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paul wheaton
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This is a controversial topic. It came up recently and I responded.

First, some people are concerned about the lack of women listed as keynote speakers for the permaculture voices conference. And then a similar note came up for the permaculture playing cards.

Here are my responses to some of the things said:

I went to google and typed in "permaculture". At the top was wikipedia. Is that a guy? I'm not sure. Most of the results were sites run by guys. The rest I wasn't sure. Not one site was I certain it was a woman. So google must be somehow detecting gender and forcing their male dominance! I went to amazon and did the same test. That damned Toby Hemenway is hogging the top of the list. When is that bastard gonna stop pigging up that #1 spot and allow a woman there? In fact, the first three were all men. The only explanation is conspiracy. Clearly. Amazon has rigged it so the women cannot be in the #1 spot. That is why JK Rowling is so awesome, she forced amazon to allow a woman into the #1 spot. The men that are accomplishing so much that they get tagged as keynote speakers need to stop their work and allow some women to occupy those podiums. Take greening the deserts - those women ... maybe somebody can help me with some names here .... THOSE women need some podium time. ...... It does suck that there are not more women listed as keynotes. And it sucks that they are all white. But I don't think it is because the organizer has a white male agenda. We had the same problem with the permaculture playing cards.


Sexism and racism are destructive. So is falsely accusing somebody of sexism and racism. I like the idea that permaculture is about building good things. Trying to destroy good things, like this conference, seems to me to be counter to the philosophies behind permaculture.


A guy says that my accomplishments are due to my white male privilege.

I have now uttered the word permaculture to 29 million people. And the reason is it was some guy and not some gal is because I have some sort of privilege? About 98% of my traffic comes from search engines. So you are saying that somehow the search engines know my gender and favor my stuff over the women? And all this time, I thought it was working a hundred hours a week for years and years and years.


A guy then talks about how some people have computers and roofs and some don't.

So men have computers and roofs, but women don't. And that is why the keynote speakers are mostly men? ..... ..... I think there are heaps of men and women pushing permaculture forward. And there are a few people that accomplished some really remarkable stuff. Some are men and some are women. I think for my part, google does not check for gender - any woman can out-do what I do. You can get a web site with a credit card - no gender check. So in the end, this conversation seems to either be suggesting that somebody in the permaculture world is discriminating against women, or there is some sort of attempt at shaming women into doing more because the guys seem to be getting more done. I don't like either of these paths. I think that rather than burning time with trying to figure out who in our community to hate or shame, we should be using our time to teach more people about the value of permaculture. I think this conference is going to be one of the best things that ever happened for permaculture. I think that the concern about not enough women in the keynote lineup says more about the person with "concern" on their lips than it does about the conference. And it is this very kind of infighting that has kept permaculture on the fringe for decades. I don't know about the rest of you, but I think is long past time for permaculture to go mainstream and I will put all of my effort behind seeing this conference be excellent. There was an attempt at a national convergence a year or two ago and it was extinguished by infighting in the permaculture community. Benjamin, be the change you want to see. If you think this conference can be better, then MAKE a better conference.


I think there are a lot of people that want this conference and the permaculture playing cards to be something else. They want to see a conference (or the playing cards) reflect their politics and their religion - and they want it to be broadcast far and wide. But the only thing they can get traction on is that there appears to be a lack of women.

When people say that they are considering not attending because of this, that strikes me as a clear accusation of sexism. But these people seem to want more women for the sake of having more women - without regard of who those women might be. And I think the accusation of sexism is extremely serious in the world of permaculture and should never be made lightly. In fact, the very act of FALSELY accusing somebody of sexism should be dealt with just as harshly as the act of sexism.

So let's explore the world of greening deserts. geoff lawton, Bill Mollison, sepp holzer, Willie Smits, Allan Savory. Who are the women that have been neglected?







 
paul wheaton
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From google trends.

I'm trying to put in the keynote speakers lined up for permaculture voices. And then add in some women of permaculture where their work is dominantly non-political.

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Arnita Leffel
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I stumbled upon this thread via Google and I think it's an interesting conversation to have.

Paul, I'm curious - Do you believe that there's a higher percentage of white men in the permaculture community (relative to the overall population)?

