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Acknowledgements: Geoffrey Samuel and Santi Rozario for discussions and advice on this article; Donna Russo for research support; my students in Enviornment and Society for help with interviews.
In another article, I looked at two major strands in ecofeminism through the writings of those who define themselves as ecofeminist or take an ecofeminist approach. In this analysis I want to look at the ways in which the actions and attitudes of men and women, at the present time, can be fitted into an ecofeminist perspective. I will also want to look at some examples of the way our culture constructs the relationship between gender and nature through the popular media.
Actions and Groups
Ecofeminist writings are often begun with what amount to lists of ecofeminist actions and ecofeminist groups that are active, both in wealthy countries and in the developing world. Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva begin their recent book "Ecofeminism" (1993) in this way as does Ariel Salleh in her book "Ecofeminism as Politics" (1997). These impressive lists of actions and groups are taken as evidence of the truth of the ecofeminist perspective. They show that women in all parts of the globe are waking up to the links between the destruction of nature and modern patriarchy. Women are organising to resist patriarchy and defend the natural world. What is the nature of these actions and the groups involved? Why are they linked as examples of ecofeminism in action?
Rather than go into great detail about the multiplicity of these actions, I will select three typical actions, actions which are so often mentioned that they are clearly considered to epitomize ecofeminist politics. I will ask what these actions may tell us about ecofeminism.
Some of the actions that are usually listed as ecofeminist are by groups whose whole conscious and explicit perspective on environmental politics is recognisably ecofeminist. A good example is the protest against nuclear war and nuclear power that developed at Greenham Common in Britain in 1981. Gwyn Kirk, a participant in the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, claims that it was still in operation eight years later (Kirk, 1989). Seager identifies the Greenham Common protest with the earlier "Women's Peace Movement", rather than with "Ecofeminism" (Seager 1993). Other authors see it instead as one of the first and formative events of ecofeminism, which is how I shall consider it here (Mellor 1992; Salleh 1997). The Greenham Common Air Force Base was blockaded by women protesting against the deployment of nuclear missiles in Britain, and nuclear technology in general. Women involved in the protests camped around the edges of the site, near a number of different entrances. The occasion of the protests was the decision by NATO to set up 96 U.S. cruise missiles (nuclear weapons) at the base. Participants in the protest were women who saw themselves as feminists and saw nuclear technology as the patriarchal destruction of life on the planet. The group called itself "Women for Life on Earth". A key action took place in December 1982 when thirty thousand women created a human chain around the nine mile perimeter fence. They signified their support for life by decorating the fence with "baby photographs, flowers and teddy bears" (Salleh 1997, 21; see also Kirk 1989). The clear implication of these symbols was that women as mothers were joining together to reject masculinist war games.
Participants at the Greenham Common actions had various political positions. As Kirk acknowledges as a participant herself, some women stressed the feminist aspects of the action while others made its pacifist content more central. However, much of what Kirk writes about the protest indicates that most women present saw a connection between feminism and their environmentalist and anti-war position:
Some look to women's tradition as nurturers and mothers, perhaps with a belief in women's spiritual insight and connectedness to the earth and forces of life. Others reject any definition of themselves as caretakers and see the peace camp as part of a wider opposition to all forms of male violence. Some believe that women have innate good qualities that make them better qualified than men to take up the issue of peace, whereas others feel that if women are less aggressive and more caring, this is due to conditioning and experience. (Kirk 1989, 265).
Reviewing the various sites of women's peace camps worldwide, Kirk makes the feminist analysis of these actions even more explicit:
Just as any particular base of factory is only a small part of a global patriarchal culture obsessed with killing, the women's peace camps are part of a feminist oppositon to all forms of violence and a feminist support for experiments in cooperative living, caring for each other and the land. (Kirk 1989, 276).
She also mentions the fact that as a women's only camp, the Greenham camp involved women in being independent and "leaving home, literally and metaphorically" (Kirk 1989, 117). The feminist alternativism of the Greenham peace camp is also noted. The participants, by their behaviour, dress, and lifestyle expressed a utopian feminist alternative to mainstream culture and were accordingly perceived as deviants by many in the British community. As Kirk also mentions, lesbian women played a key part in sustaining the action - "lesbian energy and commitment have kept the peace camp going" (Kirk 1989, 266). The women's peace camp, then, is an expression of resistance to a hegemonic patriarchal culture and is seen in this light by participants. Participants also see a connection between patriarchal violence, warfare and environmental destruction. They see these as linked aspects of patriarchal society and believe that it is only a feminist analysis and practice that can deal with these evils.
The action at Greenham Common and many other similar actions by western ecofeminists since then, celebrate the link between women and nature. They use this celebration to advance both women's power and environmentalist goals. From an essentialist perspective, these actions represent a recognition of the inherent connections between women and nature. They imply that it just is a fact that women are concerned with the well being of the natural world because they are mothers or potentially mothers. Women oppose the destruction of the natural world because they fear for their children and also because they recognize their kinship with nature, as the fertile mother of life on earth. Necessarily, this protest also has a feminist meaning because it is organized by women, opposing the patriarchal culture that has been developed by men.
Within the constructionist framework these actions may be given a different meaning. What they are about, within the constructionist perspective, is the promotion of women's socially constructed cultural values as a model for the culture at large. They suggest to men that they should recognize and get in touch with their own protective feelings about their children and the natural world, and follow the social leadership of women to a new way of relating to nature. Men should begin to see what they have got to lose by their support for this patriarchal culture; a culture that may have given men power over women but which has done so only by threatening life on earth and their own children.
Other actions that are cited as examples of the worldwide power of ecofeminist politics are also environmental actions that are either led by women or participated in exclusively by women. These actions are not necessarily inspired by a conscious and explicit ecofeminist perspective or even by an explicit feminist perspective. However they represent situations in which women are thrust into opposition to patriarchal destruction of the environment through the daily reality of their lives as women. I will consider two examples that are often mentioned; the Love Canal struggle in the United States and the Chipko struggle in India.
