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My first front page article! Moving up in the world!
This has never occurred before in the long history of Traunstein sword dance: The appearance of the 16th Sword Dancer of the Gymnastics Club in the Georgirit festival of Traunstein on Easter Monday is also a cowboy! The research student Jeremy Carter-Gordon, born in Boston, Massachusetts has attended the weekly practices since early march. The sword dance was first officially document in 1530 and was revived in 1926, on the 800th Anniversary of the city of Traunstein.
But why does an American want to perform a sword dance anyway? “I’ve started dancing with swords when I was eight years old and I was particularly interested in English sword dances,” he said in an interview in the gym. He did his first sword dance from the British Isles – for example, English Rapper Sword and Long-Sword as a hobby. For several years he studied the subject of Ethnomusicology and Ethnochoreology at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson-in the State of New York. A scholarship enabled him to tour from August 2011 to July 2012 most of Europe and be one of the first ever to to explore the different sword dances in Europe. “To me, this is a great and long-cherished wish come true,” says the US-Boy. He has completed his Bachelor’s degree, he is now aiming towards a Master’s degree and for this he wants to make a thesis about the sword dances.
Jeremy, or as as everyone calls him “fellow dancer”, contacted the Traunsteiner sword dancers through their website. He asked Alexander Schierl if he could observe their “amazing performance during Easter” so he could study it. The Traunstein sword dancers, who participated in the German-American Steuben Parade on 5th Avenue in New York and had a friendly attitude to overseas, did not hesitate long and gave the 22-year-olds an immediate positive response. One condition: He must come to the practices during Lent and participate in the dance on Easter Monday, not just watch the performance! The former captain of the sword dancers, Florian Schützinger, contacted a City Council colleague Burgi Mörtl, to provide grains and quarter for him.
Jeremy has already traveled to several countries in Europe in order to learn about the different types of sword dance. During two months of this he was in England, where the sword dance has a long and great tradition. There he danced with the “Newcastle Kingsmen sword-dancers.” He came to Traunstein from the island of Lastovo in early March and was immediately well received. “I am delighted with this great opportunity to learn the dance,” Jeremy says in his own language, except for “a beer,” or “no,” he says nothing in German.
Jeremy’s note: This isn’t quite true, but I didn’t think my Rosetta Stone phrases along the lines of “Die Kinder trinken Wasser” made much sense during the interview 🙂
Original at: http://www.chiemgau-online.de/portal/lokales/trostberg-traunreut_Ein-Cowboy-beim-Schwerttanz-dabei-_arid,2149567.html
U.S. Researcher as a Guest Dancer
Sword Dance: A Yank Swings his Sword
The sword dance is a unique spectacle in Traunstein, whose origins date back to the 16th century. This year is the first time a guest dancer (from the United States) will wield a sword.
Traditionally the sword dance is performed on Easter Monday at the town square at the end of Traunstein Georgirit horse ride. The 20 minute long sword dance symbolizes the struggle of the spring against the winter. This year, an American wields a sword during the sword dance! For the first time in the history of the sword dance “we have a guest dancer in our ranks,” said Alexander Schierl, Board of the Association for the Advancement of Traunstein Sword Dancers.
In a one-year scholarship Jeremy Carter-Gordon, a Ethnochoreology and Ethnomusicology student at the College of New York Barth, is one of the first ever to explore different sword dances throughout Europe. To this end, Jeremy stayed for six weeks in Traunstein to learn the dance. On Easter Monday he will be one of 16 dancers to lift the Spring on their swords in the town square.
The rehersals for this year’s sword dance began six weeks before Easter. Also included is Jeremy Carter-Gordon. In October 2010 he had already contacted the Association in Traunstein in order to study the dance.
The American Jeremy Carter-Gordon (right, in red shirt) is a guest dancer this year with the sword dancers in Traunstein.
