We Don't Need Another Hero: Sexism in the Environmental Movement

By Forsey, Helen | Herizons, January 1, 1992 | Go to article overview

We Don't Need Another Hero: Sexism in the Environmental Movement


Forsey, Helen, Herizons


SEXISM IN THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT: WE DON'T NEED ANOTHER HERO.

WE ARE HUDDLED, ABOUT 15 OF US, IN THE WARMTH OF THE BIG CANVAS TENT THAT SERVES AS THE STRATEGY AND SOCIAL CENTRE OF THE BLOCKADE CAMP. THE BANTER IS AS CHEERFUL AS THE FIRE FUCKERING IN THE LITTLE WOOD STOVE, AS WE RELAX AFTER ANOTHER DAY OF ACTION. ONE OF THE MEN IS TELLING A FUNNY STORY. SUDDENLY, IT'S NOT SO FUNNY ANYMORE; HE IS LAUGHING ABOUT SEXUAL ABUSE...

Sexism is alive and well in the environmental movement and, if it persists, it could be a fatal flaw in that movement's efforts to avert total ecological catastrophe. For many reasons, women's understandings and perspectives are absolutely central to humanity's chances of saving the planet.

Environmentalist Elizabeth Dodson Gray knows these connections well. Author of Sacred Dimensions of Women's Experience, she says that a male-dominated view of the world is a "conceptual trap" within which most men (and some women) live and breathe. Their thinking is grounded in their assumption that make experience is universal and all inclusive. Environmentalists are no more immune to this than anyone else, and most feminists are not surprised by the widespread reluctance in the environmental movement to recognize the linkages between patriarchy and planetary destruction.

The poster publicizing David Suzuki's 1985 television series A Planet for the Taking, illustrates a kind of intellectual sexism that is commonly found in the mainstream environmental movement: "We have long though of ourselves as masters of the natural world, but now that drive to dominate and control is having dangerous consequences. Can we change the way we see our relationship with the other life forms on earth?"

The view of the universe that the poster was describing is indeed the one that predominates in our society, but it is very specifically a view of reality as men experience it in our patriarchal society. Women find it hard enough to imagine themselves as masters of anything, let alone over the natural world. And man's drive to dominate and control has always been dangerous to women, children and other living things, but women have been discouraged, often brutally, form mentioning this central fact of our lives.

Image like Mother Nature or "the rape of the Earth" reflect a view of nature as female - a time-honored concept among Aboriginal people as well as a strong thread in much feminist spirituality, but eco-feminists point out that patriarchal culture has converted this women/nature linkage into an excuse for exploitation: both are there simply to serve man's "drive to dominate and control." In male-dominated cultures, powerful men use and abuse women and children, peasant and tribal peoples and the Earth itself, all for short-term gain. Just a women are viewed as being there simply to serve men's needs, so nature is seen as existing for `man' to exploit at will. This has led to the devastation of the environment and the further oppression of those who live most closely with it.

In subsistence economies, women are responsible for providing themselves and their families with the basic necessities of life: food, water, shelter and clothing. An environment stripped of these means of subsistence adds enormously to women's hardship and workload; they must walk more miles to fetch water and firewood, and work a tiny plot of poor soil degraded by erosion.

As the majority of the world's poor, women and children suffer most from exposure to dangerous environments. As workers and producers, we suffer the effects of pollution, workplace hazards and resource depletion, often in specifically gender-related ways. In the industrial sector, women's reproductive systems are affected by hazards like radiation and chemicals.

Vandana Shiva, the eloquent Indian critic of international development, warms that the new genetic and reproductive technologies are based on the view of women's bodies as just another part of nature, another frontier for men to colonize and exploit. …

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