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Posts Tagged ‘feminism

“Too often the concept of nature has been used to explain social inequalities or exploitative relations as inborn, and hence, beyond the scope of social change”*…

 

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Martha Brookes Hutcheson (center) and colleagues at Merchiston Farm, c. 1917

The landscape architect and theorist Martha Brookes Hutcheson (née Brown, 1871–1959) lived in an age when most American women were actively discouraged from entering a profession. Women might consider landscape gardening as a “novel occupation … a congenial, soothing, out-of-doors pursuit to which a woman of taste, who loves flowers, cannot do better than turn her hand.” But any who seriously considered becoming landscape architects were informed that women were too “impatient” to learn the necessary drawing and surveying, the horticultural and business skills, and that the resulting “physical fatigue” would lead to breakdowns. Male colleagues and clients, they were warned, doubted “whether they conceive largely enough to undertake public works like the laying out of great parks or the plotting of plans for new cities.” Female landscape architects were limited to “the ample field of designing beautiful settings for beautiful homes.”

Martha Hutcheson, however, loved the great gardens of Europe and the farm in Vermont where she had summered as a girl, and she saw the potential for landscape design to serve a social agenda in the Progressive Era — to improve lives and conserve natural resources. One of the first women trained at university level in the emerging profession of landscape architecture, she was a founding member of the Woman’s Land Army during World War I, and her experience with a group of WLA “farmerettes” at her home, Merchiston Farm, in Gladstone, New Jersey, convinced her of the impact landscape architects could have by increasing agricultural productivity, improving soils and plant communities, and fostering women’s practical skills and economic autonomy. In her evolving designs for Merchiston Farm, and in her public lectures, writings, and advocacy through the Garden Club of America, Hutcheson argued for the contributions of landscape architects to national education, and explored tensions internal to the design theory of the age — including those between her own progressive agenda and the strictures of her elite social class. In the realm of landscape architecture, she became a leader in “a gallant little group of women who have forged for themselves National reputations.”

Hutcheson’s early writings and garden commissions considered good design as a matter of organization, massing, and proportion, while her later work stressed contextualism within natural systems. In this later and more daring work, she prioritized the use of native plants as a means to support healthy habitats, shift aesthetic preferences, and minimize costs; her practice hybridized sustainable water management and soil science with the normative, Europeanizing geometries of the “country place” garden, and implemented the emerging discipline of ecology on a practical level. Merchiston Farm, Hutcheson’s home for nearly 50 years, served as a workshop for these endeavors. She continually made and remade her property, using the woods, fields, pastures, and gardens to build theory through action.

Reading the evolving design of Merchiston Farm thus allows us to understand Hutcheson’s work as an extended social, political, and ecological project…

For nearly half a century, the pioneering landscape architect Martha Brookes Hutcheson used her own farm to empower women and to build an ecological design theory through action: “Dreaming True.”

Maria Mies, who also observed: “In a contradictory and exploitative relationship, the privileges of the exploiters can never become the privileges of all. If the wealth of the metropoles is based on the exploitation of colonies, then the colonies cannot achieve wealth unless they also have colonies. If the emancipation of men is based on the subordination of women, then women cannot achieve ‘equal rights’ with men, which would necessarily include the right to exploit others. Hence, a feminist strategy for liberation cannot but aim at the total abolition of all these relationships of retrogressive progress. This mean it must aim at an end of all exploitation of women by men, of nature by man, of colonies by colonizers, of one class by another. As long as exploitation of one of these remains the precondition for the advance (development, evolution, progress, humanization, etc.) of one section of people, feminists cannot speak of liberation…”

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As we look to the land, we might recall that it was on this date in 1897 that the first issue of La Fronde (The Sling) was published in Paris.  A pioneering feminist newspaper, it was founded by Marguerite Durand, a well known actress and journalist (for La Presse and Le Figaro, e.g.), who used her high-profile to attract many notable Parisian women to contribute articles to her daily, the first of its kind in France to be run and written entirely by women.

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Marguerite Durand, by Jules Cayron

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“Women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid”*…

 

Last Thanksgiving, I overheard my uncles talk about how women are better off cooking, taking care of the kitchen, and fulfilling “their womanly duties.” Although I know that not all men like my uncles think that way I was surprised to learn that some still do, so I went on to imagine a parallel universe, where roles are inverted and men are given a taste of their own sexist poison…

From Eli Rezkallah, a series of fictional images, recreated from real ads in the Mad Men era, that question modern day sexism: “In a parallel universe.

* George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops?

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As we check our privilege, we might send path-setting birthday greetings to Kate Chopin; she was born on this date in 1850.  A writer of both short stories and novels, she was highly-regarded in her time and in the decades following her death (in 1904).  Probably best remembered today for her novel The Awakening, she is considered an important forerunner of American 20th-century feminist authors.

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Written by LW

February 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I try to conjure, to raise my own spirits, from wherever they are. I need to remember what they look like.”*…

 

In Margaret Atwood’s The ­Handmaid’s Tale, a Christian sect call the Sons of Jacob creates a male-dominated theocratic state

Margaret Atwood’s evergreen dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is about to become a television drama. Published in 1985, it couldn’t feel more fresh or more timely, dealing as it does with reproductive rights, with the sudden accession to power of a theocracy in the United States, with the demonisation of imagined, pantomime villain “Islamic fanatics”. But then, feminist science fiction does tend to feel fresh – its authors have a habit of looking beyond their particular historical moment, analysing the root causes, suggesting how they might be, if not solved, then at least changed.

