December 24, 2008

Apex: Gender and Cascadia Forest Defense, 1985-2006

This paper is nearing its final stage.  I deeply appreciate the comments i’ve received, both from those I know, and those I dont.  Thank you so much for your investment in the integrity of this representation of forest defense.  As i said to one person who recently commented, I wrote this not for academia or any other end, but for all the people involved in the movement and experienced the struggles I describe, whatever their position or opinions.  I want what i’ve written to resonate with those folks. Thanks! –Natty

APEX. Gender and Cascadia Forest Defense, 1985-2006


Sometimes the web of life has to be tied up with truck rope[1]

High in the canopy of an old growth forest, ropes form a web among a dozen trees. A platform wobbles precariously in the center. We hug the trunks of the trees not with our arms but with our legs, tugging truck rope through a series of anchors from which we are suspended, torsos twisting in all directions. Between me and a cluster of trees, several ropes more or less link together into a formation which one activist calls the “apex.” Each apex must be positioned relative to the others to hold the platform level in the center. My job is to pull that intersection into position. A banjo tune rings in the distance. I know the words: I got a gal up on the creek, goin’ up to see her ‘bout two times a week. Cripple creek’s wide and cripple creek’s deep, I’ll wade old cripple creek before I sleep. Hours later, as we coax the rope into the right position, the platform stabilizes.

I spent that day caretaking one corner of one intersection in a web of resistance that, while huge from my perspective—spanning about an acre of monstrous and sacred trees—was in itself a small part of the resistance in the Willamette Valley, and that a small part of environmental resistance in the Pacific Northwest, and that a small part of a global effort of hearts attuned to the needs of a deeply suffering world. That tiny intersection, or apex, opened my first days of forest defense and symbolized the consciousness of the activist network in which I would work for the next four years.

Apexes, these points of intersection, mark an important shift in tree-sit technology. The original structure of a tree-sit—a platform suspended from a single tree –became less and less effective as loggers realized they could cut the forest around the tree-sit. As forest defenders improved their tactics, they figured out how to link multiple trees together, protecting whole acres of forest rather than single trees. A Portland Independent Media Center article reads, “Risking their lives in order to save ancient trees, forest defenders announce the use of new and unique methodology known as “octopods” – occupied platforms suspended 150 feet in the air supported by a pulley system tied-in to 8 surrounding trees. If any tree or rope in the area is cut, the platform will fall, resulting in the death of the person occupying it.”[2] Ultimately, forest defenders wielded their very lives in effort to deter exploitative timber companies from tearing up the land.[3]

But the resistance is more than the material reality of bodies blocking roads, tractors, and chainsaws. The resistance is both material and discursive, and these dimensions are inextricably tied to each other. Ropes, knots and karabiners lock a platform in place while histories, cultural politics, and language secure their meaning. The apex in this essay describes how activists forged resistance at multiple, intersecting points that were both material and discursive. At the apex of forest defense in the Pacific Northwest is the intersection of theory and practice, feminism and anarchism, the social and the environmental, the domesticated and the wild, the threatened and the free.

Across a span of twenty years’ forest defense in the Willamette Valley, activists’ cultural politics shifted from markedly patriarchal to markedly feminist. As activists abandoned single-issue environmentalism— where the environment is prioritized at the expense of social issues—they embraced a multi-issue praxis where social and environmental justice were understood as intertwined and mutually constitutive.[4] Forest defense, over time, became a double task of resisting and attacking those institutions responsible for destroying the earth, while developing an alternative set of values, lifestyles, and ethics.[5]

In part one of this essay, I offer a general trajectory of events from the early days of forest defense through the Green Scare crisis. In part two, I interpret the events through feminist, ecofeminist, and anarchist discursive lenses. The theory I bring to my analysis of these events is neither solely produced within the movement itself, nor a lens applied from the outside. The history and theory of these Willamette Valley campaigns reveal the significance of a multi-issue praxis in activism, where environmental and social commitments entwine, and contestation of meanings surround direct actions.

On Methodology

Historical records of forest defense in the Willamette Valley include memory, rumor, alternative news archives, video documents, and piles of papers shoved to the back of file cabinets and bookshelves. The history that I know is a combination of all of these, but mostly of the short time I have been steeped in activism, hearing the stories and collecting fractured bits of narrative.

Historical accounts of environmental direct action are complicated by two counts of forgetting: one accidental and one intentional. Direct action tangles through an elusive crowd: “kids” attempting to divest of the many privileges that fuel social and environmental oppressions; people with a fire in their hearts for all things wild and free. They come and go, burn out, get jobs, start families, or move on to other forms of resistance. Anarchic in every sense of the word, and not easily categorized as either a movement or a tactic, forest defense has tended to evolve without a complete knowledge of its own history.

But forgetting, arguably, is fundamental to the integrity of forest defense. Security culture—the necessity to hide our identities from the government—has always required participants to defer all gossip and bragging to a deeper commitment to protect the natural world: to speak little of our actions, to change our names, to embrace amnesia and silence as cloaks of invisibility. Such precautions were heightened to a near paralysis with the Green Scare in 2006.

The Green Scare is at the foundation of my historical methodology. In the winter of 2006, the threat of “eco-terrorist” charges paralyzed Cascadia environmentalists in fear and uncertainty. The FBI named eco-terrorism the number one domestic terrorist threat.[6] Any actions, groups or individuals remotely related to the Earth Liberation Front became suspect by the government. Distinctions between dissent and terrorism disintegrated. We knew we were being watched, recorded, and reported.

Like 1000-year-old forests pulped to paper, shipped off to Japan, chiseled into toothpicks, or carved for furniture, language is under assault. Words go on without their roots. They are pulped, processed, and returned to the public stripped of their original meaning. Before the green scare, when environmental direct action was discursively and legally pushed under the same umbrella as 9-11 type terrorist attacks, forest defenders at worst faced charges for “interfering with an agricultural operation”— a misdemeanor that usually cost around seven hundred dollars or up to a year in prison. The potential costs for engaging in forest defense rose astronomically under the language of terrorism and the extremity of the Patriot Act. Under this new language, acts of vandalism and arson associated with “ecoterrorism” incurred penalties as harsh as life in prison.

Most of us involved in environmental direct action stopped speaking the moment our words would be implicated with terrorism. Meetings waned, tension heightened, suspicion choked every desire for expression. Our dialect, phrases, metaphors, and signs became illegible to even the most “liberal” leftists. Before the Green Scare, the mainstream left could often interpret direct action in a positive light, if it was framed in just the right way. Direct action could still be read as extreme responses by activists to extreme actions by government and corporations, as a legitimate resistance to the terrorization of the natural world. During the height of the Green Scare, mainstream groups publically distanced themselves from radical environmentalists. Oregon Natural Resources Council even participated in “Operation Backfire” by offering a $5000 reward for information about one particular arson act.[7] In the new political climate, radical environmentalists lost many allies.

We feared accusations, true or false alike. Just as likely the government would indict us for something we didn’t do, that it would indict us for something we proudly did do, something that in all our hearts was right and just. Best, then, we not speak at all, than speak in defense of ourselves. The US government, media, and FBI threw a discursive net over Eugene, Oregon, and only our silence was thin enough to fit through the small holes in the netting. Silence thus became survival. Erasure of our past and dissociation from our language could ensure our survival. Our silence acted as a kind of discursive execution.[8]

News of twelve indicted activists of Operation Backfire, the primary legal case of the Green Scare, swept across the nation’s newsprint in January, 2006. A federal grand jury met in Eugene, Oregon on January 20th, 2006. The indictments were for acts of environmental direct action between 1996 and 2001, including property destruction at a horse slaughtering facility, a power line, and a ski resort.[9] While awaiting charges a month prior to the court date, activist Bill Rodgers was either murdered or committed suicide in an Arizona jail cell.[10]

The town of Eugene, Oregon seemed to freeze in its tracks and shatter all at once, many weary to make any move, others fleeing, some plucked like cherries off a tree and packaged into jail cells for petty actions, fact or fiction, of their teen years. I wanted to stop writing. I threw out every email on my computer related to forest defense, I moved the tree-sit platforms out of my garage, I cleared my life of pamphlets, newsletters, instruction manuals, anything vaguely associated with my activism.

Because I cannot name—and indeed I do not know—such traditional data as legal names, statistics, or exact dates, I cannot offer a quantitative history of forest defense in the Willamette Valley. Furthermore, a quantitative history of Cascadia Forest defense would be a great disservice to the network of activists associated with it. The history of direct action is broken—decentralized, mythified, mystified, passed through trusted friends, and forgotten—for a reason. Amnesia is the double-edged sword that protects the past while leaving us amputated from the body of our work. The generations, the fear, the amnesia, the change, and the utter subjectivity of my political prerogatives indelibly mark the past off from the present and inform the shape of the narrative to come.

My place as a writer is not to centralize information. Not for this movement. Although such a project would unify and legitimize disparate and dissident actions, it would also break the trust and potentially the safety of the many activists involved. To preserve the security of the subjects of this paper, I rely on folk history, qualitative rather than quantitative, using few direct quotes, ultimately offering on a fragmented, non-authoritative narrative.

Part One: A General Trajectory

Since the early 1980s, forest defense has been a primary form of environmental direct action in the Pacific Northwest. From the Northern Californian Redwoods to British Columbia, activists have used tree-sits, road blocks, protests, tree spiking, sit-ins, and lock-downs to prevent abuse of their beloved lands. In Oregon, most old growth forest is National Forest, public land which the National Forest Service leases to logging companies, often without the consent of the public. Forest defenders often stall logging companies from entering illegal or dubiously legal logging sites while environmental lawyers fight for injunctions and protections in court.[11]

If you were to come to the forest an evening in 2003 or 2004, and you look nothing like the FBI or police, you would likely be welcomed into a circle around the fire, where someone would point you toward a pile of dumpstered bread, motion toward the boxes of rotting produce, and the pile of bags protected under tarps. You’d join a circle of dirty people, queer people, strong people, people who smell good like sap and soil. Some would be thumbing the strings of their instruments while others would be crowding around a topographical map of the area, plotting tree-sits, traverses, and road blocks. One sock will be drying on a rock at the edge of the fire and will catch aflame. Once the smell of burning wool rises, the owner will dive across the fire, cussing and hitting it on the ground. There is a conscious air of compassion, accountability, and social justice. This conscience is practiced, contested, and reworked daily as they take to heart the power and passion that lies at the intersection between social and environmental activism. The following section is about the decade-long historical trajectory that eventually produced this scene.

The development of Earth First! in the early eighties gave inspiration and voice to a growing contingent of radical environmentalists. The five men who originated the title—Dave Foreman, Mike Roselle, Bart Koehler, Howie Wolke and Ron Kezar— were inspired by conservationists Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, and radical environmentalist Edward Abbey. Their politics were shaped by bioregionalism and deep ecology, and later by anarchism and green anarchism. Based first out of Arizona and then out of Eugene, Oregon, the Earth First! journal heralded the motto “No compromise in defense of Mother Earth.” The proximity of the Earth First! journal and the direct action in the Willamette Valley were no doubt mutually constitutive to the growth of environmental radicalism in this area.

The first Earth First! tree-sit in the US was in the Willamette National Forest in 1985.[12] With the help of twelve womyn and men from Cathedral Forest Action acting as ground support, rock climber Mikal Jackubal’s courageous and innovative act inspired many Earth First!ers to travel to Oregon to support him.[13] Jackubal, going by the name Doug Fir, ascended the tree via tree spiking in an area already partly cut, and as he waited in the canopy, loggers felled nearly every tree around him. Back on the ground by evening, he was immediately arrested (his ground support had already been arrested and charged).[14] Although the tree-sit failed, forest defenders had many ideas for improving the tactic. They set up multiple sits in a timber sale in the Sweethome district of the Willamette National Forest.[15]

Earth First! journal commemorates R. Dendron for being the first female tree-sitter, who participated a year later, in 1986. In 1987, there was a more prolonged action, a 42 day sit by Randy Prince in the Kalmiopsis wilderness area of Southern Oregon.[16] Soon thereafter, activists began to occupy the privately owned Redwoods of Northern California, and forest defense campaigns began all over the woods of the Willamette National Forest.[17]

Between 1985 and 2005, The Willamette National Forest hosted three major campaigns: the Warner Creek campaign of the mid 1990s; the Fall Creek campaign which began in 1998; and the 2003-2004 campaign, Straw Devil. These three campaigns reveal the larger trajectory of cultural changes within forest activism.

Warner Creek

Before a man-made fire thrust its destiny into uncertainty, Warner Creek was a government-protected roadless area, a forest legally protected from the chopping block. In 1991, the unidentified arsonist burned six thousand acres, and firefighters burned another three thousand trying to control it. As the second largest fire in the recorded history of the Willamette National Forest, the Clinton administration and the forest service both took advantage of the situation for its financial potential. The government passed a salvage rider immediately after the burn, which allowed the Forest Service to sell the previously protected area on the basis that the trees would rapidly decline in commercial value if left alone.[18] Logging would be an emergency operation on the land, promoted as a “fire recovery” project. Warner Creek was put on the chopping block.

Environmentalists realized that Cascadia’s ecosystems are fire dependant: fire is a natural regenerative process in this region. They also realized that if this space were cut, it would reinforce the idea that arson could lead to economic reward. The slogan “light it, fight it, log it” described the danger of this logic. And in response, they plastered the phrase “not one black stick” all over Eugene, and beyond.

The Warner Creek campaign was multifaceted, passionate, and monumental. Before direct action in Warner Creek began, radical environmentalists worked to create coalitions between mainstream environmental groups, community members, scientists and students in resistance to post-fire logging. Environmental lawyers took the sale to court on the basis that it was illegal, but the Clinton administration waved it through. Cascadia EarthFirst!ers worked in the legal system, and educated their community with slideshows, rallies, organized hikes, and community meetings.

With Cascadia Earth First!, activist and fire ecologist Tim Inglasbee put his expertise and his passion for radical environmentalism toward an official proposal to the National Forest Service to preserve the Warner Creek area as a Fire Ecology Research Natural Area.[19] The “EF alternative”—standing for “The Ecology of Fire,” but also for Earth First—was published in the forest service’s Environmental Impact Statement, along with the other logging proposals for the area.

When all else failed, Cascadia EF!ers resorted to direct action. In the spring of 1992, in need of a more underground identity, lovers Catia Juliana and Tim Ingalsbee formed Cascadia Forest Defenders.[20] Positing that “fire does not destroy forests; logging destroys forests,”[21] they declared a Cascadia Free State, dug out the road leading to the sale and built a monumental blockade. A Free State is a kind of eco-community that gathers around a resistance movement. Anarchist in tone, the free-state implied a declaration of separation from the nation and affinity with the bioregion.

At Warner Creek, many direct action tactics were tried for the first time. Folks camped out at Warner Creek for eleven months, building various elaborate road blocks and pods[22], locking down, and digging up the road. They experienced police-brutality and harassment by anti-tree-sitters, as well as intense snow and ice.

Supporters from all over the country came to visit, including busloads of tourists and schoolchildren. Warner Creek’s immense community support and national attention led to enough public pressure on the president during the re-election campaign that the government withdrew the sale. This action has inspired over a decade of direct action forest campaigns in neighboring areas.

In 1996, the five-year struggle at Warner Creek timber sale culminated in victory, initiating wide-spread support for tree-sitting. Warner Creek set up the Northwest for years of hope, many losses and a few victories to follow. There were several small campaigns throughout Cascadia afterward, but many of the areas were cut.[23] However, forest defense campaigns built a momentum of resistance throughout the Northwest. As one forest defender has suggested, “we will never know how many invisible victories we’ve had.”[24] The Forest Service rapidly decreased the rate and severity of logging practices in the Willamette as resistance grew more prevalent. We never know how many timber sales never make it to their final stages because of anticipated resistance.

Fall Creek

The next major local campaign in the Willamette National Forest was Fall Creek, just an hour east of Eugene. Beginning April 1998, the six year campaign at Clark timber sale in Fall Creek proved to be a turning point for Northwest forest activism.

In organizing against the Fall Creek timber sales, labor was most often gendered. Womyn worked in town and did grunt-work: hauling water, sorting food, cleaning shit-buckets, composting, and raising money. Men worked in the canopy and occupied tree-sits. Men hoarded skills and resources, and defended each other when one of them was called out for oppressive behavior.

There were at least two incidences of rape in Fall Creek, one by “Hank” and another by “Johnny Cat.” In the winter of 2001, the two men were asked to leave. When the men refused, the womyn proposed a “gender bender month,” where the womyn would take the men’s place and the men would take the womyn’s. This meant having an all womyn’s occupation of the unit.

For the most part, the men who did not like the gender bender idea left the campaign. One person, however, refused to leave the woods to do town work. He refused to come down from his platform. The group decided to cut off his ground support, including food and water, until he came down. The womyn involved in this considered it a kind of direct action against patriarchy.

