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humanspiritecofem

H.D. Poetry

Hilda Doolittle is, in my opinion, one of the first ecofeminist writers. Her modernist writing enters into a space to challenge and decode gender issues through analyzing the body in relation to nature scenes. She explores a female identity through the pastoral in a way that challenges how it has been used in a typical male point of view. The poem Sheltered Garden in particular, demonstrates a relationship between nature and culture through the example of a confining ‘paradise’.

Sheltered Garden

  1. I have had enough.
  2. I gasp for breath.
  3. Every way ends, every road,
  4. every foot-path leads at last
  5. to the hill-crest —
  6. then you retrace your steps,
  7. or find the same slope on the other side,
  8. precipitate.
  9. I have had enough —
  10. border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies,
  11. herbs, sweet-cress.
  12. O for some sharp swish of a branch —
  13. there is no scent of resin
  14. in this place,
  15. no taste of bark, of coarse weeds,
  16. aromatic, astringent —
  17. only border on border of scented pinks.
  18. Have you seen fruit under cover
  19. that wanted light —
  20. pears wadded in cloth,
  21. protected from the frost,
  22. melons, almost ripe,
  23. smothered in straw?
  24. Why not let the pears cling
  25. to the empty branch?
  26. All your coaxing will only make
  27. a bitter fruit —
  28. let them cling, ripen of themselves,
  29. test their own worth,
  30. nipped, shrivelled by the frost,
  31. to fall at last but fair
  32. with a russet coat.
  33. Or the melon —
  34. let it bleach yellow
  35. in the winter light,
  36. even tart to the taste —
  37. it is better to taste of frost —
  38. the exquisite frost —
  39. than of wadding and of dead grass.
  40. For this beauty,
  41. beauty without strength,
  42. chokes out life.
  43. I want wind to break,
  44. scatter these pink-stalks,
  45. snap off their spiced heads,
  46. fling them about with dead leaves —
  47. spread the paths with twigs,
  48. limbs broken off,
  49. trail great pine branches,
  50. hurled from some far wood
  51. right across the melon-patch,
  52. break pear and quince —
  53. leave half-trees, torn, twisted
  54. but showing the fight was valiant.
  55. O to blot out this garden
  56. to forget, to find a new beauty
  57. in some terrible
  58. wind-tortured place.

H.D.’s poetry presents a woman how has had enough of the beauty of the outdoors, the wild, and searches for a beauty that does not need to be so fragile. This kind of beauty without strength is stifling. The narrative of the poem shifts into a less nurturing and much more violent narrative in the end of the poem, where H.D. creates images for the reader to rethink conventional ideas of beauty and how it is defined in relation to nature. In the majority of H.D.’s poetry, she puts an emphasis on the female perspective of mythologies which have often left women without a voice. By using conventions of the pastoral, such as sweet pink flowers, she is able to critique the presumptions regarding women and express a much more realistic presentation of women.

Ecosexuality

The term “ecosex” is one I have never come across before. According to self-proclaimed ecosexual Annie Sprinkle, it is the process of “exploring the landscape of a new sexual movement [of] Erotic Environmentalism, Green Porn [and] Nature Fetishes”. There is a book written about the topic: Eco Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets written by Stephanie Iris Weiss, explaining how to go green in your sex life through buying eco-friendly sex products.  The book looks interesting and (I’m sure) will become a nightstand accessory for many environmentalists out there, but I believe the idea of ecosexuality is one that can be explored beyond sex toys and latex free condoms.

Reflecting back on Annie Sprinkle, photos of her expressing her ecosexuality are interesting.  These photos depict her as a cultural feminist, upholding a goddess image through her as mother nature: a Gaia-esque presentation holding the world at her abdomen.Despite presenting herself in the image of “mother earth” she and her partner Elizabeth Stephens coined the phrase “Earth is our lover and no longer our mother”. Ecosexuality is encouraging individuals to view nature as our lover, rather than our mother – which holds the potential to adapt a new relationship to the environment as to women:

“People think of the earth as ‘Mother Earth’. But today Earth is so battered, abused, blown-up, exploited, ripped apart and polluted, that she can’t handle the burden of being a ‘Mother’ anymore. It would be better to think of the Earth as a ‘Lover’ because we take care of our lovers instead of expecting them to take care of us”

If the key ideas of ecosexuality could be promoted within Western Society I believe a much different bond would and could develop towards nature and society.  Viewing nature as having “abundant sensual delights, breathtaking beauty, delicious scents, tastes, and occasional temper tantrums” and being “magical, mysterious, curvaceous, exciting and unpredictable” a very sacred and respectful relationship could develop.  The idea of ecosexuality could reframe our understanding of nature; developing the respect need for destructive relationships.  Changing the outlook we currently have on nature’s worth could ultimately refashion the ideologies which support dominating the feminine aspects of binary relationships.

