by Deborah Stiles, Dalhousie University
This essay explores theoretical and historical terrain connected to the intersection/interposition of rural gender relations and identities, and the “nameless, faceless,” inhuman but yet relentlessly-human entity known as the corporation. It does so through the poetry of Martin Butler (1857?-1915), and the 2003 documentary film, The Corporation. Martin Butler was a poet, peddler, journalist, son, father, husband, friend, editor, and tannery worker, whose life and writings—including his first book of poems, Maple Leaves and Hemlock Branches (1889), and his newspaper, Butler’s Journal (1890-1915)—spanned the borderlands of Maine, in the US, and New Brunswick, in British North America. His writings also traversed in content the boundaries of gender, class, and rurality both politically and literarily. Because he was one of the founders of the Fredericton Socialist League in 1902, Martin Butler is a fairly well-known figure in Canadian radical, labour and working class history. Less well known, however, are Butler’s proto- & socialist feminist writings and their explorations, in both journalistic prose and rurally-centred poetry, of rural gender relations and identities in the wake of the rise of the (urban, male?) corporation in the 19th century.
The Corporation, a documentary by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott based on the book by Joel Bakan, critiques contemporary corporations and some of the persons who head them, but falls short in its critique by failing to recognize the gendered and natural world realities that connect this business organization to the lives of women and men. The juxtaposition of an analysis of both the work of Martin Butler and this documentary allows for the argument that perhaps first steps toward hearing women’s and men’s voices, and re-balancing many issues of global concern, is to turn down the volume, historically amplified beginning in the late 19th century, of the “nameless, faceless” --but anything but gender-less--corporation.