This New Book on Nurturance Culture Is Needed, but Is It Too Normative?

In Turn This World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture, written by an English professor using the pen name Nora Samaran, the reader is told that men who harm women can’t and shouldn’t be shamed into a more just world, that “nurturance culture is the opposite of rape culture,” as the essay that this book grew out of is titled, and it guides the reader to the ways that shame should be reduced to the point where men don’t shut down when called out. She offers that the solution to gendered violence is “a complete transformation of social relations to allow wholeness back into our world.”

It’s a short book based on three essays: Own, Apologize, Repair: Coming Back to Integrity; On Gaslighting, and the aforementioned title piece, which are complemented by dialogues with movement workers that serve to decontextualize Samaran’s writings. These interviews are pretty integral to the book because, without them, the three essays fall short of teaching us what nurturance culture is and how it is presumably emerging. What I felt like I was left with after reading the book was part sexism 101 seminar and part reduction of what transformative justice is, but from a white, cis woman’s perspective. Which is not to say that it can’t be useful, especially to cis white men, but that, as a feminized, genderqueer reader of color, it felt redundant and at times, frustrating.

The book begins by using the free school Windsor House in Coastal Salish Territories as a model of how nonhierarchical forms of accountability can be taught and practiced in the developmental stages, particularly through its Justice Council, where students call each other in. “The reason this structure works is because it…gives every member of the community the knowledge of how to mend [the web of connectedness] on which human independence so fundamentally depends, and the obligation to engage in that mending when called to do so.”

It’s an excellent, concrete example of how people can be nurtured into active members of an accountable, safer community, but it might have been more useful to the reader if the author worked at Windsor or was involved in another way instead of having friends whose kids go there. This carries throughout the book — the examples we’re given of children learning healthy ways of communicating hurt and dealing with defensiveness when brought to accountability come via Samaran’s friends and their kids. Alternately, the examples we are given of sexist microaggressions on which the book largely builds its theory on are first-person accounts, ones that don’t contextualize Samaran’s race, class, or gendered privilege in any way.

In that vein, the book is by and large addressed to cis men, though this is not named (Samaran is cis but doesn’t claim this privilege in the book). Generous usage of terms with the word “masculine” in it (-identified, -socialized, -privileged, etc.) are used interchangeably to engage with men who we might assume are cis, because uses of this term never get contextualized by the author. Instead, that job is given to the one trans voice in this book (more on this later) and is never returned to again. This default cisheteronormativity makes the dialogue chapter “How Masculine-Identified Folks Might Use This Book” less beneficial in numerous ways. Each dialogue chapter features a conversation between Samaran and individual Black and/or Indigenous women of color, whole the masculine-ish chapter features her talking to an amalgamation of men of unknown gender designation, performance, or racial background under the moniker ‘Jon Snow,’ leaving them ample space to work through their privilege in anonymity while all the BIWOC are specifically named and claimed by their identities.

“There is a kind of deciphering that trans folks have to do when they read writing that centers on a cis audience,” says anti-violence activist, writer, and educator Serena Bhandar, a trans woman, in the dialogue chapter “Turning Gender Inside Out.” She continues, “Most of the writing we read is aimed at cis folks, and often does not speak directly to our experience.” While it’s important that Bhandar is given space to respond to the title essay in the book (why a sensitivity reader couldn’t be used to change the title essay before publication instead of having Bhandar point it out within the book eludes me), I wish she would’ve been asked the same questions as the cis BIWOC in the book, or that Samaran could’ve at least applied her insights to the rest of Nurturance Culture. Bhandar goes on to say, “It is as though trans readers are a secondary audience when instead transness should be built right into the argument from its conception.” This is how I felt while reading this book. The other way I felt like a secondary reader had to do with race.

I almost felt betrayed when the author finally, briefly claims whiteness on page 103, something that BIPOC aren’t allowed in writing. Within her dialogues with BIWOC, she takes up an overwhelming amount of space, to the point where I had to count how many pages she took up in contrast with the short paragraphs by BIWOC, and many of her comments are just that, not questions that make space for BIWOC to answer and expand upon. (This book is designated under the ‘race’ section, in addition to ‘feminism’ and ‘sexual violence.’)

In the dialogue chapter “Building Strength Through Movement and Afrofuturism,” arts-based anti-oppression facilitator and personal trainer Ruby Smith Díaz points to Indigenous medicine wheels as cosmologies that foster nurturance in a cultural understanding. “It is a collective of multiple experiences, that the individual is really important but is also part of the whole, even as the while is really important, which gives back to the individual.” It reframes Western dichotomies of the ‘lone predator’ and de-individualizes trauma and healing as a collective experience that doesn’t leave anyone alone or let anyone off the hook. While the terms ‘nurturance or ‘nurture’ are barely used in the book, Díaz makes it plain by saying, “nurturance is one of the ways we reclaim our own agency.” Her insights as a personal trainer to marginalized folks with non-normative bodies complement Samaran’s title essay and theory in an explicit and instructive way.

While Turn This World Inside Out makes plain the problems with shaming folks into a more liberated world free of gendered violence, it does so in limited ways that made me as a reader hungry for more. I think cis white men and others can definitely make use of it but would add that they should follow up with titles like Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement, edited by Jennifer Patterson, Outside the XY: Queer Black and Brown Masculinity, edited by Morgan Mann Willis, and Where Our Boys At? Involving Young Men as Allies to End Violence against Girls, a toolkit by the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team and Mariame Kaba.

Bani Amor is a queer travel writer who explores the relationships between race, place, and power. Their work has appeared in CNN Travel, Teen Vogue, Bitch Magazine, and in the anthologies Outside the XY: Queer Black and Brown Masculinity, and the upcoming Where We Stand: Brown and Black Voices Speak the Earth. You can follow them on Instagram @baniamor and on Twitter @bani_amor.

Bani has written 3 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. On a note about the article– thanks for this review! I felt like I really understood the limitations of the book, although I would like to better understand what the author’s argument is. Also, I find the use of a pen name interesting! Do we know why that is?

  2. You know, given how consistently cishet women think of queer and especially gender non-conforming queer women as predatory non-women, I’m really not here for this cishet author’s framing of violence as enacted by “masculine people” instead of just men.

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