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To the women (and men) in the permaculture community

 
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I think that sexism does exist in permaculture, however unintentionally it may occur. I think some of this may simply be because of the value placed on various roles in our (USA) society.

Below is the most recent incident of sexism in my local permaculture community. This is the very tippy top of a fairly ugly iceberg that has caused the local guild to go through three full iterations of itself in the past 8 years.

Here's how this particular incident started. Names obliterated to protect the innocent!

Approximately 6 days ago, I sent out an email to the permaculture movers and shakers in my community that said this:

I opened my big mouth on the *** site about upping our permaculture game in *** - you know - by actually acknowledging that we live in a DESERT. I'll admit that I am really dying to see some actual movement towards sustainability on the *** site.



I get this response back from our local (male) PDC instructor that starts off like this:

I have always said that the list is Bloated....and a useless indicator of success.



To which I responded:

I don't know if you meant to be intentionally disrespectful, but there are two people on this email list (*** [a woman] and myself) who spent a GREAT DEAL OF VOLUNTEER TIME both building the *** site and moderating the list. During the time it was well-managed, it was a huge asset to the *** and filled their classes and made the *** solvent (regardless of how many times *** [the male leader] told me it sucked - he still walked away with money in the bank).

I think we should begin by respecting each other's skillsets and contributions. I have spent a fair amount of time building up both you and your PDC on the *** site today and in the past weeks. On the other hand, you have not said one word about my abilities as a (new PDC) teacher or designer - even though I know my place gets brought up in your classes. Are my efforts and the efforts of others on this list unimportant or unpraiseworthy?



I get a long email back - but this is the core of it:

[Male PDC teacher] Bloated - by non-permies, artificially inflated by those that took a class or a few classes and HAD to sign up to the website just to get into the class. They had no plan to learn or understand anything about Pc and had no opportunity either since the *** didn't offer any, despite my offers to give them.

People told other people about the wonderful forum that had great info about gardening!! We filled the gardening classes. But I got little help from the board or the marketing committee for the PDC (the would-be flagship of teaching Pc in ***) I got no money for ads, no press releases, no help 'til it was too late. Yes I got some help but not what I asked for all the time. I know my capabilities, and marketing was not on that list....I can do it but its really hard and inconvenient to me working my paid job.

Ads need to be out there in the alternative press every month/week.

Jen - I have seen your place/design and it's great, and I have said that, but I haven't seen any others....yet.

I have never seen you teach (that I remember) I can't comment there.



As a side note, this male instructor had me teach the intro part of the PDC one time, so he has seen me teach (I'm giving him a pass here because it was a number of years ago). My blog url is in the signature of my every email he receives - he could have clicked on that to see other projects. One of these projects is being considered for Toby Hemenway's new book on urban permaculture.

I also do not recall that there was ever any agreement to pay for ads in various publications for this instructor. His course was a product of his business and not something that was owned by the local organization. I don't think the local org benefited in any way from his earnings so I'm not sure why they would pay for ads.

As for something being "hard and inconvenient" - yeahhhhh.....when I built that site, monitored it aggressively, answered every question and set up the 120 classes for the org I had this little issue going on where I was simultaneously fighting a very aggressive autoimmune disease that robbed me of my job, my ability to drive, drained my savings accounts, nearly cost me my home, left me mostly blind and in incredible pain. Initially, doing this work was a balm to me because it allowed me to focus on something other than depression, pain and the very real possibility of death. But that wasn't hard or inconvenient for me AT ALL.


Then I get a private email from *** [the other woman who managed the forum]: (she is a graphic designer)

[Male PDC instructor] really ticked me off too. I am tired of his whining. Very tired. His last PDC was a sell out through the *** and it was because I basically became the marketing engine by creating graphics, a brochure, and a look. They even had a wait list. A simple "thank you" would be nice but I don't recall even that. piffle. Done with that negative attitude.



It's worth noting that both the male leader of the org at that time and the male PDC instructor hardly ever posted on the forum. I recall the male leader posting TWICE. I don't recall the PDC instructor posting much or at all. Through the three iterations of this organization - it is the forum that has withstood the test of time.
 