Jeremy Carter-Gordon studied Ethnochoreology at Bard Collage, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. As part of a one-year fellowship he is one of the first people to explore the different sword dances throughout Europe. To this end, Jeremy has stayed for six weeks in Traunstein and on Easter Monday to be one of 16 dancers to lift the Spring up on their swords in the town square.
Jeremy contacted us in October 2010 and asked if he could study our dance up close:
“I am a Sword Dancer from the United States, studying different types of sword dance in Europe. I hope to be traveling in Europe from September 2011 to July 2012 and I would really like to study with your team. I know you have an amazing performance during Easter, and I was wondering if I could come and learn how to dance with you. I dance English Rapper Sword and Long, and would like to learn your dances as well. Would be possible for me to come and study how to dance at some point during this time?”
The Traunstein sword dancers are delighted that he will be there. Special thanks to the people who have taken him for the six week trial period in Traunstein itself. Jeremy has his big appearance on Easter Monday on stage at the town square. But one thing we can already tell: almost no one could dance better than him right away. Respect!
The travel blog of Jeremy: https://starofswords.wordpress.com/
Ethnomusicology is concerned with the musical practice and the structures of the music interpreting music as social interaction and as a globally circulating identity symbol of social groups.
Dance anthropology , dance ethnology and dance in his Ethnochoreology investigates socio-cultural context from the perspective of the participants, be they dancers, teachers and spectators. While the Ethnochoreology studies the phenomenon of “folk dance” (traditional dance, folk dance) as a communication object under specific historical, social and economic conditions, it is is dedicated to treat all forms of dance anthropology, dance or “structured movement” (Kaeppler).
Photo of Jeremy Carter-Gordon (red shirt) in his first practice in the Franz-Eyrich hall in Traunstein on 2 March 2012.
Source: Sword Dance Traunstein
During the carnival on Lastovo I had a startling realization: I didn’t need to leave! At least not yet. I had initially been planning (a relative term) to leave Lastovo the day after the carnival, but I realized at that point that there was nowhere I needed to be, and I was on one of the most beautiful islands I have ever seen, with wonderful people, good food, and a banjo. So stay I did.
I had become good friends with Danica and Nika, two of the olive workers who would be staying longer on the island. We also befriended one of the local men, who I just knew as “The Doktor.” I had met him in his costume the day before and the name stuck. We spent a few more days in the apartment before moving to the house of a local school teacher we had become friends with. During this time we got the opportunity to explore the island and learn more about the culture. Much of the time was spent in picnics and walks in the mountains, along the coast of the island and exploring the twisty passages of the old town.
The town is famous for its chimney pots, known as fumari which are intricately decorated and shaped in all different manners. One night we walked by moonlight down to an abandoned set of buildings on the water’s edge to watch stars and eat peanuts, or in Croatia: kiki-riki. Croatian joke: When Chuck Norris eats kiki-riki, he knows which one is kiki and which one is riki! Hilarious, right? Anyway, it was a wonderful week, with the pace of life slowing down to a delightfully calm way of being. Body time governs the island.
I also started gaining an understanding of the nature of knowledge on the island; people living there had a deeper knowledge of place and history of place than I have ever seen. As one local expressed to me, “everyone knows everyone else, what they do, what their father and grandfather did, what everyone though of everyone else, and where they were thinking it.” This deep knowledge extended to the land itself. there is a saying on Lastovo that there are 46 hills, 46 islands (little islands and sandbars off the coast) and 46 churches. Leaving aside for a moment that 46 churches is an astonishing number for such a small population, it starts to hint at the intimate understanding of place that is instilled on the island.
I spent many hours talking with the teacher who we were staying with about the dancing and carnival, but also about Lastovo in general and I was truly blown away as to how much he knew. We were watching old film of life on the island that was taken for a documentary some 50 years ago and he was pointing out people who he had never known, or who were many decades his senior and telling me their life story. Houses that had been abandoned before he was born and new ones sprang up in their place were still points of contention. At one point he even pointed out that the film must have gotten flipped over at a certain section, as a particular staircase on a house was going the wrong way.