Where does the story of feminist science fiction begin? There are so many possible starting points: Margaret Cavendish’s 1666 book The Blazing World, about an empress of a utopian kingdom; one could point convincingly to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as an exploration of how men could “give birth” and what might happen if they did; one could recall the 1905 story “Sultana’s Dream” by Begum Rokeya, about a gender-reversed India in which it’s the men who are kept in purdah.

And perhaps one of the starting points was here: on 29 August 1911, a 50-year-old man, a member of the Yahi group of the Native American Yana people, walked out of the forest near Oroville, California, and was captured by the local sheriff. He was known at the time and popularised in the press as “the last wild Indian”.

He called himself “Ishi” – a word in the Yahi language that means simply “man”. He was the very last of his people, and had been living in the wilderness alone, travelling to places he remembered from the time when his tribe had flourished, in the hope of finding some remnant of those he’d grown up with. When he realised they were truly all gone, when a series of forest fires meant he was close to starvation, he allowed himself to be found and taken in…

And the link with feminist science fiction? Theodora and Alfred Kroeber’s daughter was Ursula Le Guin, the science fiction author. Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness was published in 1969, at the start of the revolutionary women’s movement, and was one of the earliest pieces of feminist SF. It is about a man from Earth who travels to the planet Gethen, where the people have no fixed gender. He is by turns fascinated, appalled and deeply, sickeningly lonely. Everyone’s “normality” is someone else’s wilderness…

From Mary Shelley to Margaret Atwood, feminist science fiction writers have imagined other ways of living that prompt us to ask, could we do things differently?  More of their history at “Dystopian dreams: how feminist science fiction predicted the future.”

* Margaret Atwood, The Handmaiden’s Tale

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As we listen and learn, we might send hauntingly-beautiful birthday greetings to Eleanora Fagan; she was born on this date in 1915.  Better known by her stage name, Billie Holiday (and her nickname, Lady Day), she was a jazz musician and singer-songwriter– a legendary performer who enjoyed both huge popular success and great acclaim from her fellow artists.

 

Written by LW

April 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The cities and mansions that people dream of are those in which they finally live”*…

 

 

 

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In 1939, the American Institute of Planners released the documentary The City.  It was an all-star endeavor: directed by the photographers and filmmakers Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke, from an outline by the renowned documentarian Pare Lorentz, with commentary by urban theorist Lewis Mumford and a score by the extraordinary Aaron Copland.

The film begins with a look back, a nostalgic celebration of the bucolic: “Working and living, we found a balance. The town was us, and we were part of it. We never let our cities grow too big for us to manage. We never pushed the open land too far away.”  Then it screeches into the Industrial Age, documenting the crowded, dirty, slum-lined streets of the then-modern metropolis… building to the challenge, “Who built this place? Who put us here? And how do we get out again? We are asking.”

The balance of the film, redolent with a powerful Positivist optimism, looks to science– and the “science” of planning– for answers.

What’s fascinating, as Sarah Goodyear observes in Atlantic Cities, is that the blissful visions of 1939 are not far removed from our own:

…the idealized suburb/cities presented in the film are all walkable and bikeable. Autos are part of the urban disaster that is to be left behind by progress. We see from the air the familiar cul-de-sacs of today’s America but there are no six-lane arterial roads, no massive shopping centers with enormous parking lots. Kids ride around on bicycles along paths that look very much like what you see in the Netherlands of today, and in a few American cities such as Boulder, Colorado, or Davis, California.

The film was made at a historical moment when artists and thinkers like the ones who worked on it believed that rational, humanistic approaches to planning could triumph over entropy, corruption, and simple thoughtlessness. It seems like an impossibly idealistic view to have held, especially on the eve of World War II. Watching The City, it’s easy to feel a longing for that idealism, not to mention the level of craftsmanship that went into the film itself. Even the “fast food” presented with humorous disdain in the movie looks positively artisanal compared to the fare at McDonald’s.

The City is now more than 70 years old, and yet the dilemmas it presents are if anything more acute than they were in 1939. The urban areas of India and China, in particular, are facing exactly the same issues of industrial pollution and slum proliferation that plagued the American cities of the early 20th century. Will they be able to avoid even a fraction of the mistakes America made as it idealistically moved forward into the perfect, planned future? Here’s how The City wraps up:

Order has come, order and life together….We can reproduce the pattern and better it a thousand times. It’s here, the new city, ready to serve a better age. For you and your children, the choice is yours.

The full film:

* Lewis Mumford (who also advised, “Forget the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends.”)

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As we reach for our copies of Jane Jacobs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1803 that Charles Fourier published his utopian Universal Harmony.  A social philosopher considered something of a radical in his own time, Fourier pioneered a number of notions now more mainstream (e.g., he was a supporter of women’s rights and is said to have coined the term “feminism’; he championed a “minimum wage”).  Fourier’s urban vision was one that reflected his belief that concern and cooperation were the secrets of social success; he believed that poverty (not inequality) was the principal cause of disorder in society.   He proposed cooperative communities built around phalanstère, units of 1500-1600 people living and working together for mutual benefit.  Fourier’s ideas influenced French politics (e.g., the 1848 Revolution and the Paris Commune) and writers from Dostoevsky (The Possessed) to Walter Benjamin (Passagenwerk); and they inspired a number of utopian communities in the U.S.

https://i2.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8207/8236708044_cf5c3864c2_o.jpg source

 

Written by LW

December 3, 2012 at 1:01 am

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