The gendered tension in the Fall Creek campaign was also understood as a “town versus forest” debate.[25] The “forest crew” (primarily men) had named themselves Red Cloud Thunder, distancing themselves from their town support, Cascadia Forest Defenders. Originally in a private email, one of the perpetrators wrote: “Certain uptight people want to erase the legacy of the Fall Creek campaign and Red Cloud Thunder’s total refusal to play by anybody’s rules but our own. Our freedom is very threatening to certain people, and those people play dirty.”[26] The gender bender month and other tactics did lead to a better social environment, but only temporarily. A 2001 update from the forest attested to improved dynamics and the presence of feminist men who happily supported womyn in gaining skills and experiences in the woods. By the year 2003, however, patriarchal violence broke the surface of their too short-lived progress toward social equality.

During the tensions between CFD and Red Cloud Thunder at Fall Creek, Grasshopper (of Red Cloud Thunder) said that supporters of anti-oppression were “spiritual rapists” and years later reiterated that anti-oppression policies are in and of themselves oppressive.[27] Another individual wrote: “I won’t sign on to any preconceived ideological end, like ‘ending oppression.’ Such ends pretty much always turn out to be the most oppressive things going.”[28] That ending oppression is oppressive is like saying that it is one’s freedom and right to be oppressive toward others. While this sentiment is frighteningly common, usually disguised as anti-ideology rather than anti-feminist, it is in direct contradiction to the basic anti-authoritarian values of the activist network at large.

Based on their commitment to anti-oppression and safe campaigns, those involved with CFD had to part ways with Red Cloud Thunder. Red Cloud Thunder would not make a commitment to anti-oppression, and the people working with CFD did not feel comfortable sending potential activists to the area, given its disreputable past. Red Cloud Thunder and their supporters framed this issue as one in which certain people were being controlling, un-anarchist, and counter-productive to the project of forest defense. I analyze these issues further in the second part of the paper.

Straw Devil

In the Spring of 2003, the opportunity arose to prevent logging at a timber sale named Straw Devil just a few miles down the highway from Fall Creek. The Straw Devil timber sale was the first forest defense site to significantly embody feminist values. While Fall Creek continued in its sixth year of active resistance, Cascadia Forest Defenders set up a second campaign just above the popularly known McCreedy hot Springs.

By this time, womyn and queer forest defenders had already forged a significant resistance to sexism and heterosexism, but saw this as an opportunity to spatially organize a campaign to undermine male-dominance, male violence, and unwanted male leadership. Straw Devil began its campaign with an occupation in the first two units of the sale, and a “Womyn’s Action” occupying the sixth unit.[29]

Direct action ecodefense groups throughout the bioregion created an alliance called “Cascadia Summer,” and projects grew rapidly from British Columbia down to Northern California. Modeled in part after Northern California’s 1990 Redwood Summer, Cascadia Summer was made of multiple campaigns all over the bioregion. Cascadia Summer was made up of rallies, timber sales, citizen survey projects, and in-town campaigns throughout the whole bioregion.

An umbrella organization, Cascadia Rising, worked as a network between these groups. Cascadia Rising’s commitment to anti-oppression was strategically important, as their networking would only extend to groups and people who advocated and encouraged multi-issue activism. In solidarity with male allies, they created accountability processes for past perpetrators of sexual or gendered violence. Every individual or group that allied with Cascadia Rising understood that anti-oppression was central to this new culture of activism.

In 2003, Cascadia Rising adopted an anti-oppression policy as a means of discouraging violence and oppression within forest defense communities, and to offer tools and insights on how to deal with violence and oppression when it arises.

The anti-oppression policy was a serious point of contention for the anarchist community with which it was associated. Many folks from Red Cloud Thunder, and earlier activists, felt that any “policy” is oppressive to their own freedom. Cascadia Forest Defenders and Cascadia Rising initially created an anti-oppression policy out of sheer necessity, as a way to maintain safety and respect as strong values within forest campaigns. CFD from then on was an explicitly feminist organization. After the groups split up, Straw Devil timber sale was the main focus for CFD.

Ecodefense in Cascadia evolved to be a movement of multifaceted resistance. People who became a part of direct action against logging worked toward a feminist vision of environmental activism. Cascadia Rising stated that

“We do not believe in single issue politics – we work to promote social justice and environmental sustainability and act in solidarity with others working against oppression in its many forms. Our ideals are: locally based grassroots organizing, working from a holistic, bio-centric, anti-corporate and anti-oppressive orientation, supporting indigenous land rights and ecologically focused groups, condoning the use of non-violent direct action.”[30]

Along with several other timber sales, Straw Devil was tied up in an environmental lawsuit. Oregon Natural Resources Council and Cascadia Wildlands Project both held lawsuits against the Forest Service for violating the National Environmental Policy Act; however, Starfire Lumber Company could choose to log the area before a decision was made in court. The best case for the company, who had purchased the sale in 1998, would have been to log as much as possible before the court decided on the legality of the sale. If the sale was deemed illegal, the forest service would pay a fine and both parties would still make a profit. The main objective of the forest defenders, then, was to prevent logging until the courts decided the sale was illegal. If the courts happened to deem the sale legal—which they did not—the forest defenders would have continued to defend the area unflinching in their own convictions.

In unit six, deemed “the ecofeminist front,” womyn occupied, built, and supported every structure. They worked closely with the all-gender camp in unit seven, building a shared road blocks and holding regular potlucks and meetings, not to mention the midnight romance rustling in the underbrush. But unit six was a separate space. You would hike along a trail marked with small stones, turn at the giant spruce, balance along a downed log, then hop out onto the dusty gravel of the railroad tracks which led to unit seven. In a careful balance of separation and solidarity, the womyn’s action was strategically apart, and a part, of the Straw Devil campaign. A press release announcing an action camp co-hosted by Cascadia Forest Defenders and Cascadia Rising described the two units, “A mixed gender encampment works nearby in conjunction and solidarity with the womyn’s action.”[31] It was this conjunction and solidarity that situated the all gender camp specifically as allies to the womyn’s actions.

This was one of few times in the history of forest defense in Cascadia that an all womyn and transgendered group gathered to stop a timber sale.[32] In an effort to democratize skills and knowledge, Cascadia Forest Defenders held three annual womyn’s and transgender action training camps. Along with direct action methods and strategies, the camps held discussions and trainings on anti-oppression.

Amidst a deep and radical exploration of gender, buckets of food and water were hung in trees marked for “closure,” the point at which the National forest was temporarily closed to the public for logging. Tree-sitters would survive off that food and hopefully stay up in the trees, preventing logging of some or all of the area. On July 25th 2003, when units one and two were closed for logging, one person descended immediately, while another was coaxed down by law officials. Starfire Logging cut very closely around the third. It was devastation. Broken hearted, many people left the campaign. The remaining activists moved to unit seven. The reverberations of the tragedy in nearby towns drew more people into the campaign. Activists in unit seven continued to work in solidarity with the womyn’s and transgender camp.

At the Straw Devil womyn’s and transgender action, a road blockade thickened with yarn and decorated with used tampons symbolized a multi-faceted resistance. A tree named Dworkin stood in honor of Andrea Dworkin. In the all-gender camp up the road, a road block anchored to a tree-sit stood with the name Citadel, and probably one of the largest tree-sits in history, the Pirate Ship, floated in mid-air between a dozen trees.

After the first year, Oregon Natural Resource Council won their lawsuit in favor of the forest. The Forest Service had illegally offered the land for logging, despite the presence of citizen surveys which affirmed the presence of endangered Spotted Owls by extensive documentation of their main food source, red tree voles.

During that winter, however, the government retracted the Survey and Manage policy, which had been the legal foundation for winning the lawsuit. The next spring, forest defenders occupied Straw Devil once again, and late that fall were able to take down their tree sits and blockades with the hope of not ever having to come back—at least, not to defend it.


Following the success at the Straw Devil campaign, Southern Oregon would host the largest timber sale in history. The Biscuit fire and timber sale gained national attention and outrage against post-fire logging. Civil disobedience and direct action groups worked both in camaraderie and tension toward their shared goal of ending this monstrous project. Some Willamette Valley activists worked with Biscuit full time while others, among them Cascadia Forest Defenders, did their best to make frequent trips offering support, funds, and equipment.


During the summer of 2005, a small group of activists from the former Red Cloud Thunder erected a tree-sit at Sten timber sale in the McKenzie district of the Willamette National Forest. After they established themselves as the “Guardians of the McKenzie,” they requested support from CFD and Cascadia Rising. The groups mulled it over with much tension and divided interest. The CFD meetings were larger than they had been in a long time and many people from the collective’s formative years had begun to attend.

CFD as a group had to make a choice about values. Certain people involved in Sten were remembered for their aggressive attitudes and their resistance to anti-oppression which caused a split in the community just two years ago. Now they were asking for support and much of the group was willing to give it. Word-of-mouth spread through the Pacific Northwest that CFD was to support a campaign without an anti-oppression commitment, and many came to the meetings to express their dissent.

Attempting to find a compromise, the group decided to support the Sten campaign, but claimed that it was not an official CFD campaign. They then requested a statement, a word, a letter, or any other sign of commitment to anti-oppression, which would help the group feel more confident in sending out prospective activists. However, no such word of commitment came. Several individuals who had been invested and committed to CFD’s feminist vision came to the meetings deeply disappointed and re-voiced their discomfort with the group’s decision. Many people who had passively or grudgingly accepted the choice then spoke out in resistance. CFD relinquished group support—enraging the people at Sten as well as their in-town supporters—and the Portland based Cascadia Rising sent out a letter which included this statement:

“CR takes its anti-oppression statement very seriously. Since our founding, we have worked to support organizations that share our perspectives in actively addressing oppressive behavior within our movement. We do not actively support, recruit for, or direct people to campaigns that choose not to adopt anti-oppression policies or perspectives.

The Sten campaign has not made an anti-oppression statement, nor have they expressed interest in such an action. Beyond that, we do not work with some of the core people involved with the campaign based on our own anti-oppression statement and our personal convictions. In the past, these individuals have engaged in disruptive and degrading sexist behavior on many occasions. They have committed unaddressed and unreconciled hurtful acts against other active members of the regional EF! eco-radical community.

We want to make it clear that we are not condemning people who participate in the Sten campaign as a whole, nor that we in anyway believe that everyone, or even the majority of the people involved in the campaign, have engaged in such behavior.[sic]”[33]

After a very dramatic “break up,” the next meeting was down to four people. The four decided to rewrite the anti-oppression policy to become even more explicitly feminist. CFD grew new roots and worked throughout the winter in preparation for its next campaign.

Not long after Sten lost support from CFD, the activists there began to face another trouble. Several men in logger’s hats with shot guns and an electric bow and arrow paid them a visit. The forest defenders dodged the shots. On a second visit, only a few days later, an arrow grazed a tree-sitter’s hand. Several more shootings at Sten garnered media attention from Eugene but no compassion from the law. License plate numbers, descriptions, bullet casings, and multiple witnesses were not enough to hold the Forest Service’s or police department’s attention. And neither did the media attention and public awareness of the shootings prevent logging in the area. It was logged late that fall, and one of the main “Guardians of the McKenzie” left this angered note:

“…Far too few real-deal forest defenders somehow manage to put up a fight on a frazzled shoestring, facing cold, wet, hunger, loneliness, MUCH STRESS, unsupported, even discouraged and demoralized by the venemous spewings of misinformation and lies (“position statement”s) of the most staunch of these patheticfuk control politicians (See Cascadia Rising-“Shots add tension…”).The resistance at Sten fell due to lack of support. Congratulations, assholes. You got another one cut. You want to call anger at pretense and fraudulency oppression? You assholes need to either start defendin forests or stop calling yourselves forest defenders.[sic]”[34]

In a classic move, Grasshopper blamed the larger activist community for the failure of the Sten campaign rather than looking at his own unwillingness to make the space safe for prospective activists.

This is where I end the chronicles of this small part of Cascadia’s forest defense. The Green Scare soon loomed over activist landscapes. Activists continued to defend forests, creating unique campaigns, techniques, and communities. I choose to end at the Sten campaign to show several important points about the trajectory of social change within this movement. While the movement more or less reshaped its politics over time, it was not necessarily a linear route. Sentiments more supported in the past still pulled a certain weight in the present. As much as those of us involved in Straw Devil would love to see a heroic story of social and environmental prerogatives intertwining once and for all, we find instead that moments of radical praxis involve an immense amount of energy, and we must produce counter-ideologies to patriarchy and earth-destruction not just once but constantly. The following section is about that counter-ideology.

Part Two: Discursive Resistance

This section considers in four parts the cultural discourse around gender, power, and sexuality in this forest activist community. At the foundation of this cultural discourse was the lived experience of intersectionality—that is, the multiplicity of activists’ political prerogatives, and the ways these projects overlapped. Second, I consider the implications of the feminization of nature in environmentalist rhetoric; Third, I analyze and challenge male-centered anarchist discourse, particularly looking at the ways it has been wielded to divert attention from patriarchy. Finally, I develop a queer ecoradical perspective by zoning in on the particular effects queer had on the culture and practice of forest defense in the Straw Devil campaign. I mean for the rest of these pages to interpret the political and theoretical implications of the movement that I have thus far described.

1. Intersectionality

Cascadia forest defense saw the unfolding of feminist consciousness and the widening of the activist lens from single-issue politics to a broader social and environmental consciousness. Some say that these changes were inevitable, while other say they were brought on by force and manipulation. Some say that a web of resistance is stronger than a single resistance, while many believe that “other issues” are distractions that weaken the movement.

Single-issue environmentalism led early EF! activists to propose environmental solutions that were deeply racist, classist, and imperialist. For instance, activists in the 1980s advocated AIDS epidemics and famines around the world as a form of population control. Dave Foreman claimed that “famine relief in Ethiopia was contrary to a biocentric perspective.”[35] Another Earth First!er advocated AIDS in 1987, suggesting that “if radical environmentalists were to invent a disease to bring human population back to ecological sanity, it would probably be something like AIDS.”[36] Such ways of thinking lead to the death of thousands of communities, languages, ethnicities, and experiences only to leave the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy intact. Note that, especially in the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic was devastating gay communities, this kind of thinking was deeply heterosexist.

Fortunately, these views are not consistent throughout the movement at large. EF! and other environmentalist collectives have engaged in a plurality of actions against social oppressions throughout the years. For instance, the Katuah EF! collective has held an anti-racist presence in the South by intervening in the KKK.[37] The Oxygen Collective of Southern Oregon went to New Orleans to help in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Anarchists and environmentalists have also adopted Food Not Bombs, co-opting food and resources for anyone who desires a meal. These actions bridge the gap between “social” and “environmental” oppressions by creating direct praxis which sees that environmental oppression relies on social oppression and vise versa and that it is necessary to create a “horizontal” resistance to “vertical” institutions.

As the culture of forest defense adopted a multi-issue praxis, it was forced to make painful breaks with its earlier roots. In her 1990 essay “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” Earth First! activist Judi Bari writes about the environmental movement’s growing contention with its roots. Bari writes of EF! founder Dave Foreman’s disappointment with EF! as it broadened from a conservation movement to a social change movement. Bari writes, “It does not make sense to bemoan the destruction of nature while supporting the system that is destroying it. Yet Dave Foreman proudly calls himself a patriot, and glorifies the dominant culture of our corrupt society. He says he is a no-compromise defender of biodiversity, yet he has made the ultimate compromise of accepting a society that is literally based on the destruction of the Earth.”[38] When activists work toward multi-issue resistance, they forge a culture that could potentially support the changes that their activism proposes. Bari’s redefinition of “no-compromise” radically altered it from its original, single-issue origins.

Chaia Heller’s book Ecology of Everyday Life begins with a distinction between need and desire. She writes that “ecology addresses two demands, then—one quantitative, the other qualitative.”[39] She writes that the quantitative demand, the threat of ecological collapse, overpopulation, pollution, et cetera, often usurps the desire for a “more healthful and sensual expression of everyday life.”[40] Forest defense, as a multi-issue project, is a meeting of the quantitative and the qualitative, the need and desire. The ecological desire brought feminism and anarchism to the forefronts of forest activism. Activists did not just want forests, but also to have the opportunity to thrive and love within them.

The Straw Devil campaign was the height of feminist environmental activism in Cascadia Forest Defense. While men, womyn, and transgendered folks lived in resistance to logging, the forest provided a space to learn to create non-oppressive communities. Grounded in place and community the forest was a space to grow freely, somewhat separate from economic and state institutions embedded in towns and cities. An old flyer for a tree-sit at Clark timber sale in Fall Creek (about an hour and a half from Eugene) reads, “Currently offering rent-free co-op housing in upper and middle canopy condos 150-230 ft. above reality with suspended sidewalks winding between 500/600/700 year old doug fir and hemlock trees.” In tree-sits like these, there is usually an in-town group who brings in food and takes out trash a few times a week. The people who stay in the forest have time and space to create lives less constricted by institutional boundaries, to develop relationships outside many social restrictions that exist in towns and cities. Place is literally foundational for creating a feminist, anti-authoritarian culture. The forest gave this to us as we worked to protect it.

