"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Environmentalism is Gendered

If you only read one Earth Day related thing today, make it this one:

Thoreau's Laundry, by Shaker Guest Blogger Rana:

Environmentalism may not seem to be gendered, but gender has been embedded in it from the very beginning. The outspoken advocates for Nature—Thoreau, Emerson, John Muir, Ed Abbey, David Brower—even the Lorax—are male. They argue for the need to defend wild environments from human development, to protect "Mother Earth" from "rape" by greedy corporations.

The female voices—Rachel Carson, Erin Brockovich, Sandra Steingraber, Terry Tempest Williams—speak of environmental problems as well, but they are problems that are less about endangered Nature, wildness, or wilderness, than they are ones about the interference of chemicals with human bodies, particularly female bodies, manifesting as breast cancer, stillbirths, tainted milk, and birth defects.

Those who speak of Mother Earth as being the victim of rape tend not to put themselves in the position of fellow victims, but as those who would protect or defend this vulnerable feminine planet from its despoilers. Even when articulated by women, the language of the defense of Nature is an essentially male one, and that defense is associated with stereotypically masculine action—blowing up bulldozers, aggressively challenging whalers, confronting loggers and seal pup hunters—actions that demonstrate commitment to a cause through physical, confrontational action.

The response to the issue of pollution, on the other hand, is articulated in stereotypically feminine ways—by pointing to personal experiences, emphasizing collaborative actions such as class action suits, invoking the sacred space of home and family as threatened by the predations of aggressive (masculine) corporations. If masculine activism emphasizes the need to protect wild spaces, where men like Thoreau retreat to escape the stresses and corruption of modern society, feminine activism calls attention to the way that the home and one's body—the original safe space—have been invaded by toxins and greed.

In other words, masculine environmentalism is, when reduced to its most basic, about defending a vulnerable earth from "rapists" in order to ensure that (male) human beings continue to have access to it. Feminine environmentalism, on the other hand, is about protecting one’s body, family, and home from outside attacks by (male) corporations.

This gendering of the movement shapes the way that we think about environmental issues, and the way that we address environmental problems, in ways that are subtle, but significant.

Go read the whole thing.