Feminism as a Guide
This past February 2, 2017, Terra Incognita Media put on an event at The Mountain Shop where the community gathered to bond over the prototype issue of Terra Incognita. This is a speech that was given by the founder, Erin Monahan.
I want to share with you all this idea I read about called "Negative Capability." I read about this first in Rebecca Solnit’s book, “Men Explain Things to Me.” Solnit writes about the poet John Keats on a midwinter’s night in 1817. As he walked home he was talking with some friends and later wrote about it in a celebrated letter. He described that during that walk,
What he is saying is that creation, imagination, and genius come from the ability to go beyond what we know and how we know it.
Virgina Woolf, another poet I admire, also took up this idea of Negative Capability in her writing. She described it as an ability to blow up what we think we know, and enter into a void of unknown. I want you all to think about times when you have gone into the unknown yourselves. In order to push the limits, physically, mentally or creatively, we must go into the unknown.
It was when I embraced the unknown that I found my mission – that I wanted to talk about these things that were important to me and collaborate with a community that I love so much. To say that I didn't know what I was doing is only partly true. I was driven by an impulse that told me I had to do this. Nothing was more certain.
Terra Incognita Media is a publication built through a feminist lens and was inspired by the glaring lack of depth and diversity in outdoor media. I have often wondered what climbing does for me? How has it impacted me as a woman in this world? Why did I want to create a new media outlet?
I was raised in the Midwest, and went to college to study writing and feminism. I found a love of trail running. After college I got a job teaching outdoor education with Canyonlands National Park in Utah. I learned how to climb in Moab. When I learned how to climb my entire perspective changed. Suddenly I defied what was impossible. I was getting to the top of towers and feeling powerful, as if I could do anything. I viewed myself and my body differently. Though I was a trail runner I never saw myself as athletic. All of a sudden I was physically strong. It was a completely new way of looking at myself and viewing my body. I was confident in my ability to push and exceed my limits like never before.
After that, I moved to Portland and this is where I have been for the last four years. My journey has been one of developing a deep relationship with mother nature, as well as observing and studying power and privilege in our society. I didn’t understand power until I took a gender studies class in college. Then things started to make sense. I had words to describe how I had been feeling as a person in this body that I am in. I started noticing the ways in which I lack power in this society being someone inside this body. I noticed how I was treated differently than the men in my life.
The more I got into being in the outdoors, the more I looked for stories about people who looked like me -- women. Women have always been accomplishing great feats in the mountains, but I started wondering how they overcame the societal barriers? Why didn’t I hear their stories more?
Upon closer examination of gender while I climbed and spent time outside, I started noticing something else. I looked around at the people climbing and noticed that beyond the fact that they were mostly men -- unlike me, they were also mostly white -- like me. It was then that I was confronted with my own privilege. That, yes I faced barriers to connecting to the outdoors because I’m a woman, but because of being white, I also was given more access than people of color. I learned that I was a political being because having identities -- white, woman, cisgender, straight, able-bodied -- is being political. I started thinking more about who holds more power and who doesn’t and why. Why life excludes certain people from experiencing certain privileges that I can access because of my white privilege, my cisgender privilege, my straight privilege, my able-bodied privilege.
This was my thought process as I went out to Indian Creek in Utah to climb two years ago to take some time off to just live "carefree in the desert," but slowly thoughts about identities in this world crept to the forefront.
These thoughts continue, now living in Portland, as I tie into my harness at the gym and at the check out line at the grocery store. It’s there when I am standing on top of Mt. Hood as I prepare to launch myself down a mountain at full speed. I think about how great of a privilege it is that I am able to risk my life in this way. I am always asking myself what is my role and my contribution to this system of power that gives certain people privileges, access, ease, while putting up barriers and lack of options for others?
I have always relied on feminism as my guide. Feminism is about enlightening us to each other's individual struggles and planting seeds for a better, equal future. I can’t help but look at the world through a feminist lens. When I use the phrase feminist lens I mean that this is a way to look at the world analytically, critically, from a perspective that is underrepresented and undermined. Feminism aims to dismantle boxed up thinking, to open up possibility, to get comfortable with discomfort, to challenge what we think we know, to embrace the unknown, as well as create parody in a world that is lopsided. From video games to the news, we need to see more positive and accurate representations of women, all genders, all non-binary people, all minorities.
Feminism is fundamentally a radical movement. bell hooks, a respected and renowned feminist writer reminds us that...
The feminist movement is not perfect by any means, but it has helped me see life through an intersectional lens.
Terra Incognita Media pushes for new ways of thinking, and amplifies voices that we don’t hear often enough. terra incognita means unknown land. Going into the unknown is about dismantling our expectations, pushing our limits, and expanding what we know, so that we emerge from the unknown a little more knowledgeable, a little more prepared, and maybe even a little more open-minded.
I want to use my privilege, my access to education, my connections, my words, my writing to instigate difficult conversations and to address topics that are not brought up enough. I want to encourage people to think about social and environmental justice and how those two things are intertwined. We cannot liberate one without the other. No one is free until everyone is free, and until nature is free.
The recent travel ban has proven that we are up against the ugliest of forces. The scum that now holds office in the white house, has sent jolts of fear into my friends, family, into our communities, and has sent chills down the back of our relatives, our brothers and sisters, in other countries. Now more than ever we must do radical work. There needs to be more listening to those who are most threatened by a Trump establishment, those who are not white. Though fear and uncertainty are very real right now, we can’t let it overwhelm us. We must keep showing up. To show up is the most radical act.
I keep the faith in bell hooks’ who said...
I am part of a long lineage of radical and brave women that came before me and I am dedicated to continue their work.
My hope is that you will all continue to keep your spirits up because the very fact that we are gathering in the name of a feminist print publication is proof enough that integrity still exists in this world. And what can we do now? We can participate in organizations like 350 PDX, like Vive NW, like the Portland Resistance, like The Miller Scholarship Foundation. We can go home and read up on feminist theory, or on black history. We can support sustainable companies.
The future is daunting, but it’s not unstoppable, it's a malleable, moving thing and we all have the power to shape it, to blow-up existing paradigms, to redefine everything.
In honor of Black History Month, in honor of the resistance, in honor of our community in Porltand, hope you leave here with lots of ideas. I hope you leave here with the courage to ask questions that might feel uncomfortable to ask. I hope you leave here feeling energized and inspired to have difficult and necessary conversations.
Erin and the Terra team are teaming up next week with Alpenglow Collective, a new online climbing forum that serves as a hub to connect women so they can easily find mentors and climbing partners with similar objectives, whether in the gym or in the alpine, as well as a source for clinics and community events.