2. The Feminization of Nature

Wrapped around a green fist, these words have since the inception of Earth First! claimed the feminization of nature as a central metaphor for radical environmentalism: No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth. The slogan reveals that the EF! movement rejects the destruction of nature, yet does not question the problems of its feminization. In this section I use an ecofeminist standpoint to question the feminization of nature in forest defense rhetoric.

The feminization of nature is not necessarily anti-liberatory; rather, because white Western culture has a deeply destructive and exploitative relationship to both womyn and nature, we must seek to understand what we are doing when we reconstruct this paradigm in a liberatory context, such as activist spaces. Western culture has perpetually defined nature in the language of the feminine as a part of a system of thought organization engrained in the world-view of Western civilization, to what many ecofeminists claim, the mutual detriment of both.[41] Ecofeminist author Karen Warren writes, “Just as conceptions of gender are socially constructed, so are conceptions of nature.”[42] While people celebrate in nature reproduction, fertility, the wild, the erotic, the nurturing, the abundant, these same qualities are used to justify its subordination and exploitation, and that of womyn. Wielded uncritically, the links between womyn and nature can perpetuate the thought patterns behind ecosystem destruction.

In white Western culture, thought is organized into a series of dualisms. Ecofeminist philosopher Val Plumwood explains that “Dualism is the process by which contrasting concepts (for example, masculine and feminine gender identities) are formed by domination and subordination and constructed as oppositional and exclusive.”[43]

Environmentalist and forest defense rhetoric has inadvertently situated itself within the value dualisms of Western culture. It has unconsciously accepted the notion that nature is feminine, vulnerable, and defenseless. The feminization of nature suggests that culture (man) must become warrior-like and defend nature (womyn). An ecodefender must be masculine, warrior-like, and separate from nature. Nature and womyn are objectified, stagnant victims as opposed to resisters and defenders with their own power and agency. Men and culture remain the unexamined protective class, and womyn/nature must submit to men’s/culture’s dominance/protection for their own good. This warrior/victim paradigm is not helpful to the project of forest defense. However, the feminization of nature has, for better or for worse, had a significant liberal/mainstream appeal. For instance, consider the following:

The narrative of the helpless female: “Mother earth needs our help”[44]

The narrative of war: “Welcome to the 2003 episode of the War in the Woods, or the Empire Strikes Back!”[45]

The narrative of sexual purity: “Only five percent of America’s virgin forests remain, while 70 percent of the fiber consumed by the pulp and paper industry continues to be generated from virgin wood (emphasis mine).[46]

After following this narrative long enough, one will gather that nature is the stereotypically disempowered, helpless, exotic, erotic, feminine woman, caught in a man’s war. The forest defender is a soldier, saving the world and getting the girl. It is a story of sex and violence. It is a pornographic story. Just like the stories of strong men rescuing helpless young womyn, there is absolutely nothing in the story that advocates respect and autonomy for its subject.

Essentialism, Gender, and Identification

Forest defenders feminize nature when they relate to the narrative of forest defense through a lens of heteronormativity. Whether the forest defenders are male or female, their relationship to the trees they occupy fit a similarly gendered narrative. In the Northern California Redwoods, for instance, a woman named Julia Butterfly Hill occupied the famous tree Luna. Butterfly used her woman-centered connection to nature and the Christian god to justify her opposition to logging. Ecofeminist author Audrey Vanderford describes a scene in Hill’s book in which Hill convinces a logger that she is not a dread-locked hippy tree hugger. She fills a bag with granola and a picture of herself all dressed up and feminine, attaches it to a rope and lowers it from her platform. The logger is surprised. But feminists are pissed. Julia Butterfly Hill used the hegemonic, dominator model of femininity to legitimize her position on the environment. Vanderford concluded that Hill did not make the logger receptive to her on a human level, but rather, on a heterosexual level.

Similarly, an enthusiastic bunch of female forest defenders self-proclaimed “The Stafford Sweeties,” dressed their best one fall morning in 1997, bringing donuts, coffee, cute looks and suggestive touches to loggers in order to instill in them a sense of compassion for the forest.[47] Vanderford’s critique of Julia Butterfly Hill applies here as well.

Men have also organized their relationship to the forest through a lens of heteronormativity. The movie “Tree-sit: The Art of Resistance” documents one man’s relationship with a tree named Mariah, also in the Redwoods.[48] In this sit a male activist named Nate continually refers to the tree as “she,” claiming the need to “protect her.” The language he uses suggests that “she,” meaning the redwood, must be feminine, vulnerable, and defenseless. This relationship fits the traditionally male-dominated discourse of male defender, female forest, male culture, female nature. Nate, the Stafford Sweeties, and Julia Butterfly all chose to construct their identities as forest defenders by the dominator model of patriarchal gender norms.

Strategic woman-nature associations

A gendered relationship to the environment and environmentalism may seem helpful in the short term for people like Hill and the Stafford Sweeties who do not choose to critically assess the relationship of gender and the environment, but they certainly do not benefit the attitudes toward womyn in activism. In her well known essay, “The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism,” Warren articulates, “…the conceptual connections between the domination of womyn and the domination of nature are located in an oppressive and, at least in Western societies, patriarchal conceptual framework characterized by a logic of domination…. The failure to notice the nature of this connection leaves at best an incomplete, inaccurate, and partial account of what is required of a conceptually adequate environmental ethic.”[49] An ecofeminist critique would argue that the failure of environmentalists to realize their participation in patriarchal culture led them to an inadequate environmental ethic.

Strategic Associations

While conceptual connections linking womyn to the environment are not useful when they serve the hegemonic, dominator model of gender and power, they can work as the foundation for ecofeminist activism. When we, as activists, connect our personal experiences of oppression to an oppressive conceptual framework—as defined by Karen Warren as a set of basic beliefs that “explain, justify, and maintain relationships of domination and subordination”[50]—we are creating a strategic ecofeminist praxis, where identification does not necessarily lead to essentialism. When people who have been raped connect their experiences with patriarchal violation to the violation and exploitation of the earth, they may realize that these oppressions are connected through an oppressive conceptual framework. The logic of domination that justifies one oppression justifies the other. Thus, to resist one, we must resist the entire conceptual framework.

Julia Butterfly Hill’s book also works on this level. She writes, “learning about the clear-cut made me feel like a part of myself was being ripped apart and violated, just as the forests were.”[51] Female forest defenders have associated clear-cuts to their own experiences of bodily violation again and again. In a ‘zine of collected writings of the Straw Devil womyn’s and transgender action, a poem by Cyndal reads, “She holds the secrets of a thousand centuries/ and she is clear-cut, destruct the blood of each/ on our knees and hands, innards and guts pour from/ our cunts and tree stumps….”[52] Hill and Cyndal’s strategic use of this experiential connection works to elucidate the mutual domination of women and nature.

The link between patriarchy and the destruction of forests has been expressed through ecofeminist forest defense in the naming of a tree “Dworkin,” after Andrea Dworkin, a well known feminist activist and writer who focused on issues of pornography and violence against womyn. In this case, naming a tree with a female name was strategic, not essentialist. Standing in an all womyn’s and transgender action camp, this tree signified both resistance to violence against womyn and resistance to violence against the forest. Dworkin represented strategic connections, whereas Luna/ Butterfly and Mariah/ Nate represented essentialist, even patriarchal narratives.

Beyond Essentialism

Forest Defense campaigns have seen both the uncritical perpetuation of essentialist notions of gender and critical analyses of how these essentialisms perpetuate the oppression of womyn and nature. While the woman-nature connection arises out of experiential and conceptual negotiations with violence for many womyn, an unexamined acceptance of this paradigm leads to the perpetuation of certain dualities that fail to radically alter the state of either womyn or nature within an ideological or material context.

To move beyond these gendered activisms which associate womyn with nature and men with culture, we must, as activists, not simply ignore or reject these connections, but critically reflect on the ways in which gender violently removes a range of experiences from our lives. One must actively reject these norms and metaphors in order to eradicate male-dominated, hierarchical relationships with the environment, and replace these relationships with active ecological feminist consciousnesses.

3. Anarchism and Patriarchy

Though metaphors are significant in their ability to rationalize oppression or set the tone of a social space, patriarchy seeps into more than metaphor. Patriarchy shades even those movements antagonistic to Western constructions of hierarchy and authority—most notably, anarchism. In this section I interpret the experiences of womyn and transgender participants in the forest and in particular in the Straw Devil campaign. These activists challenged meanings of freedom and power within anarchist discourse.

During the first major campaign in the Willamette National Forest, Warner Creek, social justice had little footing in the culture of environmental activism. By the time the Warner Creek campaign came to a head it was shaded with a leftist, eco-anarchist tone, but it was still a distinctly single-issue struggle: any other political goals—especially what was bitterly noted as “social issues”—fell by the wayside. Radicalized tactics and deepened urgency barely concealed a parochial nature conservation politics. Despite that four womyn occupied lockdowns at the climax of the campaign, womyn generally carried the brunt of the behind-the-scenes work while men gleaned public notoriety and occupied the camera’s gaze.

Feminism, at the time of Warner Creek, was continually contested and pushed aside. A few comments referencing womyn in Pickaxe, the film documenting the Warner Creek struggle, reveal the early status of womyn in direct action. The film’s narrator was self-congratulatory on the very presence of womyn, despite that at

“every single meeting that we had, every single action that we planned and carried out, there were always issues of male dominance that had to be looked at. And as much as they were trying to make us look at it, a lot of men had a hard time focusing on that issue. There was a lot of pain in our camp, and there was always the excuse on the men’s side that forests were falling and that we could look at our deep seated patterns later but we needed to get out in the forest and address that issue right now.”[53]

Throughout the campaign, men relegated womyn to subordinate positions. Although there was at least one all-womyn’s jail sit-in—that is, where four womyn strategically went to jail in solidarity with each other— at every meeting womyn voiced concerns, demanded better treatment from their male peers and demanding “more valued” positions. Contradictorily, another comment on womyn in the Warner Creek struggle described environmentalism as a post-social movement: “Like we once had to work for womyn’s rights, like we once had to fight against racism, we now have to fight for the environment.”[54] In either position, environmental crisis is prioritized in exclusion of social issues. Forest defense is posited as a single issue project. The lack of social responsibility among privileged environmentalists frustrated those who knew that social inequalities diminished their participation in direct action and weakened the campaign at large.

Male-dominance in the culture and discourse of anarchism has blocked anarchist communities from reaching their anti-authoritarian goals when their theory is put to practice. Self-proclaimed “ex-Eugene manarchist” wrote, “that many anarchist men tend to identify ‘the State’ and ‘Capitalism’ as the oppressors, suggests a preoccupation with their own class exploitation. For many male anarchists, many of whom are also white, young, able-bodied, and heterosexual, class exploitation is the only area in which they experience any form of institutionalized domination.”[55] Kooky suggests that a male-dominated anarchist thought only represents certain oppressions as legitimate—and the ones that are illegitimate happen to be the ones that compromise their own authoritarian power.

In anarchist communities and free-states such as forest defense, patriarchy becomes a question of authority and imposition. When womyn ask men to step down from dominating, oppressive, or authoritarian positions, men who occupy these positions often perceive womyn as anti-anarchist or “oppressive.” Ironically, they interpret womyn questioning their access to privilege and power as a way of hoarding power or trying to curb their “freedom.”

The “freedoms” that feminists threaten include the freedom to exploit and have unlimited access to womyn’s bodies, and the freedom to have male actions and beliefs remain unquestioned where womyn’s voices are routinely silenced or minimized. Because patriarchy and oppression are couched in a language of anarchism, common responses to feminist concerns are “live and let live,” or “don’t tell people what to do.” The call for accountability in gender relations comes off as “oppressive” to men rather than liberatory for non-men. Somehow, it becomes difficult for some people who wield anarchist discourse to turn that rhetoric toward themselves, or to understand patterns of oppression across social and environmental landscapes. The demand for an end to earth exploitation or police oppression somehow does not equate a demand for an end to gender oppression.

For ecodefense to continue in a sustainable way, it is imperative that freedom, even (and especially) in radical communities is not simply interpreted as the liberty of one’s self, but the assurance of respect, accountability, and safety for all of life. In this way, agreements toward anti-oppression do not deny anarchy, but rather, in a patriarchal culture, reinforce that these ideologies of freedom apply to all, not just a few privileged people.

4. Faeries in the Forest: Queering Environmental Activism

Womyn’s and transgender activists used separatism to create safe and empowering spaces while challenging sexism and sexual harassment. The separate space was a hinge on which local politics of forest defense shifted. Their work was tri-fold: against industrial logging; against social injustice in the forest; and against social injustice in their lives and community outside of the forest. Ecofeminist philosopher Chaone Mallory writes that a better strategy than putting up with sexism in the woods, “Forest Defenders have quite rationally concluded, is to eliminate the risk of heterosexual assault altogether through the creation of womyn-only spaces and actions.”[56] Mallory describes womyn-only activist projects as necessary for four reasons: “challenging masculinism in radical activism,” “challenging gendered labor in the forest,” “combating sexual assault in the forest,” and creating a dialectic of theory and practice that engages with the intersecting oppressions of womyn and nature.[57] They used separatism as a tool of resistance and healing, a temporary strategy situated within a larger process of change over time.

The Straw-devil brand of separatism worked in conjunction and solidarity with an all-gender group, allowing womyn and many queer activists to simultaneously work with, yet apart from, male allies. While queer men acted as invaluable allies anchored in the all-gender camp, there was much tension around their exclusion from the womyn’s and transgender camp. The linked separation between the two camps acted as an everyday reminder of how patriarchy pervaded the forest activist community, and how desperately activists needed a commitment to social justice. While not uncontested, this strategy transformed and strengthened their community rather than fracturing it.

Traditional discourses in forest defense have been based on the feminization of nature, a notion deeply etched into Western culture. For instance, men often assigned feminine names to trees, then hoarded the task of defending them with a heroic, warrior style bravado. Earth First!, a radical environmentalist group with which forest defense is often associated, claims the motto, “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth,” where nature is passive, feminine, and victimized; men, her defenders, are brave, masculine, and warrior-like. This sexist and heterosexist narrative carves out circumscribed roles and gender expressions for both men and womyn, affecting how activists participate within forest defense as well as how they understand themselves in relationship to nature.

Queer forest defenders understood how nature/culture, male/female, and reason/erotic dualisms fed their oppression and imbued heterosexism into forest defense. Forest defense is most often viewed as an active, rational force (culture) entering a passive sexual being (nature) in order to save “her.” But many forest defenders agree with ecofeminist philosophers who have claimed that the eroticization of womyn and nature serves “the mutual detriment of both.”[58] Rather than embracing the eroticization of nature or simply reversing the dichotomy by claiming that nature is not at all informed by the erotic, queer forest defenders have undermined the polarization between nature and culture. Ecofeminist author Greta Gaard writes that “A queer ecofeminist perspective would argue that liberating the erotic requires reconceptualizing humans as equal participants in culture and nature, able to explore the eroticism of reason and the unique rationality of the erotic.”[59] Armed with a sex positivity forged in urban queer spaces, forest defenders were able to tangle and complicate the nature/culture, erotic/reason, male/female dualisms that had heretofore invisibly shaped much of environmentalist thinking and therefore activism. Queer praxis in forest defense, then, destabilizes the erotic in nature and extends the intuitive, the irrational, and the passionate into culture.

One of the ways forest defenders realized this was through the popularization of gender-neutral pronouns. Activists in the Fall Creek and Straw Devil campaigns adopted a gender-neutral pronoun which operated differently than gender-neutral pronouns found in other queer communities. Rather than referring only to gender-queer people, adding a third, more androgynous option in between “he” and “she,” this pronoun replaced all pronouns for all people of all genders, explicitly undermining the binary construction of gender. Everyone was “co,” which is short for either comrade or companion. Straw Devil’s “Womyn’s and Trans” only area drew many womyn and queers into the campaign that would not have felt safe or invited to join otherwise. The space allowed many people to experiment with gender-queer identities, feeling out the contours and breaking free from traditional gender expectations.

Gender-neutral pronouns allowed people to experiment with their identities without having to immediately define themselves as gender queer, transgender, butch, femme, girl, or boy. The gender-neutral pronoun, becoming increasingly common among a certain contingent of radical activist subcultures, allowed communities that actively included trans and gender-queer people to bypass a language that otherizes them, while, to an extent, queering people who would not otherwise transgress traditional gender performances. In mainstream society, gender-queer and transgendered people have to “out” themselves, often bending to gender binaries and surviving within a tiny niche of acceptance, of “other.” Frustrated with this reality, transgender and gender-queer forest defenders envisioned a new way of being which would require straight and non-gender queer people to take responsibility for gender oppression by shifting their own understandings of gender. It is not the otherness of queer identities which causes violence against them, but the world-view, including these oppressive dualisms, through which straight culture directs its gaze. Forest defenders agreed that if everyone in their community adopted the use of this new language, gender-queer and transgendered people would no longer carry the responsibility and burden of undermining the oppressive binaries by themselves.