My experience with the permaculture community is that there is a high percentage of white men who choose to join the movement, and a somewhat lower percentage of women and people of color who identify as "permaculturists". But I was only involved in a few permaculture communities, so please correct me if this isn't true. It's only my (somewhat uninformed) personal observation. I'm curious to hear what others believe to be true.

But if this is the case, can you think of reasons why white men might have a higher probability of joining the permaculture community?
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Here in Phoenix, there are more women than men who participate in permaculture about 60/40 - however, the leadership roles are more often filled by men. And it is a predominantly white crowd.

Having said that, I have worked permaculture projects in a variety of communities where the people participating were predominantly Hispanic, or black, or elderly, or disabled etc.
 
paul wheaton
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Arnita,

I think Jennifer nailed it.

More women in permaculture overall.

I think that people that try on the yoke of leadership in permaculture are "tested" much more than in other fields. And the gentler souls prefer a gentler path - so a path that is less tested. Besides, I think the real beauty of permaculture is developing a deep, romantic relationship with nature. And when the time comes to choose whether to spend more time on that relationship, or spend more time telling thousands of people about that relationship, I think more people choose the relationship itself.

This is my theory on why we seem to see more guys in the leadership roles. I suspect that women tend to want to develop the relationship with nature more than men. It's just a theory. I could be wrong.

 
R Scott
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It is a good theory.

As to the white part, it is kind of the same thing--there are people of every race DOING permaculture (whether they call it that or not), but not that many bother or have not had the tools to preach/market it on the internet or other media--at least not outside their local area.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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What's really interesting to me is that women show up in even MORE disproportionate numbers (at least here in Phoenix) when there is some kind of community project or workshop going on.

I was just having this discussion with the Phoenix Program Manager of Watershed Management Group, Ryan Wood. Usually the Green Living Co-op workshops are about 70/30 women/men. Women love to attend these as they get to work with tools, dig stuff, cut stuff up, put stuff together... Maybe the guys feel like they know this already, but for the women, it's like getting a fun new toy! I mean the women are JAZZED about this stuff.

Ditto for community projects. Set up a tree planting activity, install a community garden, host a gleaning event or a painting party - and it's a chick fest. Seriously - single guys looking to find a like-minded partner should show up at these. Women are literally the hands that move these projects forward and often the ones that manage and maintain them after the event.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Leaders tend to get regularly raked over the coals. I suspect that this is distasteful to many women. I love to defend my position and laugh in the face of personal attack. Men are like that. We're also more likely to crow about our accomplishments than women are.

In my city, we have several female activists who have specialized. One is leading a pipe line protest, another is working on sewage management. Few run for mayor. The job of mayor is a good fit for a generalist. Permaculture is about as generalist as it gets. It's possible that men are more likely to fit into that role while women tend to have a specific thing within permaculture that they aspire to be the best at.

Men like to be right and we like to be in charge. By being in charge, we have a platform from which to proclaim our rightness.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Men like to be right and we like to be in charge. By being in charge, we have a platform from which to proclaim our rightness.


Truer words were never spoken!
 
Arnita Leffel
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Thanks, everyone, for adding to this dialogue. I didn't realize that there were more women than men in the permaculture space, so thank you for correcting my assumptions!

My personal belief is that many of these leadership preferences and tendencies stem from sociological norms rather than biological ones, which is a factor of living in the culture that we live in, and maybe not something that permaculture is equipped to "solve" in its entirely. At least not in the short term.

In my professional life I run a software company, and in this day and age, it's still somewhat rare for women to build and run software companies. I can't say that I have all of the answers as to why more women don't assume leadership roles in the tech space, but it's a heated topic that comes up a lot in my industry. Which is partly why it's so interesting to hear perspectives on this same topic as it relates to permaculture. As someone who thinks a lot about user experience design in software, I ponder how certain design decisions (intentional or unintentional) influence behavior. Of course, many of the lifestyle designs (and patterns) that might influence a person to become a leader probably happen much earlier in life — long before a person discovers permaculture. It would be interesting to ask women in permaculture communities whether or not they would want to assume a leadership role. Then we could find out if there is any sort of personal or social (or other) barrier that prevents women from pursuing those roles, or if it's a matter of preference.

Do you think that both genders want more women to be in leadership roles within the permaculture community?
 
