Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.
- Rosa Luxemburg, "Junius Pamphlet" 1916

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Feminism at the end of the world

I've broached this topic in a number of forums and blog threads about peak oil, and the reactions have been pretty interesting. Given the liberal bent of most people concerned about climate change and peak oil, I expected a warm reception of at least the discussion of feminism in the anthropocene world, but by and large I was quite mistaken. The biggest complaint I heard was that feminism was off-topic for post-carbon threads, and right behind that was the assertion that we needed to be humanist, not feminist. That the special treatment of feminism was some sort of a step back, because (and this was always the rich part) feminism won, didn't you hear?

I'll treat the former criticism first, that a discussion of feminism on a blog dedicated to discussing climate change and peal oil is "off-topic." I don't think any of my co-authors here (who am I pleased as punch to be blogging with, by the way) would contest that social justice is of tremendous concern in the anthropocene world. Societies enduring privation and upheaval are pretty much always less egalitarian, less safe, less just than we might like. They are also disproportionately less egalitarian, less safe, and less just for women. The Road Warrior, A Boy and His Dog, and other post-apocalyptic exploitation films of the late '60s through early '80s prominently featured the rape, torture, and murder of women for a reason. Wherever civil unrest occurs, whether it's a rebellion, a civil war, or any of a hundred other kinds of conflict, when society breaks down, women suffer for it. I would go so far as to suggest that one of the single most powerful metrics for measuring the health of a society is rapes per capita per year!

So feminism is on-topic for our concerns here, because we are heading towards a less stable, less organized world, which means that unless we work really, really hard, women in the anthropocene are going to face more violence and more injustice than they do now. Period.

And that's unacceptable.

Ok, you might say, but violence and unrest and injustice in general are liable to become worse as industrial society collapses; we're working here to ameliorate all of that, so why talk about feminism? Let's be humanist. Women are in pretty good shape now, so working to make a post-carbon society safe and just will benefit them just as much, right? I had sympathy for this argument for a long time, and it took a brilliant post by one of the 'net's preeminent feminist thinkers to change my mind.

My take home point here is not that I want to turn Seldon's Gate into a "feminist blog," in the sense that we spend a lot of time advocating for women's issues, dissecting sexist pop culture, and the like. There are many excellent spaces for that sort of thing, some of which I'm listing below. But I DO want Seldon's Gate to be a feminist blog in the sense that, when we discuss the shitstorm that is coming, we should be mindful of the particular implications it may have for the women in our lives. That we realize that fighting misogyny and racism and marginalization is every bit as important a part of the work we do here as educating people about green technology and community support in the face of climate change. I'm not a feminist blogger, but I am a blogger who's a feminist, and I'll be talking about that from time to time.

Below are some of the feminist blogs where I spend a fair bit of time reading and, in some cases, commenting. They are well worth a visit, as they also serve as a launching point into the battles against many types of marginalization, racial and economic as well as gender-based. They are also places frequented by some kick-ass and brilliant women, and meeting them is always a great thing.

Shakesville: If you read no other feminist blog, this is the one to read. With many contributors, it is updated over a dozen times a day most days and is the site of many excellent conversations about progressive politics. Melissa McEwan's "Feminism 101" series of articles (one of which I linked above) are required reading for anybody interested in learning more about feminism, and commenting on feminist threads without looking like an asshole. I speak from experience on that.

Echidne of the Snakes: Echidne writes a more focused blog about bullshit science and public policy as it intersects with social justice, and unleashes some truly awesome weapons-grade snark on a regular basis. This is frequently where I first hear about truly onerous federal legislation.

Feministe: One of the oldest feminist sites on the net, it tends to dissect popular culture more than politics, with the result that I am often caught out in my own surprising prejudices.


  1. I totally agree with everything you just wrote. Thank you for posting it.

    I, too, am mystified that you would get such an oblivious reaction when trying to discuss feminism in the world of eco-collapse and energy descent. I entirely concur when you point out that social justice, most especially for women, will be of paramount concern while we try to get through the long transition to a superheated, resource starved, post-fossil fuel world.

    Your observations about the prevalence of rape and oppression of women amidst social collapse are spot on, as well. They should be blindingly obvious to all.

    Same goes for the urgency of integrating feminism (and specific aspects like rape awareness) into any planning for the new world. It would be a topic worth comprehensively interlacing throughout community preparedness books like Rob Hopkins' Transition Handbook.

    Wow, the next few decades are going to be truly scary. I hope more communities get it right than not.

  2. Hey Reave. Allow me to add my whole hearted approbation to the sentiments in your post. Another feminist blog to check out: hosted by Amanda Marcotte

    I check that one out daily. Good blend of pop-culture and politics from a feminist perspective.

  3. Kir'Shara: Thanks! And thank you again for giving me a platform for saying these things!

    Mentat: Never saw that one before, I've added it to my (bloated) blog feed. Thanks!

  4. I enthusiastically second Mentat's recommendation of Pandagon. The founder, Amanda Marcotte, writes blistering prose that wields reason like the most beautiful sword ever made.

    I haven't checked Echidne of the Snakes out for a while but I will get back in the habit. I seem to remember encountering stupendously effective take downs there of evolutionary psychology and media coverage thereof.

  5. Thank you for raising this topic. I agree 100%... and it looks like I have some reading to do.

    It's interesting to observe how much overlap there is between preparing for life in an anthropocene world and planning refugee camps. The emphasis of my international health studies was on refugees and internally displaced persons, and one of the recurrent themes was the increased incidence of rape among any disrupted society. Rape is the natural companion of war, but not just because it is one of the acts of war, but because of the disruption caused by war causes a society to revert, in some respects, to a more primitive state, in which demonstrations of force, violence and domination are ways to re-establish a sense of power... over other people and over one's own situation. This holds true in the setting of non-war societal disruptions as well. Rape incidence tends to increase following devastating natural disasters -- floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc -- as well famines, droughts and other periods of human desperation.

    We're gonna be seeing more wars, more droughts and famines, more displaced populations... more violence against those who are rendered vulnerable relative to those who are driven by a desperate to retain a sense of control in a senseless world.

  6. It's hard to argue against your position, but also hard to argue for the significance. It's clearly western and somewhat paternalistic. Since it is baseball season (Go Reds - and to a lesser extent the Tigers) your arguing the relevance, reaction, and impact of the motion of a knuckleball. Entirely relevant, but also the knuckler is still being thrown and still altering the behavior of the batter. The feminist perspective here is entirely reactive, negative, and mostly unproductive ( in a literal sense).

    All of that said, I have added your blog recommendations and thanks for the post.