Thursday, July 23, 2009

National Day of the Cowboy

Apparently it's official, and it gives me an opportunity to sort out a whole range of thoughts and feelings I have toward the cowboy ideal, and it's role in our culture.


Since moving to the cowboy state a few years ago, and coming from a decidedly un-cowboyish background (not too many cowboys in Seattle and LA, even if you count the ones in the gay bars), I'm both intrigued and mystified by the cowboy ideal that saturates the culture in the western states (not as far west as where I'm from, but OK). At first I didn't take it that seriously. To me it was merely a mascot like all the rest. Huskies, Bruins, Aztecs, Cowboys, whatever. Of course I was irritated by the fact that "and cowgirls" is only occasionally tacked on as an afterthought and to avoid accusations of Title IX violations, but never taken all that seriously. But that's pretty much the norm everywhere you go, when it comes to collegiate sports.

However, it turns out that "cowboy" is so much more than a college mascot here. It saturates the culture at every turn. And don't let the inclusion of "and cowgirl" in the official wording fool you. Nobody's celebrating the cultural contribution of cowgirls here. Nobody's emulating cowgirls or imagining themselves to be a cowgirl when they drive their huge gas-guzzling truck that's never so much as touched a bail of hay or a roll of barbwire fencing, and strut around in their immaculate Ropers that have never kicked any turf other than the luxurious grass of their own front lawn and the city parks here in town.

But beyond the somewhat amusing role of the cowboy in the self-conceptions of many people here, the "Cowboy" image looms large as a way of life, a political stance, and a worldview. Cowboys are self-sufficient, rugged individualists, not beholden to anyone, in touch with the natural world, not afraid to face the elements, completely dominant in their relationships with animals, not contained or defined by their fleeting relations with employers, the law, the "establishment," or any woman. They have a strong internal moral compass, and a simple view of morality, politics, and human relations. And this view of and fascination with cowboys is not limited to western states, although it's much more prevalent and tangible here. There are good reasons why images of Reagan and Bush on horseback and clearin' some brush were such useful political tools. The cowboy image is deeply ingrained in the American psyche.

But as far as I can tell, cowboys, as we idealize them, never existed. We've imposed our collective picture of what being a cowboy was really like over the historical reality to the point where we can no longer distinguish the two, and wouldn't if we could. And the end result is people fantasizing about and attempting to emulate something that never existed, and probably wasn't all that fantastic and ideal to begin with. In reality, the day-to-day life of a cowboy probably had much more in common with the daily life of a migrant farm worker than with the life we endow cowboys with in our imaginations. And who fantasizes about that? Working long hours in the heat and the dust for low pay and no respect and no job security and no pension and no health care and not even a decent place to call home only to be disposed of as so much garbage once you're too old to work. Sounds lovely, doesn't it?

So I can think of several factors that most likely contribute to the weight placed on the myth of the cowboy in our culture. First, of course, is the patriarchal ideal of manhood and individualism and domination of nature. In this ideal there's no need for inclusiveness or equality or consideration of the well-being of the disposable, marginalized members of society or the impact of human action on the environment. The marketing campaign would sound something like this:

Cowboy Country: where a man can be a MAN.
Second, there's a yearning for what's perceived as a simpler time and place. People feel entrapped by their mortgages and careers and insurance policies. But very few of us would actually have the courage to choose, or end up enjoying, a life without those things. A feature of civilization is a sharing of risks and the compilation of surplus resources to protect us in hard times. In the simple world of the cowboy, nobody shares your risk. If you get injured or your gear and horse gets stolen, you're on your own. Friends and neighbors might help you out, but they aren't obligated to, and may not be able to, and there's no institutional protection in place. Protection and security come at a cost.

Third, there's a sort of political view symbolized by the cowboy. Cowboys are live and let live. They take care of their own shit and expect you to do the same. They pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and don't whine about their lot in life. They say what they mean and don't pull any punches. They walk the walk and talk the talk. It's this sort of libertarianism (Ron Paul is pretty popular in the cowboy states, y'all) combined with a simplicity and authenticity that's appealing to people, especially when our collective social ills seem insurmountable and our prominent political leaders seem so manipulative and disingenuous and self-interested. But it also goes hand-in-hand with a tendency to over-simplify things as a means of escaping the hard realities and the complexities of the real world. Sometimes life isn't fair and it's terribly complicated and hard to sort out and requires careful attention to detail and nuance. Sorting this stuff out and trying to be fair and inclusive requires some hard work and tough choices. And retreating into cowboy culture can be a means of denying these realities.