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Jennifer, if you wouldn't mind could you please elaborate more on the sexism that is happening in your community and what is being done to fight or understand it? I think maybe having some more concrete examples would help everyone out. I'm a male and I definitely don't want to make someone feel like I have put them off because of their sex and I think in your above post I got really confused with the *** and don't know the back story, the area, or the males so I am having a hard time understanding the sexism. When I am reading this back to myself I can see how this can be taken as a weird way to say there is no sexism, which I promise you I am not, I am genuinely trying to understand. It's just this is through typing you can't really read my emotions well through this, I hope that makes sense. I think through this whole discussion in this thread I definitely do not know what it feels like to be a woman and maybe I have taken certain traits about myself for granted. By that, I mean that i was raised in a very poor area of Los Angeles, was surrounded by multiple cultures, races, and religions, by a single mother so I feel this has led me to believe that I treat everyone the same and have a deep respect for everyones differences and struggles. That being said though, I may respect and love all these other peoples, but I may inadvertently be making those same peoples feel hurt by things I do, though i may not know that it is hurting them.
Thanks.
 
pollinator
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Whenever a controversial topic comes up in permaculture, I try to remember things Bill Mollison has said on the topic. Here's something from a PDC he did with Geoff Lawton:

So men are pretty well like that all over the place, useless bastards. I mean, harmful to their society. Aboriginal society is much the same. You're always wrestling them down, taking their knives off 'em. ...I think we should send them all out to perish somewhere, fight each other or something. We do, don't we?

Well, me and the ladies...[laughs]


He then goes on to talk about putting in swales with some Indian women. He leaves and they continue the work and eventually put in 500 miles of swales and their wells fill up. And they plant forests. And they recruit more women to help.

So there ya go. Sexism from Bill.

He reminds the audience now and again that he'll eventually insults everyone in the audience, it's nothing personal. He thinks women are trouble too, just in different ways...
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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joseph wittenberg wrote:Jennifer, if you wouldn't mind could you please elaborate more on the sexism that is happening in your community and what is being done to fight or understand it? I think maybe having some more concrete examples would help everyone out. I'm a male and I definitely don't want to make someone feel like I have put them off because of their sex and I think in your above post I got really confused with the *** and don't know the back story, the area, or the males so I am having a hard time understanding the sexism.



Sorry Joseph - the *** are confusing and are basically replacements for people's names and the name of the org.

The basic gist of the above is that women took on creating, maintaining and moderating a really great forum for the local permaculture organization. Three of the four men who initially started the local org were dismissive towards it EVEN THOUGH the forum attracted thousands of participants, hungry for education. This educational branch also fell to women volunteers. In the eight months I participated with the org, they went from being a 267 member Yahoo group to a 1700+ social media group. They went from hosting 12 classes a YEAR, to 120 classes in eight months. Because people paid for these classes, the org became solvent. As a volunteer, I organized all those classes, vetted new instructors and sat down at our local farmer's market monitoring the classes. For my time and effort, I routinely got told how the forum didn't matter. Eventually several of us (men and women alike) got sick of this attitude and formed our own organization. In our two years of existence we did more work than that other org has done in all the time it's been solvent. We got projects in the ground and did serious work. See this thread for examples: http://www.permies.com/t/32991/permaculture/Permaculture-Autism-Autism-Spectrum-Disorder#257244

I think what got me about the above scenario was that the male PDC instructor - a friend of mine - EXPECTED to be catered to as a matter of course. Instead of going online and talking about his course, or answering questions that might have given him some cred with people that didn't know him, he chose instead to bash the forum. He viewed the forum not as a valuable tool to get his message out there, but rather as a bloated list of people not interested in permaculture. It's this entitled attitude coupled with the dismissive tone he takes towards the forum and the efforts of the two women VOLUNTEERS responsible for touting his class and making it a success that really had me seeing RED. He gets paid from our efforts. We get - what? - the feel good vibes from building him up?


joseph wittenberg wrote:When I am reading this back to myself I can see how this can be taken as a weird way to say there is no sexism, which I promise you I am not, I am genuinely trying to understand. It's just this is through typing you can't really read my emotions well through this, I hope that makes sense. I think through this whole discussion in this thread I definitely do not know what it feels like to be a woman and maybe I have taken certain traits about myself for granted. By that, I mean that i was raised in a very poor area of Los Angeles, was surrounded by multiple cultures, races, and religions, by a single mother so I feel this has led me to believe that I treat everyone the same and have a deep respect for everyones differences and struggles. That being said though, I may respect and love all these other peoples, but I may inadvertently be making those same peoples feel hurt by things I do, though i may not know that it is hurting them.
Thanks.