In my mind I started calling this kind of understanding “Intensive Knowledge,” and holding it in contrast to what is currently promoted in the metropolitan ideal, which i called “Extensive Knowledge.” I took these terms from historians and social scientists studying reading habits over the past several centuries. During this time period reading habits shifted from pouring over just a few books dozens of times, to the current idea of reading as many books as possible. Part of this shift had to do with the fact that books became less expensive and easier to replicate. Scholars shifted from getting to see a rare book once or twice in their life, to being reasonably assured (as in modern times) that they can access a book again if they need it (or even just scan or cut and paste into their electronic files). It also had to do with a cultural shift as to the values of education. Aside from the necessity to memorize books for future reference, memorization was regarded as a virtue that allowed the individual to fully embody the lessons taken from it, particularly in regards to religion. Rabbinic scholars would spend their whole lives pouring over a relatively few texts. Memorization of sacred texts was commonplace in most major religions. This was Intensive Reading. Today we idealize the Extensive Reading, where cheap and accessible books encourages the well-educated individual to read as many as possible, with little to no focus on repetition. The term “well-read” refers to one who reads widely, with the assumption that this is where knowledge is found.
In applying this to the island, people who spend their life on the island gain an much fuller understanding about all of the different things that makes the island function than I, for example, find for myself. While I am currently gaining an immensely extensive knowledge on sword dance, I can’t tell you how many houses are on my street, where almost any of my food comes from, who built any structure in my neighborhood (aside from my tree house and chicken “palace”) or the grandfather of any person on my block. Many residents of Lastovo can tell you all of these things, how to farm the island, and what crops are grown on any given field. Obviously, the children on the island learn much of the same things as kids anywhere else, but even here there is a good deal of Intensive Knowledge.
Lastovo is an amazing example of place-based education. The traditional culture and traditions are incorporated into many aspects of the regular education system. One particularly interesting project that I learned about while visiting the school was building lijericas. While they are usually handmade, teachers at the school had come up with a plan to partner with a mainland manufacturer to work with the students to create 3D computer models of the instrument that could then be made using computer controlled machinery and assembled by the students themselves.
The students were involved from cutting down the trees, to creating the images, assembling the pieces to learning the music. The project is now in its third year and there are more children learning how to play the traditional songs than there have ever been, a promising hope for the future! The project comes full circle as children plant new trees to be used in 30 years for instruments. As I spent more time at the school, it became clear to me that it functions in a vital central role for the Poklad carnival. The groups of students that go collecting eggs are actually organized by year in the school and are given guidelines which include the songs to sing, where they should go, and basic ground rules. The kids learn music and dancing in their classes, participate in ritual tilling of the fields that happens the week before, and are learning about the traditions and history.
The day after the carnival there was a photography exhibition of pictures students had taken of the event. They must have worked quickly, because the top shots were exhibited in large format prints around the town hall and the whole community came to see. There were other photos that were capturing other aspects of life on the island and other art. According to the teacher, the school had been playing this role for at least 50 years in one way or another.
This type of education certainly exists in the US. In 2010 I had the privilege of working with Greg Sparrow, from the Vermont Folklife Center and taking a course he was teaching that incorporated Place-Based Education. Teachers that have taken this course have gone on to do amazing projects with students including interviewing older members of their community, mapping local resources, building sugaring operations and saving historic landmarks. In a world based on extensive knowledge, as measured by standardized test, it is exciting to see examples of local intensive knowledge producing students who are more aware of, involved in, and engaged with their community and its human, cultural and natural resources.This is something that schools in the US can learn from.
In dealing with things that come from their own community, students are able to learn modern skills while giving them a sense of community and connectedness to place. I believe that many of the problems that we face in the US, particularly in regards to environmentalism, supporting art and culture, and social programs stems from this idea of the “modern nomad.” If a person is born in Nebraska, goes to school in LA, moves to NYC and retires to Vermont, without really learning about any of them in an “intensive” way, what motivation is there to preserve the things that are important about them. If I don’t know how my local watershed, farms, dance traditions, or neighbors are functioning, why should I fight for them?