Finally, because the world of the cowboy is largely non-existent, taking on a "cowboy" identity amounts to a safe sort of play-acting. A "cowboy" in our world is an identity without a context - a Childe Roland who doesn't recognize that the world that renders his identity meaningful and coherent has long since ceased to exist. And it's fun and convenient to take on an identity without a context, because you can make of it what you will without the inconvenient constraints of reality.

So I say by all means, let's celebrate the Day of the Cowboy. If it's an excuse to enjoy the oh-so-fleeting-around-here summer weather and toddle out to the fairgrounds to look at some livestock (still a giant novelty to this city kid) and drink some lemonade and let the kids wear their cowboy dress-up clothes all day and listen to some live local music or ponder some local art, then that's all fine and good by me. However, I will be Celebrating the Cowboy with an ironic twinkle in my eye and a shot of tequila in my lemonade. Because, even though I live in cowboy country, I don't live in the world of the cowboy, and I have the balls to acknowledge it.

44 comments:

  1. I think that the cowboy image has a really big and basic position in our cultural mythology too, and not just in Wyoming. But I can see how it would be more central in certain places than others. And if tequila is involved, I'll celebrate the day of the cowboy too.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Meg'n7/23/2009

    I've never thought about the parallel between cowboys and migrant farm workers. Hmm...interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Michael7/24/2009

    And doesn't it seem really strange and contradictory that so many of the types who imagine themselves to be cowboys are politically conservative and thus very pro "the man"? I never understood that.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Excellent, thought-provoking post. Not only did I grow up in Texas, where the cowboy culture is very pervasive, but several several members of my family were cattle ranchers, which I guess you could say is the modern-day equivalent of the cowboy. And I'm here to tell you that the reality of that industry is about as far from the cowboy mythology as you can get. They are indeed beholden to a lot of people (namely, the loan officers at the local banks), they are not at all "completely dominant in their relationships with animals" (my grandparents stayed up many a night tending a sick animal) and they are very much "contained and defined" by the work they do. The average cattle rancher doesn't take very many vacations in his or her lifetime.

    Nevertheless, I'm with you - let's drink some hard lemonade, pet some 4H project pigs and celebrate the fantasy while keeping in mind that it is, after all, exactly that - a fantasy.

    ReplyDelete
  5. voiceofreason8/02/2009

    Here via Feministing - fabulous post, Rachel!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I appreciate that you acknowledge up front that you haven't spent any time in a serious review of what the Cowboy / Cowgirl has meant to our country. It's interesting that is hasn't stopped you from throwing rocks at something you have no clue about, in spite of living in Wyoming for several years.

    Concerning your "as far as I can tell" statements, please quote your sources, if you have any. I know you are used to saying whatever you'd like to say without being questioned, but let's shift gears.

    Just because you happened to have moved to Wyoming doesn't make you an expert on the culture, particularly given your self-acknowledged lack of effort to understand it. I was born, raised and went through University level in Montana, which as I hope you know is directly North of Wyoming. For the past twenty plus years I've been employed by corporate multinationals in Seattle (North Bend) and LA (Long Beach) currently (among other places), so I've been there, done that.

    Actually, like allot of the folks in Wyoming you like to speak ill of, I've actually been paying taxes over that time period. I'm hoping that, given your vocation, you have done something other than be compensated from other's taxes. If not I suggest you try it.

    I'm just curious, do you think you are the first person that has moved into the State fully prepared to talk about how screwed up and backwards their culture is? Trust me, they have come and gone for decades which I expect to continue. If you don't like it in Wyoming please take you and your family elsewhere.

    I've observed your posts in other areas, including Feministing.com. You are consistently rude, denigrating and offensive to others. I would expect this kind of response to someone like me, who sees you for what you are. I am surprised that you're not trying more diligently to bring your younger feminist Sisters along. That is after all a sign of strong leadership and maturity.

    Cute Kid. Hope its not a boy or he's gonna have a tough life.

    Finally Sister...maybe you think you have balls, but for a real world check try sharing your shallow, judgmental, bigoted perspective with a true local and see how far it gets you.

    A helpful suggestion if you do...Stay on your toes...