Matu Collins
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I'm interested in being in leadership roles, I have been in the past and will be in the future again. Privilege has something to do with leadership development and personality does too.

What about life circumstances? Right now I'm busy caring for young children and breastfeeding. I've spent fourteen years as a mom, almost nine of those pregnant and/or breastfeeding. I make food from scratch.
I wash and hang dry cloth diapers, too. Plus getting hands on Permaculture gardening experiments going. Carrying wood, making fires. And harvesting tea with the children to drink together...ah we have fun.

And I'm not off the grid or far out in the woods! Many women in Permaculture are.

Life as a human mother has meant that my home and children take a lot of my time and focus. Bandwidth, if you will. I wonder how much this has an effect on women in Permaculture? There are nannies and there is formula and there are disposable diapers and there are packets of processed baby food. How many women sacrifice opportunities to get big and famous in leadership roles to keep home and hearth together and breastmilk in the baby's belly?
 
Matu Collins
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Does anyone know if the abovementioned "men of Permaculture" have wives/women back at home holding down the fort?
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Matu - you make excellent points!

Being a "permaculture mother" takes a huge amount of time and effort. It's similar to when more people lived closer to the land and natural sex roles evolved. The problem came when one role started to become more "valued" than another in our society.

I think it can be tricky to seek out leadership roles in permaculture sometimes, especially if you are homesteading. A "woman's role" is often that traditional role of child-rearing and managing a healthful home. If you are in a city like I am, doing more "urban permaculture" or even involved in "broad scale permaculture" (usually through a government agency or NGO), there are probably more leadership opportunities readily available. Also, a lot of "leaders" come from fields that are traditionally more male-dominated - engineering, sciences, agriculture...

And yes, most if not all of the "men of permaculture" do have a spouse. I know that Nadia Lawton has become quite proficient at driving an earth mover! (I love Nadia!)

 
John Polk
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Males and females can be polar opposites:

When a bunch of guys get together, they criticize & bad-mouth each other.
But, they don't really mean it.

When a bunch of girls get together, they compliment & praise each other.
But they don't really mean it.

lol
 
Dale Hodgins
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:
Dale Hodgins wrote:Men like to be right and we like to be in charge. By being in charge, we have a platform from which to proclaim our rightness.


Truer words were never spoken!


Jennifer has read many of my profound insights and this is the one she finds the most true. Hmmmm .

There was an episode of South Park where Erik Cartman was put in charge. This made him right about everything. He implored the other characters to " Respect my authority "!!!

The idea of rightness flowing from positions of authority is not likely to go away. Somebody needs to be in charge of most things. The best we can hope for is that we are able to influence them toward positive ends. Whenever someone puts their name forward to lead something, I ask myself, "Does so and so have some unique talent to offer, or does he just want to be in charge". Those who just want to be in charge, can quickly become tyrants as they assert their rightness from a position of power.

Why do men want power ? According to many shrinks and some contributors to this thread, it's part of a larger scheme to get laid regularly. Yep. Men like sex. Men who are in charge have greater sexual opportunity. Therefore, men strive to be in charge. Here's a sexism thread. You're welcome --- http://www.permies.com/t/1876/md/feminism-sexism
 
Andrew Schreiber
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paul wheaton wrote: Who are the women that have been neglected?



I believe it is too late to have this impact the card deck, but a women I find inspiring and knowledgeable is Wangari Maathai, she started the greenbelt movement to stop the spread of the Sahara.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wangari_Maathai

She encouraged a lot of women to plant trees, and to think of trees and important community resources, and legacies to their people.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Andrew - excellent choice - I've admired her work as well!
 
Rebecca Holman
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This seems like an interesting book to add to this thread. It is coming out in March of 2014



Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America's Environment
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Andrew Schreiber wrote:I believe it is too late to have this impact the card deck, but a women I find inspiring and knowledgeable is Wangari Maathai, she started the greenbelt movement to stop the spread of the Sahara.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wangari_Maathai

She encouraged a lot of women to plant trees, and to think of trees and important community resources, and legacies to their people.