The Love Canal struggle concerned residents of the Love Canal housing estate in New York State. The housing estate had been established over the remains of a toxic industrial waste dump. As I mentioned in the previous article, the Hooker Chemical Company spent $1.7 million dollars to dispose of toxic waste in an abandoned canal (Seager 1993, 80). The site was then sold to the local school board, which sold it again to become a housing estate. The leader of the protest was Lois Gibbs, one of the residents of the estate. Lois Gibbs sees her own class background as typical of many involved in the struggle against toxic waste:
Many, if not most, women leaders in the [American] hazardous waste movement are low and moderate income people, have formal educations that ended with a high school diploma, do not have any formal organizing training, have never before been involved in any other social justice issue, and come from and live in a very 'traditional' kind of lifestyle. (Gibbs, cited in Seager 1993, 29-30).
Lois Gibbs noticed a pattern of health problems in her area - deaths, birth defects, cancer and serious illnesses. She began her activism by asking her neighbours to sign a petition to close a primary school which was sited over the previous chemical dump. As she went from house to house she became aware of the true extent of the problem and of deep community concern. Other women joined her and in 1978 residents formed the "Love Canal Home Owners Association" to fight for recognition of this health problem and for government action to do something about it (Gibbs 1982; Salleh 1997). The ultimate goal of the organisation was to get the state to buy the houses of residents who wanted to move. The backbone of the organisation was undoubtedly women who were local residents, although it is also clear that local men were involved in many of the public actions and meetings and that deep concern was also felt by the men. Key professional men and women from outside the suburb were also important in assisting the Home Owners Association. One was Wayne Hadley, a biologist and a professor at the State University. He was Lois' brother in law and advised her about how to present her case to bureaucracy as well as putting her in touch with other relevant professionals. Another was Dr. Beverley Paigen. With Lois and the committee, she organised independent medical surveys to push the State Health Department to recognize the problem. She and Lois worked out the theory and local volunteers collected the data from residents. With constant pressure and a sustained media campaign, more and more parts of the suburb were evacuated as a toxic zone, with the houses being boarded up (Seager 1993, 265). When the state and federal governments finally cleaned up the site, the bill was $61 million dollars, paid out of taxes (Seager 1993, 80). Gibbs went on to start the "Citizen's Clearing House for Toxic Waste", which now services almost 4000 community groups (Seager 1993, 265).
Ecofeminist writers argue that women led this protest because of their concerns for their own health and that of their children. Seager describes this from a constructionist perspective:
In the great majority of cases, women become involved in environmental issues because of their social roles: as sustainers of families, it is often women who first notice environmental degradation. Many grassroots women activists report that their role as mothers and family caretakers is the key catalyst in their concern for protecting the environment. (Seager 1993, 271).
While there have been many protests in industrial countries where both men and women have been involved, Seager claims that grassroots activism of this kind is generally dominated by women. In the Love Canal struggle and in other similar grassroots activism, the predominant role of women links with the culturally constructed responsibility of women for the care and nurture of children. The protest celebrates this connection and draws wider support in the community from the understanding that women have a natural right to protect their children - that this is women's socially legitimate role.
There is a great deal of evidence of this link between femininity and the Love Canal struggle. In the statements presented to a Senate Subcommittee in 1979, women residents from Love Canal predicate their involvement on their role as mothers. Lois Gibbs begins her own account with this statement:
I became involved in this situation after discovering that toxic chemicals were buried two blocks from my home and that these chemicals could be aggravating my children's health problems. (Gibbs 1998, 1)
Another resident begins her testimony:
My name is Grace McCoulf. I am a housewife and mother of two small children. (McCoulf 1998, 1)
She goes on to say that she is worried about having another child because of the possibility that it might have a birth defect, her children are sick and "the entire meaning of family has been corroded" (McCoulf 1998, 2).
Eileen Matsulavage (1998) talks in her testimony about her fears that her daughter may have leukemia. Marie Pozniak (1998) speaks of her daughter's asthma and how it may have been aggravated by toxic chemicals from the site. Loretta Gambino uses her position as a mother to draw more general political conclusions:
These children are the future of America. Human lives should not be used for the sake of progress ... what good is progress if it means the possible destruction of the world and our future generations to come? (Gambino 1998, 1).
As Gibbs suggests, women involved in these actions do not usually come from a background in feminism as an explicit movement for social justice. On the other hand, their experiences of involvement in a political struggle can put them into conflict with patriarchal power and cause a feminist analysis to develop. As Seager points out, the most common resort of the powerful men whose interests are threatened by environmental struggles is to denigrate the women who are involved in terms of sexist stereotypes. For example, when Lois Gibbs and Dr Beverley Paigen put their evidence before the State Health Department, the Department issued a press statement stigmatizing the research as conducted by "housewives" who had an interest in the findings (Gibbs 1982). Consequently, it can be argued that a feminist consciousness developed as those involved in the struggle confronted patriarchal power in practice. Certainly, Gibbs herself speaks of her growing confidence and assertiveness, and her account also shows this was the experience of the other local women activists. She also attacks the bureaucrats, politicians and company managers for their manipulation and hard hearted neglect of the real problems of ordinary people. In this she opposes aspects of hegemonic masculinity that ecofeminists such as Seager (1993) relate to environmental destruction.
Feminist accounts of the Love Canal struggle also argue that the key women activists and other women residents were put into conflict with their own husbands. Women who begin to assume significance in a public political issue can disturb their husbands who expect to control the public face of "their" families. Merchant sees this as a key feminist moment of the Love Canal struggle and notes that many of the lower middle class women who were involved in the Love Canal struggle "became feminists when their activism spilled over into their home lives" (Merchant 1990b, 102). There is some evidence for this view. Gibbs mentions that her husband, Harry, was dismayed by her neglect of her family duties and jealous of her high public profile. Harry also disagreed with her about whether the family should abandon their house - and the life savings invested in it - and leave Love Canal for the sake of their children's health. Lois wanted to do this but she could see his side of the issue, as the person who had worked hard to invest in their home. Gibbs says that this was a common source of friction between husbands and wives in Love Canal. In Matsulavage's testimony (1989) she also mentions her dispute with her husband over this issue. Whether these disputes show that the activist women "became feminists" is difficult to decide. Certainly, Gibbs never gives any indication that she saw the struggle as a conflict with patriarchy. Gibbs herself does not present the struggle in terms of an ecofeminist analysis.
