Copyright 2007 Original Research Document by HurricaneCandice
Abstract: A feminist investigation of the politics of the green movement
How Did Al Gore Get the Nation to Care About Green?
For decades women have lead the way in ecological stuggles. Women have lived in trees, have chained themselves, started organizations, websites and foundations, arguably held up the foundation of the movement. Now one movie comes out that has completely changed the face of the movement, and suddenly people are listening. Why has Al Gore jumpstarted a revolution that should have been started decades ago? Women such as Rachel Carson and Velma Glover have been heeding warning of the dangers of climate change and global warming for years, but suddenly a male voice is worth listening to? How did this happen? Why are their voices so much more worthy? Where does this leave women in the struggle against the clock?
Documented as far back as you want to look, women have been holding down the fort in terms of environmental causes. Women have suffered, struggled and risked their lives in the name of environmental protection. For example, “In 1938, cherry trees needed to be cleared to build the Jefferson Memorial, but a group of women chained themselves to the trees to prevent workers from cutting them down. The women removed the chains only after a promise was given to plant more trees,” (Beal), or the headline of the New York Times on April 23rd 1958: “Miss Carol Hannig, who organized the Rooftop Gardeners, exercises her green thumb on roof of 875 Park Ave New York, NY.” There’s Julia “Butterfly” Hill who lived in a 600 year old redwood for two years in order to keep it from being cut down, (Knapp) and Diane Wilson who was “fasting in solidarity with three Dominican nuns who had been arrested and incarcerated for protesting a nuclear munitions dump site in Colorado,”(Eugenia) and a young girl who goes by Sarah who chained herself to a logging truck to stop clear cutting on Vancouver Island (Dwivedi).
Not only have women put their lives at stake, but they’ve also worked tirelessly in organizations, non-profits, political arenas and laboratories. In 1951 Rachel Carson was the first scientist who “sounded the alarm about environmental dangers. As a scientist Miss Carson knew the value of careful, detached research, but it was her unique, empathetic presentation of the workings of nature in Under the Sea-Wind [and] The Sea Around Us…that gave impetus to the growing environmental awareness in this country and around the world,” (EPA). Inspired by Carson, “Diplomat Inga Thorsson of Sweden suggested to the United Nations in 1968 that a conference be held to consider problems of the environment at the intergovernmental level,”(EPA). In 2006 the United Nations Environment Program announced the most influential women in environmental politics: “Names include UK primatologist Jane Goodall, Inuit leader Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Julia Carabias-Lillo of Mexico, Princess Basma Bint Ali of Jordan, Mei Ng of China, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya.” But politics are not the only way to fight. Chelsea Green opened a publishing company for sustainability literature only. There are hundreds of online women run organizations working for the cause: The Women’s Environmental Network, Women’s Environment and Development Network and the Committee on Women, Population and the Environment, just to name a few.
Clearly women are heavily involved in environmental work and have been for a long time. Where were the men, while the women were chaining themselves to bulldozers? Why in the office, of course, contemplating profit margins, free trade agreements and outsourcing; effectively undermining everything their wives and sisters were working for.
Suddenly, after a hundred years of female voices speaking out against environmental injustice, global warming and pollution, Al Gore comes along with blockbuster documentary called An Inconvenient Truth. As Vice President to Clinton, Gore worked on a carbon tax and brought scientists in to speak at a congressional hearing on the topic. He says,
“As a college student I had a professor who was the first scientist to measure CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere, and I felt as if I had a ringside seat on the beginning of a great scientific adventure. I kept in touch with that professor and seven years after I graduated from college I was elected to the US Congress and I helped organize the first hearings on global warming and invited my professor to be a lead off-witness. But I was surprised when my colleagues in Congress did not have the reaction I hoped they would have to those hearings. I thought they would react the way I did to this class that I took, and that didn’t happen,”(Beirne).
This is what inspired him to write the book and make the movie. After it opened at Sundance Film Festival in 2006, a firestorm of media frenzy followed suit. Seemingly over night, the headlines of magazines were dawning the movie’s tag line “The scariest movie you will ever see!” Suddenly, America was listening. There was a flood of old research resurfacing, new research being funded and conducted and everyone was paying attention. What got their attention? Was it Al Gore, the ex-Vice President? Was it Al Gore the politician? Or Al Gore the author of the 1992 book Earth in the Balance? How about Al Gore the man? What if Hillary Clinton had made the same movie? Would the media have been so willing to cover it? Would she have been called the “protector of the planet?” Or perhaps something more like, “hippy, tree-hugger, nut job?”
What was it that made Al Gore so credible? Perhaps it is that he had already built a name and reputation. Maybe the recent tragedies of New Orleans and Sri Lanka had everyone anxious already. Maybe the timing was perfect. Maybe Al Gore offered a leader with realistic explanations for the strange and powerful weather patterns we had witnessed.