Andrew and Jennifer, we have a little thread on the event of Wangari Maathai's death (and her life): http://www.permies.com/t/10378/md/Wangari-Maathai-died. I really like the little tune for her that I posted there.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Erica Wisner
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An article that was cited on the Facebook discussion of this topic -
http://seedsustainabilityconsulting.com/women-in-permaculture-article-in-permaculture-activist/

I do think there are a lot of good reasons for pointing toward more different types of people, as seeing the many different ways someone can be an influence for good - a 'hero in waiting' - makes it more and more likely that any given person will also take up the cause in their own life and their own way.

I think permaculture needs to give more credit to past generations; in one of the Greening the Desert interviews, Geoff L talks about seeing stone berms in the desert- I think it was in Jordan? - it's that type of on-the-land experience that draws on ancient knowledge and brings it back into service in today's information age. I had my own insights in my grandmother's backyard; there's a lot of 'permanent culture' that is vibrantly alive today, in the traditions and "common sense" of families and nations that have retained some of their ancestral patterns.

I don't know how to find a Google-ready word or phrase that embodies the nature of women's roles in connecting these threads - family knowledge, ancient knowledge, organizing local groups and events, curating libraries, etc. I think it would be very useful to have a card - or a Wikipedia page, or a forum thread, or all three - that highlights that pattern for how to start a regional movement, how to strengthen the web that lets people see the importance of their own local choices. Often these roles as regional influences in turn leverage women's social power (often as arbitrators of what's 'acceptable' or 'decent', and supporters of each other and families through crisis) to make a more sustainable, viable, thriving future.

Do we have a name for this pattern? Of bringing the threads together into stronger networks?
It's been compared with weaving; it's spider-like; but the spiders of legend are weavers of cloth not people, and also trickster man (Anansi) and punished woman (Arachne).
It's like spinning; one of the words for the female line (stories and methods passed down from mother to daughter, aunt to grand-neice) is "distaff", the winding-rod for handspun thread.
A lot of quiet consensus decisions get made in places like the Andes, in cottages where a row of spindles is lined up outside the door from women visiting each other to discuss the affairs of the day over household chores.
And over craft circles. "Craft" has also been associated with witchcraft, however; and while that's archetypically feminine it's a controversial archetype; easy to get marginalized or become repugnant to dominant religious groups who are also heavily involved in homesteading, greening the deserts, etc.

It's kind of mycelial, this strengthening of networks and coordination of the flow of vital tidbits throughout the region where they're needed. We could call it 'my-sister-al' except that's really funny-sounding.
Distaff mycelia?
Maybe this is the 'third ethic' as we want to frame it: share the knowledge of / that results in surplus

Do we have names for the insights that come from Aboriginal, Native American, and other regionally-rooted peoples?
I keep trying to find good info on traditional foods, shelters, etc. that suit this climate, and the deeper I go the more I can find out. But inventions tend to get passed down with legendary characters such as "White Corn Woman" (making daily work of grinding corn super-sexy; Pueblo, I think); a mythical figure who may be equal parts allegory and anthropomorphism (gynomorphism?), and not a particular historical figure.

if I recall right, the Three Sisters are in there. Maybe we want a Corn Woman character on the Three Sisters card, too.

-Erica
 
paul wheaton
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My latest theory: random chance. The keynote people for permaculture just turned out to be mostly guys right now. In ten years it could be mostly women.

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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I think the women (and other underrepresented groups) of permaculture are out there right now and it's up to us - both men and women - to find them and nurture them and bring attention to them. I have a feeling that they are not visible for a number of reasons, a few of which I postulate are:

--they are youngish and lack exposure - If you are mentoring a young person that shows great talent (male or female) - consider helping to bring them into the limelight - this is one definition of "people care" - we need to build the next generation of permaculture thinkers and doers.

--they are older and maybe never got the limelight but much other work has been built on their work (got this from watching Cosmos a few weeks ago) - if you know of someone whose work deserves recognition (male or female) but they have never received it, call attention to them. I think the reason more women and minorities are receiving credit for their work and are in the limelight now is because those before them (often the "status quo") worked with them to bring attention to them.

--women often take on different kinds of projects than men - projects that might not occur as "permaculture" to some - things like community organizing, fundraising/grant writing, education, caretaking (children, elderly, disabled), writing policy, working with government to enact policy, and so much more. It's time we honored and valued these roles within the broader permaculture community. If you know of someone (male or female) that does this kind of work, bring them forward!