Within the theoretical framework of essentialist ecofeminism, the links represented in the Love Canal struggle are based in essential connections between women and nature. Women's closeness to their children is not socially constructed but a fact of nature; a link that men cannot share. Similarly, the fact that powerful men ignored the damaging effects of siting homes on top of toxic waste is related to emotional aspects of masculinity that are seen as quite universal - distancing from women, children and nature; competitive power struggles between men in which other parties become mere instruments. The developing feminist character of this and other similar conflicts is rooted in the fact that women's defense of nature is a challenge to the power of men; a challenge to the destructiveness implicit in men's biology.
Within constructionist ecofeminism, these links are characterised quite differently. Men's destructive relationship to nature is a social construction of this society that is not always a feature of patriarchal societies. To understand it we need to look at the construction of masculine power within the context of capitalism. It is this context that sees company managers try to pass environmental costs on to less powerful groups in society - women, suburban residents in poorer suburbs, taxpayers. It is this context that explains the alliances between such company managers and government elites. On the other hand, for this analysis to be ecofeminist it must argue, as Seager does, that the behaviour of these company managers and government elites is also constructed as masculinity - it works to empower men in relation to women; it depends on socially constructed features of the masculine personality within patriarchal capitalism, such as emotional distancing and competitiveness.
This aspect of the constructionist position is fairly clear. But the other part of the explanation of the Love Canal events is that women took up the environmental struggle because of their concern for their children. Do constructionist ecofeminists see this concern as socially constructed or essential? An extreme constructionist position would be that women have no essential connection to children. Or putting this another way, there is nothing in women's biology that makes them more likely than men to worry about children. It is just a fact of this modern patriarchy that women are placed in the social position of being responsible for childcare and it is through this social position that they develop the ties with children that lead them to environmental action. Seager signifies this analysis when she says that it is women's "social roles" as mothers which leads to environmental action (Seager 1993, 271). A social role is something that is socially constructed in a particular society; not something that is rooted in biology. The implication is that in another society men might have as much connection with children as women do now.
Personally I find this extreme constructionist position implausible. I believe that giving birth and nursing children do create unique ties between mothers and children that men do not share. If you like, this is an "essential" connection. On the other hand it also seems that patriarchy exaggerates these biologically based differences between men and women. A socially constructed relationship between men and children could tie men quite strongly to the welfare of their children. However, this is often not the case. At the most mundane level, men spend a lot less time with their children than women do - and this does have real effects (Bittman 1991). I do not think that this emotional distance between men and children is a recent development of patriarchy, unique to western cultures. To varying degrees, it is probably a feature of all patriarchal societies, as Chodorow argues (1974). Men distance themselves from children because the work and emotional ties involved in close childcare would hinder men from developing the power and control which they seek in patriarchy.
Within this, more essentialist, version of constructionism, what is constructed can be summarized as follows. Men's distance from their children is socially constructed within all patriarchies, even those that are quite benign from an environmental point of view. What is socially constructed within this particular patriarchy is men's distancing from the natural world. It is the combination of these factors that creates the kind of ecofeminism represented by the Love Canal struggle.
Summarising this approach, we can say that there is no doubt that women were drawn to this struggle by concern about their children's well being. There is also some evidence that men were inclined to want to stay on in the suburb and save the value of their homes, despite the health risks to their families. The women in the suburb were much more likely to want to cut their losses and leave. Nevertheless, it is important not to exaggerate this difference between the men and the women of Love Canal. It is very obvious from Gibbs' account that many local men were extremely upset by the health problems of their children and by the danger that their wives' pregnancies would result in miscarriages or children being born with birth defects. In many public meetings and more private discussions with the committee, men would openly cry. Gibbs talks about how uspetting she found this, because it conflicted with the usual norms of masculine behaviour. One incident mentioned by Gibbs involved a man coming to see her, crying about the death of the seven year old son of a neighbour, a boy who had died suddenly from what appeared to be chemical poisoning after playing football in the local park.
Related to this I want to suggest that there are two other factors which might also explain the central role played by women in the Love Canal struggle. One is that this was a suburb in which many women were stay-at-home housewives, while their husbands were the employed providers for their families. In this crisis, it was the women who had the time to spend much of their days devoted to political action. Although, as Gibbs often points out, this was at the expense of their normal housework and mothering duties, they engaged in this action to try and save the health of their children. The goal of the families was to save their health and their livelihoods and this would not have been possible if husbands had left their jobs to get involved fully in the political action. The professional men who gave assistance to residents, such as Wayne Hadley and the lawyer, Richard Lippes, were able to combine this political work with their professional careers.
I also feel that another factor is relevant which is hard to establish definitively. Reading Gibbs' account, I am struck by the extent to which these events provoked a huge emotional crisis in the suburb. In many cases, deep distress was combined with a sense that the residents had been betrayed by their government. One example is a man whose house was close to the dump site. As one initial measure, the State Government decided to bulldoze a trench around the waste dump and to drain chemicals out. As residents were watching these events on TV this man, who had been evacuated, saw his own garage being bulldozed. He had been given no warning of this and was shaken with emotion, crying as he explained the incident to Lois Gibbs. At many meetings with state officials, men and women cried, or screamed and shouted. For example, at one public meeting a man cried about his chidren:
The man who cried at the first meeting was crying again. It was strange to see a man cry. I never saw a man cry before then. He had one child with a birth defect. He kept on saying, "They're buying my house. Big deal. It's too late. She's already pregnant". He seemed to feel so helpless. I know the governor was trying to do something, but I wondered if he truly understood. So many government officials knew about this for so long and hadn't done anything. That man believed that if they had done something two years ago, he wouldn't have a child with a birth defect and wouldn't be worried sick for his pregnant wife. (Gibbs 1982, 45).
What these examples indicate is that a huge emotional crisis for residents was also a massive crisis of confidence in the political system. Gibbs points out again and again that she and other residents initially thought that government officials were there to represent them in the context of democracy. They were deeply shocked that the State would act against their interests in a calculating and manipulative way. Gibbs mentions a relevant incident when she was arrested. Her six year old son was horrified and said to her that only "bad people" got arrested, did this mean that she was bad? (Gibbs 1982, 86-87). What this incident suggests is the scope of this crisis as a crisis of political legitimacy. Law abiding, conservative suburbanites were suddenly pitched into extreme confrontation with the state.
