Today I want to share with you an excerpt from a piece of work I did on the subject of the feminine and nature about 5 years ago. I will include the introduction and a very limited discussion of the history on this topic. I will post my reflections on this later this season.
There has been a spirited continuous debate on the subject of women in relation to nature, the environment, or the earth within the ecofeminist and environmental theoretical fields. Questions such as whether this relationship has been created by social, cultural, and/or a patriarchal, colonial, society lie at the center of much of the work that has been done on this topic. Here, I will explore the topic of the naturalization of gender through the environment specifically for women, through several scholarly and popular authors. The writers that will be included in this piece are Carol J. Adams, Jane Bennett, Susan Griffin, Wangari Maathai and Carol Merchant. These writers each contribute to the development of ecofeminist/environmental theoretical development through their interaction with the question of gender and the environment in some form. Yet, each is distinct with particular points of how they determine that this relationship began to occur, whether to embrace or discourage this relationship, and how this relationship effects those who inhabit this planet. This essay will begin by tracing the origins of the woman and nature connection. Then an overview of how this relationship is utilized within a modern context will be covered. Lastly, the relationship between identity and eating habits will be analyzed in order to provide an example of current and possible future theories and analysis on the subject of identity per woman and nature.
The Conception of Being: Women and Nature
That the gendered category of woman has been associated with environment is not a point that is argued against (Griffin ix, Merchant xix). “Women and nature have an age-old association” according to Merchant, which suggests that this idea of a relationship between woman and nature has been prevalent but not a naturally occurring phenomenon (xix). In agreement, Griffin argued that women may have been made more so aware of their relationship to nature than men (x). Thus, because this consciousness brings about an inclination to recognize nature in relation to their being as women, it may appear that women are closer to nature than man, when in fact both man and women hold a connection with nature (Griffin x). Woman’s inherent connection with nature to Griffin, is a socially constructed phenomenon which perpetuated this idea throughout a culture that continuously trains those labeled as woman to recognize and acknowledge this relationship (x).
A review of philosophical and religious history found that the nurturing mother and destructive uncontrollable image of the environment has also been linked with creating a connection between women and the environment according to Merchant (2-3). The nurturing role of nature, in a similar fashion to women, established behavior and thought constraints about how one could treat the environment (Merchant 3). One would not want to treat their mother in an ill manner, so the same was to be applied to nature (Merchant 3). Since organic cosmology saw all things including the self, society, the earth, and its’ inhabitants as interrelated, treating the planet well would mean that the planet in turn would return that favor and continue to yield bountiful resources to those who inhabited the earth (Merchant 8).
In order to tame both the environment and the nature of woman, mechanism eventually became the prominent thought system (Merchant 2). Philosophically, woman evolved from a passive provider of matter to matter being separated from woman and having the ability to be active on its own (Merchant 13, 122, 157). As the idea of woman and her role in fertility developed so did that of nature’s role in providing resources. Nature changed from being seen as an active being to that of particles that could be separated, examined, identified, and then controlled allowing for order and power to be wielded towards nature by man (Merchant 216). As the understanding of woman to nature changed so did that of women in relation to man.
The establishment of the male as rational and women as emotional is another idea that Griffin attempts to work through (xiii). Griffin links this to one of the many ways in which women being understood to be closer to nature then men has been propagated throughout time (xiii). Patriarchal thought has placed men as the objective, unaffected by emotion, rational self (Griffin xiii). Patriarchy is an integral part of the western mindset which also includes individuality that seeks absolute truth and authority (Griffin xiv). To illustrate the standoffishness of the western patriarchal voice, Griffin’s work begins with observations stated as the outwardly objective perhaps even empirical scientific voice (if many of these categories are not one and the same) on the topic of nature (2). Yet at the same time lets another voice be heard that holds sentiment in its observations and in no way attempts to be objective that can be seen as the female voice’s take on the same situations which are remarked on by the male (2).
Adams, Carol J. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011. Print.
Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. Print.
Griffin, Susan. Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1987. Print.
Maathai, Wangari. Relenshishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World. New York: DOUBLEDAY, 2010. Print.
Merchant, Caroline. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution. New York: Harpers San Francisco A Division of Harper Collins Publishers, 1980. Print.