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Feminist Astronomy

 

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Feminist Astronomy

H. Bradford

Each month, the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition hosts a “Feminist Frolic.”  A Feminist Frolic is an outdoor adventure combined with an educational presentation.  This month’s presentation was on feminist stargazing, which was held at Wisconsin Point.  The goal of the presentation is to enjoy the outdoors and become familiar with the celestial bodies in the night sky, while connecting science and mythology to a feminist perspective.  With that said, I am certainly not an expert on astronomy, but I enjoy learning about many topics and astronomy is one of them.  Thus, the following is a brief tour of our universe from the perspective of feminist.

Moon:

moon

The moon is a great place to begin, November 14th marks the super moon.  A super moon is a moon appears larger than normal because it has become full when at perigee, or closest distance to the earth.  Perigee is a word used to describe the nearest point to earth in an orbital path, while apogee is the furthest.  Similarly, the terms perihelion and aphelion are used to describe the earth’s closest and furthest points in its orbit around the sun.  Super moons happen every thirteen months or so, but this one will look particularly large because the moon will become full just two hours from its perigee.  This super moon will be the largest in appearance since 1948.


Even when the moon is not at perigee or full it is super!  And, to many people it has had a connection to women.  In many mythologies, the moon was believed to be a goddess.  The Greeks saw the moon as Artemis, the sister of the sun god, Apollo.  In Chinese legends, the moon was a woman named Chang’e, who drank an immortality elixir to avoid having it fall into the hands of her husband’s rival Fengmeng.  The elixir caused her to float away from earth and away from her mortal husband, where she went to dwell on the moon.  Mayan people have had many beliefs about the moon over time.  In one tale, the moon goddess is the daughter of the Earth God.  The Moon Goddess sleeps with the Sun God, which upsets her father, who destroys her.  Her blood covers the earth, but is collected in thirteen jars from which insects, poison, and disease are created.  However, the blood is also the origin of medicine and a new moon.  The connection between the moon, life, blood, and femininity mark the connection people made between the moon and menstruation.


The moon orbits around the earth every 28 days (or 27.32 to be more exact) in what is called a sidereal month.  To ancient people, the orbit of the moon around the earth was not immediately obvious.  The most obvious change in the moon was the procession of moon phases, or which cycle in a synodic month.  The moon cycles through phases every 29.53 days.  Thus, ancient people marked the passage of time with changes in the phases of the moon.  In fact, the name month comes from the word moon. Many cultures, such as Chinese, Babylonians, Germanic, Hebrew, Arabic, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tibetans, used lunar or lunar solar calendars to mark their year.  Today, Muslims follow a lunar calendar, which is why holidays like Ramadan fall on different dates each year.  A menstrual cycle is about as long as the lunar cycle, so ancient people may have connected the moon to goddesses and fertility.  The word menstruation itself comes from mensis, the Latin word for month and mene, the Greek word for moon.  However, there is no scientific evidence that there is a correlation between menstruation/fertility and lunar phases.


While the moon may only be feminine in a metaphoric sense, it certainly has life-giving qualities in the scientific sense.  Not unlike Chang’e, who drifted further and further away from her mortal husband, the moon is drifting further and further away from earth at a rate of 1.5 inches per year.  As it does this, the earth’s rotation is slowing down as it loses gravitational energy.  When life began evolving on earth 3.8 billion years ago, the moon was twice as close and days were half as long!  Some scientists believe that the violent tidal activity may have enabled the evolution of life, by tossing around the proto-nucleic acids that eventually formed into DNA.  Tides themselves allowed for ocean dwelling creatures to evolve into terrestrial life, by creating a nether environment between land and sea.  The moon also created the conditions of life by stabilizing our climate and slowing our rotation.  Before a Mars sized object slammed into the earth, creating the moon, the earth rotated every six hours.  The moon’s gravitational pull slowed us down, resulting in less severe weather and daily temperature changes.  The moon’s gravitational pull also stabilized our axial tilt, resulting in static seasons and a stable distribution of oceans.  Thus, in a way, the moon is a giver of life to our planet!