    ReplyDelete
  7. BurnBrother,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to edimacate me. I am indeed ignorant and bigoted and lie around all day eating bonbons and collecting welfare. Your condescension and tooting of your own horn are indeed impressive.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Kathryn8/02/2009

    BurnBrother,

    I lived in Rock Springs WY for 5 years, and have also lived in Denver, Seattle, and various parts of Kansas (where I'm originally from). I think Rachel's analysis is spot on. In Wyoming you have two different kinds of "cowboys," the wannabes she describes who live in town, and those who work on ranches. The life of a modern ranch worker really does bear little resemblance to the cowboy ideal we have, and that's Rachel's point. They drive trucks and four-wheelers rather than riding the range on horseback. Many of them now work in crowded feedlots, and that life has nothing in common with our cowboy myth other than the fact that there are cattle involved. And even if you do imagine the traditional life of the cowboy back in the day, it is more similar to the life of the migrant farm worker than to our gilded image. So perhaps you could get off your high horse and really pay attention to what she's saying. She's not throwing rocks at anyone - just pointing out that this piece of our cultural mythology is a bit unrealistic and overblown.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Meg'n8/02/2009

    @ BurnBrother

    To say "at first I didn't take it that seriously..." doesn't mean you haven't done some serious thinking and analysis of the topic in question. It just means that at first it didn't seem like that big of a deal to you. Get it?

    ReplyDelete
  10. @ Rachel - I'm assuming that you're busy taking care of your baby this afternoon, which I totally respect, so I understand you had to craft an "unresponsive" response.

    To paraphrase a famous Westerner..."It ain't braggin' if you've done it." It is what it is. I'm not going to apologize for my life experiences. I imagine that if you want to make a Dude feel guilty for being successful or competent for some reason your Beta has experience "taking it" from you, so Rock On. It won't work on me.

    I do appreciate your inability to articulate a meaningful response. Frankly I really don't care, but since it seems that you somehow fashion yourself as someone that understands feminist issues I suggest that you follow your own advice and apply some "Critical Thinking Skills" to future posts. Maybe you can become a "Leader of Women", which would be totally cool.

    I'm going to spare you and your Clones a response to your "A Letter" post on the Pickup Truck Drama. That's just too easy.

    @Kathryn - Of course you think Rachel's post is spot on. That's why you hang out here. I believe that you lived in Rock Springs. If you did you know that it's mostly Oil Patch and huge ranches out there now. The fact that men decide to dress the way they have traditionally dressed in Wyoming does nothing to change the spirit of the people that settled and created the West.

    I believe it's a well documented fact that there are many fewer family farms and ranches now than there have been in the past. That is an economic fact. It has nothing to do with the attitude and spirit of the people that built the Western States. The sad thing about all of your responses is that you either don't care about the facts or you are ignorant. The truth is there are a lot of men and women that would love to continue to live the rancher / farmer / cowboy life, but the world has changed. How does that make recognizing the lifestyle invalid? You feminist goofballs, off all people, should understand this.

    For the record, Ms. Rachel is the one that started throwing rocks at the "Cowboy Thing" and I'm telling you she is 100% out of line. I don't think she was talking about "current state". Read her post.

    That however does not change the fact that the character of the people that settled and built the West were in fact exactly the people that helped make this country what it is. I get that it isn't cool to say something like that, but next time before you swallow the feminist program hook, line and sinker try considering what actually happened.

    @Meg'n- I think I addressed you issues previously. Don't come to a gun fight with a knife.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Cowboy culture is indeed built on a large pile of false idealizations, not only about gender, but about nationality and ethnicity: the biggest false idea people tend to have about cowboys (one that BurnBrother seems to have, though I'm sure he'll be quick to correct me if he doesn't) is that they are quintessentially American.
    Such ruggedness! Such individualism! This is what presidents should be like! This is what America is really about!
    Except not quite.
    It is not a coincidence that you can liken cowboys to migrant farm workers. They are both the product of the agricultural structure that Spain put in place in the viceroyalty of New Spain, one built on the exploitation of seasonal workers. It lasted past the independence of Mexico and through the XIX Century, in the case of cattle ranching, and into the XXI, in the case of farm work.
    Few people seem to be aware that cowboys are the best, most prominent example of Spanish heritage in the United States. Rodeos, lassoes (lazos) and broncos are anything but WASP.
    This is why cattle wranglers exist (and are disproportionately romanticized for their manliness) pretty much everywhere that was once part of the Spanish Empire: gauchos in Argentina, huasos in Chile, llaneros in Venezuela and Colombia, charros in central Mexico and vaqueros in what used to be the north of New Spain, all of today’s northern Mexico and most of today’s western United States (where cattle was already being raised and wrangled while the Virginia Colony was being founded).
    After the Mexican-American war, when settlers moved west and first came across this institution, they translated the term vaquero as “cowboy”, or transliterated it as “buckaroo”. They learned their tricks, borrowed their very practical clothing, and started using the type of Spanish campaign saddles that today are called “western”.
    Because many came to consider it a symbol of the American expansion towards the West (although, like the Colorado River and the town of Santa Fe, they were already there when it happened) they are still referenced to make you think of American greatness and prowess. And thus, invoked against illegal immigrants. Which is particularly silly, because cowboys are a shared symbol. No amount of John Wayne movies will change the fact that cowboys still play a huge part in the regional identity of northern Mexico.