Joseph - my intent was not to make folks feel bad and I am very grateful to you and each and every person here who takes the time to think about these issues. Not one single person on this earth, past or present, is without biases. I think you have a background that probably makes you very accepting and understanding towards people. And I think we are all "human". As humans, our culture evolves over time and things that were once OK and accepted start to become less so. Then people speak out and things change. Usually there is quite a struggle to maintain the status quo. Sometimes there is violence. Without this process, slaves would not have been freed, women not given the opportunity to vote, men not given the right to have child custody in divorce cases, people with disabilities would not be accommodated in the workplace, religious minorities would not be free to practice their faith, and on and on.

"I think" it is not wrong to discuss the positive ways in which we can all support each other and value each others contributions.

In my scenario above - it would have been really helpful for everyone involved to feel like we were "all in this together" and that a variety of efforts lead to a positive outcome for the group. Instead what happened was:
--my efforts and that of my female cohort were essentially dismissed as not being important to the overall financial and social success of the organization.
----there was inequity in recognition. The long hours of building, moderating and answering questions on the forum was never acknowledged by the male head of the org and the male PDC instructor. In essence this forum was the advertising arm of the org. I don't know about anyone else here but having a captive, engaged audience just waiting to take your next class offering is a pretty darned valuable thing in my book. Not only were our efforts not recognized verbally, they were often dismissed as peripheral.
---There was also an inequity in pay. The male owner of the org and the male pdc instructor made money - we two women were volunteers (and our work deemed superficial at best).

As for what is being done now - well, I am now the first FEMALE PDC teacher in our area. After long years of absence online with the community I helped found, I am reengaging with the org to see if it wants to move forward with more emphasis on integrated design and water harvesting - in all honesty, I'm not holding my breath but I thought I'd ask - and the new exec dir is female. I am part of a small group that is active in getting projects on the ground that embody permaculture design principles for hot drylands. Except for the attitude of the above mentioned male PDC teacher - we are moving forward in a mutually respectful way. We are about evenly split between men and women. I have to say that the men in this particular group are some of the most awesome human beings I have ever met. As are the women.

So long story short - the evolution of this community is an iterative one of surges and crashes. I hope that we can at least learn something from each iteration. I know that I'm resistant to hearing some things myself and have to catch myself and cause myself to truly listen. One of my hopes is that we can get more of the Hispanic population involved in leadership roles. That has yet to happen and when something doesn't manifest given that a very large percentage of this community is Hispanic, one needs to ask the question WHY. And one has to acknowledge that you may get answers that make you uncomfortable.

I ramble. Did that answer any part of your post, Joseph?


 
steward
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CJ: Was that the one where he tells the story about how the men go to work, then waste the money on booze and hookers then bring AIDS home to their families?

I think that's the same one where he goes on about (I'm paraphrasing) "sucking on the long saggy dried up tit of a woman in an African village because it was the respectful thing to do". At least that's what I remember. I saw that bit like 2 years ago. I do remember Laughing my ass off and thinking " wow!, did he just say that? There's NO WAY you'd get away with that now.

You're right. He did offend just about everyone at some point. That makes everyone equal I guess.
 
Cj Sloane
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Yeah, I'm not sure if it was the same segment as the booze & aids bit.

I'd like to add that he praises groups of people too. Within minutes of quoting "The Bastards of the Bush" he tells us that their IQs are just off the charts.

I think those videos are only 10 years old & he'd probably say it all again today.
 
pollinator
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Did I just count 19 apples given in this thread? Seriously?!





 
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Amedean Messan wrote:Did I just count 19 apples given in this thread? Seriously?!



It's a pretty big deal, this topic
 
Craig Dobbson
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Amedean Messan wrote:Did I just count 19 apples given in this thread? Seriously?!



Shake a tree like this one and something is bound to fall out of it. I'm glad it turned out to be apples. all well deserved.


I love the photo work! Awesome!
 
Amedean Messan
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Rachel Wittenberg wrote:Amedean I think you forgot to start your reply with "in my humble opinion..."



