feminism

my space

Hello, all. I’ve written for my friends over at Women From the Blog again. Follow me there for the rest of the post. 

I’m sitting in a small cafe in a small, safe Pennsylvania town. I’m writing a friend a very long email while also working on writing a blog post. An older man, probably in his 60s, comes into the coffee shop. It’s rather busy, but not very. He stands right next to my chair and in the main walking area, inches away from me. He keeps looking at me, looking down my shirt from behind me, but stares down at his phone whenever I glare at him. I cough. I move my chair across the floor very loudly. I get up, push my chair into his space, excuse myself, pull out a book from my backpack. My email conversation with a friend is, ironically, about casual, low-level sexual harassment and how differently men treat us when we’re on our own versus with a male companion. He’s right over my shoulder, and I’m so deliberately trying to keep my computer to myself. Finally, I take my headphones off.

‘Pardon me,’ I say firmly, ‘but would you mind giving me a little more space? It makes my uncomfortable when someone’s right over my shoulder when I’m writing.’

‘Oh.’ That’s his response. He shifts a few inches. ‘Is that enough?’

Follow me here for the rest of this post. 

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anthropology, culture & society, feminism, love

food for thought

Over two years ago now (scary), I took a course at St Andrews called ‘Anthropology and Eurasia’. It was, by far, one of my favourite courses ever. During a seminar one day the group discussed an article written by the course lecturer, Dr Stephanie Bunn. The article was short and deceptively simple compared other dense texts but incredibly powerful. Put briefly, it was about food.

In Kyrgyz, the language of many nomadic peoples indigenous to Kyrgyzstan, the word küt means food–and bone, nourishment, ancestors, fate, the stars, sustenance, fortune, luck, family, and more. This had links to how the Kyrgyz people would divide up the meat of a sheep by family role and status. The eyes of the sheep were given to the oldest female as a sign of honour, and it went on from there. The sheep was raised, herded, cared for in different ways by different members of the family, and it thus reproduced and reinforced family relationships even as it was being consumed.

I remember how each young woman in the class seemed struck by this expansive way of tying food into so many aspects of life. One classmate, in particular, said something that I remember clearly even today.

‘Food,’ she said, reflectively. ‘I mean, that’s just not what it means here. I feel like every young woman here can say that food, for them, means something so different. Calories, weight, health, restriction, guilty pleasure, diets, beauty, fitness. On holidays and at Sunday dinners, it has something to do with family, but you always come back to how what you eat means for your worth as an appearance. And this applies to lots of men and women.’

I sat back in my chair and thought about this. Images raced across my mind.

 

 

What the hell, I thought. I then quickly tried to put together a mental map of food that somehow reflected my very limited, very western perception of Kyrgyz values. It looked so different.

The image that struck me in that moment did not render the eater an object of marketing. Instead, food became a focal point of connection to the cosmos, family, society, our bodies, our actions.

It would be a bit silly and ethnocentric to portray Kyrgyz people as somehow ‘innocent and pure environmentalists’. The dynamic and ever-shifting Western environmental values are based on individual and national history and philosophy; a Kyrgyz worldview, by default, must be different yet equally complex and varied.**

I don’t want to go into it all right away in a single blog post, but instead I wish to rest on a few questions.

In light and in spite of the fact that this concept küt exists in a very different cultural setting, what can we learn from it?

How can küt challenge our understandings of ourselves, our bodies, and our relationships?

What does küt make you think about your relationship to your environment?

What does food mean for you? Does it connect you to others or separate you from them?

It’s a powerful word, a powerful concept. I’ll leave you with küt as it’s far more eloquent than more of my words could be.

Sources

2016 Anthropology and Eurasia module as taught by Dr Stephanie Bunn.

images:

http://www.rosemarysheel.com/archives/kyrgyzstan-landscape

https://www.theapricity.com/forum/showthread.php?192502-Kyrgyzstan

https://xpatmatt.com/photos/kyrgyzstan-photoessay/

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/

http://www.hollysierra.com/files/?C=S;O=D

 

**disclaimer

I dearly hope my ‘mental maps’ as portrayed here isn’t in anyway trivalizing of the complexity of Kyrgyz culture or, on the other hand, U.S./broader ‘Western’ culture. This post is meant as a bite-size dose of anthropology, a way of posing a question, and not in any way representative of broad swaths of communities.

 

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culture & society, feminism, personal journeys, Uncategorized

I am not a strong, independent woman

Sometimes I go traveling or rappelling or hitchhiking by myself. Other times, I drink wine in the bathtub because it was a really hard day and I just want to listen to Celine Dion in peace, goddammit. Sometimes I’m strong and sometimes I’m a mess. Sometimes I’m independent and sometimes I just really, really need to be cuddled and probably want someone to give me chocolate five minutes ago.