    ReplyDelete
  12. The illusion of being a cowboy is much like how little girls envision the day they are princesses riding ponies and meeting a handsome prince. Except, most girls grow out of such ridiculous phases unlike the people who still buy into cowboys (and cowgirls). The lifestyle doesn´t even really exist anymore and never really did. Ever since the invention of 4 wheelers and barbed wire fences, the practicality of a person dressed in funny clothes and a fancy hat on horseback with the ability to do some cool tricks with a rope is useless. All it´s really done is "promoted" tourism for Wyoming (and other western states) and helped sell chewing tobacco, country music and clothing from Boot Barn

    I love Kathryn´s "get off your high horse" statement!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Uh-oh, sumbody gotted his feelers hurted!

    Seriously Burn, there's nothing in this post that suggests that cowboys weren't important in the building of this country, or that they weren't respectable people. This post is entirely about what the cowboy figure means in our culture now. And what the cowboy is in our culture now is more akin to the princess phenomenon (as frank aptly points out) than to any actual people. Why jump to the conclusion that this is bashing the actual cowboys back in the day? Seems a mite defensive. Are you perhaps driving a gas-guzzling truck that's never hauled a bail of hay and wearing some pristine Ropers?

    ReplyDelete
  14. @ Beatriz - Good Post! You already called it so I will just confirm, I didn't say the "Cowboy Thing" in Wyoming or Montana was unique to those States. I don't think that invalidates anything I have posted.

    Most people that have attended / graduated from College or University in the U.S. and completed their history core requirements understand that Cowboys weren't limited to the United States. There is plenty of historical proof as to your claim of earlier non-U.S. cowboy activities.

    In the U.S. cowboys followed the business, wherever it went. As the business evolved in the U.S. so did the Cowboy Culture. The culture is what it is. It exists in Montana and Wyoming and is valid, no matter it's source. The fact that some Feminists, in general, don't like it doesn't matter. It exists and it is valid.

    I'm no flag waving patriot, but I'm certainly not ashamed to be an American, most particularly from the West. Any honest person will tell you that America is by far the best place to live and I'm not going to say I'm sorry because I live here.

    It appears that you've got an axe to grind on the illegal alien thing which is fine. This just isn't the forum.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Jesus, Burn, who said they didn't like cowboy culture? You can critique something without disliking it. And you can also dislike elements of something without dismissing it altogether. It seems like you're the only one who takes this as some diatribe against cowboys. The claim is simply that cowboy culture is a relic of the past that fills several convenient niches in modern times. Why the fuck is that so offensive?

    And for what it's worth, Rachel has gone off on the whole "princess" thing a number of times as well.

    And by the way, suggesting that anyone who is at all critical of any aspect of our culture is unpatriotic is an old and tired ad hominem. Rachel pointed out that cowboy culture involves a particular construction of masculinity and an emphasis on self-reliance that sometimes results in a lack of inclusiveness and empathy for those who are sysemically oppressed. If you want to engage in real dialogue on this topic, then respond to those charges.

    ReplyDelete
  16. @ Frank - Thanks for sharing but not listening. Seems you're a person of somewhat limited capacity. Although it may be tough for you, don't focus on the Cowboy Clothes. It's all about character, so think about it and check your package. The fact that you actually think that this mindset is something you can SEE is enough proof that you don't get it.

    @K8 - You don't get it either. I'm a big boy. It takes a lot to get me angry and you aren't there yet. You and Frank are welcome to have a tea party (seems like a good fit). Just so you and your girlfriends and Frank understand, from the beginning it was all about your Ms. Rachel talking about how Cowboys "never existed". Read the post.

    Are all of you people this Light?

    ReplyDelete
  17. Burn,

    This may be too fine of a distinction for you, but what she actually said is cowboys as we imagine them never existed. Just like Princesses, as Disney depicts them, never existed. It's an important distinction.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Meg'n8/02/2009

    @Burn

    She started this post by saying she wanted to explore her thoughts on the cowboy ideal and it's role in our culture. It's the ideal, not the individual people she's talking about.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Meg'n8/02/2009

    Oops, sorry. I just basically said what K8 siad, but her comment wasn't showing yet when I posted. =(

    ReplyDelete
  20. @ Tessa - You seem like you kind of get it, so how about this...