Educating men: taking back the term ‘slut’

Managing the prevention of rape has been targeted as the woman’s responsibility. Why haven’t the tables been reversed and the real issues addressed? The blame should not be put on the victim, but the sexual assaulter – the one who commits the crime.

In response to the comments made by a Toronto police officer at a York University forum who stated “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”, a ‘SlutWalk’ has been organized, where women will march by the Toronto Police Headquarters on April 3rd to raise awareness where blame should be placed.

The following is an interview between Derek Flack and Sonya Barnett, one of SlutWalk’s cofounders.

I’ve already heard a few people already make rumblings about the name of the walk, and yet to a great extent, this idea of reclamation is the most important part. Can you explain why you and your fellow organizers chose to call your event SlutWalk Toronto and how you hope you might be able to re-appropriate the term?

It was an easy decision. Within minutes of hearing about the incident at York, it was the first thing that popped into my mind. And co-founder Heather Jarvis was in quick agreement. With both of us being sexually confident people, we already associate with the modern terminology surrounding ‘slut.’ We use them term positively to define someone who isn’t ashamed of their sexual, consensual proclivities, and this incident seemed like the perfect launching point to spread this definition. If you’re going to throw out the word ‘slut’, be prepared take backlash — and that goes for both the officer and the members of SlutWalk. We knew we would offend people with the use of the word, but we’d like people to understand that language can be re-appropriated for contemporary use. Sticking to archaic terminology just isn’t logical as society moves forward.

We’ve heard a lot of backlash against us that the officer’s heart ‘was in the right place’ when he made that remark. As much as we understand that he may have been trying to be helpful, he should be expressing his information from statistics that show sexual assaults have nothing to do with appearance, and that it more often occurs in instances where people know each other, or it’s abuse of physically or mentally disabled people, or children. There are heavier stats on these instances of sexual violence than the misguided idea of people walking down a dark alley wearing fishnets, ‘asking for it.’ To be helpful, officers should be working within more relative forms of discussion instead of throwing around sexual epithets.

Do you worry that there’s a danger in trying to guide this re-appropriation process? Put differently, is there a concern that an event like this could actually further ingrain problematic stereotypes, and thereby lessen its positive impact?

If we don’t guide re-appropriation, who will? Using language pejoratively shouldn’t be taken lightly, as it does a lot of damage. With the stereotypical idea of ‘slut’ comes the mindset that such a person is less deserving of respect, and in this instance, a safe environment. Of course there are people who will hold on to the word, because it’s hard to unlearn years of societal training. But it’s been proven with words like ‘queer’ and ‘fag’ that if you work hard enough, you can take a word and redirect its purpose. I may be naive, but I find it hard to believe that a cause that became 2000-strong within 4 weeks would actually hinder our mission. If you just look at all the intelligent and considered conversations on our Facebook page, you can see that people are determined to spread the word and help educate those who need it. But there is a catch, as we’ve discovered: this education is certainly easier when someone is open to hearing what we have to say. We know it’s not going to happen overnight, as we’re certainly not the first people to take up a heartfelt cause against sexual violence. But we’re willing to try our damnedest.

What would the ideal response from the police be when you arrive at their headquarters on April 3rd?

Although some people think that our mission is to vilify the Toronto Police and ask for the offending officer’s head on a plate, that’s definitely not the case, and wouldn’t help anybody. What we want is an open discourse with our Protective Services so we can discuss retraining against slut-shaming and sexual profiling, and we want certain aspects of that training to completely change direction: to move the onus away from someone who does not want to be victimized, and onto those who intend to victimize. As Hilary Beaumont so eloquently said ‘Society teaches don’t get raped, rather than don’t rape.’ This needs to change.

We’ve actually sent an invitation to Bill Blair to speak at the event once we land at Police HQ. We hope he accepts.

Do you see this as a potentially annual event?

Initially we thought not, as it was really a response to one event that moved us into action. But the attention we’ve been getting is fantastic, so who knows what the future holds for SlutWalk. There are already Satellite SlutWalks happening and in planning, so it’s great that others are motivated to keep the word spreading.

How many people are you hoping will participate?

Funnily enough, when we first started up, we had planned to be happy with 50. But because we’ve touched so many people and sparked so many conversations around the city and now around the world, it would be great if all 1217 people who have so far RSVP’d to our Facebook event actually showed up. Strength in numbers.

