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May 01 2009

Spinster aunt harkens to call of the wild

Eastern phoebe nest in the roof of the Spinster motor pool garage. My golden retriever Bert contributed a significant percentage of the building materials.

Eastern phoebe nest in the roof of the Spinster motor pool garage. My golden retriever Bert contributed a significant percentage of the building materials.

Uncle!

You saw it coming. It is no longer possible to resist the siren call of the drunken wood-nymphs on the bunkhouse stoop. Actually, they’re not so much calling as banging on the door and hollering. “Hey, get your ass out here and check out this awesome fungus! Bring beer!” is pretty much the refrain.

“Can’t it wait,” I ask, “until I’ve finished writing another essay on the perniciosity of the sexbot continuum?”

“Do not toy with us. This fungus isn’t going to appreciate itself!” is the answer. “And what the hell is a sexbot continuum? And where the hell is our beer?”

So, until spring subsides, I’ll be out traipsing over hill and dale, shoving the odd rock into my pocket, picking minuscule pink flowers, listening to cricket frogs, dodging nettles, lingering on riverbanks, looking at shit through binoculars, waiting for the Eastern phoebe eggs to hatch, and more or less reveling ceaselessly in the divers attractions on offer by the non-human world.

Even if all this happy-go-lucky traipsing did not disincline the spinster aunt toward the unpleasant business of patriarchy blaming, it would leave little time for it. I’ll still be posting, but I’m afraid it will be mostly heart-warming nature crap for a while. Today, for example, I’ll be shoveling a rank vulture corpse into a feed bag and dumping it somewhere where my golden retriever Bert can’t get at it. Then I’m going to watch it decompose.

Rotting dead vulture, with flies.

Rotting dead vulture, with flies.

I am aware that decomposing vultures offer little in the way of feminist ideology, and may not meet the blamer’s daily requirements. It can’t be helped. Undoubtedly there is a way to blame the patriarchy for a dead vulture, but frankly, I don’t much feel like it.

I will say this, however. The compulsion to fart around in the country looking at bugs and flowers, and lapse into a dreamy poetical stupor, and, you know, connect with nature and shit, is pretty strong, but that’s only half of my problem. I am also compelled to identify, to catalog and collect and compile and quantify and qualify. So I’m stuck with these damned field guides.

I’ve curled the Twisty lip at field guides before; their purported scientific objectivity masks a deeply ingrained systemic misogyny. Take the patriarchal notion of the male as the default, no matter what the species. Especially when it comes to birds, the females of which are always described in terms of the males. Check out the shamelessly biased language in this description of the summer tanager in Birds of North America Online:

“Some females sing, but song is poor rendition of male song: slurred subfigures, brief (if any) pause between subfigures, and short overall duration.”

There are two sound clips of male summer tanager on the website, but the drab old female is so untalented and derivative that nobody has bothered to record her. She should just shut up and sit on the eggs, already.

This sex bias does nothing but ensmallen the ornithological horizon. Was that yellowish bird I heard this morning a summer tanager? I’ll never know, because birdly schmucks seem to think it’s a great idea to ignore and even disparage half the constituents of the species.

27 comments

1 ping

  1. Marla

    Some of the most incredibly biased, sexist language I’ve ever heard has been in nature documentaries. I remember one about fish in their spawning grounds, and the narration described a female fish as “cowering” near the ocean floor. Considering that the fish had traveled some hundreds of miles in order to reproduce, it seems more likely that she’d simply staked out a good spot for Doing It, and was sending out loud and clear fish-language messages along the lines of “Yoo hoo sailor!” But no, she was cowering, in awe and fear of the mighty fish penis, I guess.

  2. humanbein

    Perhaps gamboling about the countryside observing the wonders of nature that exist blissfully innocent of patriarchal oppression is, in itself, a feminist statement. Many’s the time I have asked myself “What is the answer?” to the relentless oppression of our culture, and the answer is clear: Any being, even human, innocent of the cultural programming, or even relatively innocent of the cultural programming that oppresses women, hold the key to what life will be like after the Twistolution.

  3. VibratingLiz

    Undoubtedly there is a way to blame the patriarchy for a dead vulture

    Yes indeed. People put out poison to kill deer, gophers, etc. that might eat their prize roses; the deer & gophers die; the vultures come along and eat the carcasses & thus ingest the poison; and voila! Dead vultures. As if Rachel Carson had never existed. IBTP.

