Editor’s Note: This month, that is June 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Feminism And Environment, where we invite various articles about the diverse range of experiences which we often confront while interacting with our natural as well as social surroundings. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One day, while I was reading a short story titled, ‘The last lesson‘, my mind got hooked at one of the lines—“Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons?” The metaphorical tone concealed in this deep statement reminded me of the constant habit of gendering everything. I wondered, “To what extent will society go in adding gendered notions to everything?” Is patriarchy so weak and feeble that its sustenance is ensured by gendering? Are capitalists and patriarchs so afraid of losing control over nature that they divide it into categories of ‘She/He’. With the increasing Climate Crisis, have we ever thought how the environment is used as a plank to justify exploitation of women? Have we ever thought how exploitation of women is interrelated to the exploitation of nature?
Ecofeminism is a strand of feminism that delves into the domain of environment and ecology and how these are related with exploitation of women. They draw a link between the degradation of nature and the oppression of women. It emerged in the mid-1970s alongside second-wave feminism and the green movement. Ecofeminism talks about how a woman is naturalised while nature is feminised and gendered; and how both are exploited by capitalists and patriarchs. As radical feminists like Simon De Beauvoir have always argued that one is not born a woman, but they become a woman especially because of the procreative act that she performs. Primarily, because of this role, she is allocated to the side of nature as different from culture which symbolises production, the domain of men. This is how the entire nature/culture debate follows. It is assumed that since a woman has a womb, she will always possess those nurturing qualities, just like nature.
If, on one hand, a woman is naturalised, nature has been feminised and gendered to smoothen the road to their exploitation. The gendering is full of subtleties that it escapes our eyes. It’s esoterically embedded in our minds. We often use those exact phrases to address nature while being incognisant of the hidden smell of patriarchy in it. There are multiple concealed faces of nature that are an emblem of its femininity. This entire concept of connecting nature and woman is inspired from the ancient classical mythology where several goddesses were perceived as strongly connected to the Earth.
We have been taught to address nature as the ‘Mother Earth’. In this symbol, nature is allegorised as a powerful maternal force, the womb of all human production that ‘takes care’ of our needs and necessities from time and again. The idea is a comforting analogy except it has a lining of gendered and sexist language that is reinforced in the lives of women, expecting them to possess the ‘same nature’ as the nature of Mother earth. The entire saviour complex that a man is supposed to protect a woman is also reflected here. The “Mother” needs protection; she is incapable of defending her own self. Thus, the term that might have arisen out of spiritually rich traditions, now has come to represent the twinned exploitation of the patriarchal society. Both are expected to be “accepting”, “available”, and “accommodating” of the desires of capitalists and men.
Nature will not come down on earth to rationally deliberate with its exploiters, nor will humans ever engage in any argument with nature; just like men historically have never seen fit to deliberate with a woman, who is deemed as ‘emotional‘, who lacks deliberative capacity just as Aristotle thought, who is too mercurial for logic and reason. Likewise, since nature can never say a ‘NO’ to its exploiters; it is often assumed that a woman will never say NO too, or if she dares say ‘there is a hidden YES’ in it. How bollywood-ish is that!
Similarly, nature is seen as a site of sexual enticement and ultimate seduction. A physical territory available to us as a source of erotic delight. This is very much seen in the poetic literature where nature is addressed for its scintillating beauty, its sensational eroticism that arouses sexual feelings and emotions. Nature in poems are often discussed in reference to a woman’s life cycle like reproduction, fertility etc. This reference symbolises continuity of nature. The change of seasons that keeps the earth balanced is analogised with much like a woman who is responsible for the continuation of lives on earth. Again, reinforcing a stereotype that a woman is only meant for seduction and reproducing.
Do the phrases “Virgin Earth”, “Fertile Land”, and “Barren Soil” ring a bell? Virginity and fertility are the two ornaments that a woman should tie up around her neck until she chokes to death. An ideal girl must be virgin and fertile; both these boxes of ornaments can only be opened when she marries. A barren woman is a witch or an evil whose one look might unleash hell on the earth. These socially constructed phrases are legitimised when they are used to address nature—a pure and divinely ordained thing. It tricks our minds into thinking that these labels actually exist; that these are treasures that must be opened only to ‘that one’.
Also read: The Challenge Of Waste In India: From Environment To Caste
Everybody just looks at the beauty of nature, but never the scars, the bruises imprinted by the exploiters that are beautifully hidden under those natural cosmetics. Likewise, a woman is always objectified as a beautiful object, never known for her struggles, courage, ambitions and accomplishments.
The idea that women and nature are inherently linked is a tacit acceptance of their mutual exploitation. It is used to reinforce and legitimise gender stereotypes and roles. This highlights the various ways patriarchy monopolises oppression and subordination on women. Seeing women as closer to nature, emulating the same traits and qualities, it becomes easy to justify their degradation and devaluation. Just like capitalism uses nature and the environment as a pool of exploit that is profitable, similarly, the patriarchs use women’s labour and her reproductive abilities for their benefit, ‘to produce sons and heirs’. These connections are illustrated through the coherence of socially-labelled values associated with femininity such as the motherly instinct etc. Thus, these coalesce of nature and nurture provides a plank for the patriarchs to smoothly traverse on the road of enforcing the division of labour, gender roles and rules of sex-role conditioning.
This is not to say that women must cut ties with nature and shed their emotional qualities. A woman need not sacrifice or pay for this socially constructed equation. The society must change. The society must drop linking a woman to nature. It’s high time to stop pretending as if they are pedestalising woman and upgrading their status, while in reality they are looking for ways to justify her degradation. We must fight for separating these two equally exploited entities and strive for their empowerment and protection. The fight is important because it will help us challenge the gender stereotypes that create categories amongst women.
It’s important to bosom all kinds of women. It’s important to understand that a woman doesn’t exist at the mercy of a man and his labels. She exists as whoever she chooses to be. It’s okay if she is not a mother, or virgin or fertile. It’s okay if she is barren, bold and strong. A woman can be anything. Likewise, nature is not just for your needs, it has its own needs. Sexist language have been present in our lives like a magnet. We have often used it unconsciously in our daily conversations. Retiring such gendered terminologies is an important step in demystifying and deconstructing our gendered conceptions of earth.
Also read: Women’s Empowerment—The Missing Piece Of Environmental Policies