Speaking of numbers:

  • More than a third of women have experienced some form of sexual assault in their life since age 16.
  • More than 93 per cent of reported adult sexual assault victims are female, while more than 97 per cent of those accused are male.
  • The victim and the accused are known to each other in 82 per cent of cases — as friends, acquaintances or family members.
  • An estimated 15 per cent of female university students experience sexual assault.
  • Fewer than 10 per cent of sexual assault victims report the crime to the police
  • Studies estimate the economic cost of violence against women across Canada is in the billions of dollars. This includes the costs of health, criminal justice and social services.

Not only have figures of authority insinuated that by not dressing like a slut will protect women from being victimized, judges have given lax sentences to sexual offenders, claiming the men have been under “inviting circumstances”, “lured by [their] victims [clothing]”, and that women who had a lot to drink at a bar had created “an opportunistic event” through dressing provocatively and drawing attention to themselves. These constant messages that women should protect herself from predators creates a space for blaming the victim.  This approach needs to end.  Women should not be forced to take the blame when – and let me be frank here – men should learn how to keep their dicks in their pants.  Women should not have to adjust their actions when men cannot control theirs. When women’s claims of rape and sexual assault are made illegitimate and wrongly accuse the women of being in the wrong. This kind of domination and fear of every man having the potential to be a rapist is very unsettling as a woman.  Exploiting women’s bodies has been made a priority for women to ratify.  The SlutWalk is a great example of women taking a public space and reasserting their own sexuality publicly, raising awareness of how absurd the prevention of rape campaigns have been directed at women.  Focus needs to be put on men understanding that women’s bodies cannot be harnessed for their own needs.

Kent Monkman’s Shooting Geronimo

Shooting Geronimo is an amazing short film by Kent Monkman. Unfortunately, it is no where to be found on the internet but is available at the York University Sound and Moving Image Library! I took a number of screen shots for a visual understanding of the film.

The short film opens with a backdrop of rocks, a cactus and distant mountains to depict a traditional landscape of “somewhere in the old west”. This landscape encourages the viewer to think about “Cowboys and Indians” in the Wild West through this imagery, as well as the garb worn by a Native man. These images write the script of “being Native” in the wilderness. The men, later revealed as Johnny Silvercloud and Blake Tenderfoot, wear this stereotypical “Indian” clothing when in front of the backdrop of the wilderness. This depiction of wilderness and Native practice are paralleled in the film, presenting the men in the image of an “authentic Indian man” to the colonial white man behind the camera. The construction of this Native identity is done so in conjunction with nature.  It is the setting of the wilderness that encourages these stereotypes and supports the preconceived notions of “Cowboys and Indians”.

This shot demonstrates the ideas about a Native culture, and how the colonizer behind the camera perpetuates the stereotypes. The Native men are encouraged to uphold these identities. The fictions and images of Native men in a wilderness setting have come to stand in for the real and are authenticated as truth. The perception of “Indian-ness” is constructed through a racist lens, focused on the stereotyped ideas of Native culture and it’s relationship to nature and wilderness at it’s most authentic or real.

The Lonesome Rider is introduced on screen, a body which challenges these notions of “Indian-ness” and disrupts the dualism between a Cowboy and an Indian in the wilderness.

The white colonizer stands behind the camera, critiquing Johnny Silvercloud’s facial expressions, insinuating that they are not masculine, somber or stern enough. He is not performing the Indian-ness the white man wants to capture.

The white man looks to Blake Tenderfoot to perform on stage as the Red Menance, believing he can present himself in the authentic image of the ‘Indian’ he seeks to portray better than the former.

The “Ghost Dance of the American Indian” is a one of the most prominent dances of Native culture.

The men are asked to perform this dance, but are stopped when the white colonizer exclaims, “No, more authentic … like this!” and proceed to dance in circles while patting his mouth, assuming the stereotypes of Native American dance. This white man has identified himself to be more authentic at dancing a Native American dance than the two men he is filming.

This shot consists of The Lonesome Rider, Silvercloud and Tenderfoot dancing freely; the two men mirroring her actions.  We see her challenge the space for Native American identity through her queer body. She is challenging white power through rearticulating how a space of wilderness can be used.

The three dancers challenge the colonial requests and use their bodies to recreate the traditional Ghost Dance through moves I can only equate to hip-hop and break dancing.

