Can a Racist, Sexist and All Around Problematic Susan Fenimore Cooper Be A Bioregionalist?

“Bioregionalism means learning to become native to place, fitting ourselves to a particular place, not fitting a place to our pre-determined tastes. It is living within the limits and the gifts provided by a place… ‘involves becoming native to a place through becoming aware of the particular ecological relationships that operate within and around it. It means understanding activities and evolving social behavior that will enrich the life of that place, restore its life-supporting systems, and establish an ecologically and socially sustainable pattern of existence within it’” (Plant 81).

I find this to be a very compelling quote and statement mainly because it is conceivable, which is no small thing. Like most dogmatic and polemic subcultures (including religious, orthodox and fundamental) they tend to be very much like what they protest against without even knowing it or terribly skewing the fact. However, this proclamation seems reasonable, and attainable. Plant and other Bio-regionalists are aware that there must be a change in culture, at a local level (and Global), in order to create a more symbiotic relationship with one’s ecosystem so as to not be environmentally damaging. This, now, is extremely very relevant with the expansion of Globalism, exponential technological growth and outsourcing. In fact, I think that the radical Deep Ecologist, Ecofeminist, Liberationist and the middle-class ‘greenwasher’ would all agree that the beginning or cause of many environmental issues is a society’s culture. Maybe even a Cornucopian capitalist would acknowledge this. I say this in regard to a capitalist consumer culture, which pertains more to American culture than say Europe or second and third world cultures. However, with global expansion this may not be entirely true. Either way, it does not seem like a demand or a totally immutable goal, which is good because it avoids that negative dogmatic stigma. However, I think Bio-regionalists do have to acknowledge who their main reading body is, middle class Americans, most likely.

What I found most compelling though, was that this quote, although with some stretching required, appears to sum up Susan Fenimore Cooper very well. I acknowledge that she is a racist, nationalist, victim of patriarchy, sexist, anti-Semite, and a totally pedantic person. But these things were a standard norm in those times.

If Bioregionalism requires learning to become more in tune with our local surroundings Cooper would be high on the list of potential model candidates, and not a neophyte in the least. I would actually say that to some degree she would out do contemporary Greenpeace activists when it comes to knowing one’s own local ecosystem. Even further, for an Ecofeminist, Cooper demonstrates a lot of what they would consider good as far as what a woman could have been back then, disregarding the previously mentioned list of negatives and that she does have an idyllic American pastoral view that embraces a gendered nature. Cooper is an educated woman, a significant thing back then. She has quite a grasp on botany, geography, history, and languages; is serious amateur ornithologist (study of birds), knows poetry and is curious about entomology (insects). So, she is educated, ecologically aware and curious or analytical and she also expresses her discontent for capitalist enterprise and urbanism, alluding to her acute knowledge of taxonomy and the diminishing species due to urban expansion or what Bioregionalists would categorize as a symptom in which “our culture almost ever city exists beyond its carrying capacity” (Plant 81).  . She does have a certain demure. A good example of this Bioregianlist nativism can be seen in Cooper’s desire to retain an old fireplace instead of the new, cheaper iron stove and her slight ambivalence and humor towards the country store, which almost prophesized the impending age of Wal-Mart. She seems unhappy in town and also expresses her desire for distance especially when it comes to the plurality of business, e.g. “eating houses”, “their number is quite humiliating” (Cooper 292). She even describes it as something greedy, ravenous, avaricious, or in so many words, gluttonous, which, really, is what Bioregionalism is against and in which they have a desire for “’reinhabiting’” cities, a thing Cooper may not be opposed to.

It’s an argument with a lot of holes, but what I’m trying to do is demonstrate Susan Fennimore Cooper potentially has a lot of Bioregionalist qualities.

Cooper, Susan Fenimore. Rural Hours. Ch./Art: “Winter” p.252-357. pub. University of Georgia Press 1998

Plant, Judith. Home! A Bioregional Reader.Ch./Art: REvaluing Home: Feminism and Bioregionalism; Searching for Common Ground:
Evofeminism and Bioregionalism p. 21-23, 79-82. pub. New Society Publishers 1990

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by christys21 on October 5, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    I too found the first quote you chose to be extremely compelling and self-explanatory. In no way does it contradict what Plant’s connection between feminism and bioregionalism are. Plant draws a clear connection with how adapting to surroundings through bioregionalism, society (or at least individuals) are able to be more humanized and emotionally connected to their surroundings.
    Bioregionalism is defined by Plant as “becoming native to a place” (Plant 81) and “evolving social behavior that will enrich the life of that place” (Plant 81). On the bottom of page 81, she explains the manner in which bioregionalism’s idea of decentralization of genders leads to a closer relationship to “home,” a place where women are able to share their personal experiences and thoughts on a matter. Women’s experiences and opinions, which Plant says have been devalued, can help people “think feelingly” (Plant 82). More feelings, sympathy and emotion can as a result rebuild human and the natural community.
    By creating a connection with home, and opening feelings, people can find a relationship with their surrounding environment, nature, and learn to live in what can be seen as almost harmony.
    Unfortunately, with the advances in technology that have been made in the world today, creating such a harmonized link with the environment may prove difficult. Culture, in the United States, consist of little to no connection with nature and the idea of “home” being a bed to come back to at the end of a long day in an office. Now-a-days, society probably learns more about morals and values to live harmoniously from their school friends and co-workers than they do in their “nurturing home.”

    Plant, Judith. Home! A Bioregional Reader.Ch./Art: REvaluing Home: Feminism and Bioregionalism; Searching for Common Ground:
Evofeminism and Bioregionalism p. 21-23, 79-82. pub. New Society Publishers 1990

  2. Posted by lpeake on October 6, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    I agree with you that Cooper has a lot of qualities that one can argue made her a bioregionalist of her time. However, I think it is way too far of a stretch to try and tie her to ecofeminism as well. While she was a woman with the qualities you described, simply being a woman interested in nature is not what makes one an ecofeminist. I would argue that one has to exemplify qualities that a feminist has (i.e. not being sexiest) in order to be called an ecofeminist. Cooper clearly did not fit into that as she was quite sexist. Yes, she was a product of her times, and internalized sexism was absolutely a problem, but I don’t believe that she could be called an ecofeminist of her time.

  3. The quote you gave is “conceivable,” yes… in ancient cultures! Or maybe utopia. Plant says, “Becoming native to a place… has very much to do with a shift in morality, in the attitudes and behaviors of human beings” (81). Pitching for a shift in morality in human beings is as ungraspable as morning mist. It’s beautiful but unattainable. This ideal of a shift in morality is a giant basis for all the major world religions… and still we can’t figure it out. It’s as if bioregionalism and ecofeminism are a new kind of religion.

    As for Cooper, I would hardly say that a woman who reads off her surroundings like an encyclopedia is automatically a bioregionalist and ecofeminist. She just seems like a bored housewife – she’ll rattle off information about Valentine’s Day cards just as much as local rabbit species.

    Her experience is more of an observer, not a participant in nature. Becoming native means to truly incorporate one’s life and fiber into where one lives, and not looking at it through an aquarium glass.

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