Something that often comes up in Amy Jo’s sexuality workshops is the question of “How can I really understand what is a no, and what is just my fear talking?” or the converse: “How can I understand what is really a YES for me and not just me doing what I think the other person wants?”
We live at a time where it’s difficult to get one another’s undivided attention, which means that having someone put their iPhone down to look you in the eye must be a sign that they really like you.
And if you’re like me, your Facebook feed is filled with images of the natural world: woods, fields, mountains, beaches, all perfectly Photoshopped. Perhaps you, too, have experienced how easy it is to sit behind the computer and click “like” on Facebook images of the woods… instead of going out the door and actually getting into the damn woods.
And as someone pursuing an earth-based spiritual path, I can’t help but notice the trend by which we turn our supposedly sacred elements of earth, air, water and fire into metaphorical tableaus that are easily collaged and re-pinned on Pinterest.
We feel so entitled, so casual about the elements when clean drinking water always comes out of the tap, and the gas burner obediently lights when we turn the knob. And the paradox of resources is that value increases with scarcity. So you become a lot more mindful of water when, every time your ten gallon bucket runs empty, you have to haul it up and down the steep hillside to fill it. And you’re much more likely to worship fire if it starts being something that will actually save your life.
I realize the inherent contradiction of starting a website about nature and art in order to dismiss the value of representational nature art. But I guess what I’m saying is, if our search for the Sacred leads us to the natural realm, let us look for the experiences that are real, because the reality of nature is so much more reverence-inducing than the metaphors we humans make about it. And if you want to deepen your relationship with the element of Fire, don’t look at “sacred fire” collages on Pinterest… let’s go hang out in the woods with a bowdrill set.
On the NO front:
- Ecofeminist ethics say that the ways in which the privileged dominate the oppressed should include the way humans dominate nature, ergo women’s oppression under patriarchy is intimately linked to the exploitation of the natural world. (Vegetarianism is historically linked with feminism for this reason.)
- Popular portrayals of hunting since the 1950s have emphasized the cruelty towards animals (e.g. Bambi’s mother being shot by the hunter–a scene with has traumatized generations of kids), inherently at odds with feminist values of equality and compassion.
- Hunting is usually seen as a “man’s sport” and something done by the “good old boys,” for whom feminist ontology is… usually not a huge priority.
- The use of firearms in hunting, and the broader gun culture that is a part of hunting traditions in rural communities, are in conflict with historical feminist values of pacifism and disarmament.
On the YES front:
- Factory farming is undeniably responsible for some of the worst things going on in our world: global climate change, disruption of local environments, heartbreaking cruelty towards the animals themselves, human rights abuses of farm workers and the production of cheap and readily available meat that’s making people sick. Hunting is a way to source meat that’s completely free from the ethical and ecological morass of industrial factory farming.
- As soon as you actually start to learn about hunting you realize it involves way more than shooting the first animal that appears. Deer hunting–especially in Vermont–requires a great deal of patience, skill, persistence, knowledge about deer and the environment, plus respect for and compliance with the hunting laws and procedures. At its core it’s about relationships: with other hunters, with the deer population, with the Fish & Wildlife Department, with the people the deer will feed, with yourself. Feminist ethics enjoin us to step outside the isolated individualism of modern American culture and to see ourselves as part of an interconnected web. Hunting calls us into awareness of our place in the ecological web in a way that is 100% real, providing an embodied and visceral experience of that connectedness in a cultural age in which we are usually disembodied and think about nature in metaphorical terms.
- The good old boys are out there, but I’ve consistently been surprised by the warmth and support I’ve experienced from men who are eager to impart their knowledge and welcome more women into hunting traditions.
- Learning to hunt with a group of women has offered a lot of lessons, including the realization that being in the woods with a gun felt weird because I was not used to being a predator–in fact, I had gotten used to the feeling of being prey in the rest of my life.
Can hunting be feminist? I was turning the question over and over in my mind in the summer of 2013. Newly transplanted from New York City to Vermont, I had one of those soul urges–something that speaks up from deep inside with an urgency that’s uncomfortable: one day, I want to be so connected to the land that I can hunt deer and sustain myself. Quite the radical thought for a former vegan and city liberal who had never been around guns. I want to tell you the story of how I got from those hesitant, transgressive-seeming hunting aspirations to where I am now. But that’s going to be a story for another time.
At a small business conference in Phoenix, Arizona I decided to indulge in the small luxury of a salon manicure. And because I had spent the morning introducing myself to other entrepreneurs and talking deep shit like What’s Your Vision and What Do You Value, I got into a deeper than usual convo with my manicurist. Also, he was baffled by the long nails on my right hand and short nails on the left. I said “I’m a musician,” (also thought “…and I’m bisexual!”); then we started talking art, music, poetry, business and my all time fave conversation with Asian manicurists: “What kind of Asian are you” (me: half Chinese, him: Vietnamese).
At one point he asked, “Has it been hard for you to find a man who really understands and values beauty and art?”
I said, “I’m blessed to know many such men and I value our friendships deeply. But actually, my partner is a woman.”
Without missing a beat he nodded and asked how long we had been together. And, over the rest of the conversation, asked thoughtful questions about our relationship.
Is the non-reaction of a Vietnamese manicurist to hearing I have a girlfriend really so remarkable?
It is when I remember that I spent years feeling so fucked up inside about my sexuality that I never gave people the chance to accept me, because I didn’t accept myself.
It’s easy to take these micro-acceptances for granted. And it’s so easy to let our daily conversations and interactions become dull, rote and routine.
But it seems to me that spiritual teachings have, at their core, the damn simple truths that we all want to belong and be accepted… and that in kindness and presence, we find the alchemy that turns the dross of our human lives to gold.