Ok, so that was much longer of a tangent than I meant to take, and rather scattered. I see in it the start of some more developed thought at some point, but for now it will stand as is. Anyway, after some lovely days on the island Nika, Danica, Doktor, and I took the ferry back to Split, where Danica had a house. On the boat I taught them how to play the card game Shithead, we played Kemps, and traded riddles. Of course we had already played the nose game!
In Split we hung out, went picnicking, ate good food, and played lots of music. During one walk along the shore we even found a group of young people doing slack line and poi, so of course we joined in! I had very little success on the slack line, but the two girls did it often and proved to be quite competent.
During the last night we were there I decided to hold a mini supra, so we had a lovely meal and toasted the strange wonderfulness of the experiences we had just had. Croatia has been one of the first places that I find myself drawn to so much, and this was a nice closure.
We took the bus to Zagreb where I stayed with Dejan, another of the olive workers. I met with one of the researchers from Carnival Kings, and got a behind the scenes tour of the exhibit there, as well as trading information and photos on the places we had gone. I also got to expire the city, including going to one of the most interesting museums i have seen so far, The Museum of Broken Relationships. This museum has collected thousands of items, letters, and interviews from people that represent an old relationship. These range from the whimsical to the heartbreaking and collectively is something between gossip, revenge catharsis, and longing.
Finally it was time to leave Croatia behind me, and on the 1st of March I took the train through Slovania and Austria to Traunstein, Germany. On the train? A Scottish rugby team. I was Bavaria-bound; time to learn the Schwerttanz!
On the boat from Split to Lastovo I encountered the least D.A.R.E-friendly emergency instructions card that I have ever come across. In other news, the boat ride was lovely! The seas are beautiful, and we cruise by Korcula (a destination for a few months later on my trip) on my way to island. It takes several hours and by the time I arrive it is just starting to slide into evening. I arrive on the island without any idea where I am going, where I am sleeping that night, and without knowing anyone who actually lives on the island. There is only one website in English that provided useful information on the island (and as it turns out not much in croatian either!) and so I am armed only with the knowledge that tomorrow, the 21st of February, there will be a sword dance. And something about pirates. Don’t worry, I’ll explain! The only signs that I saw when we arrived were pointing Right” Lastovo 10km” and Left “Hotel 3km” I opted for the town, and paid 10 kuna to take a van to the top of the old stone town of Lastovo. First of all, the town is beautiful. It is nestled on the side of the mountain (facing inland, a strange feature) and is comprised of stone houses, winding cobble streets and steep narrow staircases stretching down to fields below the town. I was standing there wondering what I should do, where I should sleep, and where anything might be happening, when a group of children in costumes dashed by me, holding baskets with eggs and laughing. The disappeared down the twisty streets faster than I could follow (still with backpack and banjo) and once again I was left looking over the town. Then, from the other side of the town, came the faint sound of men singing. I started making my way in the direction of the sound, meeting several dead ends or streets that went a different way, but gradually the sound seem to get closer. I went around a corner and all of a sudden I found this!
The procession of singers was primarily men, led by a old man playing the lijerica, a three stringed instrument that is played on the island. The women and younger people followed behind, some of them also singing. I quickly dodged up a side street, unpacked my bags to grab out my video camera, and followed along, still with all my stuff on my back. The group goes to a small stone house about a hundred meters away and starts to sing different songs as they are welcomed in and given food and drink I ask one man (in English) if I can go in too, and he smiles and gestures me inside. Everyone is a bit tipsy and singing and smiling! This was “Fat Monday,” the day before carnival, and everyone was collecting eggs (a common fertility symbol) and wearing scary/ugly masks. The next day the costumes will all be beautiful I record some of the songs before going back outside to figure out what to do with my stuff. I ask a nearby woman if she will watch it for a minute while I go back inside. She is understandably suprised that I speak English, and asks what I’m doing here. When I explain my project she laughs and says that she is also and ethnologist and is here with her colleges from Carnival Kings of Europe, an organization that I have checked out a lot in the past! We get talking and I learn that while she is from Croatia, there are also researchers from Italy who have come to film and document the carnival. We agreed to talk more, but at that moment the whole procession started back up again and we moved on to a small kavana in the center. A kavana is a sort of informal bar that might serve some food and have some music. In this case the owners had put out trays of cold cuts, bread, and other food and the whole group settled in for a little party.