Accordingly, I want to suggest that yet another reason that women led this struggle was that the men were deeply disoriented by the crisis and disillusioned to the point of inaction. They looked to the women for emotional support and for leadership. Within a psychoanalytic framework, respected and trusted authority figures of the state represent father figures in society. The sense of being betrayed by these figures and the emotions associated with this crisis made men step out of their roles within patriarchal society - the roles of trusted representatives of social power and leaders of their families. Instead, they were willing to be led by a group of women who were the only ones able to deal with these events, emotionally and politically.
Summing up, I have considered three ways in which a constructionist account may look at the leadership provided by women in this environmental struggle. It is related to women's socially constructed role as mothers and defenders of their children's interests. It is tied to the economic fact that women were available to spend their time fighting this political battle while men were in paid employment. It is a sign of a deep crisis of confidence in the political system that the men of the suburb found themselves following the leadership of women This was a situation which disturbed every aspect of the world taken for granted in American suburbia.
The third example of ecofeminist actions that I will discuss is the Chipko struggle of India. This has been etched into the world's consciousness through the writing of the Indian ecofeminist Vandana Shiva (1989). I will consider the ways in which Shiva represents this movement as an "ecofeminist" movement and also look at some of the ways in which her account may be considered partial. The word "chipko" refers to one of the central tactics of this movement to save indigenous forests. In this tactic, protesters go to the forest and hug the trees, defying those who have come to cut them down. The popular strength of the Chipko struggle comes from the local peasant women of the north of India. The movement began in the early 1970's, though similar struggles go back hundreds of years. Beginning in Uttarakhand, in the Himalayan North of India, the Chipko movement has now spread throughout the country.
The background to the Chipko struggle is the removal of forests from the control of peasant communities and the privatization or state control of these resources, with consequent environmental problems (Shiva 1989; Agarwal 1992; Guha 1993; Lane 1993). Traditionally, the peasants of India used their forests for medicinal herbs and wild food, for tree fodder and grazing and for gathering wood for fuel. The supply of water and the stability of the water supply was also dependent on the forest cover. When the British colonized India they declared by a stroke of the pen that all communally owned forests were now under the ownership of the state. Gradually, they took these forests out of the hands of subsistence peasants and redeveloped them as part of a timber industry. During British rule, the main use of the timber was to supply the British military and industrial machine. Trees in the Himalayas were primarily cut to make railway sleepers. A similar policy has been continued by postcolonial governments, who have concentrated on the commercial uses of the forests. Often, timber has been cut only to be exported to wealthy countries. Forests have also been cleared to use the land for cash crop farming. The cutting of forests in mountainous areas has caused soil erosion and mudslides, flooding, and the drying up of ground water supplies. Recently, state policy has favoured the replacement of indigenous forest diversity with eucalypt plantations, suitable for the timber industry. This eucalypt monoculture kills local understory species with a leaf fall containing eucalypt terpenes - oils that are toxic to local vegetation. Each of these developments has harmed the peasant communities which have relied on forests for some part of their subsistence.
A good example of the way Shiva describes the Chipko movement is her account of the struggle at the village of Reni in the Alakananda valley. In 1970, a major flood and landslide occurred which local women blamed on the felling of trees in the catchment area. In 1973, a woman saw some men coming with axes to begin more tree felling. She and her companions surrounded the timber contractors men, saying:
This forest is our mother. When there is a crisis of food we come here to collect grass and dry fruits to feed our children. We dig out herbs and collect mushrooms from this forest. You cannot touch these trees" (cited in Shiva 1989, 74).
A group of local women organized vigilance parties to prevent the trees being cut and got the government to agree to a ten year ban on logging. As can be seen, Shiva's account emphasizes the key role of local women in this protest, but I shall indicate later that a more detailed picture indicates a slightly different story.
Shiva sees the Chipko movement as an inspiration for ecofeminism world wide; as a case in which peasant and tribal women can show the way through their traditional spiritual connection to a feminized nature and through their intimate understanding of harmonious and sustainable interaction with the natural world:
... they have the holistic and ecological knowledge of what the production and protection of life is about. (Shiva 1989, 47)
Shiva gives a number of reasons for considering this movement as ecofeminist. One is that the decisions taken by British and Indian governments are based on what Shiva sees as a masculinized scientific view of forests. Working from the analysis given by Merchant (1990a) and others, she sees the scientific perception of forests as a "reduction" of the complexity of the forest to a number of simple "uses" of the forest. The forest is viewed as a source of timber and beyond that as a source of profit. This ignores the complexity of the forest as an ecosystem; the biological diversity of the forest as a complex of interacting biological parts. Socially, it identifies the usefulness of the forests with the needs of a colonial or postcolonial government for timber or cash. The complexity of human uses of the forest is ignored. The fact that peasant and tribal people use the forest as part of a sustainable agricultural cycle is ignored; the complexity of their use of different forest products is ignored. The fact that the presence of the forest is necessary to the management of the water catchment of the hillsides is ignored. If this scientific analysis of the forest is a "masculinized" understanding, then the resistance to it can be claimed as feminist.
Another reason for Shiva's analysis of this movement as ecofeminist is that it is inspired by traditional Indian religious beliefs which represent the forests and nature as a whole as "feminine". Forests in India have been worshipped as the Goddess of the Forest, Aranyani. The forest as a symbool of the earth's fertility is also worshipped as the Earth Mother, as Vana Durga, or as the Tree Goddess. In folk and tribal cultures, trees are also worshipped as Vana Devatas or forest deities (Shiva 1989, 56). A more overarching identification of women and nature sees nature as the feminine "Prakriti", which combines with the masculine principle "Purusha" to create the world (Shiva 1989, 38). "Shakti" is the female sacred energy which is expressed through "Prakriti". These beliefs provide a living context for the actions of women (and men) within the Chipko movement. A good example is the statement of Itwari Devi, a village elder who has guided the Chipko movement. She said:
Shakti (strength) comes to us from these forests and grasslands; we watch them grow, year in and year out through their internal shakti, and we derive our strength from it. We watch our streams renew themselves and we drink their clear and sparkling water - that gives us shakti. We drink fresh milk, we eat ghee, we eat food from our own fields - all this gives us not just nutrition for the body, but a moral strength, that we are our own masters, we control and produce our own wealth. That is why 'primitive' and 'backward' women who do not buy their needs from the market but produce them themselves are leading Chipko. Our power is nature's power, our shakti comes from prakriti. (cited in Shiva 1989, 209).