Even in the all-gender part of Straw Devil, which worked alongside the womyn’s and transgender only space, this practice was radically empowering and commonly used. The intention behind “co,” rather than “he” or “she,” and “co’s” instead of “his” or “hers,” certainly queered gender, but also imbued the community with a general sense of equality. With such a strong legacy of male dominance in forest defense, the presence of womyn can sometimes be overemphasized, made “special.” One is first recognized as or assumed to be female, perhaps even congratulated for being so, and secondly recognized as a forest defender. The use of gender neutral pronouns intervened in this pattern.

When people are all referred to as co, it is not in denial of gender identities; rather, it is in recognition of the multiplicity of gender identities and the failure of a binary stratification to articulate that. The use of “co” calls into question the importance of gender as a prerequisite identification. It resists sexist and heterosexist assumptions simultaneously. For example, pretend that a person named Maple has just come to the forest and had co’s first climb training: co learns how to caterpillar co’s self up a rope that is hanging from high up in a tree. After the climb training, one person asks another person, “How did Maple’s climb training go?” The person responds, “It went alright. Co got scared and decided to come down, but we’re going to try again tomorrow.” If the climb trainer chose to use a gendered pronoun instead of a gender neutral pronoun, the listener could make all sorts of assumptions about this person based on ingrained sexism and heterosexism. For instance, if “she” got scared, the listener would easily, perhaps inevitably, make assumptions about how womyn naturally get scared, womyn are not as good climbers as men, or that womyn should not be climbing. If “she” did not get scared, perhaps the listener would think “good for her, she’s a tough woman.”

If co was replaced with a “he,” however, the conversation would be laced with a whole different set of assumptions. If “he” got scared, the listener may think he is less than manly, he is pussy, he is weak, he is gay, and of course, queers are too weak and frilly to be doing serious forest work. If “he” did not get scared, on the other hand, he would be maintaining the status quo, putting on his eco-warrior persona and stepping into the narrative exactly where he’s expected.

Although most activists agreed that gender neutral pronouns evaded common language problems that reinforced sexism and heterosexism, some people chose not to participate in the language project. Those who opposed it argued that when non-transgendered people use gender-neutral pronouns, they erode the meaning and the weight that the word would have had for transgendered and gender-queer people. The person is potentially using the word without understanding the real struggles that transgender people face in their everyday lives.

Many have tried to balance this tension by suggesting that forest activists honor every individual’s chosen pronoun. For example at a typical meeting where people are introducing themselves, one person will suggest doing a “go-around,” and others wiggle their fingers in an upward direction, or agree verbally as they shift their attention to the circle. Each person says co’s name and preferred pronoun, often “co” or “she or co” or “anything and everything.” Often, if it is the beginning of a meeting, a person might say what co wants to add to the meeting’s agenda, or might comment on co’s pride at the work they have done or co’s excitement for the events to come.

In this scene there is an unresolved tension between whether pronouns are individualistic—meant for the subject to decide and each speaker to remember, along with a person’s name and other particulars—or whether “co” is a communal word, used consistently by the speaker with little regard to individual preferences. Even while each speaker claimed an individual pronoun preference, I, as the story teller, chose to use co as a universal pronoun. The function of the pronoun is left in a dialectic tension as forest defenders use it, however contradictorily, in both ways simultaneously.

These dialogues continue to create dynamic and creative explorations of gender, identity, and forest defense. The use of gender neutral pronouns radicalizes queer activism and forest defense, but not without a healthy amount of controversy and critique.

Shifting queer praxis from urban landscapes, academic institutions, and reform or assimilationist projects to anti-assimiliationist, anarchistic free states like those in forest defense greatly shifts the possibilities for radical experimentation and embodiment of theory. A radical queer praxis influences how we organize as human beings, and how we live in solidarity with the non-human world.


Forest defense is rooted in a place, a dialogue, and a vision. In other words, forest defense is rooted in the site of local forests; the cite of intersecting discourses including theory and activism, and feminism, anarchy, queer theory, and environmentalism; and the sight of radical empowerment, a vision which extends beyond one form of activism and one bioregion.

Activists came to forest spaces to learn, to create, and to embody liberatory theory. Rejecting the old notion that environmental justice precludes social justice, activists celebrated forest defense for providing physical spaces in which they could experiment with anti-oppression, anti-authoritarianism, and queering space. Some of their projects would not have been possible in urban spaces, or spaces in which people with passion, time, and a willingness to challenge and be challenged were not concentrated into such close and isolated quarters. At the site of forest defense, then, theory intersected with practice and social justice with environmental justice. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the early 2000’s, activists who defended forests also deconstructed gender and sexuality, freeing something in themselves while defending their wild and free surroundings. They transformed a once starkly heteronormative, male-dominated activism into one which loudly undermined gender convention. Used alongside such pragmatic items as wrenches, truck rope, and harnesses, theory became another tool toward liberation.

Integral to defending the earth and ourselves is the intersectionality between theory and practice, social and environmental justice. The structures of ropes in the trees hold strong only if each and every one if its elements are in place. Anarchism without feminism is inadequate. The platform will fall. Feminism without ecology is inadequate. The platform will fall. Forest defense without queering gender is inadequate. The platform will fall.

A multi-issue praxis has come from an ecological desire for a future, and, moreover, an ecological desire for a present. Its objectives reach further than that of gaining social equality within an exploitative system, and further than dismantling that exploitative system within the bounds of exploitative social relationships. A multi-issue praxis leads to radical theory, radical practice, radical change, and radical empowerment. A radical praxis implores us to not lose sight of our desires for either quantitative or qualitative ends. Womyn, queers, and feminist men need not risk their personal safety and empowerment for environmental activism. All forest defenders must realize that social justice is environmental struggle. How can we create ecological ways of life without such basic life skills and values as communication, mutual aid, anti-oppression, respect and autonomy?

Forest defense in Cascadia has exemplified both hegemonic, essentialist social constructions of gender and nature, and engaged in a critical ecofeminist consciousness. While the earlier years were characterized by an Edward Abbey version of deep ecology, later campaigns and activist collectives have taken ecofeminism to the foundation of their actions. Best said by a forest defender herself, “we’ll be taking down patriarchy and puttin’ up tree-sits.”[60]


Thank you Ran, Sean, Pitch, Cannibal, Huck, Dendron, Dragonfly, Raccoon, Brad, Quin, Phoenix, Oxeye, Androgyny, Elizabeth Reis, Chaone Mallory, Yvonne Braun, Eugene, dad, and Sally, Sally, Sally, thank you dirty, beautiful, forever in our hearts Sally.


1 Sprig, “EF! Journal- Climbing Proud.” May 2000.http://www.earthfirstjournal.org/article.php?id=43 (accessed December 25, 2008).

2 Anonymous, “Straw Devil Update: Activists ask, “How much is a human life worth?”.” October 9th, 2003.http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2003/10/273036.shtml (accessed December 25, 2008).

[3] I do not, in this paper, prove or explain the problems with clear cutting or mass deforestation. For a detailed analysis of forest exploitation, see Jensen, Derrick, and George Draffan. Strangely Like War: The Global Assault On Forests. Politics of the Living. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2003.

[4] While I argue for a multi-issue praxis, I want to acknowledge that this paper only considers sexism and heterosexism in the context of forest activism, leaving many other present social issues unexamined. For a thorough analysis of race in environmental activism, see Sturgeon, Noel. Ecofeminist Natures: Race, Gender, Feminist Theory and Political Action. New York: Routledge, 1997. For a useful example of forest defenders’ alliances with loggers and townspeople, research the Watch Mountain forest campaign. For example, see McClure, Robert. “Tree-sitters launch towering protest.” August 17, 1999.http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/tree17.shtml (accessed December 25, 2008).

[5] I do not mean to vilify the early history of forest defense, but to learn from our past, to create some sense of historical memory, so that we do not—in forest defense or elsewhere— make similar mistakes in the future. Chaia Heller writes, “What is necessary is not to criticize previous thinking for being a product of history, but to understand the historical processes which have produced such thinking in order to create new ways of conceptualizing ecological change” Chaia Heller. Ecology of Everyday Life: Rethinking the Desire for Nature. New York: Black Rose Books, 1999.

[6] Schuster, Henry. “Domestic terror: Who’s most dangerous?” CNN.com. August 5, 2005. http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/08/24/schuster.column/ (accessed December 25, 2008).

[7] Bishop, Bill. “Is it the Green Scare, eco-terrorism, or none of the above?” Article Archives. April 15, 2006. http://www.articlearchives.com/crime-law-enforcement-corrections/human-rights/150362-1.html (accessed December 25, 2008).

[8] Jean Franscois Lyotard writes, “the ‘prefect crime’ does not consist in killing the victim or the witnesses…but rather in obtaining the silence of the witnesses…” Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. Translated by Georges van den Abbeele. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988.

[9]http://www.adl.org/learn/extremism_in_america_updates/movements/ecoterrorism/ecoterror_11_12406.htm. 11 Indicted in Five-State Ecoterror Campaign. January 24, 2006. (accessed December 25, 2008).

[10] Le, Phuong Cat. Activists’ passion turns to violence. October 18, 2006. http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/289091_elfwomen18.html?source=mypi (accessed December 25, 2008).

[11] Forest defense in Oregon differs from forest defense in California because the Redwoods are on private land. The cutting is most often legal—though no less abhorrent.

[12] Sprig. Climbing Proud! May 2000. http://www.earthfirstjournal.org/article.php?id=43 (accessed December 25, 2008).

[13] I use the term “womyn” consistently throughout this paper because it is a term which many, though not all, female-identified people in the forest chose to use. Because language and gender were constantly contested, I choose to use the revisionary spelling rather than the traditional spelling, even though it was not as consistent among forest defenders as it is in this paper.

[14]Huber, Ron. Earth First! 1985. http://www.penbay.org/ef/mikejakubal_1sttreesit85.html (accessed December 25, 2008).

[15] Sprig. Climbing Proud!

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Note that the trees there had no commercial value to begin with, given that they were permanently protected.

[19] Bell, James John, J Cookson, Ilyse Hogue, and Patrick Reinsborough. Earth First! Journal: Direct Action at the Points of Assumption. 2002. http://www.earthfirstjournal.org/article.php?id=149 (accessed December 25, 2008).

[20] Abraham, Kera. Flames of Dissent. November 2, 2006. http://www.eugeneweekly.com/2006/11/02/coverstory.html (accessed December 25, 2008).

[21] Lewis, Tim, and Tim Ream. Pickaxe. Cascadia Media. Oregon, 1999.

[22] Pods are three-legged structures with a platform suspended from the center

[23] Campaigns included Silo, Windberry, Blodgett, several in the Umpqua National Forest, Berrypatch, Slap, Watch Mountain, Madre Loca, Freshwater, Helldun, and others.

[24] Anonymous

[25] Anonymous interview

[26] Watching…, Hank. rape and rapists in portland, part 2- HANK. September 27, 2003. http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2003/09/271150.shtml (accessed December 25, 2008).

[27] Anonymous correspondence

[28] Anonymous email

[29] A unit is a section of forest slated for logging. There are usually many units to any given sale.

[30] (Cascadia Rising). Oh no! website is gone!

[31] Defenders, Cascadia Forest. Forest Defense Training Camp @ Straw Devil timber sale. July 7, 2004. http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/07/292496.shtml (accessed December 25, 2008).

[32] There have been all womyn’s or womyn-centered blockades and action camps, and campaigns elsewhere, including the 1993 effort to protect the Clayoquot Sound in Canada and the Greenham Common Womyn’s Peace Camp participant in 1983.

[33] (Cascadia Rising) deceased…

[34] Asshopper, G. R. Grasshopper speaks- of Sten. November 27, 2005. http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2005/11/329463.shtml (accessed December 25, 2008).

[35] Sturgeon, Ecofeminist Natures. 54

[36] Miss Ann Thropy (Christopher Manes). “Population and AIDS.” Earth First!, 1987: 32.

[37] Irwin, Chris. Kicking the KKK Out of Katuah. 2002. http://www.earthfirstjournal.org/article.php?id=126 (accessed December 25, 2008).

[38] Bari, Judi. Timber Wars. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1994. 57

[39] Chaia Heller, Ecology of Everyday Life, 1

[40] Ibid., 6

[41] See Val Plumwood, Carol Adams, Greta Gaard, Susan Griffin, Karen Warren

[42] Warren, Karen, ed. Ecological Feminist Philosophies. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996. 25

[43] Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1993. 31

[44] For a more thorough analysis of the feminization of nature, see Heller, Chaia. “For the Love of Nature: Ecology and the Cult of the Romantic.” In Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature, by Greta Gaard, 219-242. Philadelphia: Temple Universtiy Press, 1993, in which Heller argues that present day discourse around the destruction of nature is shrouded in a language of romanticism rooted as deep as the Middle Ages. I chose a quote from an engineering blog to expose what Heller has similarly described as a surge of corporate and professional men rushing to participate in “the romantic, ecological drama, becoming ‘econights’ ready to proest and save helpless ‘Lady Nature’ from the big, bad dragon of human irresponsibility” (219).

[45] Whiteley, Don. Vancouver Sun — New War of the Woods shaping up in B.C. forests. April 9, 2003. http://www.forestethics.org/article.php?id=814 (accessed December 25, 2008).

[46] Motavalli, Jim. Native Forest Council: News. May 26, 2004. http://www.forestcouncil.org/tims_picks/view.php?id=114 (accessed December 25, 2008).

[47] Tree Sit: The Art of Resistance. Directed by Earth Films. Performed by Julia Butterfly Hill. 2003.

[48] Tree Sit: The Art of Resistance. Directed by Earth Films. Performed by Julia Butterfly Hill. 2003.

[49] Karen Warren, Ecological Feminist Philosophies, 34

[50] Ibid., 20

[51] Hill, Julia Butterfly. Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods. New York: HarperCollins, 2000, 9

[52] Unit 6 zine

[53] Lewis, Tim, and Tim Ream. Pickaxe. Cascadia Media. Oregon, 1999.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Zine, Kookie

[56] Mallory, Chaone. “Ecofeminism and Forest Defense in Cascadia: Gender, Theory and Radical Activism.” Capitalism Nature Socialism, 2006: 32-49. 44)

[57] Mallory, 40-42

[58] Warren, Ecological Feminist Philosophies, xiii

[59] Gaard, Greta. “Toward a Queer Ecofeminism.” In New Perspectives on Environmental Justice: Gender, Sexuality, and Activism, by Rachel Stein. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2004. 132

[60] Anonymous


June 3, 2008

internal landscape

Filed under: anti-assimilation,Uncategorized,women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p06

The internal landscape is the world inside the body, beneath the skin. Light from the outside world refracts through a mosaic of experiences, paints fractals of light and color, patterns within. The internal landscape is never simply a reflection of what its seen, never a reproduction of the world as is. Rather, it is through how we choose to organize and understand our experiences, and how we choose to engage in the world as we understand it, that we become who we are. The internal landscape is a name for the narratives, metaphors, myths, and patterns–visual, discursive, palpable–that shape our lives. And like any place on a map, the internal landscape is deeply defined by its relationship to the people, places, cultures, struggles, and institutions around it.

Our internal landscapes are deeply shaped by the natural and discursive landscapes of our surroundings. Inside in our bodies and minds we hold knowledge of certain shapes and textures: the stories that root us into our communities and institutions, the assumptions we often never know are assumptions, and the invisible ways of thinking we often take for the only ways of thinking. I saw a movie once about a man who went out in the sea in a storm, and he came up against a wall at the edge of the ocean. He discovered his whole world and everything he knew was only a world within a world. He could open the door and be somewhere else. These edges exist everywhere, discursively, in our minds. And finding the edge of discourse is essential to any liberatory project. Feminism is a means, a boat which takes us out to sea, by which we find the edges of our worlds, destabilize what meanings we might have taken for granted, denaturalize what they have tried to make us feel is natural.

I want to start with this idea of internal landscape: the mess of internalized knowledge we take for granted. So far I have two scholars to draw on in terms of how language reflects and shapes this landscape. These are Jean-Francois Lyotard and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I dont know who else to read. Anyone, ideas??

Of course i have no idea what i am taking about. but. i like this idea as a beginning for writing about epistemology and methodology in a more accessible way.

May 9, 2008

This was the baby seed which became my thesis.

Filed under: women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p05

Breaking the Rules: Feminist Challenges to Epistemology and Methodology in History

The only way we can [fight oppression] is by creating another whole structure that touches every aspect of our existence, at the same time as we are resisting.[1]

The range of contemporary critical theories suggests that it is from those who have suffered the sentence of history—subjugation, domination, diaspora, displacement—that we learn our most enduring lessons for living and thinking.[2]

Insofar as we are concerned with structures of consciousness, we are acquainted with those structures only as they are manifested in discourse.[3]

Our internal landscapes are deeply shaped by the natural and discursive landscapes of our surroundings. Inside in our bodies and minds we hold knowledge of certain shapes and textures: the stories that root us into our communities and institutions, the assumptions we often never know are assumptions, and the invisible ways of thinking we often take for the only ways of thinking. I saw a movie once about a man who went out in the sea in a storm, and he came up against a wall at the edge of the ocean. He discovered his whole world and everything he knew was only a world within a world. He could open the door and be somewhere else. These edges exist everywhere, discursively, in our minds. And finding the edge of discourse is essential to any liberatory project. Feminism is a means, a boat which takes us out to sea, by which we find the edges of our worlds, destabilize what meanings we might have taken for granted, denaturalize what they have tried to make us feel is natural.