I had just entered, carrying all my gear, when a woman about my age with a balloon on her head came up to me and said something in Croatian. When I replied that I only spoke English, she started laughing and asked where I was from. I answered, to more laughter. “But why are you here!?” I explained that I was studying sword dancing all over Europe.She introduced herself as Danica, and apoligized for laughing so much, “it’s just that most croatians have never heard of this carnival, and you came all the way from America…HOW did you find this?” She was from the mainland and was living on the island as a temporary worker in the olive fields. She told me that there was nowhere on the island I could stay for less than 50 euros a night, but that she and the other workers would smuggle me into their house, I just had to stay out of sight of the landlords. One of the guys who was also working took me to the house so I could ditch my stuff, and then we went back to the party, which had moved into Club Magic, the local “Nightclub.”
I hang out there for a little while (temporarily wearing a penguin hat?) and then go to meet with the CKOE researchers who had invited me for dinner back at the kavana. We had some really great conversations (and food) and I showed them many of my pictures from other carnivals. They were really excited about the Basque and Italian festivals and we talked about the possibility of some collaborative efforts in the future. I learned a lot about the Lastovo carnival from them, and felt much more prepared for the next day! After some yummy food and wine they all went to bed and I went back to the party. My group had gone to a house above Club Magic to sing more songs, so I followed along.
At one point I started singing along with the songs using the “only-use-vowel-sounds” technique, which impressed my new friends. I also got to see the last-minute preparations on some of the costumes that the girls were going to wear the next day. These beautiful costumes were the beautiful ones, and each girl had a partner wearing a matching outfit. At least one of the girls has to be born on the island (as opposed to all of the sword dancers) and they work for months preparing intricate costumes! We stayed for an hour and then wandered back to the house to sleep. I have to say, having a big bed after so long of sleeping in strange places was amazing!
The next day I got up early to watch as the men of the town hiked up the mountain with the lijerica player and strung a rope all the way from the peak down to the center of the village, around 300 meters. We went about halfway up the mountain before teams of men started to carry it both down the slope and up the rocky hillside at the same time. Men in the middle stood and greased the fibers with soap to make it slippery.
I should explain a little bit about the festival at this point. It celebrates the town’s victory over some pirates from when it was part of the Republic of Dubrovnik. The pirates had sent a messenger to the town, demanding olives, money, etc, in exchange for not being attacked. The villagers were non-plussed and killed the messenger (setting him on fire, throwing off a cliff, etc.) and fought of the pirates. Then there were pirates. Anyway, the rope is important, so remember it later! It was quite a production getting the rope all soaped up and strung both up and down the steep hillside, but there were lots of people to help and the music kept playing the whole time.
There was a short pause in the events as the men went back home to get changed into their costumes and I went home for breakfast. The rest of the olive workers were up by now and we chatted and had breakfast together. After breakfast I gave a little banjo performance and told them about the morning’s events so far. Then it was time to head into the main square where the sword dancers were getting ready to do their first performance! Before they danced, there was some important business! The donkey!
They marched up to the top of the town with the lijerica player leading the way to collect the donkey, which would carry the Poklad (the doll representing the pirate messenger), through the town. The donkey was housed at the moment on the terrace of a house high up in the town. The pokladari (dancers) spent a half hour or so in the house, eating cheese, cold cuts, small pastries and wine while singing songs and playing music. One of the songs (which everyone liked to sing to me, of course) translated roughly to “I would trade 1000 Americas for sitting on my terrace (in croatia) drinking wine and watching the waves.” I see where they are coming from. It is astonishingly beautiful. Anyway, they got the donkey and led it to the center.