As a social movement the Chipko struggle combines the activist energies of two socially different groups. One is a middle class, and one imagines, originally urban, Gandhian movement of social change. Organisers from this middle class activist body have been a key in seeding the Chipko struggles, and in coordinating information and strategies between different sites of protest. The second part of the Chipko movement is much larger numerically; it is the peasants who are defending the integrity of their forests as both a subsistence and spiritual resource.
Shiva identifies the Chipko movement as ecofeminist because in both these wings of the movement, women dominate as both leaders and as grass roots activist supporters of the movement. Looking at the middle class Gandhian activists, she traces the movement back to earlier intiatives by Mira Behn. Mira Behn was one of Gandhi's closest followers who moved to the Himalayas in the 1940s. Originally, she worked on cattle as central to sustainable agriculture and initiated a centre in the foothills. She moved to create an ashram further into the Himalayas after floods convinced her that the problem of deforestation was of major importance. Shiva also writes about Sarala Behn, who started an ashram for hill women and influenced another key female activist, Bimla Behn who spent eight years with Sarala. Shiva's perspective is that the key male activists in the movement were actually inspired and led by these women. Sunderlal Bahuguna, who is widely acknowledged as a key figure in other accounts, married Bimla Behn, who demanded that he leave the Congress Party and settle in a hill village to initiate local action. Shiva also points out that Sunderlal had worked with Mira Behn. She argues that other key male activists, such as Chandi Prasad Bhatt, were drawn in by Bahuguna to support a movement "generated by women's power" (Shiva 1989, 70).
It seems that at least some of the women Gandhian activists that Shiva mentions were from Europe. Mira Behn was the daughter of a British naval officer and her name was originally Madeleine Slade (Lane 1993; Guha 1997). Sarala Behn, who continued her work in the next generation is also mentioned by Shiva as a key figure. She was also of British origin, her original name being Catherine Hillman (Lane 1993). From the constructionist perspective, these origins are worth noting. If we are to regard ecofeminism as socially constructed, its origins in India are both European and Indian.
Shiva's second reason for identifying the movement with women, is her understanding of the basis of peasant support for the movement. As Shiva sees it, to begin with, peasant people of both sexes were opponents of deforestation and private and state ownership of the forests. Women wanted to save their forests and the men wanted to prevent outside contractors from making all the profits from timber. Later, as contractors began to work with local men, there was often a split between the women, who used the forest for subsistence, and their husbands, who could make money by cutting timber as local contractors. In 1977, these divisions came to a head when the forests at Adwani were auctioned. Large groups of women from fifteen villages came to guard the forests and eventually repelled both the contractors and the police, who had come to support the timber cutters. These actions were led by Bachni Devi who was the wife of the local village headman, who was himself a contractor (Shiva 1989, 75). Shiva sees this incident as revealing a split in the movement. The struggle became one in which women fought to maintain the power which was based in their traditional role as agriculturalists and users of forests subsistence. Men were undermining this power through their engagement in a new cash economy of timber production. While this suggests that there was gender conflict over the issue, Shiva also sees women as generally more involved in the local opposition to commercial and state exploitation of the forests, even in cases when their actions were supported by peasant men.
In turn Shiva relates this gender division to two other factors. One is the preference of western patriarchy to appoint men as "providers" for their families' subsistence through wage labour. Shiva sees the global extension of western patriarchy being expressed in this Indian situation, as it has been in a number of other countries in the developing world. As other authors have pointed out, a common development of Uttarakhand society during the postcolonial period was the migration of men to the plains, leaving the women in charge of subsistence agriculture in the villages (Agarwal 1992; Guha 1993). A second factor is the traditional division of labour within Indian peasant agriculture. Shiva shows that women actually did considerably more agricultural work than their husbands in traditional peasant and tribal economies in India. When the cash economy came along, it could not provide sufficient income to service the needs of the whole family. So women continued on with their traditional subsistence agriculture, while men were increasingly involved in the cash economy. Women believed that the best survival strategy was not to rely on cash income but to maintain traditional subsistence agriculture. According to Shiva, they ended up by fighting their husbands whose actions were undermining that production strategy. Ethically, the women supported their struggle by invoking the central spiritual importance of the forest ecosystem.
Other accounts of the Chipko struggle place these gender issues in a slightly different context. For a start, some other accounts focus on the Gandhian movement as a key factor in organising and coordinating the peasant resistance. Alongside this, they nominate as key activists the male leaders of this movement . For example Guha (1993) specifies two central wings of the movement as the one inspired and led by Sunderlal Bahuguna and the one inspired and led by Chandi Prasad Bhatt. It was usually these figures who negotiated with government leaders and finalized settlements that protected forests - after prolonged local action had forced the government's hand. For example in 1980 it was Bahuguna who negotiated with the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, to gain a ban on logging above 1000 meters and a fifteen year ban on commercial logging (Lane 1993). It was Bhatt who first suggested the tactic of hugging the trees (Shepard 1998). He was responsible, as well, for organising the local village cooperatives which have been consistent opponents of commercial exploitation of the forests by the state and large companies.
An account of the Reni action that is based in Bhatt's own narrative, gives him and his activists a much more prominent role than that suggested by Shiva's account summarized above. In 1973, Bhatt and his activists began to gather support in the villages against the government plans to auction 2,500 trees in the Reni forest. He reminded the villagers of the dangers of floods caused by deforestation and two colleagues remained to spread his message. Chandi Prasad then went to Dehra Dunn to appeal to the forestry department and contractors to abandon their plans to auction the trees. Failing in this, he warned them of the local resistance. The government decided to subvert this anticipated resistance by offering to pay the men of the Reni village compensation for land the government had claimed fourteen years before. Payment was to be presented some distance from the village. The contractors arrived at the village after the men had left. A little girl spotted the contractors and Gaura Devi organised the women of the village to confront them. The contractors withdrew from the forest. When the men returned they learned about the women's surprise victory. Rallies were held and a constant watch organised. Finally, Chandi Prasad was invited to the state capital to meet with the minister. After a two year delay, the committee that had been set up recommended that there be no logging and the government put a ten year ban on logging (Shepard 1998; for a similar account see Guha 1993). This account differs from Shiva's in a number of ways. It stresses the key organising role of Bhatt and his group of activists, and emphasizes their important role in negotiating with the government. It suggests that the men of Reni were also strongly opposed to the logging but were tricked into being absent when the contractors arrived; leaving the women to carry out a resistance which was supported by the men.
