eat alone. I shop alone. I go to fitness classes alone. I go to movies alone. I hike alone. I ski alone. I travel alone.   I  even went to my Senior Prom alone!  I can’t say that I am perfectly comfortable being alone. There are many times that I have just stayed home (alone) rather than go through the trouble of going out alone. Company creates momentum. Company has expectations. Company is also a comfort in unfamiliar situations. While I do things with other people as well, it is the alone time that has got me thinking. As an observation, the vacuum of being alone is always quickly filled by patriarchy.


Let me explain. I am traveling alone again. As I travel alone, I find myself in male spaces and in the male gaze. For instance, I am not an invisible person who ghostlike wanders the streets of Old San Juan. No, I am an object to be called out to, told that I am pretty, followed, harassed, and haunted. These catcalls and compliments are a cultural thing, but it reminds me that I am not alone. My space is invaded. I am sure if I was with a group of females, we might all experience the same. So, maybe it is not only that I am alone. It is a combination of alone and female bodied. More than this, if I consider some of the things I fear the most when traveling the things that pop into my mind tend to be crimes such as sexual assault, being robbed, being threatened with a weapon, or otherwise victimized. In these imagined concerns, the perpetrator is male. Sometimes I walk faster or turn the other way when I see some men. This isn’t to say that a woman could not commit such a crime, but within the context of patriarchy, males are socialized to act more violently and aggressively. When I am alone, I am not really alone, as I am kept company by a sense of fear wrought by the wrongs of patriarchy.   If I am not particularly afraid, then I am still haunted by patriarchy in other ways, though mostly all through its distorted relationships between men and women.   It may not be catcalls, but simple conversations wherein I wonder if I the man who is talking to wants to talk as equal human beings or if he is only talking to me so that he can make some sexual or romantic connection.


I wonder how others experience being alone. Informally, I have been tracking who I see when I am alone. Each time I went cross country skiing/snow shoeing alone this winter, I only met men who were out alone. But, surely women go out in the woods alone too. I also mostly met men when hiking, including finding a homeless man in the Superior municipal forest. When I eat alone, usually if there are other loners they are also men (elderly men). I have also only noted solo men at movies. Of course, this is a small sample and other variables could come into play (such as skiing certain places and watching super hero movies). And, I am probably not paying attention to the solitary women on the Lake Walk or at coffee shops. So, I am more attuned to the lack of females when…..there is a lack of females. But, it does make me wonder if women are less likely to venture out alone. What are the perimeters of patriarchy?


The first perimeter is fear, violence, rape culture, and male dominated spaces. This keeps women from venturing out alone, as a woman who takes risks (going out at night, walking down an alley, going into a bad part of town, keeping bad company) will be blamed for whatever happens to her. The second perimeter is the traditional social roles of women. Women tend to not be alone…as they are with often with others (children, husbands, their aging parents) as caregivers. A solitary woman has either shunned her traditional role as a caregiver or is escaping caregiving for a moment. Thirdly, when a woman finally is alone-patriarchy closes in again-like a circle of crocodiles-through masculinity’s watchful gaze and sexist (or heteronormative) stilted interactions.


My recent time alone has brought this to mind. Until recently I hadn’t considered what it means to be alone in patriarchy. To me, it means…never really being alone.

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