Venus:

    Another celestial body with a connection to women is the planet, Venus.  This month, Venus can be seen in the early evening Western sky.  Venus is the brightest of the planets and looks like a large, peach colored star.  Because of its proximity to the sun, Venus is never seen above 45 degrees from the horizon, which is another clue of how to locate this planet in the night sky.  Venus is a unique planet because it has the longest rotational period of all of the planets.  A day on Venus is 243 days and it rotates in an opposite direction than all of the other planets.  Venus has a dense atmosphere that is 96.5% carbon dioxide.  This makes Venus the hottest planet, as it has a runaway greenhouse effect of trapped heat.  The average temperature on Venus is 864 degrees Fahrenheit, which is enough to melt lead.  Due to the thick atmosphere, the atmospheric pressure on the surface of Venus is same as we would experience at 3,000 feet below the ocean on Earth.  If the heat and atmospheric pressure are not hellish enough, the planet features clouds made of sulfuric acid and a water-less landscape of thousands of volcanoes.  Because of the hostile environment on Venus, studying the planet has been challenging.  The Soviet Union was the first country to successfully send a probe to Venus through its Venera program.   The Soviet Union began launching probes in 1961, but did not successfully land on the planet until 1966 with Venera III.  Venera IV was destroyed by the atmospheric pressure before it could collect data.  Venera V managed to collect 53 minutes of data.  Venera 7 survived for 23 minutes on the surface of Venus before it was destroyed by heat and pressure.  Later Venera probes managed to send back photos.  It is coincidentally sexist that the most hostile planet is also the only planet named after a woman.

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The Sumerians connected the planet Venus with the goddess Inanna.  They believed that Venus was a morning star and an evening star, since they only saw the planet at those times of day (as it is only visible when rising and setting due to its proximity to the sun).  Inanna was the goddess of fertility, love, and war.  To Ancient people, the planet Venus moved in unpredictable ways, which accounted for Inanna’s warlike, capricious, and duplicitous personality.  The Greeks associated Venus with Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love.  The cult of Aphrodite drew from love goddesses of the near east, including the practice of ritual prostitution in temples to her.  The Greeks also borrowed the idea of Venus as a morning star and evening star from Babylonian astronomy.


Beyond mythology, the volatile and hostile nature of Venus has been used to stereotype women in modern times.   Although it is dated, the best example is the 1992 book Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus, which reifies the gender differences between men and women through relationship advice that panders to gender stereotypes.  In the worldview of the book, men withdraw and women seek closeness.  However, humans are complex.  Some women are emotionally withdrawn, some men seek closeness intimacy, and all humans exhibit these traits to varying degrees.  By stereotyping women as out of control, unpredictable, irrational, or emotional, it dismisses their perspectives, experiences, needs, and oppression.  The woman who asserts herself and her rights is thus dismissed as an irrational, angry feminist rather than a clear-thinking critic of social ills.  Of course, ancient people had no idea about the hostile nature of the planet.  Still, they chose to personify the mysterious planet as a foreboding female.


Taurid and Leonid Meteor Showers:


    The month of November features two meteor showers.  The Taurid Meteor shower peaks this weekend around the 11th and 12th, but can be viewed until early December.  The meteors appear to originate near the constellation Taurus and are best seen after midnight.  While the Taurids only yield a few meteors per hour, it is a shower that is likely to create fireballs.  Fireballs are simply meteors that are particularly bright.  The Taurids are the caused by debris left behind by the comet named Encke.  Encke is a small comet which orbits the sun every 3.3 years.


