Monday, August 8, 2016

The powerful myth of women’s power

One of my favorite readings from graduate school has been Donna Haraway’s 1991 essay Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Modern advancements in technology, she argues, further the justification for a blurring of boundary between woman and man, nature and technology, science fiction and social reality. We live in a postmodern world where identity, in its singular form, no longer productively serves society. The traditional feminist position, in particular as it relates to nature, envisions women as life givers and therefore denies multiplicities of identity. We require a deconstruction of feminism, in particular of the myth of binaries, in order to move towards a cyborg theory where boundaries no longer exist. Haraway, like myself, “would rather be a cyborg than a goddess” (p. 181).

In my time in the most rural parts of Cameroon and Botswana, I’ve seen how gender myth is recreated through wildlife interactions. Western lowland gorillas of central Africa thrive in areas where biodiversity has been bolstered by the traditional itinerant agricultural practices of the Bantu, Baka, and Bagyeli tribes. Gorilla thrive on secondary forest and make nests in returning forest where they can still bend growing branches and eat new growth. People native to the area believe that women are able to protect themselves from the threat of an attacking gorilla by disrobing in order to show their breasts. Here in the Eastern Panhandle of the Okavango where elephant density is increasing at unprecedented rates, people believe that women who are menstruating, nursing, or pregnant are more likely to be attacked when confronted by elephants.

Underlying both of these myths is the power inherent to women’s bodies, and this power may bleed into other aspects of society. In Cameroon, for example, women are often considered provocateurs even when they vehemently oppose sexual advances and men are especially at risk to falling for the sexual “seduction” of women with chest or chin hair. The mystical processes that lead to women’s menstruation, the development of breasts, the life-giving power of pregnancy and nursing, are at once animalistic and other worldly. It is only natural that untamed and untamable wildlife react to women in unique ways that reinforce the myths of gender and of nature.

We may be quick to assume that these myths are unique to far-away, rural places where traditional gender myths are re-created everyday. I argue that it is precisely here, in these rural landscapes of Africa where the myth of binary and singular identity is pushed to its limits everyday. Rural Africa, itself a myth with important consequences, no longer exists. Families are flexible entities, and marriage or partnership is not a prerequisite of child rearing. Women are increasingly in charge of households and economies in ways that often leave men asking to be brought back in to the development conversation. Agriculture is one of many household strategies that is necessarily supplemented by natural resource collection. Nature is not apart from, but a part of people’s lives. I argue that these myths exist at home in deeply entrenched and telling ways. The US is currently at a crossroads, and because I’m abroad I am at once seriously detached from and increasingly connected to the competition, the rhetoric, and language evoked to discuss both Mr. Trump (highly egomaniacal, or a strong leader) and Ms. Clinton (seriously overqualified, or likely to rule erratically during menopausal fits). The gender myth, one that reduces women to wild goddesses worthy of fear, serves only to reinforce patriarchal dynasties and unsustainable resource exploitation. Haraway’s cyborg theory erases the manifest destiny of unidirectional land and resource allocation, of cities contrasted with game reserves and national parks, and of predetermined gender roles. The cyborg theory allows us the freedom to choose whether we want to be a goddess, a cyborg, or both at the same time.

No comments:

Post a Comment