Time for Us to Mother the Earth

International Women’s Day was on the 8th March and feeling fired up from the march I’d attended the week before, I was excited to celebrate the day by attending a so called feminist exhibition at Zebra One Gallery in Hampstead. My friend and I sadly only stayed about five minutes. The tiny space seemed to be cluttered by random works of art and populated by seemingly pretentious people who appeared more interested in their clique than by the works on the walls. The unwelcoming atmosphere did not feel right and we decided to make our way to a nearby pub for a more joyous and inclusive celebration – literally including the strangers at the tables around us. Buoyed by the eventual success of the evening I was again excited to attend the launch of the book Why Women Will Save the Planet.

‘Til the job is done’

Hosted by the charity Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) along with sponsors Friends of the Earth (FoE) and Good Energy, my tired brain wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Entering the Amnesty International building on New Inn Yard and welcomed by WEN reps, I couldn’t see any other delegates but could hear a humming din from the floor below. Before the start of the event, snacks and drinks were provided and there were stalls to browse. Feeling like a winner with a glass of Shiraz in my hand and a mouthful of hummus I started to wander around.

Entry sticker

Chatting to one of the very warm and friendly interns, Nasra, I admitted to not knowing much about WEN and asked her to describe them for me. She briefly encapsulated the work of the charity as combining feminism and environmentalism. Founded in 1988, as detailed on their website, their charity was formed “to give ordinary women clear information about environmental problems that affect them in a way specific to their biological sex and socially constructed gender.” I told Nasra this made me think of the quote “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation)” (attributed to Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey). The charity is involved in educational programmes focusing on health, food, climate change and waste (project resources can be found here). It was wonderful chatting to a like-minded woman and I was struck by the same feeling my friend and I experienced at the beginning of the march, that there are so many others with similar thoughts and views and together we can achieve anything.

Me with the lovely Nasra

Heading back upstairs to the auditorium for the main event we settled into our seats for an introduction by academic and author Professor Susan Buckingham. As part of the launch, a short documentary film by Jane Caputi titled Feed the Green was shown and followed up by a panel discussion and Q&A.

The film started by looking into how the colour green is associated with both life (plants, growth) and death (mould, decay). Caputi recounted a vivid dream she had where she was instructed to ‘Feed the Green’, resulting in the title. The cyclical nature of life was acknowledged and how as a society we are hurtling into an isolationist and linear way of living.

The film explored, through a variety of feminist and ecological academics, activists, writers and poets the seemingly interchangeable link between living sustainably (or the ‘eco’ movement) and feminine energy. There was commentary about how gendering the planet as ‘Mother Earth’ implies a sense of nurturing, but also suggests that it can be dominated and objectified as women have been portrayed in media (especially in advertising). The treatment of Sara Baartman was cited as an (extreme) example of the objectification of women as well as the importance of Nelson Mandela’s appeal to have her remains returned to her homeland, where she is now finally buried.

Another suggested idea was that instead of the earth being viewed as our mother and us behaving as the indulged children merely taking and plundering resources, we should in turn assume the role as mother of our planet ourselves. The idea that nature is being traded as a commodity and the very resources that give us life are seen as objects to be possessed was also discussed. An interesting example was how we use the word ‘dirt’ as an adjective describing something that’s inherently bad or worthless, but dirt itself is the means which we cultivate the food that nourishes us. Caputi herself suggested we needed to reframe our thinking when it came to the earth, at one point saying the phrase ‘We love dirt’ with some enthusiasm.

Further concepts were floated in the 37 minute duration and I would recommend watching it if you can find a copy. I must however advise that you do so as objectively as possible. The film does feel a bit like propaganda and seems to have been edited in a sensationally provocative way to make its message heard strongly. I sat in the dark room beginning to subjectively absorb the images and bold statements, realising it could come across as ‘cringe’ but I was prepared to forgive this since the views generally matched my own thinking. Reflecting back to the march and the reiteration of Emmeline Pankhurst’s words encouraging the suffragettes to keep making noise so they couldn’t be ignored, I was made aware of my own bias which needs to be remembered and kept in check.

My head was a whirl of thoughts when the lights came back up and the panel were introduced: Liz Hutchins, Director of Campaigning Impacts, FoE; Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader of the Green Party; Dr Sherilyn MacGregor, Uni of Manchester; Orsi Balog, Project Manager Women4Climate and C40 Cities climate Leadership Group and Leonie Cooper, Chair of GLA Environment Committee

Hutchins, Womack, Buckingham, MacGregor, Balog and Cooper

Each speaking for a few minutes, Liz began by talking about the book we were there to launch. In its second edition, she described it as telling the story relating to the planet and feminism. A collection of essays, it was published with the hope that women’s voices would be heard. A scary fact she presented was that 80% of climate change displacement affects women which emphasized the importance of those voices being heard. She also said facts weren’t enough, that pressure needed to be applied to make the change necessary.

Amelia said that when more women were elected to office, shared problems would be better tackled. She said the UK lagged behind in equality and environmental justice and cited her own work in lobbying to have misogyny listed as a hate crime to encourage truth telling and nurture an empowering environment for women. She mentioned the importance of engaging young people, of empowering each other and also that she was glad that for once she was not the ‘token female’ on a discussion panel.

Sherilyn commented on the lack of joining between social injustice and environmental crisis, and how ‘gender’ is equated with ‘women’. Citing the title of the book she criticised that it implied women had nothing else to do, where in fact we usually had more on our plates – not just the responsibility of saving the world.

Orsi spoke about the amount of free work done by women when it came traditional roles in the home and childcare and this how capacity needed to be acknowledged.

Leonie spoke about balancing the city of London’s needs with the environmental needs using the city’s housing crisis as an example stating while the need for more housing is immediate, it serves no one to create a fully concrete environment. She also cited the films mention of how nature functions in a cycle and we are perpetuating a linear existence where everything is disposable and our waste is clogging up the earth.

Liz Hutchins

Questions from the audience were varied and included whether our reliance on technology should be looked at as harmful, how to avoid hypocrisy with the mention of victim hood in the same breath as ‘strong feminist’ as well as criticism for the lack of diversity on the panel. Orsi mentioned having experience of being in a meeting about connecting with refugees in Europe without any representatives from the refugee community present. She said one couldn’t discuss someone’s life without inviting them to join the conversation; which simply put was the crux of the matter. For me and many others, feminism isn’t feminism without intersectionality. It was acknowledged that more needed to be done to provide adequate representation in the future.

Sherilyn also responded by saying that ‘masculinity’ itself needs to be made a category in the gender political discussion and we need men to listen. I agreed with her and thought that if feminism is reframing what it is to be ‘feminine’ that in turn means we are reframing what it is to be ‘masculine’.

Amelia noted the strength in our differences citing the anti-fracking nanas for using their age to elicit a calmer and more measured response from authorities on the picket line. Liz also reiterated Amelia’s point about engaging with the youth in saying they are aware that their generation will inherit the planet next and the fight to have it in a decent state was “obvious to them”. She finished by stating that an equal world is the only way to secure a sustainable world.

Heading home clutching my newly purchased book and chatting to a friend we were reflecting on all the information crammed into our weary brains from the evening’s discussion. Digesting new terms heard in the evening like ‘Eco-feminism’ and the much stronger ‘Ecocide’ they have helped me connect the two issues where before I never had.We have more work to do to achieve equality in society, but I am hopeful that achieving this will in hand mean we will start treating the earth with more respect as well.

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