    Until you and your girlfriends start giving up your lives and freedom I'm really not buying your program. I'm having some trouble understanding how someone steps up, takes a bullet for another citizen and you goofs somehow twist it into something other than the amazing and beautiful thing that it is.

    This makes me sick. The Cowboy Culture IS literally what keeps you people free. It might be called by other names, but it's the willingness of guys YOU DON'T KNOW, to put their lives on the line that keeps you and your sisters safe.

    So maybe you girls (and Frank) don't see it, but the same thing that makes a guy a "Cowboy" makes him the kind of guy that will die for you, without having ever met you.

    I'm sure you're going to give me the normal feminist brush off on this, but trust me, you guys don't get it. All of you should be ashamed, but I doubt you are.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Burn,

    This post is about cowboy culture and the cowboy ideal. What on earth does that have to do with the military? And where in this post did she talk about the military? Are you now claiming to be a mind-reader and to know what Rachel thinks about the military?

    ReplyDelete
  22. Way to erase all the women serving in the military, Burn. Are you going to be eternally grateful if one of them "takes a bullet for you"?

    ReplyDelete
  23. @K8 / Megan - Nice try on the "too fine of distinction comment". I now understand that you are another genius feminist. Although I'm a limited male type of a guy I think I get the "Ideal Thing".

    How about this for a deal...Let's put some societal expectations on you and your girlfriends that you should be expected to take a bullet to keep the current status quo going.

    Seems like that kinda stretches beyond the "Ideal". That's the problem with you girls, you're always about drama, but when the chips are down seems like you aren't wanting to be a "Cowboy" or anything else that get's you remotely close to "risk of life".

    ReplyDelete
  24. @ tessa - Connect the dots. Better yet, talk to some guy that actually has to think about this as a risk to his life, versus your theoretical BS. The fact that you don't get the connections speaks volumes about your understanding of the Cowboy mindset.

    @ K8 - Women in the military don't officially serve in combat roles. As far as I know this is governed by statute. Check it out. If they get killed it is by accident. Only the guys get put in harms way on purpose. How's that for Equality? We need some Girl Power in that equation, don't you think?

    ReplyDelete
  25. Anonymous8/03/2009

    Although annoying and sort of disturbing, BurnBrother's rebuttals here have been slowly revealing his prejudices, especially the parts where he responds with totally unrelated information.

    "Actually, like allot of the folks in Wyoming you like to speak ill of, I've actually been paying taxes over that time period."
    -I don't recall the part where she says you don't pay taxes.

    "Cute Kid. Hope its not a boy or he's gonna have a tough life"
    -A nice, vaguely threatening statement. He refers to the kid again in a later post.

    "I imagine that if you want to make a Dude feel guilty for being successful or competent for some reason your Beta has experience "taking it" from you, so Rock On."
    -She said you were tooting your horn, so I don't think she wants a "Dude" (love the capitalization of dude!) to feel guilty for being successful or competent. She is commenting on one particular Dude tooting his own horn.

    "Until you and your girlfriends start giving up your lives and freedom I'm really not buying your program. I'm having some trouble understanding how someone steps up, takes a bullet for another citizen and you goofs somehow twist it into something other than the amazing and beautiful thing that it is"
    -Here's where he really starts to go off the deep end. This is his first hint at misogyny. Imagine if someone went on whatever blog he frequents and started condescendingly talking about him and his boyfriends? Then, all of a sudden, everything is about the military. I don't recall Rachel saying anything at all about people who sacrifice their lives in the military.

    "The Cowboy Culture IS literally what keeps you people free. It might be called by other names, but it's the willingness of guys YOU DON'T KNOW, to put their lives on the line that keeps you and your sisters safe."
    OK... so is Cowboy Culture heroism, then? Is it bravery? Is everyone who is brave or heroic a Cowboy, do they subscribe to Cowboy Culture? The two are apparently one and the same according to his line of reasoning.

    "That's the problem with you girls, you're always about drama, but when the chips are down seems like you aren't wanting to be a "Cowboy" or anything else that get's you remotely close to "risk of life"."
    Ah, now the full-on misogyny hinted at earlier comes out. Now, if Rachel had said, "Cowboys are stupid because they are always risking their lives for women" then I might understand where you're coming from. As is, you sound like a person who's sense of self and self-confidence has been, as you percieve it, threatened and belittled. And now you stumble upon a bunch of feminists talking about your dear Cowboy Culture and you start going off on things not even said in the article.