Most of us, at least in the first world, live to some degree at the interstices of power, along fault lines of privilege and subjection. Our internal landscapes resemble both the language and logic of domination, and our experiences of oppression and techniques of resistance. Even as we resist racism, classism, sexism, etc., the philosophical foundations which formed those oppressions limit the ways we can understand and articulate them. But at the same time, the ways we experience oppressions, and the individual and cultural techniques we develop to resist them form subversive ways of knowing which challenge dominant ways of knowing. All these logics are jumbled inside, bumping up against one another, clashing, sparking.

Since the 1960s, U.S. feminists, particularly feminists of color, transformed the landscape of feminist discourse through their critiques of Western epistemology, or, in other words, white supremacist, patriarchal ways of knowing, logics, and conceptual frameworks that drive and sustain oppression. Epistemology is “the theory or science of the method or grounds of knowledge.”[4] In this work, I use epistemology as synchronistic with internal landscapes: the visible or invisible, known or unknown methods and traditions which shape our thinking. U.S. feminists and intellectuals have challenged their readers to reshape not just what we think, but also how we think. This work is interested in how dominant epistemologies fray against subversive threads, especially the epistemic challenges posed by, in Homi Bhabha’s words, “those who have suffered the sentence of history.”

In a 2003 American Historical Association panel titled “The Future of Women’s History,” Afsaneh Najmabadi regrets that feminists have not significantly challenged “the core methodological and epistemological grounds” of history, as they have in other fields.[5] Moreover, feminist historians have yet to fully redress the internal hegemonies which feminist history has forged in the wake of prioritizing Western elite and middle class, white, heterosexual women’s history. It is clear that these projects are significantly interconnected. Though each panelist—Najmabadi, Evelynn Hammonds, and Joan Scott—mentions the need for challenges to history’s epistemology and methodology, not one ventures to suggest what these challenges might be. The “future” of women’s history, at this moment, was no more than a meditation on reasons for its perceived standstill.

I am interested in naming those epistemological and methodological challenges, exploring what they look in the folds of new histories, and how these new histories in turn shape and challenge our ways of knowing, our internal landscapes. My interest is to move the boat out to sea, to trace the current edges—the creative, spiritual, theoretical challenges feminists have brought to the theory and philosophy, the praxis of history.

I envision this as a two-part project. First, I want to trace the history and development of academia since the rupture of women and people of color into its institutions. I am interested in tracing the history of feminist thought through three developments in academia since the 1960s: interdisciplinary studies (particularly interdisciplinarity in history), Black feminism/womanism/US third world feminism, and poststructuralism/postmodernism. This is a history of the institutionalization of dissent, but also of discursive rebellions skirting across the crumbling boundaries between disciplines, of epistemic foundations taut against the pull of multiple angles of desire.

Key to the first section of my paper is a historiography of a moment in US intellectual history when US intellectuals of color ruptured the institutions of academia. Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob offer a useful analysis of this moment in their collective work, Telling the Truth About History. They write,

Our central argument is that skepticism and relativism about truth, not only in science but also in history and politics, have grown out of the insistent democratization of western society. The opening of higher education to nearly all who seek it, the rewriting of American history from a variety of cultural perspectives, and the dethroning of science as the source and model for what may be deemed true, all are interrelated phenomena. It is no accident that they occurred almost simultaneously.[6]

In the “dethroning of science as the source and model” for knowing, rebel academics have forged new ways of knowing which undermine (rather than simply offer alternatives to) Western epistemology.

US feminists of color ruptured feminist discourse through writing from their particular knowledge of oppression, the “epistemic privilege” that allowed them key insights less available to those with race and gender privileges. They developed and articulated ways of knowing which challenge and undermine key aspects of Western ways of knowing, including value dualisms (man/woman, mind/body, spirit/matter); universal truth; objectivity; categorical thinking; and linear narratives. Their techniques of resistance hinged on theories of embodiment and spirituality; nonlinear ways of knowing; new ways of thinking about identity and the politics of relation; and new ways of integrating “fact” and “fiction.” Their writings planted seeds which feminists would tend and cultivate for decades to follow.

This historiography will trace what cultural theorist Chela Sandoval calls technologies of resistance. These are intellectual creations, tools, and techniques. These are namable ideological formations which we can literally use, as a monkey wrench would pry apart a tractor, to deconstruct oppressive ways of thinking. But moreover, such technologies reconstruct through their deconstructing, birthing something new in the wake of what needed to be destroyed. As the Audre Lorde quote at the beginning of this paper suggests, I am tracing the work of those who go beyond naming problems, beyond deconstruction, beyond cultural criticism, to reconstruction and renewal.

The second part of my project traces how the history and development of feminist thought and its accompanying disciplinary rebellions have percolated into historical thinking via Joan Scott, Natalie Davis, Saidiya Hartman, Elsa Barkley Brown, and Alexis De Veaux. Through this lens, feminist history becomes a kind of praxis between knowing and doing, even as it remains within the realm of discursive, cultural, and psychic. Feminist history as praxis dramatically shifts traditional notions of the role of writing and memory in our society, emphasizing the importance of not simply what we know, but how we know it.

Historian Elsa Barkley Brown exemplifies the transformation of oppositional ways of knowing into methodology. What has Happened Here: The Politics of Difference in Women’s History and Feminist Politics” teaches historians how to write nonlinear, “jazz history,” that better reflects the ways we experience the world. Elsa Barkley Brown uses a metaphor of music—jazz versus classical—to illustrate different styles of thinking and writing history. Like jazz, “history is also everybody talking at once, multiple rhythms being played simultaneously.”[7] She laments that too many historians are suffering from “classical” training: “we require surrounding silence—of the audience, of all the instruments not singled out as the performers in this section, even of any alternative visions than the composer’s.”[8] Elsa Barkley Brown drew on the epistemological underpinnings of subaltern ways of knowing. Brown gleans from African American culture a way of thinking which both undermines logics of oppression and creates a new way of thinking in its place. History is the praxis through which this happens.

From the podium at a women’s history conference in Illinois, Saidiya Hartman offered a coy smile as she admitted to her audience, “My work does not follow the rules of history.” And it was her smile, her small rebellion, that grafted to my mind the uses of “breaking the rules” to women’s historians. In Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, Hartman lyrically intertwines the history of slavery with her 1997 visit to Ghana and her process tracing the slave routes from the hinterlands to the coast.

In her work, the archive is not objectively categorized and compartmentalized in footnotes or left behind the scenes of the work of the author; rather, the archive is in the text itself, present in her struggles with identity, memory, desire, and loss.

Saidiya’s positioning of the archive opens it to a set of emotions and possibilities it could not have if veiled in silence. Slavery’s archive only holds certain facts—mostly economic—which shape what we can know and remember about slavery, and thus shapes the loss, the absence in its wake. Hartman’s textual interaction with the boxes and folders of papers, the photos, the costs of food and bodies, numbers of corpses, and distance between shelters explicates the relationship of trauma and memory to hard facts of truth. She crumbles the solidity of objectivity and makes tangible the present-absence of knowledge, and the failure of the archive to address the past.

Bring the archive forward, into the text, Saidiya writes, “I happened upon my maternal great-great-grandmother in a volume of slave testimony from Alabama.”[9] The experience enabled despair: Her grandmother claimed she remembered nothing from slavery, and Saidiya knew this was a lie. It challenged her to rethink memory and testimony, and to mourn the silence, the not-knowing, that hung in her past. Hartman is challenged further when, “Years later…looking through the Alabama testimony, I was unable to find her…. I reviewed my preliminary notes, desperately searched for the interview I had never copied, but there was no Minnie or Polly or anyone with a name similar, nor did I find the paragraph stamped in my memory.”[10] This incident, Hartman writes, attests to “the slipperiness and elusiveness of slavery’s archive.”[11] Hartman’s choice to pull the archive forward into the text, rather than leave it in the background and footnotes, marks a new way of confronting fact. Despair, desire, a longing for absent memories interjects in the supposed objectivity of the archive. Such an exploration elucidates what we can glean not just from the presence of facts, but also from their absence.

I am searching for the ways in which historians challenge traditional rules of history through alternative ways of knowing, being, relating, and remembering. I’ll consider how rebellious feminist historians emerge from a larger trajectory of academic and intellectual change, but also how they are not simply products, but agents of change in the academy. By developing feminist epistemologies in experimental historical methodology, these feminist historians have challenged and changed traditional modes of writing history.


Alexander, M. Jacqui Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred. Duke University Press, 2005

Alexander, M. Jacqui, and Chandra Talpade Mohanty, eds. Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures. New York: Routeledge, 1997.

Allen, Paula Gunn. Spider Woman’s Granddaughters. Ballantine Books, 1990

Allen, Paula Gunn. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Beacon Press, 1992

Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Aunt Lute Books ,1987

Anzaldua, Gloria. Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color. Aunt Lute Foundation Books1990

Anzaldua, Gloria. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981), New edition: Third Women Press, 2001

Anzaldua, Gloria. This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation Routledge, 2002.

Brown, Elsa Barkley “African-American Women’s Quilting: A Framework for Conceptualizing and Teaching African-American Women’s History,” in Signs, 1989.

Brown, Elsa Barkley “Imaging Lynching: African-American Women, Communities of Struggle, and Collective Memory,” in African American Women Speak Out on Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas, ed. Geneva Smitherman, 1995

Brown, Elsa Barkley “Mapping the Terrain of Black Richmond,” Journal of Urban History, 1995.

Brown, Elsa Barkley “Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African-American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom,” Public Culture 7, 1994.

Brown, Elsa Barkley “To Catch the Vision of Freedom: Reconstructing Southern Black Women’s Political History, 1865-1880,” in African American Women and the Vote 1837-1965, ed. A. Avakian et al., 1997.

Brown, Elsa Barkley “‘What has Happened Here’: The Politics of Difference in Women’s History and Feminist Politics,” in Feminist Studies, 1992.

Brown, Elsa Barkley “Womanist Consciousness: Maggie Lena Walker and the Independent Order of Saint Luke,” in Signs, 1989.

Brown, Elsa Barkley Major Problems in African-American History, 2000.

Bruce-Novoa, J. “History as Content, History as Act: The Chicano Novel.” Aztlán, 18:1, 1987.

Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969.

Casteneda, Antonia I: women of color and the rewriting of western history: the discourse, politics, and decolonization of history, Pacific Historical Review, 1992

Collingwood, R.G. The Idea of History. 1936. Reprint, London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Collins, Patricia Hill. “Third World Women in America.” In The Women’s Annual, ed. Barbara K. Haber. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1982.

Combahee River Collective. “A Black Feminist Statement.” In Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, ed. Zilla Eisenstein. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1979.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. “”Women’s History” in Transition: the European Case” pages 83-103 from Volume 3, Issue 3, Feminist Studies, 1975.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. “Anthropology and History in the 1980s: the Possibilities of the Past”pages 267-275 from Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Volume 12, Issue #2, 1981.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. “Gender and Genre: Women as Historical Writers, 1400-1820” pages 123-144 from University of Ottawa Quarterly, Volume 50, Issue #1, 1980.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. “History’s Two Bodies” pages 1-13 from the American Historical Review, Volume 93, Issue #1, 1988.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and their Tellers in Sixteenth Century France, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1987.

De Veaux, Alexis. Warrior poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004.

Frankenberg, Ruth. White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Harding, Sandra, and Merrill B. Hintikka. Discovering Reality: Feminist Perspectives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology and Philosophy of Science. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1983.

Hartman, Saidiya Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. Oxford University Press, 1997.

Hartman, Saidiya. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.

Holmes, Barbara. Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently. Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 2002.

Hull, Gloria T., Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, eds. All the Women Are White, All the Blacks are Men, But some of Us Brave: Black Women’s Studies. New York: The Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 1982.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Jordan, June. Passion. Boston: Beacon Press, 1980.

Keating, Ana Louise. Women Reading Women Writing: Self-Intervention in Paula Allen Gunn, Gloria Anzaldua and Audre Lorde. Philidelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

Lipsitz, George. Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990.

Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider. New York: Crossing Press, 1984.

Lorde, Audre. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Freedom, California: Crossing Press, 1982.

Minh-ha, Trinh T. “Not You/Like You: Post-Colonial Women and the Interlocking Questions of Identity and Difference.” Inscriptions, 1988.

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Duke University Press, 2003

Anzaldua, Gloria and Cherrie Moraga. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, 2002.

Owens, Craig. “The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism.” In The Anti-Aesthetic, ed. Hal Foster. Port Townsend: Bay Press, 1983.

Riley, Denise. “Am I That Name?” Feminism and the Category of “Women” in History. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988

Rowe, Aimee Carrillo. “Be Longing: Towards a Feminist Politics of Relation.” NWSA Journal, 2005

Sandoval, Chela. Methodology of the Oppressed. University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Scott, Joan Wallach. Gender and the Politics of History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.

Smith, Barbara. Writings on Race, Gender and Freedom: The Truth that Never Hurts. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983.

Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. New York: Pocket Books, 1982.

Ware, Vron. Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism, and History. New York: Verso, 1992.

White, Hayden. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975.

White, Hayden. The Content of Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

[1] Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider(Berkley: Crossing Press, 1984): 103

[2] H. K Bhabha. The location of culture. (London & New York: Routledge, 1994): 172.

[3] Hayden White. Somewhere….

[4] Oxford English Dictionary

[5] Najmabadi, Afsaneh. “From Supplementarity to Parasitism?” Journal of Women’s History 16, no. 2 (2004).

[6] Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacobs. Telling the Truth About History (New York: Norton, 1995): 3

[7] Brown, Elsa Barkley, 279

[8] Ibid, 298

[9] Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. 15

[10] Ibid., 16

[11] Ibid., 17

May 4, 2008


Filed under: women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p05

May 2, 2008

Pop culture.

Filed under: anti-assimilation,feminism,race,women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p05

I have a problem with pop culture. I dissociate from it. I don’t remember any of it. I can’t. My view of pop culture is entirely one-dimensional. I admit. Christian suggested to me that mass media is a powerful form of cultural communication, a potential avenue for social change. bell hooks has a third view: Pop culture is an important space for cultural critique. Pop culture both generates and reinforces cultural meaning. It’s important for us to look to pop culture to understand the how, why, and what of power in our society. These videos are good:

April 8, 2008

the irony of natty’s life: an interview by eugene cathcart, winter 2008

Filed under: anarchism,anti-assimilation,happiness,pictures,women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p04

February 24, 2008


Filed under: women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p02

the quality or state of being radically alien to the conscious self or a particular cultural orientation

The Maker of all things took Union, and Division, and Identity, and Alterity, and Station, and Motion to compleat the soul. 1660

Outness is but..alterity visually represented. 1849

In the Trinity there is, 1. Ipseity; 2 Alterity; 3. Community. 1827

(Ipseity: personal identity and individuality; selfhood)

February 20, 2008

Not Knowing

Filed under: women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p02

From An Imaginary Life, by David Malouf

When I think of my exile now it is from the universe. When I think of the tongue that has been taken away from me, it is some earlier and more universal language than our Latin, subtle as it undoubtedly is. Latin is a language for distinctions, every ending defines and divides. The language I am speaking of now, that I am almost speaking, is a language whose every syllable is a gesture of reconciliation. We knew that language once. I spoke it in my childhood. We must discover it again.

From The Empire of Love

The multiplicity of discourses wound into any one object meets the multiplicity of the object as it changes over time, and is stretched by any given discourse, and winds others as it twists away from them.

As people go about their ordinary lives–their practices of love, work, and civic life–they continually constitute these discourses as if the discourses were the agents of social life, as if there were such a thing as the sovereign subject and the genealogical society, as individual freedom and social constraint, and as if the choice between these Manichean positions were the only real choice available to us. They do this as if all other actual and potential positions and practices were impractical, politically perverse, or socially aberrant.

From “Womanism: On its Own,” by Layli Phillips

Womanism is a social change perspective rooted in Black women’s and other women of color’s everyday experiences and everyday methods of problem solving in everyday spaces, extended to the problem of ending all forms of oppression for a ll people, restoring a balance between people and the environment/nature, and reconciling human life with the spiritual dimension.

Womanism manifests five overaching characteristics: (1) it is antioppressionist, (2) it is vernacular, (3) it is nonideological, (4) it is communitarian, and (5) it is spiritualized.