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The Leonids also appear in November.  This meteor shower peaks around the 17th of the month and is created from the debris left behind by Temple-Tuttle, a comet which orbits the sun every 33 years.  The Leonids can feature more spectacular meteor storms.  For instance, in 1833, it yielded over 100,000 meteors per hour in 1833.  This meteor storm was noted by Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and Joseph Smith.  Smith believed it was a sign of the coming of Christ.  The 1833 meteor shower resulted in the first accurate explanation of their origin as particles in space.  Meteorites, or meteors that land on earth, have been valued since ancient times.  The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was believed to be built where a meteorite landed.  Meteorites were also used as a source of iron for tools and weapons by ancient and indigenous peoples.


Ursa Major/The Big Bear:

Moving on to constellations, we can begin with Ursa Major.  This is the easiest constellation to find because the seven large, bright stars that make up the asterism called the Big Dipper.  An asterism is just another word for a pattern of stars, and in this case, the dipper is part of a much larger constellation in the shape of a long tailed bear.  Many groups of people saw a bear in the sky when they looked at this pattern of stars.  However, Anishinaabe saw a fisher instead.  Arabs saw a coffin and several mourners.  The Chinese saw a wall.


In the Greek version of the story of Ursa Major, the bear was once a nymph named Callisto, who served Artemis, the virginal goddess of hunting.  Zeus found Callisto to be particularly attractive, so he disguised himself as Artemis to gain her trust, then raped her.  He then abandoned her for Mount Olympus, offering no support to her or the son that she eventually had as the result of the rape.  Rather than feeling sympathetic towards Callisto after the sexual assault, Zeus’ wife Hera became jealous of her.  Out of jealousy, she turned Callisto into a bear, leaving her human son, Arcas, without both a mother and a father.  Eventually, Arcas grew up and became a hunter himself.  He happened upon his mother, in the form of a bear, and tried to kill her.  Finally, Zeus intervened and turned Arcas into a bear so that he would not kill his own mother.  He then placed both mother and son, in the form of bears, in the sky where they remain as the Big Bear and Little Bear.

callisto-arcas


As a whole, the Greek version of the story can be connected to the idea of rape culture as it features elements such as the entitlement of powerful men, rape as commonplace, and victim blaming.  Zeus raped women in many stories in Greek mythology, but there is little consequence for him but the jealousy of his wife.  Because of this, the rape is never taken seriously, and Zeus himself is a forgivable Bill Clinton or Donald Trump sort who can’t resist the ladies.  Boys will be boys…and Gods will be gods!  His biggest problem in life is his harping wife, Hera.  While the victims of rape in Greek mythology are depicted as virginal and pretty, often putting up some kind of resistance, they don’t have much agency.  Callisto has a son, becomes a bear, is almost murdered, then gets thrown into the sky.  Becoming a bear was a punishment from Hera.  So, Zeus was never punished.  Instead, the victim was blamed.  Perhaps this illustrates that women don’t always have the power to punish men, so they learn to punish other women.


On a final note, the Big Dipper, which makes up the body and tail of Ursa Major, is also known as the Drinking Gourd.  It is believed that slaves used this asterism to find their way north, as the two stars at the chest of the bear or front of the gourd point up to the North Star.


Ursa Minor/The Little Bear/Polaris     

ursa_major_-_ursa_minor_-_polaris

Following the two stars at the front of the dipper cup, upwards, one can find the North Star, or polaris.  Polaris makes up the end of the tail of the Little Dipper/Little Bear/Ursa Minor.  In Greek mythology, the small bear was Callisto’s son, Arcas.  The Little Bear is much smaller than the Big Dipper and the stars are far dimmer.  Even Polaris is not all that bright and noticeable.  Polaris, or the North Star, can be used to find north.  The star happens to be located near the Earth’s axis.  As such, as the earth spins, the constellations appear to move around Polaris, which stays still.  The height of Polaris in the night sky can help a person figure out their latitude.  The further a person travels north, the higher polaris appears in the sky.


