A quest to save Mother Earth

2014-03-10 00:00

ECOFEMINISM merges ecology — studying the relationship of living organisms to their environment, with feminism — the movement advocating sex-equality in all human relations, as well as women’s spirituality. The term was coined in 1971 by Francoise d’Eaubonne to describe women’s potential to transform the environment.

It maintains that the domination and exploitation of women and nature are intimately connected to patriarchal structures based on sexism, racism, class exploitation and ecological desecration. Patriarchal oppression of women is closely connected to male abuse and exploitation of natural resources; the rape of the Earth is inextricably linked to the rape of women. The campaign to heal the planet must be linked with equality and justice for women.

Ecofeminists believe the connection of women with Nature can be traced to early human societies where women’s work was largely confined to child-care, food production and preparation, and producing the artefacts of daily life such as clothing and cooking utensils. Women became especially associated with the Earth, on which plant and animal life depended. This situation still pertains in many developing countries where a more direct relationship exists between women and nature.

In contrast to this, male explorers, hunters and exploiters have taken pleasure from conquering and subduing Nature, just as the male will has subjugated women throughout history. Women’s more respectful approach to the environment has tended to be dismissed as “sentimental”.

Re-examining the role of women, feminists realised that this sensitivity and closeness to the natural world can become a powerful motivation for women to play a leading role in renewing attitudes to the Earth; overcoming the ecological destruction threatening all life.

There is a growing acknowledgement of the necessity for a healthy, symbiotic relationship between humans and the Earth, that we are a part of the fragile web of life that requires protection if life on this planet is to survive. This challenges the patriarchal assumption that Man and Nature are totally separate, usually in conflict, striving to overcome and restrain Nature, exploiting “natural resources” to satisfy human needs.

Connected to this, is the too-often expressed opinion that matter is dead; that trees, rocks and mountains have no life, allowing ruthless abuse of their treasures. Clear the forest, quarry the stone, build a highway, all in the name of progress, and a virgin landscape is ravaged, its beauty and vitality lost forever.

This attitude threatens our very existence — epitomised by the response of Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, to ecologists attempting to conserve a forest: “If you have seen one tree, you have seen them all”.

Judith Plant says: “As the Amazon rainforest is bulldozed to provide cheap beef for American hamburgers, the habitat of peoples who once lived on and loved this earth is destroyed and the fragile womb of planet Earth is dealt another killing blow. This ‘man’s world’ is on the verge of collapse.”

One of the earliest women to confront the systematic despoliation of the environment was Rachel Carson in her 1962 book Silent Spring. She raised the issue of disinformation disseminated by chemical companies about the indiscriminate use of pesticides, particularly DDT, and toxic herbicides, inspiring many, as well as provoking huge denial from giants of the agrochemical industry — an ongoing battle. This powerful voice of one woman marked a watershed for the involvement of women in the environmental movement.

Women’s activism has highlighted numerous threats to world environmental health: in the 1970s Vandana Shiva and the Chipko, “Tree Huggers”, in India, attempting to protect forests from chainsaw gangs; Wangari Maathai’s inspirational work with women in Kenya; U.S. women at Love Canal, NY, in 1978 campaigning against disposal of nuclear waste; for many years from 1981, the all-women Greenham Common Peace Camp in Berkshire, UK, protesting against nuclear weapons at an American base; and many others.

Many other women — Susan Griffin, Charlene Spretnak, Sallie McFague, Carolyn Merchant, Judith Plant — have contributed to the women and nature debate. By denying that humans are separate from and superior to the rest of nature, Ecofeminism attempts to heal the dualisms of humans vs nature, male vs female, matter/science vs spirit, West vs East, between races, cultures and religions. It denounces all dominance, the sense of “power over”, emphasising the need for equality, shared, transforming power, and reverence for all life. Empowerment means discovering one’s own strength, and assisting others to find theirs. Power used by all, for all.

Ecofeminists seek to transform societal structures by dismantling the hierarchies of domination, facilitating greater understanding among women of their responsibility to encourage a holistic vision of a reverence for all life; healing the wounds wrought by relentless competition and domination.

In conclusion, to quote Rosemary Radford-Ruether: “There must be a conversion of men to the work of women, along with the conversion of male consciousness to the Earth.”

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