Nonideological refers to the fact that womanism abhors rigid lines of demarcation and tends to function in a decentralized manner. Statements like “You’re either in or you’re out” and “You’re either with us or against us” do not compute for womanists. Womanism is not about creating lines of demarcation; rather, it is about building structures of inclusiveness and positive interrelationship from anywhere in its network. Ideology is rigid; it relies on internal logical consistency and some degree of central control that seeks the resolution of difference by means homogenization. Ideological perspectives and, to a lesser extent, movements rely on processes that compel or seduce people to conform and do not deal effectively with difference or paradox. Differences and tension that cannot beelided or erased trouble ideologies, and unresolved praradoxes tend to cause ideologies to crumble and lose efficacy. Womanism is not a rule-based system, and it does not need to resolve internal disagreement to function effectivley… Womanists rely on dialogue to establish and negotialte relationships; such relationships can accomodatedisagreement, conflict, and anger simultaneiously wth agreement, affinity, and love. From an analytic perspective, womanism appears paradoxical and logically inconsistent, and from an analytic perspective, these are fair assessments–yet womanism’s criteria for self-evaluation are not analytic.

Dialogue is a means by which people express and establish both connection and individuality. Dialogue permits negotiation, reveals standpoint, realizes existential equality, and shapes social reality. Dialogue is the lcal where both tension and connection can be present simultaneously; it is the site for both struggle and love.

Differential consciousness: permits movement among and between divergent logics (cultural, religious, ideological, etc.) and conceptual schemes (cosmologies, value systems, ethical codes, etc.) and its hallmark is a higher-order coordinating mechanism (“the differential”) that enables them to collectively make sense and work together. It requires the ability to make positive connections between elements that might have seemed unrelatable before; thus, it is associated with creativity, ingenuity, improvisationality, and the proverbial “making a way out of no way.” As Sandoval points out, the transcendental-emotive state of love creates a space within and a mechanism by which limiting rational-analytical logics can be dissolved to make different, paradox-superseding logics possible and active. This love, similar to Audre Lorde’s “erotics,” has a political expression that Sandoval calls “revolutionary love.”

Layli Phillips, Elizabeth Povinelli, Chela Sandoval, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Audre Lorde, David Malouf, Susan Griffen. These are the thinkers that are catching me. I wandered into them through curiosities about the politics of love, and through a growing feeling of… well maybe it could be called a spiritual sickness of categorical thinking. I have much to read, and only an intuition that i’m heading in something that could be called a direction.

February 13, 2008

Making Room.

Filed under: women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p02


As a poet, a dancer, a painter, there is room for periods of deep sadness, joy, reflection. Room for stillness or dwelling on the simple and sacred. Room to move slowly and let life enter. Room to be still. Room to fall or dissolve as in water or air. As a historian, a feminist, a social scientist, an activist, we braid and unbraid ideologies. Pick this up and put it over there. Go get that. No not that. Feminism is a bucket. Stonewall a wrench. Sacco and Vanzetti is a spoon. Get the spoon and throw it in the bucket: Emma Goldman’s sadness hits metal and ricochets down Christopher St. Put the mad transwoman in a bucket. Carry her soaked in police blood down Christopher St. 1969. Wash your hands in the bucket in 2008.

Buckets and streets and spoons and people push up against sharp letters, sharp words, too much, like rope tying up too many things. History marches like a chain gang tied with letters like rope. There is no space, no room to breathe. How does history rest? How can history bend over and pant, elbows on knees, how can history feel its heart in its throat? How do I make room for sadness here? How do I make room for the beautiful? How do I make room for dwelling?


I am immersed in the life of the text. Sometimes I believe diligence and practice in the life of the text will lead to my liberation. I eat an apple. I don’t know what. Listen. More carefully. I’m shifting and wanting something though I can’t yet get at what it is. It is in my mouth, moist on my tongue. It is filling my heartspace and dripping down my back and echoing against some hollow rib cage. What is it? It is simpler than a desire to be simple. A desire to not get tied up in things? Even ideas can be things. I’m only allowed to touch ideas that are not things. I can touch apple. I can touch baby. I can hold my foot in the air. Lean on my back and eat the sky. Watch goose bumps grow on arms. I can submerge my face underwater of another person’s heart.

Womanism is attractive to me because it is accessible, earthy, and non-ideological.

June Jordan and Audre Lorde appeal to me because of their integration of poetry and essay, embodied sensuality/sexuality leading to whole way of being in the world, an ethic in life. The body and social justice. Now that i think about it, I learned about the history of Grenada through both of them.

Theories of embodiment get complicated

bell hooks has shaped my world view more than any other single individual

I’m afraid of primary sources

I’m curious about “long history”

That’s all for now.


February 5, 2008

What about Love!?

Of course, Love. I always come back to you.

Thanks for your comments, Sean. You are awesome. What do ya’ll think of this idea:

A Radical/Subversive history of love. I’m thinking a mosaic. I could trace the larger arch of how the mainstream discourses on love have changed over time, but underneath that show how different subcultures have taken the dominant meaning of love and subverted it in some way toward social justice. Here are some examples i’ve thought of so far:

interracial (black/white) relationships in slave-holding or reconstruction south

free lovers of late 19th/early 20th centuries

1920’s and harlem rennaisance “new woman”/ “new negro”

… (huge time gap)…

Lesbian feminist back to the land movement in Oregon

Development of womanism, audre lorde “Uses of the Erotic”

Eco-radical discourses on love, maybe anarcha feminist

Polyamory radical queer culture

Current scholarship on love: bell hooks and some others

Identity Crisis?

Filed under: women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p02

I am currently having an identity crisis. What should I write my thesis on? What topic is so compelling, so important that i should spend the next year and a half dedicated to it? Does this project need to embody all my values, my politics, my desires? Or should it be problematic in ways? I’ve been leaning away from organization histories and i’m not super interested in biographies. I’ve also been leaning away from attachments to certain ideologies, namely anarchism. I know i am interested in the history of sexuality. I know i am interested in how sexuality has been a site of resistance in different ways throughout history. Always I am interested in anarchism on an interpersonal level. I am interested in radical education and liberatory thought. I’m interested in community. I think i’m more interested in the production of art and poetry than prose propaganda. But that could change tomorrow. Nothing seems right so far….

Here are some possibilities:

The rural lesbian feminist communities in Oregon. Like my forest defense paper, it would involve community, sexuality as resistance, nature, and Oregon.

Sexuality, race, and resistance in the South. perhaps reconstruction era.

The Highlander Folk School est. 1932 in Tennessee. Civil rights, radical education

Black Mountain College: radical, creative education project in North Carolina, est. 1933

Dr. Marie Equi. Lesbian anarchist from Oregon. turn of 20th century

Gays and Lesbians in the Harlem Renaissance. Particularly Mabel Hampton, who founded the Lesbian Herstory Archives

Gaurav just gave me lots of ideas, particularly white women’s historic complicity in violence against women of color.

I’ve thought about comparing bohemian Greenwich village to bohemian portland oregon.

I’ve thought about writing about CES Wood’s contribution to radical thought. He’s a complicated figure: complicit and perpetuating some yucky stuff while simultaneously living a fiercely beautiful, radical life. No one has really drawn out his philosophies on anarchism, feminism, anti-racism, and radical relationships yet. and i really like him.

A few other names come to mind: Genevieve Taggard, a bohemian free love poet who taught at sarah lawrence
Sara Bard Field, parter to CES Wood

Tee Corinne, a second wave lesbian artist involved in the rural women’s communities

I’m really curious about incite, women of color against violence. Would it be possible to trace the development of their critiques over time? That would be an awesome project….. potentially using oral history and their writings. Maybe they are too recent for ‘history.’

I’m posting these rambling loose ends on my blog hoping that something will catch, somewhere, some idea will spark, or someone will send some perfect idea my way. On some level, this is wretchedly painful. On another, it is exciting.

February 4, 2008

this is it.

Faeries in the Forest: Queering Environmental Activism (more…)

January 17, 2008

Faeries in the Forest: Queering Environmental Activism

Queers marked the first years of the 21st century with a vanguard praxis that reverberated throughout the forest and its network of defenders. They transformed a once starkly heteronormative activism into one which loudly undermined gender convention. Coming from an anti-assimilationist perspective, queer activists fashioned a radical transformation of the attitudes and politics embedded in forest defense. Many forest defenders began to understand activism, sexuality, ecology, anarchism, and feminism as politically, emotionally, and theoretically linked commitments. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the early 2000’s, activists who defended forests also deconstructed gender and sexuality, freeing something in themselves as they defended the wild and free surrounding them.

A primary form of environmental direct action between 1985 and 2005 was forest defense. Forest defense usually includes tree sits and road blocks, and sometimes includes protests, tree spiking, sit-ins, lock downs, and other forms of direct action. In Oregon, forest defenders often stall logging companies from entering illegal or dubiously legal logging sites while environmental lawyers fight for injunctions and protections in court. This paper focuses on a central location in the history of forest defense, the Willamette National Forest. This forest hosted three major campaigns: the Warner Creek campaign of the mid 1990s; the Fall Creek campaign which began in 1998; and the 2003-2004 campaign, Straw Devil. Although there were many other campaigns in other places throughout this time—notably Earth First!’s and Julia Butterfly’s actions in the California Redwoods, Eagle Creek near Portland, Oregon, Watch Mountain in Washington, and Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia—the three campaigns centered in the Willamette Forest reveal the larger trajectory of cultural changes within forest activism.

This chapter, “Faeries in the Forest: Queering Environmental Activism,” is the last chapter of a larger paper which documents the history, theory, and praxis of forest defense in the Willamette Valley. “Apex: Locating Cascadia Forest Defense in Feminism, Anarchism, and Queer Theory,” addresses the full trajectory of gender politics over the course of the Warner Creek, Fall Creek, and Straw Devil campaigns. It documents gender politics in forest defense between 1985 and 2005, as forest defense shifted from being notably male dominated to being notably feminist. As feminist forest defenders spoke out against the male-dominance in the movement, they challenged individual men as well as the patriarchal underpinnings of the environmental and eco-anarchist movements. Through a process of articulating patriarchy within their activist groups; separating from men into autonomous women- and transgender-only spaces; challenging men to take up feminist politics; and then reintegrating to work in coalition with men, these activists created deeply lived theories and political strategies which managed to affirm their goals as anarchists and feminists while successfully stopping timber sales.

Importantly, women’s and transgender activists used separatism to create safe and empowering spaces, challenging sexism and sexual harassment. This separatism worked in conjunction and solidarity with an all-gender group, allowing women to simultaneously work with, yet apart from, male allies. This noteworthy strategy transformed and strengthened their community rather than fracturing it.

Forest defense was a site on which many theories were embodied on the ground, contested, and used as tools along with such useful items as wrenches, truck rope and harnesses. Historical analysis combined with ecofeminist, feminist, anarchist, and queer theory elucidates an important theme for feminist and movement history: the failure of single-issue politics. Environmental activism cannot preclude or undermine social activism. Rather, forest defense provides a physical and cultural space to experiment with anti-oppression and anti-authoritarianism in ways that mainstream society and mainstream spaces cannot as readily afford.

During the second major campaign in the Willamette National Forest, Fall Creek, the forest defense community fractured over social injustice. Persistent sexist and violent encounters pervaded women’s lives as forest defenders. Patriarchal men used demeaning language, devalued their opinions, relegated them the drudgery tasks like hauling water, sorting food, etc. while men hoarded “heroic” skills including building and occupying tree sits. Beyond the daily grind of sexism that permeated these isolated enclaves of “anti-authoritarian” and “anarchist” people in the forest, there were at least three incidences of sexual assault. While not all men were sexist or perpetrated sexist violence against women, the community on the whole could not agree to stand in solidarity with women.

When the opportunity arose to prevent the timber sale named Straw Devil, women had already forged a significant resistance against sexism in forest defense, and in solidarity with male allies created accountability processes for past perpetrators and formed a new organization which wrote feminism and social justice into its foundation. The umbrella organization, Cascadia Rising, was born, and Cascadia Forest Defenders, the Eugene based group which organized and initiated the three campaigns, was central to its formation. Cascadia Rising grew to include several organizations throughout the bioregion and initiated Cascadia Summer, a 2003 summer of forest defense throughout Oregon, Washington, and Northern California. Every individual or group that allied with Cascaida Rising understood that anti-oppression was central to this new culture of activism. Most groups had their own anti-oppression statement and semi-formal accountability process to deal with issues of oppression within activism. These changes pushed out many of the eco-warrior type, while making space for women, queers, transgender activists, and people of color to participate without fear of belittlement or violence.

Ps. If anyone out there reading this wants to talk to me about this project–whether to contribute your own knowledge and experience, contest the details, offer alternate views, etc., I am very open to dialogue. Email me at Blackberryblossoms@gmail.com

December 16, 2007

Ecofeminism, Poetry, History

I have been avoiding writing an ecofeminist historical analysis of Charles Erskine Scott Wood’s poetry all term because i’m completely intimidated by the prospect of combining ecofeminist theory, poetry analysis, and historical analysis. I have had no idea where to begin! Perhaps my friend Claudia’s poetic influence combined with a conversation i had about ecofeminism  with someone last night pushed me over the edge because i’ve written my first tiny bit…. Here’s where i am going. This is going to be a part of a larger paper about free love, anarchism, and nature in the pacific northwest. Part of it will be about Erskine and his lover Sara (also a poet), part will be about the anarchist periodicals in Oregon and Washington, and part will be about free motherhood and the politics of eugenics. This is a really intense topic which i hate to just mention without explaining, but i will have to wait till later to go into detail about how that fits here. The last part will be about bodies and sexuality. I am trying to fish out information about three women who seem to be elusive. I want to write about Lois Waisbrooker and a court case that happened over nude bathing (she had a periodical called “clothed with the sun”); i’m trying to find information on Marie Equi, who was definitely connected to the Portland anarchists, she was lesbian, and i dont really know about her connection to the free love movement; and i want to find out about this other woman who was a seattle labor activist. She was also lesbian and into free love. I’m very confused about how all this will be put together in the end, but here’s the beginning of Erskine’s part:


Charles Erskine Scott Wood: The Poet in the Desert

Wood’s poetry employs classic, indeed cliché, metaphors likening women to nature. But rooted in this language is a keen political agenda which lends his poems both authenticity and power. Couched in the language of eastern Oregon’s high desert landscape, and through the feminization and idealization of this beloved place, Wood calls for women’s rights, free love, anarchy, and environmental conservation.

Throughout The Poet in the Desert, the book he viewed as his life’s masterpiece, Wood develops a dualism between women and men which parallels the dualism between nature and culture. Many ecofeminists, whose theories do not begin to appear for sixty years after his book’s publication, adopt a similar approach: feminizing and glorifying nature, masculinizing and vilifying culture (cite). But most ecofeminists, especially those connected to academia and in its later stages, critique this symbolic language because it tends to feminize nature and naturalize women to the mutual detriment of both (cite). To simply react to this problematic dualism by reversing it—to consider women superior to men and nature superior to culture— the latter group of ecofeminists argue, is to avoid deconstructing the oppressive conceptual framework on which the exploitation of women and nature are founded.

Although Wood’s dualism reversals may not deeply deconstruct the framework of exploitation, oppression, and ownership—key issues associated with “man” and “culture” in his work— his intent is, like earlier ecofeminists, to restore value to that which his culture was rapidly destroying. Industrialization, which played an integral role in transforming the Pacific Northwest during Erskine’s time, intensified this destruction, is a key time in ecofeminist histories of woman and nature in symbolic thought. Contextualizing Wood and his writing within an ecofeminist intellectual history in fact sheds light on his particular relation to nature, women, and freedom on the hinge of industrialization, woman suffrage, and free love in the Pacific Northwest.

The Poet in the Desert at one point consisted of a pile of papers at the bottom of a trunk. They remained there until Erskine met Sara Bard Field, a poet, socialist, and woman suffragist, equal to himself in intelligence, passion, wit and creativity. When Erskine invited her to look at his poetry, she found the poems in the trunk and insisted on their potential. The two became friends over common political and artistic sentiments, and soon lovers, and eventually divorced their respective partners and lived the rest of their lives together in a love that has impressed and inspired everyone who knew them, whether as family and friends, or as those like myself, who’ve encountered their poetry simply as a reader. The mutual love and respect between Sara and Erskine is quite astounding. For instance, in a hand bound, 1918 edition of The Poet in the Desert, Erskine wrote a note to poet Genevieve Taggard, writing that “when I consider how much this book is Sara’s– Her discovery of the manuscript– her insistence on full completion, her insistence also on less preaching and more poetry and her constructive criticisms in arrangement and phrase–many lines are hers– I cannot in this work nor in my life separate myself from her.”


December 13, 2007

Lifting As We Climb: Racial Uplift and Gender in Historical Accounts of Black Women in America

Filed under: anti-assimilation,race,women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p12

Here’s a paper I wrote earlier this term for Sisters in Struggle: 20th Century Women’s Activism.  Click below or above to read!