Bootes:

    If you follow the star (Alkaid) at the end of the tail of Ursa Major in an arc to the next brightest star, you will find the constellation Bootes.  This bright star is called Arcturus, or guardian of the bear.  It is part of an asterism of the same name, which is shaped like a diamond.  This diamond shaped asterism is itself part of Bootes, the bear herder or bear watcher.  The story of Bootes and his relationship to his neighbors, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, is murky.  Nevertheless, Arcturus has a rich history.  For instance, the star was used by Polynesians to navigate north from Tahiti to Hawaii, as once it appeared overhead above the equator, the Polynesians knew to turn west towards Hawaii.


Draco:

draco1

    While star gazing near the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, it is worthwhile to point out Draco, a giant constellation which literally snakes between the two constellations.  Nine of the stars in Draco are known to have planets orbiting them.  To the ancient Greeks, the constellation represented Ladon, a giant serpent killed by Hercules or the serpent child of Gaia.  In Roman myth, Draco was a serpent defeated by the goddess Minerva and tossed into the sky.  In Arabic astronomy, the constellation represented four mother camels protecting a baby camel from two hyenas that were trying it.

minoansnakegoddess2a

Serpents have a long been connected with women.  In the Greek story, Ladon guarded the apples of Hesperides, a tree owned by Hera which offered immortality.  This serpent, woman, and magical tree story is also part of Christian beliefs.  In Christianity, the serpent convinces Eve to eat from the fruit of knowledge, which introduces sin into the world.  Interestingly, Islam and Judaism do not have the concept of original sin, so Eve’s introduction of sin into the world is a Christian belief.  Some feminists have argued that ancient matriarchal religions often involved a serpent goddess or serpent cult.  For instance, Minoan figurines of a woman handling snakes have been found on Crete.  It is believed that these figures could represent fertility and renewal and that Minoans had a goddess centered/woman centered religion.  Temples to the Phoenician goddess, Astarte, were also decorated with serpent motifs.  Some feminists have argued that the association of serpents and women was a way to honor female sexuality and that the advent of patriarchy re-cast serpents and goddesses as evil characters.


Cassiopeia:

Another iconic constellation is Cassiopeia, which can be found this month by looking to the northeastern sky for a “W” or “M” shape in the sky.  This is another circumpolar constellation, so it can be seen all year, but moves higher and northward as the evening progresses.  Although Cassiopeia is usually depicted as white, the Greeks believed she was an Ethiopian queen of unrivaled beauty.  Perhaps the whitewashing of the constellation represents European artists inability to view Black as beautiful or consider Black people as powerful leaders.  Because of her boastfulness about her beauty, she was placed in the sky and her daughter, Andromeda was tied to a rock to be eaten by Cetus the sea monster.  The Persians also saw a queen when they saw the constellation Cassiopeia.  They saw a queen with with a crescent moon and a staff.  Celtic people saw Anu, the mother goddess in this pattern of stars.  Arab astronomers saw the constellation as a hand that had been tinted with Henna.  Thus, many cultures envisioned something feminine when viewing this constellation.

cassiopeia                              Cassiopeia: a suspiciously white looking Ethiopian queen….

Andromeda:


The Andromeda galaxy can be found as it is a blurry spot located between Cassiopeia and the constellation Andromeda.  The deeper “V” of Cassiopeia points to the galaxy.  The Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million light years away and is the nearest galaxy to our own.  Interestingly, the Andromeda galaxy is expected to collide with the Milky Way in 3.75 billion years.  While objects in the universe are actually moving away from each other, the gravitational force between the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxy is enough to offset this expansion and pull into each other.  This could result in a new elliptical galaxy once the two combine.  While the impact on our own solar system is unknown, it could result in an entirely different night sky!  The Andromeda galaxy is the only object that we can see outside of our galaxy with the naked eye (in the northern hemisphere).