Despite this, other accounts do give support to two central ideas of Shiva's. There seems to be absolutely no doubt that it has been women peasants who have been the strongest local supporters of the Chipko actions. Even Guha, who is sceptical about the feminist analysis of Chipko, admits that women were more consistent participants in peasant resistance than men, and traces it to women's roles in traditional agricultural production (Guha 1993). As well, there seems no doubt that there were a number of incidents in which men and women were opposed over these issues and women resisted deforestation against the wishes of the men. Shiva mentions the incident at Adwari described above. An example mentioned by Bina Agarwal is an attempt to establish a potato-seed farm by cutting down an oak forest in Dongri Paintoli village. The men supported the idea because it would bring in a money income; but the women opposed it because it would mean longer treks for fuel and fodder (Agarwal 1992; Guha 1993). Lane mentions another event in Vadiargh in 1979, where men were bought off with bribes and the women from Kemar, one hundred kilometers away, came and camped to stop the logging (Lane 1993). Both Agarwal and Lane see these clashes as symptomatic of a situation in which women had most to lose through commercialization of the forests.
Looking at the Chipko struggle, we can consider how it might be viewed within the two strands of ecofeminism; essentialist and constructionist ecofeminism. We can begin by looking at the science of forest management and its use to back up government policies. Shiva identifies the "reductionism" of the scientific view as masculinist and patriarchal. Here, what she means by "reductionism" is the simplification of the many purposes and uses of the forests. Scientists only see the one or two purposes of a forest which are relevant to the government and its commercial allies. It is hard to see how such reductionism is essentially masculine. What is there about masculine biology which predisposes men to such a reductionist world view? On the other hand, it is easy to argue that this reductionism fits with the social construction of masculinity. It is a use of science to legitimate actions which disregard the variety of purposes relevant to the forest ecosystem. As science it only notices those purposes most dear to the hearts of powerful men in government and industry - timber for the British Empire, or export income for the postcolonial Indian government. So it fits with Seager's analysis of masculinity as distancing and competitive. This "reductionist" science is based on an emotional distancing from the purposes of the many plants and animals that make the forest their home. It does not take them into account when it evaluates the forests purely as a timber producing resource. It distances itself, as well, from the purposes of other sections of the human community. It promotes a policy which causes both flooding and drought. It distances itself from the multiple uses of the forests made by tribal and peasant agriculture. It ignores women's traditional uses of the forests. In all this, it is a science which fits with a socially constructed masculinity. This, at any rate, would be the argument of constructionist ecofeminists.
Shiva takes the female gender of Indian nature and forest deities as a recognition of the essential relationship between women and nature. She suggests that the Indian religion recognizes an intercultural truth when it sees the "feminine principle", as she calls it, embodied in nature. Her account can be taken as evidence for the essentialist perspective. It shows us that not only in western culture is nature identified as a woman but in the very different, culturally separate, Hindu religion of India, nature is also identified as feminine. This, then, is the essentialist account of the religious aspect of the Chipko struggle.
Within a constructionist account, these facts would have to be explained in some other way. Constructionists could say simply that it was just an accident that there was a cultural similarity between Western and Indian conceptions of women and nature. Other cultures, such as the Laymis and the Kaulong, discussed in the previous article, do not make this link between women and nature. Constructionists could also argue that these similarities between Western and Indian culture come about because of a shared history. Sanskrit is a major root language of Indo-European state societies. It is also the central written language of the Indian state societies. So there are some cultural roots shared by these two traditions. Looking at the Sanskrit language, Collard and Contrucci see it as identifying women with nature and denigrating both. Like Shiva, they point out that "prakriti" is identified with femininity and with nature. They also point out that it is identified with low class and supposedly primitive and inferior people (Collard and Contrucci 1988). It could be argued that these views of women and nature influenced western culture in its very origins; origins which were later manifest in the writings of the Greek philosophers discussed in the last article. So a constructionist account could claim that both Western and Indian culture see nature as female, but this is not because women and nature are linked by essential ties. Instead, Western and Indian culture share this feminine gendering of nature because they have common roots; it is their common history which leads them both to socially construct nature as female.
The final issue to be considered is the way in which the movement was most strongly supported by women. We have seen that men were also key participants in the movement, especially as organisers within the middle class wing of the movement, but also as peasant supporters of the movement. Nevertheless, Shiva is right to draw attention to the central importance of women in the Chipko struggle. This is especially significant in the context of tradtional and modern patriarchal society (see also Agarwal 1992; Lane 1993). Shiva herself seems to see this in essentialist terms. It is not surprising, she suggests, that women are at the forefront of a movement to defend nature. Women's closeness to nature is a universal truth. This is reflected in other ecofeminist accounts of environmental struggles in developing countries:
... women's struggle in the rural Third World is of neccesity also an ecological struggle. Because so many women's lives are intimately involved in trying to sustain and conserve water, land and forests, they understand in an immediate way the costs of technologies that pillage the Earth's natural riches. (Diamond & Orenstein, 1990, x)
Within a constructionist account, this connection may not be viewed as automatic. More attention might be paid to the social construction of the alliances that formed the Chipko struggle. As far as the middle or upper class Gandhian activists are concerned, it is worth noting firstly that Gandhi, the inspiration for this movement, was a man. However, his philosophies were taken up by female followers in a way that defended the forests. As we have seen, some of the most influential women were Mira Behn, and Sarala Behn, both from England. Constructionists could point to this as an instance of the social construction of femininity within the upper and middle class, whether European or Indian. Looking at the peasants involved in the struggle, a constructionist perspective fits well. Within western patriarchy, since the capitalist period, men's power has been based in their control of the cash economy - paid work and capital ownership. As western patriarchy and capitalism came to India, they brought this social construction of gender with them. It seemed only natural in this cultural context to appoint local men as employees within the cash economy and to confer power on them through this appointment. Since the cash economy excluded women, it was only to be expected that women would attempt to retain power through their connection to the traditional subsistence economy. This is one factor that was relevant to the support that peasant women gave to the Chipko struggle. The other factor, as noted above, is that traditional agriculture gave women a very close connection to the forests, because of the way their agricultural role tied them to activities such as the gathering of fuel and fodder (see also Agarwal 1992).