The younger boys led the animal, while the older dancers followed behind. When we arrived, the poklad puppet was brought out of the hall. The puppet had been made the morning before (which I had unfortunately not gotten to see) according to very precise measurements and tradition. Everything about it is dictated, from the materials used, to the weight of each limb, to the feet which are weighed down with soil from the town cemetery. The poklad really does have *both* feet in the grave! He was strapped onto the donkey with rope by some of the dancers, while the rest of them talked, took pictures and made final costume adjustments
The standard costume is black pants with a gold strip running down the outside, a gold belt, and red shirt. The black hat is adorned with flowers, feathers and beads according to the individual dancers and has a leather strap that drapes off the back. They wear beaded necklaces, some of which are hundreds of years old. Many dancers have taken to wearing modern necklaces and leaving the originals at home because of their age, value and fragility. Most of the dancers wear a black vest with gold baldrick crossing their chest, however the two leaders of the dancers, who stand at the ends of the lines, wear only the red shirt with gold buttons up the front.
Once preperations were complete, the dancers gathered inside for a short “talk through” of the dance. There had been much arguing throughout the celebrations last night amoung the older men as to the fine details of the dancing, but it appeared consenseus had been reached (or victory achieved). Then the leaders mustered the dancers into two lines and went down to the town hall.
I went down before to get a good spot and to to see some of the women preparing for their day. One of the most important traditions of the town is that once the dancing starts, the Pokladeri and the “Beautiful Masks” are not allowed to see each other. The women follow the men, going to the same houses, but about half an hour afterwards. To prevent accidental sightings, which bring bad luck to the crops in the village, both groups sing and play lijerica whenever they are walking, only stopping when they pass the town’s main church.
All of the women must have a partner who matches. They also all must have a mask, even though many take them off. Finally, at least one girl in each pair must have been born on the island to parents who were also from Lastovo. Finally, the dancers arrived for their first dance and stood in two lines facing the town hall. They apparently asked for permission to do their dancing and a short speech was made before the dancers began.
The music then struck up and the dancers began, starting by linking swords and circling around the very oblong square. The dance actually had to be slightly modified in this setting, as the space was not conducive to a few of the figures. The figures that were performed mostly involved various arches, both in the full group and with dropping swords and joining in pairs of dancers dropping swords and joining with each other to lead under the arch made by other pairs. The lijerica also played for the dance, and the changes in the music often cued different figures as the tune changed.
After this was complete, the day began in earnest, as we processed around the village singing songs and going to the houses of important figures in the town. There are two groups in of the dancers and the song alternates antiphonally between them. On Fat Monday, the main group of singers (there are many, with lots of kids groups) designates the houses that will be danced at the next day by going on the terrace and shouting “UUUUUU-OOOOHHHH” back and forth between two groups. This lets others know that there will be dancing there on the morrow.
On the day of dancing, this shout is repeated as part of the dancing that takes place on the terrace of each house. The dance shrinks or expands to fit the space, with as little as 6 dancers, or almost the full group (which I think reached it’s maximum at night with 84 adult dancers. Occasionally the two groups will dance separately. The owner of the house (if he is a dancer) will always dance, while those who are not dancing will eat, drink and sing.
Unfortunately, it was a rather rainy day, and we had to deal with sporadic rain showers. About halfway through the day we got to the center of town where the rope had been strung from the top of the mountain. The doll was taken up to the top of the peak and attached on rollers to the rope, with homemade bombs strapped to the bottom. The groups at the top and bottom call back and forth and then the contraption is released. It rockets down the greased rope, bombs exploding, while one dancer at the bottom jumps around with raised sword threateningly. As it approaches the bottom it is brought to a stop by a adjoining rope and explodes a final time, deafening everyone. After this, the whole mob of dancers encircles it and sings a song in celebration. Because it was raining, they set up a little tent at the bottom, and people were reluctant to leave it, so many of them told me it was less riotous than usual. The poklad is then taken back up to the top and sent down with the same ritual for a total of three times. Tradition says that it is bad luck if the poklad flips over and spins around the rope, which is one of the reasons for such specific instructions for making it. Luckily, this year it stayed upright and everyone was happy!