    Signed,

    -A happy hermit who gave up blogging to go live in a small rustic treehouse deep in the woods, a mile from the nearest paved road, on an island filled with wildlife in the scenic Pacific NW.

  4. Jezebella

    VL, I am delighted to hear of your happy-hermit lifestyle, but know this: I miss your voice out here on the intertubes. It’s good to see you pop in now and again. Also, I spent an entire afternoon enraptured with your new chimpanzee friends, the day you posted that link.

  5. Twisty

    We are all indebted to Vibrating Liz.

    I have treehouse envy.

  6. PhysioProf

    I’ve curled the Twisty lip at field guides before; their purported scientific objectivity masks a deeply ingrained systemic misogyny. Take the patriarchal notion of the male as the default, no matter what the species.

    Yep. And it’s not just field guides. It’s pretty much all biological inquiry.

  7. BMS

    Your bird posts prompt me to share.

    Our little corner of Las Vegas is turning into quite the bird habitat.

    Last week we watched a pair of tiny little . . . somethings – I never can match the birds I see with the photos in the bird book – fly to our Palo Verde tree with twiglets and such, building a hollow ball of a nest.

    One of the pair has a greenish yellow head and a red stripe on its shoulder.

    Sadly, we are afeared one has died. We heard the unmistakable *pang* of a bird flying into a window t’other morn. Since then we have seen only one of the delightful little pair. Never found a body.

    In the breach we are watching other birds. Hummingbirds flit around our flowers. We were enraptured by song the day of the fateful bird strike by what I believe in retrospect must have been a mockingbird.

    Thanks, Twisty.

  8. BMS

    [Drat. Ellipsis foul.]

  9. Edie Howe

    Oh, my dear, I understand utterly the inescapable call of spring. Believe me, I do. Western Sierra Dogwoods are blooming in a gentle, warm spring rain, I hear the call of the cheezeburger bird in our land, and I long to arise and frolic with some like-minded feminist-spinster-aunt in the back country of my beloved Yosemite and Sierra Nevada range.

    Trust me; in my spring-addled brain, a dead vulture speaks to my poetic nature; The symbolic death of the patriarchy, the fertility of muscara dosmestica, the fact that NOTHING goes to waste in the wilderness.

    Lovely spinster aunt, dance with me across the miles, and we’ll mock the patriarchy together!

  10. slythwolf

    Your deceased vulture–the symbol of the ancient Egyptian goddess Nekhbet, revered because vultures were thought to give birth to live young or clone themselves without male fertilization or some such thing–could be understood as a metaphor for the patriarchy’s gradual destruction and shitting-upon of woman-positive goddess religions. There, I made it about patriarchy-blaming, you don’t have to. You can frolic among the wildflowers or whatever it is you spinster aunts do in the springtime.

    Please continue posting heartwarming nature crap, though. I live in Michigan and in poverty and my heart desperately needs to be warmed.

  11. Ron Sullivan

    BMS, that might be (gave been) a verdin.

    Keep the naturecrap coming, please. Perspective is the only thing that keeps some of us breathing.

  12. tinfoil hattie

    Aaah, nature. I heartily endorse your gamboling, not that you need my endorsement, Twisty. Please continue to post heartwarming nature crap, as slythwolf says. It’s been so heartening.

    As for nature shows: Nigel told me last night that “female coyotes are completely dominant in the species. They even have more male hormones than the males do.

    “Then they’re not male hormones, are they? They’re female hormonoes.”

    He is still puzzling over that one.

  13. buttercup

    I like heart-warming nature crap. Right now, I’m subsidizing a major population of wee birds with three feeders outside my back window. It’s a good investment because it also maddens the cat, who stands in the window and chirps at them, vibrating with frustration. He just doesn’t understand why I call all these birds to him and then don’t let him out to play with them.

  14. WonkyFactory

    I got felt up by two middle-aged men while doing my job this morning, and just got a call from someone lamenting that children have so much less protection than domestic violence victims. I come to you for some patriarchy-blaming to wash the foul taste of woman-hating out of my mouth, and what do I get? A dead vulture and prairie flowers. You have failed me, Twisty.

  15. Twisty

    You have failed me, Twisty.

