See that red splotch near the top left of the state? That’s Portland. And what does this all mean? RURAL. Lots and lots of Oregon’s residents are living in rural areas. And thus, we can reasonably deduce, lots and lots of Oregon’s women are living in rural areas.
I use the term “rural” lightly at this point, since there are a number of technical definitions from various sources. If I must get technical, I prefer this definition from the Oregon Office of Rural Health: “rural” means “[a]ll geographic areas in Oregon 10 or more miles from the centroid of a population center of 40,000 people or more” (see this map for a clear illustration). This definition of rurality in Oregon is simple and inclusive. It clearly delineates a line of spatial privilege for those living within an easily navigable distance of an urban center.
Geography is not, however, the sole consideration in understanding rural livelihoods. Particularly important to feminist analysis are the social and cultural characteristics of rural communities. Oregon is widely thought of as a relatively liberal, “blue” state. Indeed, Oregon has voted in favor of a democrat in every presidential election since 1988…but not by astronomical margins. In fact, what most Americans don’t realize is that Oregon’s rural communities are almost entirely right-leaning, republican-voting, “red” counties. This is not a quality unique to Oregon; throughout the country, a clear political divide is sharpening between the urban and the rural.
This characterization of rural communities as “traditional” and “conservative” is vital when we really start to think about the unique lived experiences of rural women. How do these value systems infringe on the rights of women? How do rurality and spatial privilege impact the lives of Oregon’s women? These are questions that I will address more specifically in my next blog posts. Stay tuned!