Thomas Friedman suggests in the New York Times Magazine cover story “The Power of Green” that it’s about time the green movement got a male physique:
“One thing that always struck me about the term “green” was the degree to which, for so many years, it was defined by its opponents — by the people who wanted to disparage it. And they defined it as “liberal,” “tree-hugging,” “sissy,” “girlie-man,” “unpatriotic,” “vaguely French. Well, I want to rename “green.” I want to rename it geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic.” (Friedman 1).
There it is. Al Gore gave a male persona to a feminized topic. Which brings up the question of how it became feminized in the first place and why that makes it invalid?
One of the first to voice the idea of woman as other, aside from Simone De Beauvoir in The Second Sex, was Luce Irigaray, author of The Sex Which is Not One, where Luce illustrates how woman has become the second sex: women are defined by what they are not (men.) This binary sets women up psychologically and socially to never be more than a compliment to men, a side note. This binary positions women not next to men, but under and therefore dominated. Ecofeminists have long used Irigaray’s work as a foundation for earth as woman. Such as Ariel Salleh, who explains “the woman equals nature dichotomy”:
“In Ecofeminism as Politics, I create this Man/Woman=Nature equation to parody the reductive, dualist and positivist mindset that prevails in the West. It summarizes how the dominant eurocentric culture has for centuries seen masculine identity as belonging to the sphere of culture and the feminine as identical with ‘nature’. So men have established institutions, which secure their status over and above ‘natives’, women, children, animals, and the rest of ‘nature’. Knowledges too, from religion to science, are contaminated by this polarized ‘body logic’ and used to conserve masculine superordination. One side of the M/W=N formula is accorded value as a properly human presence (1) and the other is merely objectified as a labor and sexual resource (0). The ongoing difficulties women face, even in our universities, are due to this deep structural attitude which so many individual men unconsciously bear,” (Salleh 1).
Here Salleh explores the essentialist view of the female relationship to nature. It is easy to see how we’ve reached the present. If women are seen as property, as necessary for child bearing only, as an extension of earth, which is here to be used up and consumed, then there is no reason to assume that women’s opinion of the earth or her expressed concern over the earth should be any more relevant than the cries of a cow on it’s way to slaughter. After all, for a woman to speak for the earth is merely for her to speak for herself, which we have seen is irrelevant. It is a given that woman, just like nature, is here to be consumed; to be used up without regard.
Eco feminism has discovered what the rest of the feminist movements have had to discover: All domination is interconnected. Chris Cuomo articulates this phenomenon: “In more precise terms, ecofeminism stresses the depth to which human realities are embedded in ecological realities, and the fact that we are all composed of physical and conceptual connections and relationships,” (Cuomo 1). She says that even for feminist women, it can be hard to envision where the forms of oppression intersect. It can be hard to see how the environment plays a role in our daily lives, because we (in the first world) have moved so far away from it. We may be “natural beings” but we are anything but a part of nature. Instead we dominate it, manipulate it, steal from it and mutilate it. Male dominance over nature, over commerce and capitalism have paved the way (literally and figuratively) for a world in which a woman’s voice on matters of nature or conservation are useless. Rachel Carson may have stood before the Environmental Protection Agency fifty years ago and explained how delicate the balance of the ocean and air are, how we cannot dump poison into the Chesapeake Bay without serious recourse, but it fell on deaf ears; not because they did not care, but because the ocean was not a part of the “big picture.” For the EPA to go to congress and say, we must stop clear cutting, stop oil spills and stop illegal dumping, meant unhappy industry. Unhappy industry meant weak economics. What was and is a part of the “big picture” is a booming consumerist economy. As Friedman said, “it’s about time the green movement got a male physique,” not because men couldn’t understand the seriousness of global warming and environmental degradation, but because the only language that they’ve been taught is one of power and economics. When the flashing sign read “There will be no Wall Street, no SUV, no corn flakes when the glaciers melt,” finally it was clear.
This is where it gets messy. The whole world can watch a documentary on the ice caps melting and think “Wow, that’s sad. Where will the polar bears live?” But as long as the number one concern is big money, big business, globalization and imperialistic endeavor, the earth will continue to suffer and so will we. Here is where the second part of Friedman’s “masculinization of green” comes in. The green movement must become a shift in economic philosophy. It must become a shift in consciousness in the market place. The shift must go from the cheapest, the easiest and the most profitable to the best quality, best made, sustainable and practical. Not only that, but there must be a transition from, the cheapest and easiest, to the closest and most efficient.