    "Check it out. If they get killed it is by accident. Only the guys get put in harms way on purpose. How's that for Equality? We need some Girl Power in that equation, don't you think?"
    -Nice. So any woman killed in combat is killed on "accident," rather than killed while serving their country. They are merely a by-product of the men fighting and their contribution means nothing, apparently. Although recently women have ended up in combat and have acted Cowboy-like (I guess), risking their lives and kicking some ass (see: Ashley Pullen, Leigh Ann Hester). As for your latter question, I think many, or at least some, feminists would agree with you that women should be allowed to participate in combat. So, uhh, Girl Power!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Anonymous8/03/2009

    I don't think you can deny that the Cowboy world is no longer in existence. You say you've worked for various multinational corporations. I can't think of anything more antithetical to the Cowboy Culture. Multinational corporations have a lot to do with why regular folks can't be farmers anymore. Giant companies do all the farming now. Rugged individualism has no place on the corporate mechanized mega-farm. You do it their way or you get the hell out. And can you honestly say you're in any real danger anymore? People's existence anywhere in the "Wild West" is more or less guaranteed now. What conquering of the land are you guys doing now?

    "Finally Sister...maybe you think you have balls, but for a real world check try sharing your shallow, judgmental, bigoted perspective with a true local and see how far it gets you.

    A helpful suggestion if you do...Stay on your toes..."
    -Very nice, another threat. Which leads me to Susan Faludi's explanation of the Cowboy myth. She explains it more thoroughly in her book "The Terror Dream" but there's an early version of her ideas online: http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0330-03.htm

    Your threats seem to go against the whole Cowboy credo: "Teddy Roosevelt, in 'The Cattle Country of the Far West,' called cowboys 'quiet, rather self-contained men.' ... It's worth recalling that the cowboy of the myth wasn't trigger happy and he wasn't a dominator... And his honor was grounded on his civilized refusal to fire first. 'Didn't I tell you he'd not shoot?' says a spectator to a gun fight that didn't happen in 'The Virginian,' Owen Wister's 1902 novel. 'He's a brave man,' he adds. 'It's not a brave man that's dangerous. It's the cowards that scare me.'"

    At any rate, one thing I haven't seen you challenge is Rachel's stated idea of the Cowboy:
    "Cowboys are self-sufficient, rugged individualists, not beholden to anyone, in touch with the natural world, not afraid to face the elements, completely dominant in their relationships with animals, not contained or defined by their fleeting relations with employers, the law, the "establishment," or any woman. They have a strong internal moral compass, and a simple view of morality, politics, and human relations."
    "In reality, the day-to-day life of a cowboy probably had much more in common with the daily life of a migrant farm worker than with the life we endow cowboys with in our imaginations. And who fantasizes about that? Working long hours in the heat and the dust for low pay and no respect and no job security and no pension and no health care and not even a decent place to call home only to be disposed of as so much garbage once you're too old to work."
    -Are these not correct? Perhaps for discussion you should actually define what Cowboy Culture is to you, without conflating it with being a soldier.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Perhaps for discussion you should actually define what Cowboy Culture is to you, without conflating it with being a soldier.

    Well said!

    ReplyDelete
  28. Michael8/03/2009

    Burn,

    Woman actually have served in a number of combat roles in the military at least since 1994, and legally since 2005. Google it, "Dude."

    ReplyDelete
  29. BurnBrother,

    Most of your comments here are arrogant and condescending (not to mention misogynist), and don’t merit much of a response. But here goes.

    In case you’re actually interested in critical thinking and argumentation (which I teach as one of my jobs, on which I do in fact pay taxes, as if that’s relevant to any of this) here’s a quick primer:

    1) Responding to someone’s argument with totally irrelevant claims and then acting as if you’ve rebutted their position constitutes the fallacy of the red herring. Irrelevant info is just that – irrelevant, and I generally just ignore it, since it’s, ya know, irrelevant.

    2) Making up arguments and attributing them to your opponent before handily demolishing them also does nothing to establish your argumentational prowess. This is known as the fallacy of the strawman argument. Combating the silly strawmen you’ve invented may be fun for you, but it’s hardly relevant to me or anything I’ve actually said.