This constructionist account refers to the particularity of gender construction in this Indian environmental struggle. It also allows us to note other instances where these connections do not hold. The particularities of global capitalist production also produce contexts in which men become the leading figures in grassroots resistance to ecological destruction. So in Brazil, Chico Mendes organised the resistance of a union of male rubber tappers to deforestation. This deforestation was being brought about by an alliance between the Brazilian government and beef barons, who wanted to clear the rainforests to provide grazing land. The rubber tappers' movement against deforestation was supported by male dominated environmentalist organisations in the wealthy countries. Environmentalists from the international urban middle class also helped to create alliances between the rubber tappers and the indigenous people of the Amazon. The indigenous people were also threatened by deforestation (see Revkin 1990).
This example is not called forth to make the point that men, too, can be environmentalists. What I want to point out here is that in many ways the rubber tappers struggle in the Amazon is parallel to the Chipko movement. In both cases, a group of local people who have made a traditional economic use of the forest are resisting forest clearing. In both cases, the clearing of the forests is inspired by an alliance between a central government and business interests. In one case, the vagaries of capitalism pit local women against the deforesters; in another case the vagaries of capitalism pit local men against the deforesters. These parallels are hard to acknowledge from within the essentialist ecofeminist position. The essentialist must see a great gulf between the Chico Mendes struggle and the Chipko struggle. It is only the Chipko struggle which represents a universal alliance of women and the environment, based in essential ties between femininity and nature. Within a constructionist ecofeminism, the parallels between these movements do not create a problem. A constructionist can just say that instances of ecofeminist action are often responses to the particularity of gender construction and the particularity of assaults on the environment. Agarwal summarizes an approach of this kind, which she refers to as "feminist environmentalism" when she writes:
I would like to suggest here that women's and men's relationship with nature needs to be understood as rooted in their material reality, in their specific forms of interaction with the environment. Hence, insofar as there is a gender and class (/caste/race) -based division of labor and distribution of property and power, gender and class (/caste/race) structure people's interactions with nature and so structure the effects of environmental change on people and their responses to it. (Agarwal 1992, 126).
As a consequence, it would seem that in particular cases, women are pitted against the powers of capitalist patriarchy and its assault on the environment, while in other cases, it is men who are forced into resistance.
Ecofeminism as a Situated Response
From a constructionist perspective, what the Love Canal action and the Chipko protest suggest is that women can be put at loggerheads with environmental destruction through quite specific connections between gender issues and economic issues. These contexts are actually quite different and provoke women's resistance for fairly specific reasons. The women at Love Canal defended their environment as housewives and mothers within a social construction of gender that is recognisably part of the first world suburban life style. The women of the Chipko struggle acted as subsistence peasants, deprived of their environmental resources by the encroachment of global capitalist production, within a social construction of gender that is specific to that particular peasant culture.
It makes sense to claim both of these actions as examples of ecofeminism in the sense that they were ecological actions organized by women and responding to the specificities of women's situation. As well, there is no doubt that the powers that they were resisting were patriarchal powers, organized by men and culturally framed by the association of patriarchy with disregard for nature. These facts make these actions both feminist, organised by women against patriarchal power, and ecological, organised to resist the destruction of nature. At the same time, these actions are quite unlike the action at Greenham Common in two ways. They were not framed up by the participants as part of a general struggle against patriarchy. Nor did the women involved in the Love Canal and Chipko struggles act out of a belief that it is necessary to defeat patriarchy to save the environment. What this suggests is the diversity of ecofeminist politics. If you like, ecofeminist actions can come out of particular situations in which women find themselves in opposition to environmental destruction. They can also come about in contexts where women have an explicit commitment to a politics that links environmental destruction to patriarchy and opposes both.
Surveys of Public Opinion, Voter Preference and Membership in Environmental Organisations
Good evidence of the ways in which women are drawn to environmental politics come in various kinds of surveys carried out in the affluent countries. Sometimes these are surveys of public attitudes to environmental issues, for example asking people to list the issues that they regard as most important at the present time. Another type of survey samples voters, asking people who they voted for in elections and seeing how many people voted for Green parties or pro-environmental parties. There are also studies that attempt to analyze the gender breakdown of participation in the environmental movement - memberships in or donations to environmental groups, participation in demonstrations and so on. The following account concentrates on Australia as a fairly typical example of the affluent countries and one for which I have ready access to a great deal of survey data. Examples from other affluent countries have been used where possible.
An international review of empirical research shows that some studies report that women are more supportive of the environment than men, while other studies returned mixed results (Schahn & Holzer 1990; Blaikie 1992; Tranter 1996). Looking first at studies that show women are more concerned with the environment we can begin with a US study. This study of attitudes to government spending on the environment showed women slightly more likely to favour environmental spending. However voting Democrat or being black were much better predictors of willingness to spend on the environment (Kanagy, Humphrey, Firebaugh 1994, 813). In another study, public perceptions were compared in Michigan in the US and Ontario, in Canada. In both places women were slightly more concerned about environmental issues, especially about nuclear power (Steger & Witt 1988, 639). A typical Australian study that shows women more concerned about the environment is a study by a private consultancy firm, AMR Quantum. It found that 21% of men and 28% of women nominated themselves as people who were "very concerned [about the environment] and try to help as much as possible" (AMR Quantum 1993, 47). The same study divided the population into different groups according to their environmental politics. The group that they called "dark green" was only 10% of the population but 60% of this dark green group were women (AMR Quantum 1993, 98). The third group of four, the "greys" were 34% of the population as a whole and 53% of this group were men (AMR Quantum 1993, 101). So the AMR Quantum study shows some link between environmental views and gender. Another example is a 1990 Australian telephone study that looked at attitudes to native forests. It showed that 73% of men and 83% of women took a protectionist stand on native forests, while 22% of men and 15% of women favoured cutting down forests according to economic need (Saulwick 1992, 9; for similar results see Blaikie 1992; ANOP 1993, 73). Here there is a clear gender difference. On the other hand, most people of either sex favoured a protectionist position.