Several years ago I was part of a think tank for my local community college system. One of the members was the Chancellor of one of the colleges. She said something that I think expresses our role as permaculture practitioners very clearly. She said "In life we should always hold the hand of two people - one who knows more than us so they may help to guide us, and one who knows less than us so that we may help guide them." She attributed this saying to her grandmother who was of Native American/Mexican heritage.

Looking back on this statement, it seems very "permaculture" to me as it fosters "care of people" and collaboration. We all have so many different skills - for some of these, we may be the "one who knows more" and for others, the "one who knows less". By being in diverse relationships with others where we are both supporters and supported, we build that resilient web of life - we cycle our energy many, many times before it leaves our "system".

I think the "holding hands" example is a different experience and world view than simply saying "step up" to people. "Step up" occurs for me as something done alone without much support. Stepping up alone (over and over and over again) does not guarantee that you will be noticed or appreciated. As an example, the two biggest environmental and food justice policy writers I know in AZ are women. They are not well-known outside fairly small circles - yet their reach is incredibly broad. Their goals are to develop and enact city and state level policy changes that affect millions of lives. They do this complex and thankless work for years and years. If they happen to get the limelight at some point, that's fine and it would certainly forward their missions, but seeking the limelight for their successes is not something that drives them - their work occurs as too pressing to take the time to seek the limelight. Unfortunately, what this fosters time and again, is that the politicians who voted the policy into law (both men and women) are the one's who get the credit.

In the spirit of calling attention to an amazing young person, Elora Hardy should definitely be invited to the next PV conference.


 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:
Dale Hodgins wrote:Men like to be right and we like to be in charge. By being in charge, we have a platform from which to proclaim our rightness.


Truer words were never spoken!

That's RIGHT! ...wait a minute...

I haven't read this whole thread but I will throw in my two cents. The three people I would categorize as permaculturists who have most influenced my thinking are women, and two of them have never advertised their work, don't seek much publicity at all, one vigorously shuns it, and would not want to be mentioned publicly. What would really help their work would be people being more open-minded, and trying things out before jumping to conclusions.

The fact is that permaculture isn't more sexist than the general population, but any community can reenact the dynamics of sexism or other isms non-consciously if people don't know. Stacking a roster of keynote speakers really won't make that much of a difference compared with daily choices to listen more to those in groups that have been historically targeted for less of society's resources (women, people of color, non-heterosexuals, disabled persons, or non-Christians). We don't just have a blank slate, there's a lot of history. You don't have to be actively oppressive to be enjoying an advantage others don't have. I might not be able to do what I do if it weren't for the edge that privilege has given me, and the pain that's isolated me from. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't keep trying to do it, and share my gift. Then maybe some of what I do can benefit others. I'm fortunate to have so much time to be on this site today, for example, and others may not. But I don't fix that by not getting on this site, I fix that by listening and staying in contact.

Something that's quite weird to me, there's another forum I frequent that is extremely female-dominated by numbers (though 4/6 moderators or so are male), and Permies seems to have many more men than women. yet both are extremely general in subject matter. Interesting.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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I thoguht of a good way of saying what I was trying to say. Or a better way anyway..

Let's say you have a field that's been used by chemical-based agriculturists for many years, and you get hold of thsi land and start to use it. At first, your permaculture approach may look worse than what was being done there before, the neighbors may come over and say, What are you doing? you need to spray!, etc. And you might think they're right and be tempted to blame the pests and weeds. But if you stick to principle, in time things get better.

Well, similarly, you have a society that's been very much male-dominated for hundreds of years, and then you have a feminist movement (which is like organics), and that seems to make some things much better, some things worse, and there's a lot of stuff to work through.

Then you have a new community come into being trying to do something new (permaculture) and this new community inherits all the problems of sexism that have been going on their own momentum for a long time, and it takes a while to sort that out. No one is actively trying to keep anyone down or go back to the old way, though at times it might be tempting and someone may even advise it, but the momentum of the old stuff is still there. YOu can't pretend you are just starting from a blank slate, from a neutral field. You're starting with a field that's had a lot of screwy principles in place for a long time.

So the thing to do is to observe, observe, observe, and listen, listen, listen. And no one is the problem, we're all the solution!

Hope this makes sense.
 
Acetylsalicylic acid is aspirin. This could be handy too:
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