December 12, 2007

Nineteenth Century Free Love and the Politics of Location, a Historiography

Filed under: free love/ radical love,women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p12

This term i’ve been working on two projects: a history and a historiography. History is history; historiography is the analysis of histories. Both are on free love, and bits of both have appeared on this blog as i’ve explored and articulated my thoughts. This is the culmination of the historiography. The history will be done in spring, and over the next few months i get to delve into exploration. For now, i’m happy to invite breath back into my life, and art, and delayed correspondences, and perhaps a trip into the city to get a gluten-free cupcake at Babycakes bakery and browse the books at Bluestockings radical bookstore.




Free Love and the Politics of Location, a Historiography


The free love movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century contributes precious insights to the history of American radicalism. Historians have understood the movement to encompass a mosaic of characteristics: it was a radical critique of marriage; a movement against marital rape; an upsurge of radical male and female feminists; a rejection of public and private authority; and a movement for women to claim agency and ownership of their bodies. The movement was connected to dress reform, divorce reform, health reform, spiritualism, feminism, anarchism, and environmental conservation. Radical for their time and in some ways still radical for ours, free lovers from disparate backgrounds across the continent engaged in national and international discourses which unfolded new and empowering ways of knowing, living, and loving.

This essay explores the politics of social and geographical location in several histories of the 19th century American and Pacific Northwest free love movements. Contemporary scholarship on free love houses significant rifts and contradictions which expose the pitfalls of loose generalizations. Each history, written between 1977 and 2005, disservices the movement by ignoring the politics of two important locations: place and gender.

Historians’ inattentiveness to the politics of location obscures the many permutations of the free love movement. Feminist theorist Chandra Mohanty defines the politics of location as “the historical, geographical, cultural, psychic, and imaginative boundaries that provide the ground for political definition and self-definition for contemporary U.S. feminists.”[1] Mohanty asks how the politics of location “determine and produce experience and difference as analytical and political categories.”[2] This essay illustrates how historians have selectively attended to or ignored the politics of location to determine and produce free love histories substantially differing from one another. Arguing for engagement rather than transcendence of difference, Mohanty replaces problematic universal categories with a call for historic specificity. This lens is useful for reading historians of free love, whose universalities tend to arise from transcendence of difference, rather than engagement with varying experiences. The histories of the 19th century free love movement form messy yet productive unions, simultaneously disrupting hegemonies while creating their own problematic universalizations.

A field guide to the paper is as follows: the first part of the essay addresses historians’ definitions of free love. These definitions both determine and reflect the politics of place and gender. Parts two and three explore place and gender in the free love histories separately, showing that historians have been only selectively attentive to these interlocking locations. When historians re-place free lovers and their theories to the geographic and social locations within which they were historically situated, free love history might be further grounded and contextualized in place-based, experience-based lives.

This is not a historiography of failure. Each history brings a unique knowledge to the forefront, and each history in some way bolsters, corrects, contests, or contradicts another history. The goal of this essay is to expose how differing perceptions can emerge from the past based on each historian’s choices in relationship to the politics of location. While in some moments inattentiveness to social location borders on flaw, more often the histories complement one another, creating a mosaic and a constant reminder that no social movement is rooted in a singular place or identity. Rather, it is the interplay between these differences which makes the movement so rich and powerful. This essay is an attempt to lend power to the politics of location, and to explore the historian’s role in locating knowledge, putting memory on the map.

*Part One: Definitions*

Definitions locate basic understandings of free love at the same time they locate historians’ particular leanings and motives in their studies. Historians of the 19th century free love movement agree that free love at least meant love and sexual relations without any type of coercion. Hal Sears, who’s 1977 The Sex Radicals: Free Love in High Victorian America was the first major study of the 19th century free love movement, stated that “free love simply allowed no coercion in sexual relations, whether from the legally prescribed duties of marriage or from the unrestricted urgings of libido.”[3] Similarly, Pam McAllister stated in her introduction to Lois Waisbrooker’s A Sex Revolution that “‘free love,’ during the Victorian era, referred not to unrestrained lustful pursuits, but to the belief that love and sexual relations should be free of coercion from church, state, or hedonistic urgings.”[4] Beyond this, historians diverge.

Joanne Passet, in her 2003 feminist analysis of the free love movement, offered a more complex assessment of free love:

‘Free love’ is a problematic term because of its contradictory meanings. Mainstream newspaper editors and clergy, free love’s most vocal critics, called anyone who deviated from customary ideals of proper behavior a ‘free lover.’ Nineteenth century sex radicals further confused matters because they could not agree on the term’s application in daily life: for some it meant a lifelong and monogamous commitment to a member of the opposite sex, others envisioned it as serial monogamy, a few advocated chaste heterosexual relationships except when children were mutually desired, and a smaller number defined it as variety (multiple partners, simultaneously) in sexual relationships…. No matter what their practical interpretation of free love, they shared two core convictions: opposition to the idea of coercion in sexual relationships and advocacy of a woman’s right to determine the uses of her body.[5]


That Passet added a second tenet—women’s rights to their bodies—to free love’s core convictions reveals her larger argument, that previous historians have not done justice to women in the movement. In a 2005 critical discourse analysis of two free love periodicals, sociologist Sandra Schroer similarly found that no common “unified understanding of Free Love and its principles existed.”[6] Furthermore, Schroer found that male free love authors in particular “implied that it did exist and avoided addressing the fact that it did not.”[7] Importantly, Schroer’s critique of the male free lovers also applies to the male historians whose histories came before Passet’s and her own.

Passet responds to the ambiguity of ‘free love’ by replacing it with an even broader term, “sex radical,” for which she offers no background and no discussion of the term’s meaning or consistency among individuals of the movement. Hal Sears’s study includes references to both “free love” and “sex radicals,” even in the title (The Sex Radicals: Free Love in High Victorian America), without offering a definition or reference to the meaning of the latter term within the movement. Dora Forster’s 1905 book, The Sex Radicals as Seen by an Emancipated Woman of the New Time gives some clues as to the meaning of the term when she uses it interchangeably with “sex reformers.”[8] However, Passet makes an important distinction between two types of sex reformers: social purity reformers and sex radicals. Although they shared many goals, their methods were quite opposite:

Advocates of social purity reform also believed that imposition of their standards of sexual behavior would solve many of society’s problems. Thus, they determined ‘to achieve a set of controls over sexuality’ that would protect women from sexual danger because they were ‘structured through the family’ and ‘enforced through law and/or social morality.’ Initially, social purity reformers and sex radicals shared some core convictions, for instance, the importance of consensual sex for women. But over time the social purity campaign’s repressive tendencies ‘overwhelmed its liberatory aspects’ for [sex radical] women.[9]


Sex reformers, then, might be seen in the largest sense, with sex radicals and social purists divided by tactics (liberation versus repression), and free love might be seen interchangeably with sex radical, or perhaps with a more radical connotation. Free love may have been the term of choice for those who were against the sex radical cause, but all who wielded it agreed on its potential to radically alter the foundation of society.



*Part Two: Place*


Many histories of the 19th century free love movement have purported to be illustrative of the movement in general when they are actually geographically and thus culturally specific. Chandra Mohanty’s critique of universality is useful here. Mohanty problematizes the concepts of universal sisterhood and transcendence of difference because these means of forging solidarity often rely on “specific assumptions about women as a cross-culturally singular, homogenous group with the same interests, perspectives, and goals and similar experiences.”[10] Many free love historians have made similar assumptions. Like the feminists Mohanty critiques, they rely on a few perspectives to speak for all.

Inattentiveness to place generates trans-geographic generalizations and a false sense of homogeneity within the movement. Free love histories that are more successful in their attentiveness to place reveal that place-based experiences fostered specific, place-based motives for advocating free love. Joanne Passet and several historians of the Pacific Northwest have exposed a tension around the politics of physical location: the relationship between knowledge, place, and experience. As Mohanty writes, “a place on the map (New York City) is, after all, also a locatable place in history.”[11]

Sandra Schroer’s 2005 sociohistorical analysis of gender in the free love movement ignores physical location by comparing men and women as two homogeneous groups. Rather than making the more common assumption that free love was in and of urban elite spaces, Schroer limited her analysis to two rural locations: the Berlin Heights community in Ohio and the Home community in Home, Washington. Schroer strives toward objectivity in her study by offering the reader a list of supposedly all the publications which advocated free love between 1850 and 1902, but she forgot Benjamin Tucker’s well known Liberty based in New York. She then limited her sources by four criteria, the first of which that the journals had to be from utopian communities only. This criterion limited her analysis to three publications, two of which came from the same location and were edited by the same person. Moreover, although Schroer purports to use the three periodicals, she only uses the two from the Berlin Heights community. The limitations of her study were submerged in an analytical, objective tone, creating an allusion of universality for the reader.

Schroer’s work describes how rural midwestern women and men (and perhaps a few others who contributed to the publications from elsewhere) wrote about free love; she does not consider how a rural perspective may have shaped and informed her subjects’ writings. Neither does she consider the history or politics of the utopian community in which her study is situated. While successful in showing that men and women wrote about free love differently, the study would have been much more provocative had she looked at differences among women (including geographic differences), rather than simply between women and men, assuming that the experiences of one community could speak for the entirety of the movement.

Although Schroer writes that “no existing study has examined the writings of female and male Free Lovers to compare their issues,”[12] Passet’s 2003 Sex Radicals and the Quest for Women’s Equality does just that. Passet’s attentiveness to physical location elucidates important differences between women. The politics of location set Passet’s history apart from its predecessors: “Earlier accounts, in which such female sex radicals as Mary Gove Nichols and Victoria Woodhull appear as members of an urban avant-garde, obscure the fact that similar discussions about sexuality, marriage, and women’s freedom occurred among non-elite women—midwestern and western women….”[13] Passet’s groundbreaking research privileges many voices from diverse locations, rather than focusing on an elite, urban few.

But urban bias is not simply an issue of representation. Passet argues that rural sex radicals who moved to urban places “remained informed by the idea of agrarian individualism.”[14] Contradictory to earlier studies, Passet suggests that rural sentiments informed urban free lovers as much as urban and rural utopian newspapers informed those in more isolated rural areas. Where Schroer ignores geographic differences between free lovers, Passet describes a mutually influencing relationship between urban and rural radicals and differentiates the many rural sex radical women throughout the west from the few big named women who had heretofore consumed historical imagination.

Neither Schroer, Passet, nor Hal Sears, author of the aforementioned The Sex Radicals: Free Love in High Victorian America, do justice to an important site of free love, the Pacific Northwest. Passet compares rural and urban free lovers but largely ignores the Pacific Northwest periodicals or comparative regionalism. Instead of examining their own forums, Passet chooses to focus on geographically disparate women’s contributions to Kansas and New York newspapers. Hal Sears purports that the Kansas periodical Lucifer, the Light Bearer, was “virtually the only free love periodical,” then sites a few Northeast names and leaves out important Northwest periodicals altogether.[15] This neglect leaves out an important space of meaning-making in the free love movement, thus obscuring their studies.

Historians have illustrated that Pacific Northwest free lovers had different motivations for participating in the movement than people of other regions. This disjunction is most acute when historians consider the relationship of free love to industrialism. While authors unanimously agree that industrialization played an important role in the creation of free love as a movement, they do not agree on the nature of industrialization’s role.

For Sears, free love is firmly rooted in 1850’s New York, a movement to keep humans up to the pace of industrial progress: “Although such rapid development through the incursion of the machine exacerbated social anxieties, it was less the nature of Americans to find fault with progress itself than to mask misgivings in exultation.”[16] To the mid-nineteenth century New Yorker, free love was a human development that paralleled, even reinforced industrialization.

Western historian Carlos Schwantes, on the other hand, found that to Portland, Oregon anarchists, the lush nature of the undeveloped Pacific Northwest offered “one last opportunity to create a workable alternative to the dehumanizing industrial system so much a feature of life in the commercial and manufacturing centers of the eastern United States and Europe.”[17] Free love was part of the alternative to industrialization for many Northwesterners, rather than an exultation of it.

Sandra Schroer finds in her critical discourse analysis that the nature conservation movement had an influence on many free lovers—women in particular.[18] In Schroer’s study, women differed from men in their focuses on motherhood, nature, and spirituality. Unfortunately, the lack of comparative analysis in Schroer’s book makes it impossible to tell whether this emphasis on nature was unique to the Berlin Hights community of her study, or if it was in fact more general to free love discourse.

Brigitte Koenig’s research on the Home Colony shows that rural radicalism did not simply mirror urban radicalism; rather, “Home’s founders believed that their colony offered the means through which they could put anarchist principals into practice.”[19] Home’s radicalism was based in the participants’ ability to put theory to practice, growing vegetables and not inflicting one another’s freedom among their higher priorities.

Passet stresses that the economic depressions accommodating industrialization particularly affected rural women: “Recurring drought and economic depression in the 1880s and 1890s not only heightened rural interest in individualist anarchism but also influenced the development of sex radical theories about the role of the state in regulating private life.”[20] For rural radicals and Northwesterners, free love was not an accommodation to industrialism, not parallel human “progress,” but a reaction to it and a stance against it, as well as the church, the state, or controlling husbands, taking any agency from their lives.

In contrast to Sears’s depiction of free love as parallel to industrialization and his characterization of Americans as naturally non-judgmental, many Pacific Northwest free love advocates did find fault with industrialization and saw freedom, land, and love as wrapped together in many of their anarchist projects.

Ignoring physical location in history affects how we understand other locations, such as gender and ideology. As glossing over geographical differences contributes to homogenous perceptions of men and women, it also contributes to erroneous perceptions of free lovers’ relationships to the changing environmental and political landscapes of their time. Clearly, intersectionality is inherent in experience. The locations which historians choose to focus on, and those which they choose to ignore, affect the larger meaning of free love.



*Part Three: Gender*


Gender is an especially important social location in free love history because women had so much at stake in the free love movement. But even free love historians manage to write women into the background. Passet’s Sex Radicals and the Quest for Women’s Equality is vitally important in the historiography of free love because it is, as Passet writes “the first to provide a gendered analysis of the nineteenth century sex radical movement.”[21] Previous to Passet’s work, men had written every book length history of the 19th century free love movement. According to Passet, “Previous works have portrayed sex radicals as unified in support of relatively static beliefs. But when gender is taken into account a more complex and nuanced understanding of the movement emerges.”[22] While all historians agree on the important implications the movement had for women, many disagree on the politics of gender and feminism within the movement. Among their disagreements are whether the movement was inherently feminist, whether a controversial non-feminist sex reformer John Humphrey Noyes was or was not a free lover, and whether women’s voices and participation were worth including at all.

The relationship of free love to feminism is no settled fact in the historiography of the 19th century free love movement. Sears’s 1977 and Passet’s 2005 histories offer two contradictory explanations of feminism’s place in the free love movement. Sears’s groundbreaking study, which focused primarily on the Kansas free love circle and the publication Lucifer, the Light Bearer, downplays the importance of feminism by more than omission. Passet briefly critiqued Sears’s work for minimizing “the reach and impact of its feminist message by arguing that ‘Victoria Woodhull’s free-love agitation in the early seventies marked the end of the serious and widespread discussion of sexual alternatives in nineteenth-century America.”[23] Indeed, Sears’s work gave scant attention to important free love women.

But Passet lets Sears off the hook quite easily. Beyond downplaying women’s influence and participation, Sears also downplays the significance of feminism as an ideological component of the movement. Minimizing feminism to its most formal and conservative definition, Sears writes that the feminist movement “opted for conventional morality and discrete political goals and forsook the revolutionizing of domestic relations.”[24] This definition of feminism ignores the important reality that no movement, including feminism and free love, is singular or static. By defining feminism in its least radical form, Sears occludes any possibility for overlap between the two movements.

Contrarily, Passet describes free love as inextricably linked to nineteenth century feminism. Passet understands free love to be a “dimension of the nineteenth-century movement for women’s rights” and “at its core a feminist movement.”[25] Historian Taylor Stoehr similarly links feminism and free love in his 1979 documentary history of free love in America: “Women in particular stood to gain from some new sexual dispensation, and thus it is not surprising that every militant free lover, male or female, was also a feminist.”[26] Stoehr is quick to explain that female free lovers “more than outshone their male counterparts.”[27] To feminist historians, other influences of the time—health reform, individualism, the shifting economy, religious revivals, and abolition—took lesser roles in the formation of the free love movement.

Differing understandings of the relationship between free love and feminism extend to differences in who they include in the movement history. Hal Sears offers 19th century utopian colonist John Humphrey Noyes the important position of first quoted “free lover” in his book. Passet, however, wrote him out of the free love movement entirely: “In contrast to Noyes, sex radicals embraced… [that] a woman should have the right to determine when and with whom she had children.”[28] Because Noyes “placed sexuality and reproduction under communal control,” he was not a free lover.[29] The primacy of women’s rights was more significant to Passet and many of the female free lovers of her work than to Sears and many of the male leaders of his work.

