Cat Lupton and Jack Richardson, curators of the Women’s and Men’s Spaces at this year’s Uncivilisation introduce their programmes – and explain some of the thinking and feeling behind the creation of these spaces.

Something new for this year’s Uncivilisation will be a dedicated space and workshops offered separately for men and for women. The teepee, used in previous years as the open space, will hold the men’s programme on Saturday and the women’s on Sunday.

For men, Jack Richardson will host ‘Whittling and Wittering’, a gathering to talk about the language men and boys inherit, use, develop and pass on, with willow weaving and whittling to occupy the hands together with minds and mouths. Sarah Jewell will lead a vocal workshop for uncivilised men, and Tom Hirons will offer an introduction to the Four Shields, drawing on Council, wilderness rites of passage and pan-cultural models of the self, to help men reconcile the polarities and conflicts that manifest within and outside themselves.

For women, Annie Davey will be offering a life mapping and embodied experience workshop, ‘Women and Earth Constellations: listening to the song that is my life’, which draws on the model of Constellations Work (and with no singing involved!) Jackie Singer will guide ‘Singing Over The Bones’, a journey onto the terrain of the Wild Woman, inspired by the seminal work of Clarissa Pinkola Estés, via song, movement and improvisation. To close, Cat Lupton and Bridget McKenzie will host ‘Weaving Our Stories’, a creative making and conversation space where women are invited to make story-threads to weave into a collaborative artwork.

Why separate spaces, you might be asking, possibly feeling resistance or discomfort at the prospect. The idea of men and women in single-sex gatherings can conjure up images of exclusion, antagonism and rigid, outdated gender roles: the men-only golf clubs, professional societies and university colleges which women have had to fight hard to gain access to, or the mums and toddlers groups where full-time fathers feel out of place. Many modern societies have made significant progress towards an ideal of sexual equality, but precisely because there are still yawning gaps between that ideal and what goes down in reality, any initiative that re-emphasises differences between men and women can easily get cast as a step in the wrong direction.

What happens to and for men and women, though, if the societies that sustain the ideal of sexual equality begin to unravel? As the collapse writer Carolyn Baker has recently observed, you don’t have to scratch far below the polite surface of gender parity to uncover a seething mass of conflicts, resentments and projections erupting between the sexes. She highlights ongoing discussions and arguments, within the collapse-aware community, over the potential for widespread social and environmental instability to erode the gains made by women especially over recent decades. In the background of this and similar discussions lurk the violent and still very much present realities of patriarchy and misogyny, which are all too readily fuelled in a climate of sharp economic contraction, social fracturing, staggering global inequality and relentless environmental devastation.

Intertwined with the depth and seriousness of these conflicts, the sense of civilisation coming apart is also drawing to the surface fresh awarenesses and questions about what women and men might bring differently to a radically transformed, uncivilising future. If we’re looking to become wild again, does wildness feel and manifest differently for men and women? If the world around them falls apart, do men and women react and cope in the same ways, or not? Do men and women take broadly identical steps on the path back to interconnection with the more-than human world, or does each gender bring distinctive gifts, qualities and attitudes to this journey? And if the Dark Mountain Project specifically is about telling new stories to give shape to an as yet unrecognisable future, do men and women craft the same tales, or does each sex carry differently coloured and textured strands into the yarns they weave?

These questions, and conflicts, have been weaving through and around the Dark Mountain Project since its inception. In planning the programme for this year’s festival, the idea of offering a programme strand of separate spaces and activities for each sex gained traction. The thinking and feeling behind these spaces is to give the men and women of Uncivilisation an opportunity, if they would like it, to explore for themselves how it is to be in a single-gender Uncivilised space for a while, especially if that opportunity doesn’t present itself much in their everyday lives. What, if any, difference it makes to the kinds and depths of conversation that unfold, the questions that are raised, the quality of attention, energy or connection that arises.

These spaces are there as one – by no means the only – way to address the dimension of gender within the Dark Mountain conversation. Within each space, anyone who identifies as a man / woman is welcome. As curators, our hope is that, for some participants, spending that time with their own sex meets a need or opens a door that will continue to nourish them, as they go about carrying Uncivilisation home.

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