    As to your speculations about my motherly duties, I was away from the computer yesterday because I was out hiking with my daughter. ‘Cause, ya know, women can still be active and adventurous and athletic even though they’re also mothers.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Cont'd

    As to your initial comment:

    1) I never said I haven’t given cowboy culture some serious thought. The word "initially" actually just means "at first" as in "when I first moved here." But that was five years ago, and I’ve lived here and worked here and taught courses here since then, and have had many opportunities to interact with cowboy culture and ponder its role in our broader culture, in our history, in our self-conceptions, etc.

    2) I’m not throwing rocks at "cowboys." I also observe with amused interest the hipsters and granola types and yuppies that are so prevalent in the cities where I come from. Anyone who unquestioningly adopts a ready-made identity and shows a slavish commitment to it is interesting and a bit puzzling and strange to me. And analyzing people and social dynamics is just what I do.

    3) There’s not really a text I could quote in this case, because this post was about my observations of cowboy culture, after living immersed in it for several years. On the other hand, you didn’t cite any textual sources to back your observations of your lived experience either. In the future I assume you'll either abstain from commenting on the culture in which you're immersed unless you have textual evidence, or stop demanding that others provide textual suport for their lived experience.

    4) I don’t take myself to be an expert on any culture, but there are a lot of things you can know about the people you live around and the culture of your community just by keeping your eyes open. I assume that’s why you reference your cultural expertise concerning Seattle and LA – because you’ve lived there and have experienced the culture first-hand. Ditto for me.

    5) I’m at a total loss as to the paying taxes thing. Please quote where I said that people in Wyoming don’t pay taxes. Please cite your source that justifies your assumption that I don’t pay taxes. If you don’t have a source, then please stop making insulting assumptions about me.

    6) I didn’t "move into a state fully prepared to talk about their culture." I’ve lived here for some time, and now I’m finally commenting on one feature of the culture here.

    7) I never said the culture is screwed up and backward.

    8) I never said I don’t like Wyoming.

    9) I’m astounded that you read Feministing.

    10) I couldn’t give a fuck what you think about my other posts and comments, but referencing other things I’ve said is wholly irrelevant to this current discussion (another fallacy known as "poisoning the well"). If you disagree with what I’ve said here, by all means, please refute it. Show me how I’m wrong. Take my post point by point, and reveal the evidence which contradicts it. You haven’t done this. In fact, you have yet to address even one point I made. I await a true response from you with baited breath.

    11) Comments about my kid and vague threats are completely out of bounds here. Any further comments from you that are either insulting (to the person, not their comments) or threatening will be deleted immediately. Isn't it against the "cowboy code" to insult and threaten womenfolk and children?

    Finally, I have no idea why you think I’m talking about the military, but your comments on the topic amount to a thread de-rail. Either discuss the current topic or move along. In this thread we’re talking about cowboy culture and the role the cowboy ideal plays in our modern day world. Diverting the discussion to military service, and hurling insults at other commenters does not contribute to the discussion. We’re interested in constructive dialogue, and if you are too, then you’re welcome to engage in the discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  31. @ Rachel - are you smoking crack? Where did I make threats, vague or otherwise to anyone? The only reason I landed on your blog was after reviewing YOUR insulting comments to other posters on Feministing and clicking your link. Trust me when I tell you this, after reviewing your perspective on reality in this space I won't be wasting any time with you going forward.

    Don't even THINK about pitching BS about me about my posts being insulting to womenfolk and children. Where was that? It's amazing to me how quickly you shift from being the assertive feminist Whatever to projecting you, your clones and your child as victims?!? Victims of what? Unbelievable.

    As near as I can tell you don't have any problem talking sh*t to other posters in any forum. Then you have the guts to say I am insulting people. Take a look in the mirror Sunshine.

    I want to close on a positive note. Between your foolishness and the morons over at Feministing you guys have successfully motivated me to become actively involved in Men's Rights. So I Thank You for that. Shame on me, I've been too busy working and contributing over the past many years to really understand the type of idiocy people like you are trying to spread.

    The attitude and approach of you and people like you are exactly what will guarantee that the Feminist Movement in general will continue to have less impact on society going forward.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Those of you that are somehow confused about the current real role of women in combat.

    Please do some research before you pop off. The DoD (Department of Defense) has officially not allowed women in direct combat roles. There are all kinds of reasons that this is the case. I know it doesn't fit with your polyannaish view of the world, but it turns out they can't physically keep up.

    The women previously mentioned by other posters that died were not in direct combat positions. Some were in transportation and got caught in the crossfire. It's a fact. Check it.

    ReplyDelete
  33. See you around, Brad.

    ReplyDelete
  34. voiceofreason8/03/2009

    OMG Rachel, I think you're right!

    Poor dissed MRA troll. Still hasn't responded to a single point you made, though.