There was more dancing at different houses, but I decided to go and look what the women were doing. The women had amazing costumes and were accompanied by some of the men who were not sword dancers (either by choice or because they were not from the island). They had their own lijerica player and even did a very similar dance with cords instead of the wooden swords! The dance was modified to take out some of the figures that involved spinning and clashing, but was otherwise the same. Very cool! By now the singing had gotten louder and drunker! In the evening, just as it was getting dark, came the big finale to the day. (I’m sorry that I only include my camera footage in these posts, it’s just a lot easier/faster to transfer then the HD from video camera, thanks for understanding!) In the large lot in between the school, town hall, and largest church the male dancers performed the full dance with all of the adult dancers (boys younger than about 15 or so didn’t dance, but walked with the adults). A boy carrying the Croatian flag skipped in circles around the whole group. The Poklad was stripped of its clothes and held aloft by one of the dancers. Upon finishing, they exited just as the women entered singing. The women proceeded to do the dance with loops of cord. While the lijerica player stayed the same, they had a separate flag carrier who danced around in a white military suit. They excited again and the men came back on. Finally the women joined them and they intermeshed the two groups into one huge dance, interacting with each other for the first time since the beginning! This meant there were around 150 people all dancing around the poklad in the semi-dark. They then did the only logical thing, and set the puppet on fire! It was one of the most amazing dance spectacles I have ever seen and was added to by everyone cheering, yelling, and dancing on the sides! The musician occasionally added a percussive tap to the music, at which everyone always cheered wildly. The church bells started ringing and we had reached the end of the carnival. I had dinner again with the Carnival Kings group, and arranged to meet with one of them who worked at the Ethnographic Museum when I went to Zagreb. Later that evening we all partied more, both in the town and at the olive-pickers’ house. We ended the evening with a wild jam session on banjo and kitchen stuff that resulted in far to much broken things. I’ll leave you with these two pictures, just because I really wanted to use them, but didn’t know where to fit them in.
Next time I’ll finish up my Croatian adventures.
Thanks for reading!
I’m a Feminist.
I don’t shave my armpits. Or my legs. I don’t have sex with men and I don’t wear a bra. I’m an atheist, am not planning on being a mother, and I never really liked Barbies.
And yes, I am a man.
I started calling myself a feminist during my first year at college. In part, this was in response to meeting so many wonderful well-educated, independent women who seemed afraid to assume the title. Too many times I heard, “Well obviously I think that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men, but I’m not, like, a feminist or anything.”
I started replying, “Well, I’m a feminist.”
I’m not going to rehash all the reasons why people shy away from this label. The Regressive party (Get it? Cause it’s the opposite of progressive!) has managed to infuse the word feminist with an image bra-burning, man-hating and ugly-lesboathiest whiners that somehow has stuck. It’s a myth. Get over it.
This is what feminism means to me:
- Women and men must be valued equally in law, society, and economy.
- Women must have equal, unalienable rights to their own bodies.
- This currently is not the case.
- Therefore it is our responsibility to make changes that will bring about this equality, both in official (legislation, policies, etc.) and cultural (ending abuse of women, rape culture, etc) paths.
- Women must stand together to support each other and this cause.
- Men must stand with them.
I was raised believing in feminist ideas, but in college I started labeling myself, replying, “Well, I’m a feminist” in the hope that in some small way this might start changing the perception of the word from an insult to an honor.
