Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space

Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space

Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space

Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space

Synopsis

From "Mother Earth" to "Mother Nature," women have for centuries been associated with nature. Feminists, troubled by the way in which such representations show women controlled by powerful natural forces and confined to domestic space, have sought to distance themselves from nature. In Undomesticated Ground, Stacy Alaimo issues a bold call to reclaim nature as feminist space. Her analysis of a remarkable range of feminist writings-as well as of popular journalism, visual arts, television, and film-powerfully demonstrates that nature has been and continues to be an essential concept for feminist theory and practice. Alaimo urges feminist theorists to rethink the concept of nature by probing the vastly different meanings that it carries. She discusses its significance for Americans engaged in social and political struggles from, for example, the "Indian Wars" of the early nineteenth century, to the birth control movement in the 1920s, to contemporary battles against racism and heterosexism. Reading works by Catherine Sedgwick, Mary Austin, Emma Goldman, Nella Larson, Donna Haraway, Toni Morrison, and others, Alaimo finds that some of these writers strategically invoke nature for feminist purposes while others cast nature as a postmodern agent of resistance in the service of both environmentalism and the women's movement. By examining the importance of nature within literary and political texts, this book greatly expands the parameters of the nature writing genre and establishes nature as a crucial site for the cultural work of feminism.

Excerpt

[I]t must be recalled that during her earliest years on this conti
nent, the Euro-American woman seems to have been the unwill
ing inhabitant of a metaphorical landscape she had no part in
creating
captive, as it were, in the garden of someone else’s
imagination.

(Annette Kolodny, The Land Before Her)

Disney’s recent blockbuster Pocahontas, advertised with previews featuring the “Indian maiden” gracefully cascading hundreds of feet down a waterfall into an Edenic pool, feeds that ravenous American hunger for “unspoiled” nature, preferably inhabited by accommodating, feminine, dark-skinned beings. Pocahontas, emblematic of the enduring imaginative potency that “nature” carries in this culture, also betrays the way nature has been entangled with ideologies of race and gender: even more than the Euro-American women Kolodny describes, Pocahontas is captive in “the garden of someone else’s imagination.” This study traces the genealogy of such captivating gardens in order to explore how North American women writers—ensnared within inhospitable landscapes—have written neither captivity narratives nor escape tales, but have instead, in a myriad of ways, negotiated, contested, and transformed the discourses of nature that surround them. A remarkably diverse range of women’s writings insist that it is crucial for feminism to contend with the nature that has been waged against women. The struggle for birth control in the 1920s, Marxist-feminism of the 1930s, and contemporary battles against racism and heterosexism all grapple with the shifting but nonetheless po-

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