Women and Dirt
“Her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not knowing how to fly.” —The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir
I wanted to write a thing about dirt. I finally got fully back into the garden this weekend, digging beds and planting a gazillion onions, and spent the time thinking about what dirt is and how it’s death and life all in one, and how gorgeous the compost pile is that got delivered from the local compost service. How it’s this soft, beautiful dirt and how weird that I know it started out as my (and other locals’) carrot tops and compostable takeout containers and bio bags and steak bones and lemon peels and coffee grounds. And given enough heat and time it all turned into dirt that will now be turned back into food. A freaking miracle.
I’m still waiting to write about my book (the book on ownership that every publisher turned down so I’ll be publishing it on here chapter-by-chapter as I write them) more formally once I’m ready to focus more of my time on this newsletter, but it seems like a good time to share a proposal snippet from the chapter summary on ownership of people:
“When Mary Wollstonecraft wrote in her 1792 treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman that she wished women to have power over themselves, she was attacking their status as property, their position of being considered less human than men. Wollstonecraft reminded readers that it was impossible for women to have any rights at all if they did not first have the right to themselves.”
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is a tricky (and often problematic) document to untangle and interpret over two hundred years after its publication, but it’s also just one detailing how long women have had to live without autonomy over themselves. Ourselves. Silvia Federici’s 2004 book Caliban and the Witch goes into this history in greater depth, and shows the entanglement of women’s oppression with peasant resistance against feudalism and the earliest stirrings of capitalism:
“The state has spared no efforts in its attempt to wrench from women’s hands the control over reproduction, and to determine which children should be born, where, when, or in what numbers. Consequently, women have often been forced to procreate against their will, and have experienced an alienation from their bodies, their ‘labor,’ and even their children, deeper than that experienced by any other workers. No one can describe in fact the anguish and desperation suffered by a woman seeing her body turn against herself, as must occur in the case of an unwanted pregnancy.”
And Gerda Lerner, in her 1986 book The Creation of the Patriarchy (I’m indebted to Garrett Bucks for first making me aware of this book and Lerner’s work) goes further back, four thousand years or more to the first takings and enslavement of women as part of warfare and then of ownership and debt, especially in agricultural societies:
“Women themselves became a resources, acquired by men much as the land was acquired by men. . . .
But it is not women who are reified and commodified, it is women’s sexuality and reproductive capacity which is so treated. The distinction is important.”
“Revolutionary thought,” she wrote, “has always been based on upgrading the experience of the oppressed.”
I know I’ve said it too many times before but I’ll probably keep saying it: any argument that society is currently at war with itself due to an unraveling of shared national narratives ignores the reality that those narratives were only shared—and imposed—by a very few people who benefited from them. And still are.
Last weekend I dug beds and moved compost and planted onions and cut potato starts to cure and today I’m going to leave my work and screen and plant peas and carrots and then go look for some thyme and lavender and sage plants to give the raspberry canes and gooseberry bushes some company while they huddle under the snow next winter. And then listen to my kids talk about Wings of Fire lore and Fortnite moves and make dinner and while I’m at it go and read one of my favorite of Chris La Tray’s nails-it-every-time essays:
“The constant battle with despair and disillusionment that life just isn’t what we want it to be. But it never will be, it will just ... be. The only thing we can control is how we engage with it. Some of us just need to get over our own bullshit. Some of us require medication, some of us require the company of good friends. Whatever we require it’s okay to require it, and it’s okay to request it. Let’s lean on each other.”
On my way home today I watched a bald eagle glide overhead and damn if that sight doesn’t make me catch my breath every time.
Bonus photo: Because
Some stuff to read or listen to:
Someone recently told me about the All My Relations podcast and I particularly enjoyed the episodes The Border Crossed Us and Beyond Blood Quantum: “DNA can be useful . . . but it’s not going to tell us a damn thing about identity.”
Lee Nellis’s Four Bold Ideas to Save Greater Yellowstone in Mountain Journal reminded me that where there is true vision of a better world, it can also be paired with ideas of how to get there: “We have to point out that the dominant narrative is ruthless. If we don’t have the faith it requires, we must still further its ends, just to live.”
Building Local Power had a great episode detailing the ways that corporations’ massive local and state subsidies undermine true economic development and community. (One change I’ve always wondered about is if public-private partnerships could require full disclosure. So many of these deals are done in secret or with non-disclosed terms; I don’t see why they can’t be required to be fully open if the corporations involved want to use public funds.)
Anthropologist Alan Goodman and professor of biological sciences Joseph L. Graves Jr. writing in Sapiens on athleticism, IQ, and the myth of race: “Athleticism is a complex trait—combining strength, coordination, speed, and other skills. An individual’s athletic prowess is influenced by 120 different genetic markers found across the globe and by a wide range of environmental and cultural factors. Thus, the best explanation for the historical patterns of differences in elite competition relate to economic, social, and cultural factors, not genetic ones.”
The War on Cars hosts went to the annual Auto Show and talked with salespeople about Very Big Trucks and Things: “He’s basically saying that the styling of the car is an incitement to violence.” One interesting shift toward the end of the episode: downstairs in the area devoted to active mobility such as e-bikes, the salespeople used words like “humble.” The difference in the way the car people versus the bike people talked about their products said everything about the way they view how a human should be in the world with other humans.
Ed Simon writing in Nautilus on Dougal Dixon’s 1981 book After Man and what messages it carries for our evolution: “After Man’s operative aesthetic is one of scientific wonder. It reminds us that imagination can be as central as analysis in a scientific endeavor, and that our attraction to the sciences is as poetic and lyrical as they are logical and pragmatic.”
Threshold Season 4 is all about climate change, and the last two episodes were part of a three-part series they’re doing on steel. It’s really fascinating, especially the most recent one detailing the ways in which the Industrial Revolution and America’s steel industry were built and dependent on slavery, with a legacy that continues into today’s hollowed-out communities and environmental “sacrifice zones.”
Thanks as always to Laurie Brown and the Pondercast team for taking me somewhere different, this time on . . . time: “I’m learning to just let empty time be empty. . . . This empty time is the measure of love. Like the burning tail of a meteor, empty time is what comes after loss.”