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stacking stones at the Brough of Birsay, Orkney Islands: a balancing act

I don’t believe anybody can be strong and independent all the time.

The cliché really bothers me, mostly because ‘strong, independent women’ are pretty much made to look all the same. You know what I mean: in movies, you get a ‘strong, independent woman’ who’s innocent but sexy, as strong as a guy but still definitely feminine, independent but happy to take a guy on board. She’s different from all the other girls, acts like a guy, and is almost completely strong and independent.

This strikes me as a wee bit unrealistic, no? Also, the stereotype is based on the assumption that being strong and independent is a very male thing to be. Think of any Mission Impossible movie and you get my point.

This stereotype is dangerous because it focuses on one person or character as a ‘hero of the story’, an ‘intrepid adventurer’ but neglects to show a wide variety of strengths and weaknesses. It’s great we have Wonder Woman and Khaleesi (and I love them dearly), but I also think if we think that only unrealistically and narrowly-defined strong, independent women can do strong and independent things we’ll limit ourselves horrendously. I want to see more action movies with young, scared single moms as the leads; I want to see more far-less-than-perfect characters.

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Women–simple, everyday women–who are sometimes strong and sometimes weak can do incredibly strong things. They can go on adventures, be the unexpected hero like Bilbo Baggins, and be independent even though they sometimes also aren’t.

Instead of trying to be strong, independent heroes, let’s try to be strong characters: interesting characters who grow and evolve, fail and thrive throughout a long story that defies a linear plot and simple answers. Love the strength and weakness, the muscle and the frown lines, and allow yourself to feel everything that comes with being alive.

 

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feminism, love, mental health, personal journeys, poetry

what’s helped me: on recovering from mental illness

This is very much a practical post. Lately, I’ve really wanted to share the resources (blogs, books, podcasts, apps, etc) that have really helped me during this process of recovering from panic attack disorder, depression, and disordered eating. I know I talk a lot about the outdoors and adventures, but I couldn’t have done those things without these smaller bits of help. They have and continue to work small-scale, everyday changes in how I think and process the world around me, and have thus enabled me to experience life in a more balanced, more joyful way. Thus, without further ado, here are my ‘top resources,’ in no particular order.

I – Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

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This book is a memoir of dealing with depression and finding hope and reasons to live in the small things. The chapters are short, the reflections are captivating. It completely changed my perspective on depression and helped me see not only how to get through it, but how to learn from my struggles and empathise more with others.

 

II – Goodbye Ed, Hello Me by Jenni Schaeffer

Jenni Schaeffer’s books gave me the crucial skill of learning to separate myself from eating disorder and depression thoughts: to see them as an illness, not as truly me or what I really value. This enabled me to ‘talk back’. It helped me get in touch with what I really believed and loved and to use that to build truth back into the fabric of my life. Chapters are super short–it was perfect when my depression was really bad and my attention span basically nill–and there are lots of practical exercises to help you separate from the negative voices in your life.

III- Jessi Kneeland 

This is a recent find of mine–a random google result–but it’s already had a huge impact on me. She’s coach, counselor, and writer dedicated to helping women love, live in, and make peace with their bodies. Think body acceptance versus body change, empowerment versus perfection. A lot of her blog posts dig deep into the messages women receive about their bodies and worth on an everyday basis, and almost all of her writing features probing questions that have helped me to uncover and let go of the root of many insecurities. Honestly, I wish her so much success. Very few bloggers have had such a powerful impact on me in such a short time.

IV – Emily Dickinson

It’s simply impossible to read Emily Dickinson’s poetry and not feel wonder for the small things. My paperback collection of her poetry seems to find its way into my hands very, very regularly, and it never leaves my hands without having left something in my mind’s eye. Find a poet or writer or musician or anyone whose work you connect to, and give yourself a daily dose of beauty.

V – Food Psych

Food Psych is a podcast devoted to body acceptance, intuitive eating, health at every size, and eating disorder recovery. Christy Harrison, a registered dietitian and intuitive eating counselor, leads weekly discussions with people from all backgrounds and walks of life about their relationships with their bodies and their journey to body acceptance and health. I listen to a sampling of this podcast’s extensive library of episodes a couple of times a week, and I’ve learned so much about the history of diet culture and how badly it affects our society, from sending people on diet cycles to completely messing with hunger and fullness cues. In turn, I’ve started to learn to honor my body’s signals, let go of a set beauty ideal, and have a hell of a lot more energy (since I’m not massively restricting or binging nearly as much).

VI – Pacifica

A free app, Pacifica is essentially CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) in your pocket. You can track your moods, write down your thoughts, and it guides you through recognising ‘thought errors’ that reinforce negative emotions. It also guides you through ‘reframing’ those thoughts and offers free guided meditations and podcasts. Awesome resource.

