Feminist glacier studies, an expanding field of academic climate-science rigor, sometimes needs an R-rating. Like this new feminist glacier research from a team led by Professor Mark Carey at the University of Oregon. Carey scored a $US413,000 grant in 2013 for his glacier research, with the paper being one output from it. It is titled “Glaciers, gender, and science: A feminist glaciology framework for global environmental change research.”
The epic, 15,000-word monograph cites Sheryl St Germain’s obscure, 2001 novel, To Drink a Glacier, where the author is in the throes of her midlife sexual awakening. She “interprets her experiences with Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier as sexual and intimate.[i] When she drinks the glacier’s water, she reflects:
That drink is like a kiss, a kiss that takes in the entire body of the other … like some wondrous omnipotent liquid tongue, touching our own tongues all over, the roofs and sides of our mouths, then moving in us and through to where it knows … I swallow, trying to make the spiritual, sexual sweetness of it last.
Continuing in the tradition of 50 Shades of Ice, the paper further cites Uzma Aslam Khan’s (2010) short story ‘Ice, Mating’. The story
explores religious, nationalistic, and colonial themes in Pakistan, while also featuring intense sexual symbolism of glaciers acting upon a landscape. Khan writes: ‘It was Farhana who told me that Pakistan has more glaciers than anywhere outside the poles. And I’ve seen them! I’ve even seen them fuck!’ (emphasis in original)
Icy conditions normally inhibit tumescence, but the paper’s four authors (two of them men, but writing through “the feminist lens”) seem to be in a state of sustained arousal. To them, even ice core drilling evokes coital imagery:
Structures of power and domination also stimulated the first large-scale ice core drilling projects – these archetypal masculinist projects to literally penetrate glaciers and extract for measurement and exploitation the ice in Greenland and Antarctica.
The study quotes feminist artists and suggests that satellite and aerial imaging of glaciers, rather than involving scientific credibility and accuracy, is actually a masculine construct and “reminiscent of detached, voyeuristic, ‘pornographic’ images.” It continues, “Such a gaze has been troubled by feminist researchers who argue that the ‘conquering gaze’ makes an implicit claim on who has the power to see and not be seen.”
In passing, the study notes that climate change “can lead to the breakdown of stereotypical gender roles and even ‘gender renegotiation’ (Godden, 2013).” This had me worried as I prefer to stay with my male gender. I looked up Naomi Godden’s tract, and was relieved to find that it merely reported on a Peru village’s fishermen and housewives switching roles when fishing declined (climate change, which halted 19 years ago, being of course the stated culprit for the decline).
The feminist-glaciology lead author of the 15,000-word paper, Mark Carey, is a historian. Of his co-authors, Jerrilyn M. Jackson is a geography post-grad student, Alessandro Antonello is an environmental history post-grad, and Ms Jaclyn Rushing (below) has a BA in environmental studies and Romance languages. Worth noting is that Antonello acquired his credentials at the University of Canberra.
By about 7000 words in, readers are subsumed in an Alice in Wonderland discourse. The Cold War, we learn, was apparently not about the contest with the Communist bloc, but a tussle “pursued by a particular group of men as policy-makers who were products of specific elite masculinities (Dean, 2003), operating in the context of anxieties about American masculinities (Cuordileone, 2005), and with particular discourses of masculinity and male bodies, especially in distant places like the Arctic (Farish, 2010)…”
The study ranges widely, and includes citation of Scottish visual artist Katie Paterson, who made long-playing records out of glacier melt-water. These LPs play glacier whines and other noises for ten minutes until the ice disks themselves melt. Maybe caution is needed with 240V apparatus.
The paper insists on respect for folk knowledge about glaciers. Yukon indigenous women, for example, say glaciers are easily excited by bad people who cook with smelly grease near glaciers, but glaciers can be placated by the quick-witted, the good and deferential. Cooked food, especially fat, “might grow into a glacier overnight if improperly handled”. Such narratives “demonstrate the capacity of folk glaciologies to diversify the field of glaciology and subvert the hegemony of natural sciences… the goal is to understand that environmental knowledge is always based in systems of power discrepancies and unequal social relations, and overcoming these disparities requires accepting that multiple knowledges exist and are valid within their own contexts.”
Here is the study’s ringing conclusion:
Merging feminist postcolonial science studies and feminist political ecology, the feminist glaciology framework generates robust analysis of gender, power, and epistemologies in dynamic social-ecological systems, thereby leading to more just and equitable science and human-ice interactions.