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The paper “Glaciers, Gender, and Science: A Feminist Glaciology Framework for Global Environmental Change Research,” referenced recently on Reason and PowerLine, analyzes how we have come to know what we do about glaciers. Apparently, glaciology has been polluted by men who — wielding pick axes and slinging about equations employing tensor notation — “participated in the imperialist, colonial, and capitalist projects associated with polar exploration [and] mountain colonization.” In case you feel slightly confused, please note the authors “use ‘glaciology’ in an encompassing sense that exceeds the immediate scientific meanings of the label,” and do this in order to capture the themes of “power, domination, colonialism, and control – undergirded by and coincident with masculinist ideologies – have shaped glacier-related sciences and knowledges over time.”
We didn’t know this until now because this topic had been “understudied” while the rest of us were preoccupied with, ostensibly, more important things.
The authors assert that “[m]ost existing glaciological research – and hence discourse and discussions about cryospheric change – stems from information produced by men, about men, with manly characteristics.” This is, apparently, bad: somewhere between very, very bad, and the ultimate crux of badness itself. Apparently, knowledge acquisition and even knowledge itself can be “gendered.” When the authors insist that a “critical but overlooked aspect … is the relationship between gender and glaciers,” they’re not just squabbling about whether the French use a masculine or feminine noun for “ice” — it’s feminine, thank heaven — but are identifying an existential threat. However, they do go on to relate that gender is not just a “male/female binary, but as a range of personal and social possibilities” including “power, justice, inequality, and knowledge production in the context of ice, glacier change, and glaciology.” I’m so glad we got that cleared up straightaway.
The authors deploy a rather large number of words in decrying the glaciological he-men of the past who flaunted their gender through masculine activities like exploring the dangerous terrain of remote ices-capes, planting flags, and drilling cores into the pristine ice. In the authors’ feminist glaciological view, the debate between scientists James Forbes and John Tyndall (men, natch) regarding how glaciers moved across the landscape was settled not by gathering evidence and testing hypotheses, which are mundane and, likely, male-gendered tasks. Rather, they were owed to Tyndall’s displays of masculine dominance in mountaineering, and his deployment of “a rhetoric of manly risk and exertion.” Back in those so-very-backward days, “[g]laciology was for muscular gentlemen scientists” only.
But the authors assure us that the “history of glaciology is not simply about the ubiquity of men and the absence and/or erasure of women.” Women scientists are finally publishing in academic journals of glaciology, even if they are still “often managed by men.” Moreover, females of indigenous peoples have always contributed narratives infused with the special knowledge that comes from close contact with the ice. Don’t believe me? Allow the authors to explain:
[W]hereas glaciologists may try to measure glaciers and understand ice physics by studying the glacial ice itself, indigenous accounts do not portray the ice as passive, to be measured and mastered in a stereotypically masculinist sense. ‘The glaciers these women speak of’, explains Cruikshank (2005: 51–3), ‘engage all the senses. [The glaciers] are willful, capricious, easily excited by human intemperance, but equally placated by quick-witted human responses. Proper behavior is deferential. I was warned, for instance, about firm taboos against “cooking with grease” near glaciers that are offended by such smells.… Cooked food, especially fat, might grow into a glacier overnight if improperly handled.’ The narratives Cruikshank collected show how humans and nature are intimately linked, and subsequently demonstrate the capacity of folk glaciologies to diversify the field of glaciology and subvert the hegemony of natural sciences.
Despite its elegance, lyricism, and wrong-righting, this paper is not without flaw. Amid the long list of “glacier-oriented visual and literary arts” that includes explicitly erotic narratives — including a non-CoC compliant description of two glaciers copulating in Pakistan and the depiction of consuming Alaskan glacial water as a sexual awakening – they curiously overlook the well-known song “Cold as Ice” (Foreigner, 1977). This omission by itself casts serious doubt on the breadth and seriousness of their scholarship.
But, as the authors state, their “goal is neither to force glaciologists to believe that glaciers listen nor to make indigenous peoples put their full faith in scientists’ mathematical equations and computer-generated models (devoid of meaning, spirituality, and reciprocal human-nature relationships).”]. Instead, we “must recognize the ways in which more-than-scientific, non-Western, non-masculinist modes of knowledge, thinking, and action are marginalized” by, you know, science. Indeed, they conclude that if only “we constitute glaciological and global environmental change research differently, we can constitute our future, our gender relations, and our international political economic relations more justly and equitably.”
I simply couldn’t have said it better myself.