Today, I feel that we have reached a political and cultural climate where being a feminist requires more. Women’s rights are being infringed upon at an ever greater rate and scale. Dozens of states are passing bills that five years ago, my freshman self wouldn’t have believed possible. I thought we had got over this whole abortion thing, like 49 years ago. Maybe it was just political naiveté, but I sincerely thought that these kinds of bills were the struggle of the previous generation and that, like women’s suffrage and interracial marriage, women had won the Right to Chose forever and ever, Roe vs Wade, Amen.
But I was wrong. There are bills being proposed and passing that Require mandatory vaginal probing before abortions (aka state-sanctioned rape). A bill was passed in NH that required doctors to tell women (inaccurately) that abortions cause a higher risk of cancer. (This bill is now under review after being passed.) Bills that require women to view ultrasounds before abortion, yet allow doctors to withhold information about complications with the pregnancy if it might cause the women to decide to get an abortion. And this makes me so angry.
It also makes me want to do something about it. There was a big scandal a while back (centuries ago in the US news cycle) about the hearing before Congress on birth control that featured an all-male panel of experts.
This picture was passed around the internet with various captions, all asking “Where are the women!?” A good question. The one great thing about this assault on women’s rights is that women have mobilized in a bigger way than I can remember. The response to proposed de-funding of Planned Parenthood, the response to vaginal ultrasound bills around the country. Over and over in the past few months we have seen women rallying together and fighting to keep their basic rights and dignity.
But in the middle of all of this we should ask, “Where are the men?”
I don’t know about other men out there, but I’m actually really glad that my sexual partners have access to birth control and the right to chose to have an abortion. Kids are cool. I don’t really want them at the moment. While I belive that more men should be involved in standing up for women’s rights in general, isn’t abortion and birth control something that we should really be getting behind? I see it as a very personal issue for men as well as women. I don’t think there are that many men out there who are going halfsies on their girlfriend/wife/hook up buddy/other’s prescription for hormonal birth control. But I do know that both the man and the women are benefiting from it (leaving aside all the non-contraceptive uses for the pill that are also not covered by insurance)!
If women are “having too much sex” that is causing pregnancies, then men must be (wait, let me do the math for a second…oh yeah!) HAVING THE EXACT SAME AMOUNT of sex. And if men’s insurance premiums are slightly higher to cover this, that’s a good thing. It’s a lot cheaper than a kid.
Women’s rights are not just a women’s issue. As men, we benefit when women are given the same rights, opportunities and respect that we receive. Stand up to sexism. Fight it your government, in your workplace, on the street or in your friend’s rape “joke.” It IS a big deal. And ending repression, discrimination, and violence against women is our responsibility too.
So here is my request to men (and women):
Be a feminist. Say, “I’m a feminist.” Take pride in the label and encourage others to as well.
Until men take an equal stand for gender equality, it just isn’t going to happen.
So we need to get working.
[Edit: Yes, it’s fine with me if you share this post. Please do. My hope is to help spread these ideas and make them more mainstream. If you are inspired to pass it on, go for it! ]
[Edit 3/28/12: So the response to this article has been way bigger than I ever thought. This article has gotten more views than the past six months of writing which is either very exciting or a bit depressing 🙂 If I may, I would like to ask you to pass this on. If you know men or women who would like to read this, please share, stumble or email it! Many thanks to everyone who has commented or sent me an email, it has been so interesting to hear what you all have to say!]
So this entry was a little bit different than my usual topics of sword dancing and adventure. I hope that you enjoyed it anyway. I really hope that you will let me know your thoughts on this one. If you enjoyed this, I would appreciate you passing it along! I think it’s important. I will be posting a sword dance update soon. Until then, let’s ensure that women’s basic rights aren’t taken away. Actually, let’s do that after I post too. -Jeremy
So I need to be catching up in this blog. Therefore this will be another slideshow entry, but it’s still really cool, right? Basically this is covering from the end of the carnival in Rocca Grimalda, traveling to Torino, Venice, (then florence again, but no pics, more dead camera!) and Split, Croatia! Here goes!