Thoughts on Earth Day

Earth . . . as Object

Earth, as Object

Today is Earth Day.

People sometimes want to see women’s connection to the earth as a “natural” and especially womanly thing. We have our suspicions. The ease with which we make that connection feels like an artifact of the way the binary logic of male/female, masculine/feminine, maps onto other binaries like heaven/earth, culture/nature, human/other. From where we stand, men seem to have every bit as “natural” or “organic” a connection to the earth as women do, what with living here, in bodies, as we all do. So we want to resist, a bit, playing into the mother-natural rhetoric that crops up in discussions of women and environmental concerns.

On the other hand . . . women have been in the forefront of the environmental movement for a long time, continue to be champions of environmental justice, and continue to recognize the intimate connection of gender justice and environmental justice.

So Earth Day provides us with a good opportunity to recognize women that “everyone knows” were in the forefront of the environmental movement, like Rachel Carson, career environmentalist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service,
as well as women who might not immediately spring to mind as environmentalists . . .

like Bella Abzug and Mim Kelber, late pioneers of the women’s movement in the US, and also founders of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). (See more on the WEDO story)

Another early leader in WEDO, Kenyan biologist Waangari Maathai, received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her work as founder of the Green Belt Movement.

The intimate connections between care for the earth and the environment and care for its inhabitants are apparent in another of Maathai’s endeavors, the Nobel Women’s Initiative, founded in 2006 with sister Nobel Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

Those connections are discussed in some detail in the publication Women and the Environment, a publication of the United Nations Environment Programme, which sponsors the annual (since 2005) Champions of the Earth awards, many of whose recipients (10) include women or women’s organizations — including, in 2006, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization.

Those connections underlie The Global Fund for Women’s inclusion of the environment as a key issue facing women. They surface in a brief resource produced by the Feminist Majority Foundation On ecofeminism addressed primarily to US women, and were what spurred author Susan Griffin to pen the rhetorical roadmap for ecofeminism in Woman and Nature: the Roaring Inside Her.

Which brings us back to the ease with which we conflate the various binaries in our linguistic system, like woman-nature-object and man-culture-subject, and the ease with which those conflations masquerade as knowledge. Earth Day gives us an opportunity to struggle against that ease, to look for new ways to think about the connections between women, men, the earth, and our life on it and with it.

It’s an opportunity we are glad to accept.

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