    ReplyDelete
  35. chaelaking8/03/2009

    Brad,

    Your "stay on your toes" comment was vaguely threatening (what exactly are you suggesting is going to happen to her?), and you comments about her kid crossed the line. I'm not the only one to point this out.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Meg'n8/03/2009

    OK, now I'm confused. How do we know Burn is Brad? I think I missed something.

    ReplyDelete
  37. voiceofreason8/03/2009

    Meg'n,

    Click here.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Hey Girls!!! - Leave Brad alone. He isn't me. I must add that I respect his ability to take sh*t off Rachel in Feministing. Good Man, although a bit too willing to put up with you goofs.

    Spare me the "vaguely threatening" BS. You should work for Disney. I'm suggesting that if she has the guts to share with locals in Wyoming the opinions she so freely shares on this site (which I'm sure she doesn't have the guts to do) she can expect to receive a different response from you lightweights. Pretty cool how you automatically shift into victim mode though. Didn't miss a beat.

    ReplyDelete
  39. @ voiceofreason - Seems like I've seen your MO before. Was it the Salem Witch Trials? If this is your chain of evidence process you folks are in serious trouble.

    One more time - Leave Brad Alone. It's me, your Buddy Burn. Unlike you folks I'm not interested in blaming people that aren't involved.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I'm not sure how you know I've never shared my thoughts on cowboy culture with "locals." Are you omniscient? FWIW, I've had discussions on parts of this post with a number of friends who live here - some who are native to this part of the country, and some who are transplants. Nobody has threatened me yet though, except you.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Where is the threat, other than between you and your sister's ears?

    I'm at a bit of a disadvantage here with no way to confirm that you did or didn't share your views with locals. Frankly, I think you're full of it, but that's fine.

    How about this for a fair approach...Page print or email the text of your original post to the local newspaper and request that it be published as a Letter to the Editor. That would assure fair and balanced exposure to the locals. Seems fair, right?

    Just let us know here on the blog when you do it and we all can follow the feedback directly in the community newspaper.

    Seems I remember you saying you had Balls. Here is your opportunity to step up and prove it!

    ReplyDelete
  42. Anonymous8/03/2009

    I don't usually comment very often. I would like to say that I find Rachel's critiques very well thought out even when I disagree.

    I have a few points. First I would like to apologize for Mr. Burner's comments. Not everyone from the state where I grew up is like that. Second, I would very much question the idea that the cowboy ethic is mysogynist in its entirety. Wyoming was after all the first state to give women the right to vote. It's written into their state constitution. My great-grandmother was one of those homestedder women that people talk about. According to those who knew her closely, She came to Montana before the turn of the 19th century, but no one ever told her what to do. In fact she ran things, and she told people where to get off.

    The western ethic is many things, I agree with your assessment that the work was hard. That sometimes the individualism card is overplayed, when in reality government helped to build the west, especially in the case of the railroads. Sometimes we have a tendency to romanticize too much, but in the context of the 19th and early 20th century I would hesitate to call the western ethic mysogynist.

    Thank you for this.

    ReplyDelete
  43. This has been really interesting. I agree people conflate the mythology and reality of what it means to be a cowboy in America. BurnBrother seems to be illustrating this pretty well; a criticism of the mythology is not a criticism of the ideals we have ascribed (accurately or not) to it.

    This whole discussion makes me think of the scene in Back to the Future III when Michael J. Fox's character travels back to California in 1885 dresses how he expects others to dress: www.thegoldencloset.com/merchant/graphics/00000001/S0029d.jpg

    ReplyDelete
  44. Anonymous9/03/2010

    Well said. The life of the cowboy had nothing at all to do with a John Wayne movie. It was and still is hard, dirty, dangerous, work with low pay and very few benefits. In that way it is still like the cowboy's life of old.

    Contrary to what most Americans think, the cowboy did not begin with Clint Eastwood or John Wayne. When the first Anglos came into the Southwest, the cattle industry was long in existence and the Anglos learned everything--that is everything--from the Mexican vaquero. The cowboy's attire is an evolution of the vaquero's clothing and every word in the industry is right from Spanish although the Anglo corrupted many of them. Without the Mexcian vaquero there would be no gringo cowboy. Many in ranching know this, many Americans not in the industry would fight against this truth.

    There is nothing wrong with keeping the western and cowboy tradition alive. Just drop the arrogance and give credit where credit is due.

    Ironic that many who praise the Cowboy lifestyle are the same xenophobes who rail against Mexicans.

    ReplyDelete