    You get what you pay for at I Blame the Patriarchy.

  16. Ron Sullivan

    Bahaaahahahahahhahhhh!

    OK, I dig the new banner. At least for as long as my pancreas can cope with it.

  17. BMS

    Ron Sullivan,

    YES! That’s it. Verdin.

    Many thanks!

  18. Comrade PhysioProf

    OK, I dig the new banner.

    Unicorns and rainbows! w00t!

  19. Frog Princess

    On behalf of poor Bert, please allow him to do what his breeding insists that he do: let him bring that dead bird to you so you can stuff it in a sack and watch it decompose, be it on your kitchen counter or somewhere in the lower forty, depending on whether you plan to eat it or merely observe the process of decomp.

    Bert should be rewarded for his generous, though likely unconscious, contributions to the warm and cozy upbringing of his bird pals.

    If the dead vulture is stinky and Bert elects to roll in the remains rather than retrieve them, it will provide further blog fodder: which is more compelling to a dog? Instinctual scent obfuscation or inbred desire to retrieve? You could write a monograph!

    I ask my research students sometimes where all the dead bird corpses are. There are a lot of birds in the world, yet we so rarely see any evidence of dead ones. Why is that? Insects and predators devour the bodies? Then where do the feathers go? Do they die and decompose in trees or in vast green spaces, we wot not where?

    Mysteries.

  20. Cass

    I dig it, too, but there should be a one-rainbow limit for any banner.

  21. Twisty

    “On behalf of poor Bert, please allow him to do what his breeding insists that he do: let him bring that dead bird to you [...]”

    Ha. I wish. Bert’s breeding, I regret to say, has nothing to do with bringing me dead vultures. Neither does his training, so the little dude’s 0 for 2. He’s no field dog, in other words. He’s a pet dog, descended from show dogs. He was bred, successfully, to have long flowing hair and to not bite people. If allowed anywhere near it, Bert will chew off a chunk of that rotting vulture and disappear into the underbrush until it is consumed. Then he will be sick.

  22. VibratingLiz

    Then he will be sick.

    Or worse, if the vulture died because it ate the carcass of a poisoned gopher.

  23. gerda

    bother i was going for the ‘vulture symbol of powerful death goddess feared and reviled by patriarchy’ angle, but sythwolf beat me to it. in my favourite ancestral culture it is crows and ravens (and, weirdly, also swans in scandinavia). the word troll (and trull, which is one of those many words for naughty uncontrollable women) comes from the old english word for the priestesses of helle/huldra/holda etc.

    love the unicorn.

  24. rootlesscosmo

    @slythwolf: vultures were thought to give birth to live young or clone themselves without male fertilization or some such thing

    In Kenneth Rexroth’s bestiary the entry under “V” was

    St. Thomas Aquinas
    Thought vultures were lesbians
    And were fertilized by the wind.

    If you seek the facts of life
    Papist intellectuals can be very misleading.

  25. Kali

    “… their purported scientific objectivity masks a deeply ingrained systemic misogyny. Take the patriarchal notion of the male as the default, no matter what the species. Especially when it comes to birds, the females of which are always described in terms of the males.”

    I was just thinking that very thing about orthinology when I saw your previous post of the indigo bunting, the female of which is certainly not indigo.

    Oh, & your new banner is totally f**king hilarious Twisty!

  26. Cranky Old Coot

    I hope you know Twisty that you’ll never starve. If you get desperate for filthy lucre, just offer Nature Walks. Your humor would make them so much fun, you’d have to schedule them 10 hours each day. I wish I’d run across someone like you 20 years ago, I’d be the reincarnation of Euell Gibbons. (Pretty Please, write a book. I promise I’ll buy 6 copies of it within 2 months-I’m not that rich to do it at once.)

  27. Queenie

    “This sex bias does nothing but ensmallen the ornithological horizon” has got to be one of the most fantastic sentences ever composed in the long, oppressive, greatly-overblown history of the English language. I think it important to declare my future intentions of using the word “ensmallen” on a fairly regular basis.

    Great post, Twisty! As usual, I will strive to ensmallen the all-too-often unnoticed impact of the patriarchy on my future thinking processes.

  1. easyVegan.info » Blog Archive » Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 1

    [...] I Blame the Patriarchy: Spinster aunt harkens to call of the wild [...]

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