Welcome to a new adventure!

Our first post! I’m personally excited about this collaboration, and I daresay Mark is too. We plan to alternate posts every week. Mark is more interested in politics, I’m more of a globalist. Mark is a US historian, I’m an archaeologist with degrees in geology, historical archaeology, and anthropology, so this site ought to stay hoppin’. 😀

Women of Wyoming

I thought I’d start off with some thoughts about our current “home state” of Wyoming. It’s an interesting place, and I’m sure both Mark and I will write about it often. For example, I recently gave a talk on Women in Wyoming to a slightly conservative-leaning group. I had been invited, but as it wasn’t an academic group, I was a little nervous. It was… interesting, at first, to say the least (nah, it was just plain awkward), as it was clear that the title of my talk “The Anthropology of Wyoming Women” was off-putting: many people who aren’t familiar with academics think that we’re all left-leaning pinko communists (yes, I’ve actually been called that here, seriously).

I, as a Wyoming woman who is raising two small children here, had a few things to say, even if I’m a transplant. I talked about my children, about doing my academic research here, and I showed them some of the things I’ve discovered:

That women have been part of the fabric of Wyoming ever since Europeans set foot in the Wyoming Territory. And that even prior to that, the Shoshone and the Arapaho have strong traditions of female empowerment, even if those past traditions seem oppressive to us today. Sacajawea, Calamity Jane, Estelle Reel, and Nellie Tayloe Ross are just a few of the women who molded Wyoming culture.

That while women might have been granted the right to vote for all the wrong reasons (https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/right-choice-wrong-reasons-wyoming-women-win-right-vote), women came to Wyoming for many of the same reason men did, to find prosperity, for the simple freedom, to flee oppression.

Now, that’s all well and good, but we have some issues. Today, we still have one of the lowest female to male ratios in the nation. Which, I think, is an important consideration when looking at Wyoming culture. In a male-dominate society, women do not get more girly, but quite the opposite: our women are known for their ruggedness and ability to put in work as well as a man. Not always by choice.

A good friend who had just moved to Wyoming from the East said, “And I was considered a tom-boy back home! But these Wyoming girls are ROUGH!” She meant that both physically and mentally, in that it was difficult for her to even relate and make friends, as Wyoming women didn’t seem to want to talk about the same things young women in the East did – small talk seems to be mostly around children, family, and then hunting, jobs, and the economy. Maybe Wyoming history, if the group knows each other well. Heavy stuff for a “women’s group”, and you had best know what you’re talking about, regardless of your political leanings.

Another colleague, born and raised in Wyoming, told me that it was frowned on to “dress up” as a young woman, because it implied you were too girly, and possibly a hooker.

Wow.

The funny part of that story is that prostitutes had a place in politics and the economy in the early days of Wyoming, as the show “Adam Ruins Everything” explains so succinctly and hilariously:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Lp_sWLgHuA

It’s also important to consider the influence of deprivation and isolation, as Wyoming is not only the least populated state in the nation (there’s fewer people here than in Rhode Island!) but we’re also the least densely populated, beating out Alaska. Someone told me that’s because Wyomingites don’t actually like talking to people, or seeing people, or hearing people….

And I’ve seen that in action. When I first moved here years ago, my boss told me “Don’t feel too bad if you don’t make friends right away. Wyomingites will ignore you for at least three years, and then maybe start inviting you to things in five…” He was pretty much on the money to the month. Though I’m still trying to work out if the timeline has more to do with the density (or lack thereof) of the population as opposed to citizens actually not being “friendly” – when neighbors can be easily miles apart, and shift-work keeps you from going to events at normal hours, it could easily take people years before they ever actually meet, even in a small town. (Population of Wyoming towns is a post for another day.)

A famous archaeologist once said “Wyoming is North America’s answer to Outer Mongolia.” There are a lot of parallels. There are simply things you can’t get in stores in Wyoming, services you can’t access without paying huge sums to have people come in from Denver or Salt Lake. UPS even charges a “Rural Delivery Fee” to deliver packages to most any location in Wyoming, even to towns directly off the Interstate.

*Insert Incredulous Emoji here*

No wonder family still ask me if people ride horses to school here.

In the end, my talk was well-received, and I even got handshakes from old-timers who appreciated the information and how I delivered it. I’m not a fan of tone-policing – I still think that an adult ought to be able to listen to anything regardless of how it’s delivered and still take away information, but I did appreciate the implied compliment.

Onward!

-dlp

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Drs. Dana Pertermann & Mark Neels

Friends, colleagues, and sparing partners, Drs. Dana L. Pertermann and Mark A. Neels collaborate on research in military history, politics, and culture. They are currently both college professors in Wyoming. They blog weekly about the past, the present, and the future of the U.S. and the world.

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