Monday, April 11, 2016

Rural Oregon, Part I: When You Leave Portland...

For those who are not native to the Pacific Northwest, a single incantation of the word “Oregon” likely elicits visions of bearded hipsters in flannel, home-brewed craft beer, and trendy bicycle parades through the streets of Portland. I would be remiss to say that this illustration is false (see Portlandia’s hauntingly accurate ode to the Rose City). Indeed, for most of the 55% of Oregon’s population who reside in the Portland Metro Area, this dreamy depiction of the Northwest is reality.

However, this urban image of the PNW is only a snapshot of life in Oregon. The Beaver State, occupying over 98,000 square miles, is the 9th largest state in the US. Of those 98,000, the Portland Metro Area only takes up about 4,300 square miles, or roughly 4.4% of Oregon’s total area. This is what we can glean from these numbers: the remaining 45% of Oregon’s population who do not reside in or near Portland, in the far Northwest corner of the state, are variously dispersed amongst the state’s other 93,700 square miles. For reference, here is map showing the population density in Oregon, based on the 2010 census:

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!

1 comment:

Courtney Hatchett said...

I am definitely one of those people who thought of Oregon as a home to only beard-growing, beer-brewing liberals. Also, as I think of it, in my mind all images I had of Oregon were only of men. I'm not sure what I would have imagined an "Oregon woman" to be like. That said, I still thought of Oregon politics as being really progressive. Oregon and California were the first two states to offer over the counter contraception and you never see Oregon in the news for any majorly offensive abortion-restricting laws. However, after moving to Davis and working in Washington state last summer, I began to realize it wasn't all rainbows and slow-drip single origin expressos in the PNW. In Washington state, the ACLU was having a hard time getting hospitals in the Eastern part of the state to actually comply with state laws and provide aboriton services. Apparently, there was a similar problem in Oregon. Even though all is fine and dandy on paper, women who lived in the Eastern areas of the states had trouble accessing many reproductive health services because the hospitals would try to just refer them out to clinics in more populated/liberal areas.