VII – YouTube’s free yoga

Not everyone can afford yoga studio prices, but if you have access to a phone, computer, fancy tv, tablet, or laptop (granted, a privilege of its own), you can pull up yoga teachers on youtube. Yoga’s health benefits–from mental calm to decreased pain–are very widely known, but for me it really powerfully connects me to my body and brings my anxiety levels way down. Some of my favourite teachers are BadYogi and fightmaster yoga. They have videos for all levels and you can pause, stop, or modify without any judgment and without an audience.

VIII – the sun and her flowers by rupi kaur

This book of poetry is simple and stunning. It speaks to so many aspects of what it means to be a woman in the world, addressing love, lust, poverty, politics, and far more. I can’t really say enough to describe it, so I here’s some poetry throughout in the hopes that you’d become a fan as well.

 

 

Much love to anyone who’s struggling or supporting someone with mental illness. I hope these practical tools prove helpful–much love xx

 

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anthropology, culture & society, mountains, munros, personal journeys, Scotland, travel & adventure, Uncategorized

where do we roam?

My father has told me several times throughout my life that freedom is the degree to which you are able to take responsibility for yourself. 

Caveats and social justice questions aside, I believe this no more firmly than I do on the river, at a crag, or in the hills. The ability to roam or wander and to know that you and only you can be responsible for your own safety–or your own ability to experience awe and joy–is distinctly empowering.

It’s wearing your mortality as proudly as a bird wears its feathers, letting your own awe and smallness take you deeper into the world.

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me getting ready to wild camp on the Trotternish Ridge with Maryam. Isle of Skye, Scotland

In Scotland, I mainly experienced this freedom by walking. If you’ve been around this blog before, you’ve heard me talk about it a great deal. Scotland’s ‘right to roam’ made this magic. Very simply, as long as you don’t damage someone’s property or trample their garden, you can pretty much walk anywhere that isn’t industrially dangerous. You can camp in fields as long as you don’t damage crops or disrupt livestock. You can cut across miles of pasture on your way up to a knife-edge ridge. This freedom strikes me as fundamental to the ability to take responsibility for one’s actions: you are responsible for how you care for the landscape, for your own safety, for navigation, for each step.

This freedom enables so many adventures. I climbed munro after munro, walked the entire 117-mile Fife Coastal Path and other hills besides with a dear friend, explored miles of the Moray Coast with another, and wandered and hitched across many islands.

Here in Pennsylvania, there is, quite sadly, no right to roam. It’s strange as ‘roaming’ seems to be very compatible with American mythology. Instead, I find some of that freedom on the rivers, the crags, and the creeks.

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Nick getting us ready to kayak on the upper Allegheny River

Nick and I have put in many miles this year thus far, kayaking parts of the Allegheny River, the Clarion River, the Kiskimenetas River, and Buffalo Creek. It’s been a lovely adventure. Oftentimes the waterways carry us past old railroads which have been turned into paths for cycling and walking–‘Rails to Trails’ for anyone who’s not familiar.  Primitive camping sites along some of these rivers give me a little of what I miss: complete responsibility for my food, my sleep, all my needs, just for a day or two.

At some point, I think I’ll tell the story of how the ‘right to roam’ was actually won in Scotland. It’s a good story with mass trespassing and angry union workers demanding a right to walk and move and enjoy their country without having to spend an arm and a leg. (Though the crags might take an arm or a leg from you for themselves.) I’ll explore how ‘adventure’ and ‘recreation’ operate in different places and amongst different sociopolitical systems. For now, however, I have a few questions.

What do you think of the right to roam?

Do you think the right to roam enhances or detracts from personal freedom?

Do you think that, if U.S. citizens were able to experience more of their environment more freely, there would be a greater desire for environmental responsibility?

What does ‘private property’ mean, and what does freedom mean to you?

Just questions to ponder. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy whatever adventure is readily available to you. Personally, I believe nearly every place offers its own unique freedom. It might not be as readily available to one group of people as it is to another, and that’s part of the inequality inherent in our current world. But I also believe that making the world such that more people might enjoy it takes going out there and enjoying it for yourself, claiming space and claiming adventure.

That’s the only way you can share the joy of the outdoors with others and advocate for the expansion and preservation of that joy.

Do and enjoy what you can, now, with what you have, and share your explorations whenever possible.

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feminism, love, poetry, Scotland

a poem for sisterhood

a poem I wrote after my time in St Andrews in April, almost a year after I graduated. I’m sending love and gratitude to all those who helped me along my way, all those women who loved each other and didn’t take shit from anyone. 

