Why Lesbians Love Camping

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There are a lot of reasons why lesbians like camping and some of them are more farcical than others. To begin, nature is really great for most people’s mental health. It can also create opportunities for exercise and education for folks that hate gyms or more traditional educational environments.

But if we’re going to back it up a generation or two, there is a greater historical arc that’s going on when your friends want to wear Keens and sleep on the ground.

If we’re talking about waves in UW feminism, early feminism existed to reinforce the life of the mind/women’s right to vote/civic engagement, and women did feminism by engaging in these things. As we have discussed before, this was most accessible to wealthy white women.

The women’s movement in the 60s and 70s had a really strong focus on women’s intuition/women’s innate knowledge in the context of consciousness-raising.  We can differentiate here from the political and policy work being done at the time. The issues of women in the workplace, reproductive rights, and sexual abuse and assault that were spearheaded at the time remain a crystallizing moment in history of the importance of the personal being political. But the political work and the cultural work happened in different time and places, typically.

On the one hand, women for generations had been pathologized and marginalized by most establishments and were taught to distrust their own feelings and lived experiences. Listening to women and honoring their experiences is really important work, and it definitely bolstered a lot of visibility around women’s experiences of oppression and trauma. These experiences becoming visible and validated were and are deeply important.

In the midst of the work of women’s empowerment, there was a lot of talk about women who run with the wolves, and other tropes that seek to build women up, but also erases the complex intersectionality of different women’s experiences.

Some of what gets tricky here is that some of the ways that these women built themselves up relies on what some folks call “essentialism.” The movement found a lot of benefit in reinforcing narratives that women were intrinsically strong, gentle, compassionate and intelligent because women are GODDESSES. Women can be all those things, but all women are not intrinsically one thing. Even if a positive stereotype or a well-intentioned gesture of essentialism ends up being pretty reductive.

There was a lot of talk about goddesses, and of a purported historical matriarchy that existed before the emergence of monotheism in the form of Judaism/Christianity/Islam. These histories in their recursive forms and subsequent revelations and neo-pagan contexts were articulated by folks such as Starhawk and Z Budapest. The movement reinforced the idea of women as intrinsically connected to nature in a deep spiritual way that made the forests our spiritual home and birthright. To this end, there were some pretty unfortunate aspects of cultural appropriation of Native American spiritual traditions, which is partially why the ubiquity of smudging with sage is around today, but we can also blame hippies.

This, of course, was part of a larger cultural zeitgeist in which young counterculture people of that generation (hippies, if you will) were interested in a more diverse spiritual pursuits, and dabbled in Transcendental Meditation and a lot of other spiritual practices that their parents certainly didn’t teach them.

While this articulation of connection to nature gave a lot of women a sense of place and significance, it also cultivated some unfortunate traditions of transphobia and transmisogyny. The fight about who is recognized as a woman and allowed be in “women’s space” has been a fight that places like Michfest have had from the very beginning. (Y’all saw that episode of Transparent, yes?)

It’s unfortunate that this had to be the case because there are so many great pieces about these histories that it would be really wonderful for folks to connect to, but the divergence in priorities can really shut down the conversation.

There were some very sweet oral history traditions of things that existed, like a particular Cris Williamson song (she was a big deal in those days) that people would whistle in places like airports to see if anybody would pick up on it. The earnestness and sweet collaboration of the movement are articulated in recent memoirs like Jeanne Cordova‘s When We Were Outlaws and Kelly CogswellEating Fire, as well as the issues that require our continued growth around transphobia, white feminists being thoughtless about the needs of people of color, biphobia, etc.

So strum your acoustic guitar, and wear your sensible shoes, and go for a hike if it suits you. You’re connected to a whole world of people who go to nature for relaxation, spiritual development, and solace. Just bear in mind that your connection to nature is not more innate than other living things, including some lesbians who hate camping.

Maria Turner-Carney is a therapist and writer in Seattle. You can follow her at seattlefeministtherapy.com/blog.

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