This scene has jumped to the white man reminding Silvercloud that as the Red Menace, he is a “fierce renegade”. To demonstrate this Indian-ness he wants Silvercloud to perform, the colonizer puts on the wig of long black hair to “show” him how a Native man should act. He initiates a mock fight, hiding behind a large rock on set with an axe to explain the actions of the “Indian” identity.

He continues on to tell Silvercloud, “Now the Cowboy shoots the Indian” while performing the role of the “Indian”.  We see a reversal of these roles of Cowboys and Indians when the Native man kills the white man. While this is happening, The Lonesome Rider watches, symbolizing the disruption of these stereotypes.

This short film challenged the cultural roles of the colonizer and the Native man in nature, and the concepts associated with their identities.  These stereotyped identities of Native men are presented very sexually and encourage by the amateur filmmaker, as Monkman also presents a homoerotic desire depicted in the film by the white man. The identities are founded on their relationship with nature, and the film challenges how the landscape of the West creates a fictional identity of “Indian-ness”

Civilization and Its Discontents

The following is an excerpt from Freud’s, Civilization and Its Discontents:

“During the last few generations mankind has made an extraordinary advance in the natural sciences and in their technical application and has established his control over nature in a way never before imagined. […] they seemed to have observed that this newly won power over space and time, this subjugation of the forces of nature, which is the fulfillment of a longing that goes back thousands of years, has not increased the amount of pleasurable satisfaction which they may expect from life and has not made them feel happier.  From the recognition of this fact we ought to be content to conclude that power over nature is not the only precondition of human happiness, just as it not the only goal of cultural endeavour; we ought not to infer form it that technical progress is without value for the economics of our happiness” (Freud 40)

Well, I guess Freud says it best – there is a desire for a power over nature so great that, while it is not the only way for humans to be happy, it’s a considerable part of it.

This kind of control which man has discovered he can have over nature creates a “pleasurable satisfaction”.  This kind of satisfaction, according to Freud, is necessary for human happiness through the domination or to have power over space, time and forces of nature. Power over nature is a considerable building block to the foundation of our human pleasure and contentedness. This kind of control has escalated from advances in natural sciences made fifty years ago, and the ones we have made in the last five. The power that human civilization searches for becomes exponentially greater as our society takes steps toward considerably more dangerous advances in the natural sciences, advances which threaten human life yet paradoxically bring satisfaction in having this kind of power. If we are to examine this quote by replacing “nature” with the word “woman” we can see how similar Freud’s observations about human nature’s ambitions to dominate nature, and man’s ambitions to dominate woman. Although man’s ultimately happiness is not determined solely by control of the other or unknown, there is a power dynamic to this control which satisfies a particular craving for power.

Elephant Caught Cheating!

This article, published my NPR caught my eye originally because of my interest (some may call it a mild obsession) in elephants. As I read through this piece, I couldn’t help but notice the anthropomorphic language used to describe these elephants and their characteristics. I understand the appeal of testing an animals intelligence, and finding information on learning and problem solving capabilities; I do, however, find the language to be filled with stereotyped sexism, playing on ideas of how men and women relate to each other in a kind of essentialist dualism of “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” and imposed onto the relationship between animals.  The language of the article encourages the reader to think about this species in the way we would about our own. It uses characteristics – which it equates to those of male specific one near the end of the article – to explain the behaviour of this “cheating” elephant in a negative light. It refers to the female elephant named Neua Un, as “lazy”, “freeloading”, and “the smartest elephant of all, if you admire a cheat”. The article goes on further to suggest Neua Un has “figures out how to do something human males have been doing for years; she tricked her partner into becoming … a waitress”.

Ok, let’s pause here. Is this article admiring Neua Un for acting like a stereotypical man? The elephant is applauded for her work (or lack of) of manipulating the other female elephant to be her waitress. This kind of validation is not only perpetuating the acceptance for the power binary between men and women, but also through equating this kind of behaviour in nature as favourable. Imposing this kind of ideological conception about male/female relationship onto wild animals demonstrates how deeply our own perceptions about naturally occurring characteristics of men and women run.

The “theatrical show” Neua Un puts on for her partner to “serve the meal” uses a kind of 1960s vocabulary to describe what was expected of women from men in this era, oppressive gender roles which can still be found today.  By suggesting that she has tricked her partner into becoming the waitress implies that the relationship between the one in power and the one being manipulated can be reflected in terms of a male/female relationship.

This kind of discourse is a clear example of how domination of women can be manipulated into speaking about nature and the natural acts or intelligence of other species. In doing so, it reveals a perpetuating link between exerting power over the weak and researchers are surprised this female acts in such a manipulative manner. It is clear from this article, domination of the less intelligent sex is in parallel with domination over women.