Sorry your thread was hijacked. I hope you do find humor in my Photoshop skills .
 
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I totally enjoyed it, I was being playful. This thread took off like a wild fire in a completely different direction... In my humble opinion 😜
 
Rachel Wittenberg
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Although I do feel that there were a lot of well earned apples *cough* I got 4 *cough*

I'm pretty sure I'll take 6 years to get another 4 haha!
 
gardener
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Paul, the excluded voices are the ones that didn't make the cut to be speakers.
There was criteria, they failed to meet it and they did not make the cut.
Evidently some people suspected that a hidden criteria was having a penis.
Others might rankle at "no woo" or at least "low woo" being a requirement, as it seems to have been.
I suggest that these people adress this perceived injustice by throwing their own shindig.
I do not suggest they compound the injustice they perceive by excluding penis bearers and the "woo impaired".

Well I did reference Lilith Fair, but that was for the funny, mostly.

Truthfully, the "woo impaired" are likely to avoid a conference that features "woo".

Some penises bearers would flock to a conference featuring vagina bearers, perhaps for reasons unrelated tp permaculture...

Btw, What is the origen of the term "woo"?
It seems dismissive but I may be reading that wrong.
 
joseph wittenberg
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Diego talks about the accusation of sexism here on his latest podcast
http://www.permaculturevoices.com/blog-2/podcast-2/

Feel like it pertains to the original idea of this post.
It may not be on the website yet but it is available through itunes.
 
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Matu Collins wrote:I am a woman in permaculture busting my buns to learn and experiment and build as much as I can so that in ten years I will be an "expert". Put me down for Permaculture Voices X.

You GO Matu!

For my part, I just want to get a handle on what will work for me in my little urban home. I like being a cheerleader and one of the target demographic that will hopefully spread the infection of permaculture. Just because a person (of any gender) is not a leader, does not mean that they are unimportant to the movement. After all, we cannot all be leaders, can we?

I have also gathered some food for thought on this thread concerning the involvement of colored people. The post on the subtlety of how we look/listen/reach out to marginalized groups really hit home. Also the suggestion in that thread to make a point of reaching out to those groups that appear to be under-represented. (Although one of the beauties of online forums is its blindness to anything other than verbal cues regarding physical characteristics such as gender & race.) I think the next time I chat with my next-door neighbor about the chickens I'll bring up permaculture and see what she thinks. She happens to be an african-american, and maybe she has a different world-view that I can learn something from. I've already begun the conversation by inviting her to dump all her lawn clippings and fall leaf litter into my compost heap as well as offering to share my girls' eggs ....
 
Kathleen Minniti
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Jocelyn Campbell wrote:Very good thoughts from Matt and Patricia about people of color in addition to women, and good replies from Rachel and Dale, too.

I'm with Patricia in that I'm not interested in a "women's only" permaculture event. I think women hold other women back as much as men might. An alternative convention, as William suggests, is always an option, and if it turns out better - good on them! Though in general, I think the more we separate, the more we become "us versus them" within our own group.

...I would never knowingly discriminate based on gender, color, religion or sexual orientation. ...I know I make stereotypical judgments far too often in my daily life - sometimes subconsciously. The more I "out" my tendencies, I think, the more conscious and intentional my judgments and therefore my decisions and actions become. I desperately want and intend to value people for who they are and what they do.

What makes a leader? What makes people (more) comfortable in any group? I think that Paul is onto something with this keynote topic. The less we throw stones, and the more we know when we ourselves are throwing stones, and the more we support each other, the more we nurture each other, the more fertile we can make permaculture for all people.



Thank you, Jocelyn. I couldn't have said it better, so I won't. I will only say that I agree strongly enough to want to have it posted in this thread again.
 
pollinator
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I would love to have more women teaching on permaculture related topics on http://organiclifeguru.com

My wife Sam teaches about organic soil building health there.

I've never seen permaculture issues framed under a gender bias perspective before. I respect the debate, but have never personally seen permaculture learning/events cast in this way before.

In any case I would love to see more women sharing permaculture wisdom on Organic Life Guru. If you'd like to teach (woman or man) you can sign up here: Sign Me Up!


 
Matu Collins
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I've locked this thread because although it's been a great discussion, the topic is a cider press topic.

The discussion continues in this feminism/sexism thread
 
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