In Greek mythology, Andromeda was the daughter of the Ethiopian queen and king Cassiopeia and Cepheus.  In art, she is almost always depicted as white, despite her heritage.  After she was chained to a rock to be fed to a monster, she was rescued by the Greek hero Perseus.   Of course, Andromeda was already promised in marriage to Phineas, whom Perseus conveniently turned to stone by showing the Gorgon’s head.  Later, when Andromeda died, she was placed in the sky by Athena as a constellation, after which the galaxy was named.

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Andromeda: the very white looking princess of Ethiopia…as seen in the film Clash of the Titans.

Milky Way:

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If the night is dark and clear enough, it is easy to spot the Milky Way, which looks like a pale cloud of stars spread across the entire skydome.  Everything we see when we look into the night sky (without a telescope and with the exception of Andromeda) is part of the Milky Way galaxy.  The band that is seen overhead is the view of disc of our galaxy, made up of billions of stars.  Our eyes cannot differentiate the light of these billions of stars, so we see them as a misty arc across the sky.  The dark areas within the band are clouds of dust.


To Babylonians, the Milky Way represented the tail of Tiamat.  Tiamat was a primordial serpent goddess who mothered an ancient generation of gods, who in turn parented another generation of gods, whom she sought to destroy with eleven monsters.  In Greek mythology, the Milky Way was created by Hera’s breast milk, which spilled when Hercules tried to suckle too aggressively.  This sounds painful and terrible.  Despite Hera’s victim blaming of Zeus’ rape victims, perhaps she can be sympathized with for her horrible experience with breastfeeding.  Just as women sometimes shame other women for their sexual assaults, women shame other women for breast feeding or not breast feeding.  This only serves to divide women from their common interests, thereby doing the dirty work of patriarchy without men.  Egyptians also saw the Milky Way as milk, though they saw it as cow’s milk and personified it as Bat, the goddess of fertility.  Estonians saw the Milky Way as the wedding veil of a spurned goddess and the Chinese saw it as a bridge of birds used to unite two lovers.


Pleiades:  


the-pleiades-2

The Pleiades are a cluster of related stars that can be found near Taurus.  In the early evening, they are lower on the horizon, situated downward from Cassiopeia.  The star cluster is one of the nearest clusters to Earth and only about 100 million years old.  In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the Seven Sisters, or seven nymphs who served Artemis.  In one version of the myth, they were put into the night sky by Zeus to protect them from Orion, who still chases them across the sky.  Presumably, Orion was chasing after them to sexually assault them.  Thus, this is one of many Greek myths involving women being turned into something else to avoid rape.  Other stories include Apollo and Daphne (who was turned into a tree), Philomela (who became a nightingale after she was raped), Leda (who was raped by Zeus in the form of a swan), and Europa (who was raped by Zeus in the form of a bull, and is also a moon of Jupiter).  Even Hera, Zeus’ sister, was raped by him, which is why she married him.


Aside from the Greeks, several other cultures saw them as women.  The Mono people saw the stars as six wives who left their husbands to eat onions in the sky.  Lakotas saw them as seven women who were giving birth.  Cheyenne envisioned them as seven puppies conceived by a young woman who fell in love with a mysterious human in the form of a dog.  The Basotho people of southern Africa saw them as planter women, as their disappearance from the night sky marked the onset of winter.  To the Javanese, the stars represented seven princesses and the beginning of the rice planting season.  Of course, to some people the stars were brothers, stored grain, the head of a tiger, and a market place.  Nevertheless, many sisters or wives are a common interpretation of the star cluster.

 

Conclusion:

    The supermoon made it a bit more challenging to see these these celestial objects/phenomenon.  Certainly, there is far more to see in the night sky.  This is just a tiny sample of our wondrous universe.  Hopefully the presentation offered a little bit of science, some interesting stories and legends, as well as some insight about the role of women on Earth and in the cosmos.  Join us next month for another fun filled feminist frolic!

 

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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