Al Gore may have taken the rug out from under the female driven green movement, but he also (perhaps unknowingly) built a platform for them to stand on. By “butching up” the face of the green movement, it stopped being a female endeavor, an emotional, special cause, and became a “serious” issue (a monetary one). But while Gore may have done a service to the earth, he has done a greater disservice to an already marginalized and trivialized woman. Mary Mellor, author of “Women, nature and the social construction of ‘economic man’” investigates this gender disparity: “Economic, rational and scientific man are all manifestations of the dualisms that are central to western society and culture. These dualisms are not merely dichotomous; the economic as against the uneconomic, the rational against the irrational, the scientist as against the untutored layperson, they are also judgmental, with the second half of the pair seen as inferior,” (Mellor 129). While Gore may have brought attention to a much needed cause, sparked research and conversation that Jane Goodall only dreamed of, he also shrugged off a hundred years of serious work on the part of the countless women who devoted their lives to the cause. His documentary did not take the audience through a step-by-step of each victory, each warning sign, and each protest that was founded and fronted by a woman. He did not mention the millions of hours of work and energy that had lead to him standing on screen, speaking facts that women have been shouting for years. He did not choose female scientists, or Inga Thorsson, who lobbied the UN in 1968 to guest speak or quote in his film. There were few if any women seen in the film at all. Al Gore reinforced what men already “knew,” that men had the science, the math, the data that they needed to fully understand the problem. Just as the scientists with the data were men, the men who took the data and started applying the issues to economics were men. Part of this problem is a basic lack of female participation and education in the math and science fields, but more than that, it is a basic duality that women know about the caring and men know about the practice. The news anchors were not interviewing Jane Goodall, Rachel Carson or Wangari Maathai on the authenticity of An Inconvenient Truth, about Global Warming or on real tried and true solutions. No, they were talking to David Rosenberg from Merrill Lynch and NASA climatologist James Hansen. Of course these people have a right to speak, they are knowledgeable and practiced, but they are not working in a movement that has been around since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
So where does this leave women today, on the eve of a total literal meltdown? Are they still fighting the fight? Will they still be participants in the new male arena? The answer that makes the most sense is, of course women will still lead and support the fight, because they’ve always known how and what to do. They’ve always been on the front lines, even when they were mocked. Women have already thought out the solutions to the problem (that being a return to the natural and a return to the practical.) Yes, big change needs to happen on a global scale. It needs to happen in government, economics, industry and policy, but the almost seven billion people on the planet need to do their share too, and women have been teaching that since the beginning of recorded history. Growing food in your yard, walking, making gifts and reusing bottles and cans.
In the fall of 2007, I went to a sustainability training. The audience/participants were predominantly female, women taught many of the classes and spoke on the important issues like clean water, lead paint, gentrification and urban sprawl. Some women had children, and expressed concern for them: they wanted them to have a world to live in and means to do so. Some were older women, who had been in the fight since their youth, but most were mid-twenties, feminist minded, activists. What was their investment? What every woman’s investment is: A general concern for a return to the natural. Maybe it is because “the feminine as identical with ‘nature’” as Ariel Salleh suggests, or maybe it is because women are either bred to be or just generally are social creatures. We network with the people around us, we observe how their world affects them, we notice when environmental factors are doing harm to those we love. Or perhaps it is that the world is smaller than it has ever been. TV, Internet, newspapers and blogs document serious issues all over the world and it has become increasingly difficult to deny them. It has also become increasingly difficult to ignore the interconnectedness of issues. When the news exclaims that the United States bought up every ounce of wood in South America and now the people are starving, it is hard not to acknowledge that we are connected to that. Colleen Mack-Canty writes in “Third-Wave Feminism and the Need to Reweave the Nature/Culture Duality:” “These young women also can be characterized as a self-consciously diverse group. They expand the notion of the intersectionality of sexism with race, class, and heterosexuality to include a wider, potentially unending assortment of embodied positions, attitudes, and locations, as they articulate their theoretical and experiential commonalities and differences (Mack-Canty 160). Her thoughts were on the new faces of America, ones that do not fit into any one mold, but her point is that now, more than ever, people must face the very complex, multi faceted picture of the world in which we live. What we need to keep in mind and integrate into the environmental cause, is this sense of interconnection. Few of us only hold ties to one race, nationality, ideology or culture. We are a mixed bag, particularly in America, and we must use that to our advantage in constructing our methods and theory for a green America. Not only that but women must not be afraid to use their skills, their knowledge, what society has nourished in them, but also what it hasn’t. We need women in science, in economics and business, in math, in media, and in government. We need women to occupy half of every office, every board, every business, every corporation, and every newsroom in order to transcend the dualistic, man/woman-nature sentiment. We need just as many women as men running the show and calling the shots. This is not a new idea. Since the beginning of the suffragist movement women have suggested that an equal representation in political, economic and scientific arenas would change the way society functioned. In the green movement, where women have always done the work, they are still not running the show. The top officials in Greenpeace (John Passancantando), WWF (Carter S Parker), US Fish and Wildlife Service (Dale Hall) and United Nations Environmental Programme (Achim Steiner) are all men. Women do the dirty work, while men make the big decisions. “What is needed,” says Mary Mellor, “is to ‘break the boundaries’ of male-dominated economic structures and the anthropocentric and androcentric divisions they represent,” (Mellor 130). From now, until the end of the earth and human race as we know it, women must continue to find ways to influence decision, get into positions of decision making and gain respect, not only as women, not only as environmental activists, but as both.
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