 

I came back to a place that was trial by fire

only to find the hearth of a beloved inn

here, my sisters–hillwalkers, anthropologists,

philosophers and domestic goddesses

have pulled up chairs and rockers to gossip

to mhmm over mistakes and knit scarves

for our daughters caught in the cold

to drink down spells of sisterhood

and to eat the flesh of slain monsters

St Andrews 2018

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anthropology, mountains, personal journeys, travel & adventure

what kayaks, alpacas, and flowers have taught me: learning from ‘odd’ jobs

During university summers, I worked a lot of jobs, some odder than others. I worked at a kayak, canoe, and stand-up paddleboard rental facility; I babysat and tutored; I gardened and worked at an alpaca farm. Whilst at university, I lead hikes and served for two years as a class representative. In the year or so since graduating, I’ve worked at GoApe (a high ropes course and zipline facility), tutored extensively, taught piano, cared for horses, and worked at a greenhouse and flower farm.

Sometimes it’s intimidating to think of where I am, where others are around me, and where I’d like to be. I think of my dreams of being a writer, researcher, and explorer (basically, an anthropologist with a mountain problem) and wonder how I’ll get there. I see others my age doing crazy, scary shit like getting desk jobs (not knocking desk jobs). Life can be quite strange, can’t it?

As I’ve said before here, my life has proven to be a little nonlinear lately, but it’s given me so much joy and brought me some of the most treasured people in my life. I think it’s also easy, as humans, to look around and label circumstances as somehow disadvantageous to our goals. But honestly?

Alpacas taught me a lot, namely that animals built for cold mountain weather are pretty needy in hot, humid Pennsylvania summers. In all seriousness, they also taught me about herd dynamics, about how animals build their own social networks and power structures, about managing a lot of animals. Some kind redneck gave me a two-minute lesson on how to drive a quad without breaks with a trailer behind it through the woods, and I learned it didn’t kill me.

Working at a kayak rental facility gave me the opportunity to learn to kayak, canoe, and paddleboard. It showed me many sides of working with the public: the frightened children, the rude customers, the customers who beamed kindness. It showed me how differently people can perceive a certain activity and how many different assumptions people can make about each other. I learned to watch people there, to try to understand where they were coming from and how best to help them.

Working 11 or 12 hour days in summer heat between jobs paired with living in Scotland the rest of the year, I learned a thing or two about tolerating physical discomfort. I learned that discomfort or inconvenience often produces memories, joy.

‘An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered’ — G. K. Chesterton

Horses showed me unconditional irritation or unconditional affection. They taught me how to be assertive with an animal ten times my size and gave me lessons in medicine. I learned that working in subzero temperatures in a barn isn’t the worst thing in the world and can actually be quite enjoyable. Again, discomfort can lead to some crystal-clear memories.

Guiding hikes and mountaineering on my own in Scotland showed me a great deal in terms of camping, wilderness first aid, navigation, and so much more. It kept me on this planet during the hardest time of my life and gave me some of the best friendships and conversations I could have hoped for. It took me from not knowing how to read a map to tackling some of the most challenging ridges in the UK on my own or with a friend.

Tutoring lead me into hours upon hours of researching child psychology, the philosophy of education, and teaching models. I read countless books and articles about the Montessori method, Charlotte Mason, Classical Education, and Social Thinking. I worked hard to make my hours of lessons for homeschool kids fun, challenging, and always creatively joyous. This challenged me a lot: I had to understand how each child learn, pay attention to their needs and moods, and be open to wildly different personalities and learning styles.

GoApe helped me learn how to coach others through their fears and, very practically, set rescue systems at height.

Working at a flower farm and greenhouse has brought its own unique joys, from learning the name of so many new plants and flowers to watching the everyday workings of a family-run business. I’ve been able to ask so many questions and, as someone who aspires to live at least mostly off-grid at some point in my life, the knowledge it’s given me is invaluable.

And now I step back and think: I want to be a writer, researcher, and explorer. I want to work largely with indigenous circumpolar peoples, to conduct personal and interpersonal research in taxing, unfamiliar environments. My jobs have taught me, in a way academia never could, adaptability to different personalities, worldviews, and tasks; the ability to withstand physically uncomfortable or taxing environments; and assertiveness, endurance, and self-sufficiency.

The University of St Andrews gave me an education, but these jobs gave me tools that I feel will help me put that education to good use.

Maybe you haven’t worked what you think are the ‘perfect’ or ‘optimal’ jobs or internships. Maybe it’s easy to compare yourself to others or look at what others have accomplished. But everyone, no matter this circumstance, will do the human thing and catalogue their disadvantages. Let me ask you, though: what are the advantages? What are you learning right this second? How is this helping you love yourself and others more fully? How is this helping you become the person who will enjoy achieving your goals, rather than just hurtling towards them?

Your adventure isn’t around the corner; you might already be well on your way.

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