Important differences in historians’ representations of gender emerge from the foundation of their scholarship, in their choice of sources. Hal Sears and Angus McLaren, author of “Sex Radicalism in the Canadian Pacific Northwest, 1890-1920” both obscure the free love movement by largely ignoring the spaces where women’s voices most often emerge: in letters to journals. Less often did women publish directly in journals, especially under their real names, and even less often did they participate on the editorial level. Although free love journals encouraged women’s participation more than other journals of the time, women most often participated in the free love movement through correspondences rather than publications.[30] Passet’s work distinguishes itself from Sears’s and McLaren’s in that she pays keen attention to women’s correspondences to free love journals.

Sears and McLaren make a significant miscalculation of the movement’s relationship to eugenics by tending to primarily focus on men’s opinions and the women who supported them. Both historians describe the free love movement’s late 19th century involvement with eugenics as a benevolent and uncontested shift, as opposed to Passet’s findings, that eugenics caused a controversial and gendered split within the movement.

Hal Sears is careful to distinguish the earlier liberatory eugenics of free love advocates from state sanctioned, repressive eugenics of the Progressive Era: “Not to be confused with the later prescriptive eugenics of the Progressive Era, anarchistic eugenics held that enslaved, male-dominated mothers could only perpetuate a race of slavish humans.”[31] Sears also makes sure to name several women who advocated anarchist eugenics, including Lois Waisbrooker and Angela Heywood, while only citing one woman, Lillie White, who opposed it.[32]

In his study of Canadian Pacific Northwest sex radicals Robert Kerr and Dora Forster, McLaren is also quick to distinguish the sex radical strand of eugenics from coercive eugenics. McLaren, however, did point out the tensions embedded in Kerr’s work: “[Kerr] declared himself in favor of the absolute sexual freedom of women; he also stated that everyone did not have the right to bear children”[33] Kerr also contended that “The women contributors to Lucifer were not all convinced” by his eugenic arguments.[34] Angus, like Sears, cited three women against eugenics, one being Lillie White who Sears also quoted, followed by three women who did support Kerr’s work. This use of sources obscures what Passet has argued was a major gendered divide within the movement.

Passet makes clear that the late century convergence of free love discourse with eugenics created a significant divide in the movement along gender lines: “For several decades, sex radical men and women did share a commitment to women’s reproductive autonomy, but… significant gender and generational differences developed by the late 1890s.”[35] These differences developed as eugenics became “a means to retain patriarchal privilege” within sex reform.[36] Passet repeatedly holds men responsible for eugenic thought, and places women in uniform opposition to it.[37] Passet quoted a myriad of voices that came out against Kerr, and furthermore selected quotes from Kerr’s writings which put the women’s anger in context. Characterizing the debate as a “highly gendered contest for power,”[38] Passet cast a very different picture of Kerr and his eugenic beliefs than did McLaren.

Sears’s and McLaren’s gendered analysis of the free love movement emphasized men’s voices and downplayed feminism. The invisible social location of maleness in their works created a hegemony over meaning within the free love movement, a unity where there was none. Feminist historians Passet and Schroer, on the other hand, successfully write histories which disrupt a sense of unity in the movement, revealing that women’s voices were also contentious voices with agendas that did not necessarily coincide with their male counterparts.





Historians have presented widely differing analyses of gender and place in the 19th century free love movement. Contested moments in free love history are rooted in the universalization of experience. To universalize the experiences of a single social or geographical location means to ignore the politics of location. To ignore the politics of location often means to defer to the perspectives of those who already have a hegemony in meaning-making, and imbue the entire movement with only a partial truth. As recent scholars have shown, the richness and depth of a movement does not come from its sameness or unity, but from its diversity, its contention, and its multiplicity.


November 22, 2007


Filed under: anarchism,free love/ radical love,women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p11

The misconceptions described below call for a remembering of free love history. A deeper look at free love’s history will reveal its contribution to feminism and radical political praxis. Free love history contributes substantive insights to current trends in polyamory and free love, radical intellectual history, and feminism and anarchism in America.

My interest in free love history includes a three-fold desire to understand the movement in terms of the politics of location (place, gender, and ideology). Mohanty defines the politics of location as “the historical, geographical, cultural, psychic, and imaginative boundaries that provide the ground for political definition and self-definition for contemporary U.S. feminists” (Feminism without Borders, 106). In her own work, Mohanty asks how the politics of location “determine and produce experience and difference as analytical and political categories” (106). In my work, I am interested in how the politics of location determined and produced free love thought.  Thus, in my readings of nineteenth century free love histories (written between 1977 and 2005) I have considered the politics of location generally, with an interest in historians’ varying considerations of gender, place, and ideology, and i have considered the politics of location specifically, with a desire to locate the experiences of anarchist free love advocates in the Pacific Northwest within the larger movement.

Taken together, the histories of free love in America and the histories of free love in the Pacific Northwest pose some interesting questions about gender: how closely were feminism and free love related? What amount of agency did women have in creating and effecting free love discourse? How do historians’ choices affect the way we remember women in the history of free love?

The juxtaposition of regionally and nationally oriented scholarship on free love creates a tension around the politics of physical location—the development and movement of knowledge through space. How does regionalism affect knowledge and experience? How does knowledge move through space, inter- and intra-regionally? How do historians deal with this relationship between place and politics? Do historians see differences in rural and urban free love discourse, or between Northwest, Midwest, and Northeast free love discourse? What are the repercussions of historical and geographical generalizations?

My interest in 19th century free love comes from a curiosity about incipient forms of anarcha-feminism and historical discourses on the radicalization of the private sphere (love, intimate relations, family, the home, etc). Anarcha-feminism is not simply women doing anarchism, and neither is it anarchism doing women’s rights. Free love has historically been a site of intersection between anarchism and feminism and is a part of an important intellectual lineage of anti-authoritarian theory and practice. I am interested in how the link between critiques of intrusive male dominance and intrusive state dominance have been connected at the site of free love, and how historians have made sense of this connection.

November 21, 2007

What is free love??

Filed under: free love/ radical love,women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p11

I’m in a women’s history masters program in New York, where I’m working on history and historiography projects about free love in the 1800s in the Pacific Northwest. When people ask what I’m researching, i feel like I’m that weird kid on the unicycle all over again. I used to get predictable comments that everyone thought were so brilliantly unique, most notably, “you lost your other wheel.” I’d hear it five, seven times a day and everyone would think they were so original! Now with free love, I get “I…I don’t think… Idon’tthinkIknowwhatthatis.” The other common response is “That is SO Awesome,” as if they know exactly what free love is and exactly what I’m all about based on those two words. One time, i was joyfully surprised to hear something to the extent of “oh, well if you need a contemporary experience for comparison….” But i don’t think he was serious! It was probably just an equivalent to the occasional unicycle joke that stands out from the rest.

So here are some historians’ definitions of 19th century free love:

“‘Free love’ is a problematic term because of its contradictory meanings. Mainstream newspaper editors and clergy, free love’s most vocal critics, called anyone who deviated from customary ideals of proper behavior a ‘free lover.’ Nineteenth century sex radicals further confused matters because they could not agree on the term’s application in daily life: for some it meant a lifelong and monogamous commitment to a member of the opposite sex, others envisioned it as serial monogamy, a few advocated chaste heterosexual relationships except when children were mutually desired, and a smaller number defined it as variety (multiple partners, simultaneously) in sexual relationships…. No matter what their practical interpreation of free love, they shared two core convictions: opposition to the idea of coercion in sexual relationships and advocacy of a woman’s right to determine the uses of her body” (Joanne Passet, Sex Radicals and the Quest for Women’s Equality, 2).

“Free love simply allowed no coercion in sexual relations, whether from the legally prescribed duties of marriage or from the unrestricted urgings of libido…. Andrew Jackson Davis…summarized important principles of free love, among them the priority of female control in the sexual and generative relations, the irrelevancy of positive law to the attractions, the justification of seminal expenditure only for reproduction, and the attractional definition of marriage, which held that those who were joined by transcendental affinities were automatically and truly mated and that those who were not were divorced, regardless of legalities. Less conservative free lovers of later periods–such as Ezra Heywood, Victoria Woodhull, and Moses Hull in the 1870s, and the Moses Harman circle still later in the century–would add agitation for birth control and “free motherhood” to these principles and would disagree that coition could only be justified for procreation…” (Hal Sears, The Sex Radicals: Free Love in High Victorian America, 4-5).

“‘Free love,’ during the Victorian era, referred not to unrestrained lustful pursuits, but to the belief that love and sexual relations should be free of coercion from church, state, or hedonistic urgings. Sexual relations should be the result of spiritual affinity and love” (Lois Waisbrooker, A Sex Revolution, 3).

“To [Henry Addis], free love encompassed several anarchist tenets. It was at once a matter of personal freedom and an act of defiance of church and state. He believed that sexual freedom was as important as any other kind of freedom and wondered why a couple having decided that they could live more happily together than apart should not unite their lives without having to secure the permission of the church or state…. Furthermore, according to Addis, free love promised to liberate women from ‘sexual slavery’ by preventing men from holding ‘their’ wives in legal bondage” (Carlos A. Schwantes, Free Love and Free Speech on the Pacific Northwest Frontier, 282).

“‘Free love'” usually meant no more than marriage that could be entered and ended without coercion. ‘Free Motherhood’ similarly signified a situation in which the woman had the right to determine whether or not to bear children” (Angus McLaren, Sex Radicalism in the Canadian Pacific Northwest, 1890-1920, 533)

November 20, 2007


Filed under: women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p11

Once again i’ve left my “sisters in struggle” class feeling like the most inarticulate, judged and judgmental person in it. In every other aspect of my life i feel that i can be collected and articulate even when i disagree with others, but not in this class. The books we are reading for this class have a consistent theme, even a celebration, of assimilation. My intellectual theme in this program so far is best described in this question: is it possible to write a history that does not reinforce dominant cultural values? The more i ask the question the more it becomes obvious to my classmates that i have somewhat of an agenda. However, i’m getting the sense that those who disagree with me do not see that they also have an agenda. Assimilation is an agenda–and it is reinforced page by page, book by book, historian by historian, feminist by feminist. It is reinforced in so many ways through so many actions, and yet somehow i feel redundant when i make the same claims about each book.

I thought that most feminists agreed or at least acknowledged that women stepping into traditionally middle/upper class white male roles is a problematic version of feminism. But there is very little in women’s history, as i have yet seen, that problematizes this.

Women’s History is a Basket, and in it are Women’s History’s Things:

one Thing is scholarship that acknowledges that women exist in and participate in history.

another Thing is scholarship that acknowledges how women struggled within their historical and social landscape to make their lives better.

another Thing is scholarship that acknowledges differences between and among groups of women and analyzes those differences.

I would guess (i’m only in my second month studying women’s history) that this is about as far as women’s historians have come, and it seems that they have stalled. I believe they’ve stalled for a few reasons:

1) They have no clear political agenda

I’m not suggesting that women’s historians should be unified, but rather that women’s or feminist history could grow from setting out agendas and analyzing history based on those agendas. They have set out a most basic agenda which is described above, but i am not clear on what, if anything, women’s historians plan to do with these “things.” The things are quite powerful. They could build a house or tear one down. They could form the basis for workers’ resistance or they could form a platform for a woman’s presidency. They could also plunder a people or strip an individual of her culture or values. They can also shape themselves into thin cloth-like material and form a veil for the delicate eyes of privileged students who want to believe in a linear social evolution of the human spirit, who want to believe that women have almost won the battle against patriarchy.

The “things” feminists have are useful, are tools potentially, but i don’t want to read one more book unless the author is very clear with me what kind of agenda she has set out for the things in her basket. I don’t want to read another book unless she tells me whether she has made these things into tools, platforms, veils, etc. I don’t want to read another book unless she tells me whether she is building a house or tearing one down. It is not enough to have the “things.” I need to know what she plans to do with them, before i will trust her.

2) They are stunted by the end goal of “equality”

The following is from a reading response about the ongoing equality vs. difference debate among feminist activists, theorists, and historians: Both the categories “equality” and “difference” are imaginative and strategic. Who is the standard bearer of equality? As bell hooks has noted, if women want to be equal to men, which men are they talking about–because men are not a single, homogeneous category themselves. In this society, I’m guessing, it would be the upper or middle class white male. But it is not physically possible for everyone to live like an upper class white male. To occupy this station requires the mass exploitation of human and non-human life. Is that feminist?
A common assumption is that if women were to occupy positions of power, they would for some reason make different choices than men. This seems to me to be sliding essentialism under the table while making an argument for equality. It obscures the fact that women, just as much as men, have the ability and potential to exploit and to ignore or reinforce oppression. Instead of focusing on ambiguous and ideological comparisons, I am interested in framing questions in terms of needs and desires, in terms of justice, in terms of sustainability. I need respect, bodily integrity, joy, challenge, and connection in my life. I need basics like healthy food, clean air, clean water, sleep, and warmth. If I do not have these, I am going to figure out why and work to change that. It does not matter (emphasis on the matter) whether I am “the same” or “different” from anyone else. It does not matter who is the standard-bearer or “equality.”

When people are so focused on equality, they are literally missing the point, which is justice. Equality is always relational, and the standard bearer of equality may not be one which can coexist with justice. As long as feminists ignore this, their actions and beliefs will be hospitable to such dangerous tendencies as imperialism, racism, classism, and the physical and psychological destruction of nature.

3) and thus, my third issue with feminism and women’s history: i believe that it is incredibly detrimental to attempt to understand people without considering nature. Wonderful Chaia Heller writes, and i wish i had the quote with me because i might get it wrong, that “as we radicalize our view of nature, we radicalize our view of culture.” Feminists and women’s historians continue to attempt to understand culture without considering their connection to nature. This leaves their understandings of culture impoverished and stunted. For instance, consider the definition of industrialization i recently quoted from wikipedia: “Industrialisation also introduces some form of philosophical change, or to a different attitude in the perception of nature.”  The week that i wrote that post i was fuming because i’d just read a celebratory history of women industrial workers. The book was unflinchingly celebrated of capitalism, consumerism, and assimilation. It is not the individuals–the women workers–who i am upset with, but the way the story was told, the presumptions the book makes, and the lessons it teaches. I bet lots of people walk away from that book feeling that “women have made it” and pat themselves on the back for a job well done. But women and nature are suffering so much more today than they were back then–is it feminist to celebrate that industrialism has been exported? Is equality only a meaningful goal within the borders of certain countries or colors while it rests on the backs of others (as well as the exploitation of nature)? I believe feminists would deepen and further their ultimate goals of living in a world without oppression if they replaced their obsession with quality as the standard-bearer with an obsession with nature and justice as the standard-bearers. What kind of lives would we be living to ensure that no one is oppressed? What kind of lives would we be living to ensure that the natural world too can breathe?

November 6, 2007


Filed under: anarchism,civilization,nature,women's history — polywog @ 11:13 p11

“Industrialisation (also spelt Industrialization) or an Industrial Revolution is a process of social and economic change whereby a human group is transformed from a pre-industrial society (an economy where the amount of capital accumulated per capita is low) to an industrial one (a fully developed capitalist economy). It is a part of wider modernisation process, where this social and economic change is closely related with technological innovation, particularly the development of large-scale energy and metallurgy production. Industrialisation also introduces some form of philosophical change, or to a different attitude in the perception of nature.

The lack of a large industry sector is widely seen as a major handicap in a country’s economy, pushing many governments to encourage or enforce industrialisation through artificial means.”



I’m taking a course called “sisters in struggle.” We have read several books which seek out the heroins of women’s labor during the early 1900’s. Tonight in class I suggested that maybe industrialization shouldn’t have happened. I knew the reception of my comment would not be good. I did not think of it at the time, but i remembered something about environmental law which parallels the trajectory of industrialization. I cannot remember if Derrick Jenson said this or if it was someone else, but in any case, i heard it years ago. Say a hundred acres of forest exists and the forest service wants to sell a quarter of it. The people resist, lawyers fight in courts, and a portion of the land is saved. They call it a victory. Then the forest service wants to sell another quarter of the remaining land, people resist, lawyers fight, and when a portion of that land is saved, the people rejoice and call it a victory. Slowly, all the while people celebrating, the forest is cut down to almost nothing. Similarly, the histories of the industrial labor movement have been stories of victories, yet now, vastly more than a hundred years ago, the natural world and millions of its people are exploited or destroyed by industrialization. The people who live under the illusion of false victory are the ones in academia. They are the ones producing thought and knowledge consumed by many. They play their role in maintaining the thin veil of victory over deep and indelible losses. This is the danger of liberal discourse.

It is especially important to note that industrialization brings about not just physical and organizational changes in a society, but a change in philosophy and perception of nature.

When the entire class disagrees with me it is hard to not cry or concede or second guess myself. But I got the sense that my questioning industrialism didn’t belong in their classroom. The teacher asked us to “go back to the text.” One woman, who in all other cases has been deeply intelligent and amazing, said that by questioning industrialism i was discrediting the significance of the labor activists and their struggles. Where else can we question history if not in a history class? I feel alienated. I feel like the class asshole. I feel as if i am alone in a forest wrought with chainsaws and men, and i have told the liberals again and again that the forest is being destroyed, but they are too busy celebrating to notice.

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