Studies like those described above are common and show a slight but important difference in the attitudes of men and women to environmental issues. As a general rule it seems that up to 10% more women are on the pro-environmental side of any division of opinions on environmental issues.
Other studies show little difference between men and women on environmental issues. Papadakis describes an Australian survey that asked people to say whether they thought specific environmental problems were very urgent. There is no generalized gender difference in attitudes. The differences by gender vary according to the issue. 79% of women and 74% of men nominated pollution as very urgent while 44% of men and 32% of women nominated uranium mining as a very urgent issue. There were in fact more environmental issues nominated by men as very urgent than by women (Papadakis 1993, 158). Yet the same study showed women as more supportive of environmental groups - 31% of women strongly approved of environmental groups compared to 25% of men (Papadakis 1993, 163). An Australia wide study, carried out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, backs up Papadakis's scepticism about large differences in environmental attitudes between men and women. In 1992, 75% of men and 74% of women were "concerned about the environment" while in 1994, 68% of men and 70% of women were "concerned about the environment". While there is a slight gender gap, what is more interesting is the way both men and women have changed their attitudes in the same direction (McLennan 1994, 10). In NSW, a major state in Australia, the Environmental Protection Authority commissioned a survey of public attitudes to the environment and found little difference in environmental attitudes between men and women - 17% of men and 18% of women had high scores on the Environmental Attitudes scale (EPA 1994, 13). Interestingly, this same survey showed social class to be a much better predictor of environmental attitudes with 16% scoring high on pro-environmental attitudes in the lowest income bracket, compared with 24% of those in the highest income bracket (EPA 1994, 13; for a similar result see ABS 1997, 17). However the EPA study did show that women were more likely than men to think that there was a lot they could do as individuals to help the environment (89% of women and 79% of men) and women were more likely to have changed their behaviour to respond to environmental concerns (EPA 1994, 15). All the pro-environmental actions that were listed were aspects of domestic work - e.g. recycling, choosing green products. So women may be saying that there are things they can do about the environment because they have most responsibility for domestic work. Overall, these other studies do cast some doubt on the view that there is a large difference in environmental attitudes between men and women.
Tranter's Australian study makes an interesting comparison of men and women's involvement in environmental action. Of the total sample 10% of men were members of environmental organisations compared with 9% of women. However, women were more active in their support with 6% of women being participants in pro-environment demonstrations compared to 3% of men (Tranter 1996, 70). This finding gives some support to Seager's view (1993) that grassroots environmental activism is numerically dominated by women, but also shows that there is not much difference in gender in terms of membership in environmental lobby groups. However what is perhaps more significant from an ecofeminist perspective is the fact that 91% of women are not members of environmental organisations and 94% are not demonstrators. Another Australian study found that only 3% of the population were members of environmental groups (Papadakis 1993, 149). Of course, other studies show that both women and men are involved in many other low key actions which support the environment, such as recycling, and there are large numbers of people of both sexes who regard environmental issues as important. But if we are looking for a group that is prepared to really push major parties to put environmental issues ahead of hip pocket concerns, they are a small minority of women and men.
Another issue in environmental action is of course voting behaviour; how many women vote for parties that have an explicit environmentalist program. Gender differences do not seem to be marked and this area is at any rate little studied. Studies of voting in Europe show that the green electorate was predominantly female in Austria in 1994 and 1995, but that in the 1980s and 1996 this was not the case in Austria. In the European elections as a whole, the greens actually did better among male voters (Lauber 1997, 191). Their total vote in national elections in Europe up to 1988 never got above 8% and was usually much lower. However in the European Parliamentary Elections in 1989, their vote ranged from 8.4% in West Germany to 14.5% in Britain (Darnay 1992, 708). So, again, although there may or may not be a voting difference according to gender, the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of women are not voting for Green Parties.
Surveys on environmental issues often show that people will say that we should protect the environment even if there is an economic cost. There is a gender gap here. For example a Saulwick telephone poll in Australia in May of 1990 found 28% of men said economic growth should come first, while 19% of women said this. Large majorities put the environment ahead of economic growth - 62% of men and 72% of women (Saulwick 1992, 28). However by December in the same year, these percentages had dropped considerably. 57% of men and 67% of women put the environment before the economy. Still, for both, the environment is given priority by a safe majority. So this is an issue, which like concern for the environment, indicates a gender gap.
The extent of support for the environment that such studies reveal is contradicted by another kind of study. In Australia, many studies have been done which ask people to nominate the issues that most concern them. The environment is always a poor third to unemployment and the economy. For example in the 1993 Australian Electoral Study people were asked to nominate issues of most concern. The environment was the ninth ranked issue, after such other concerns as unemployment, taxes, medicare, interest rates, and education Only 4% nominated it as their most important issue - a percentage that corresponds quite closely to membership in environmental groups - and 5% gave it second place! (Crook & Pakulski 1995, 43; for similar results from other Australian studies see AMR Quantum 1993, 12; ANOP 1993, 70; Papadakis 1993, 144).
What these studies reveal is that people give different answers to two different kinds of question. If they are asked whether the environment should take priority, they are most likely to say yes. Putting the question this way reminds people, one might assume, that without a healthy environment nothing else is possible. However if they are asked what they are thinking of as the most important political issue at the present time, they rarely put the environment first. The results from this second kind of question correspond to the fact that people rarely vote for environmental parties. They actually vote for parties in terms of their economic policies, and environmental parties get a very small share of the total vote. For major parties, the fear is that serious environmental reforms can only be bought at the cost of the economy or unemployment. Large majorities may say they are very concerned about environmental issues. But major parties have good reasons for believing that these same people will actually vote out any government party whose term of office coincides with economic decline.
Dunlap (1989) reviews this situation in the context of US politics. Just like in Australia, people will say in surveys that the environment should have priority. Presumably, as well, there is a gender difference in this just as in Australia. But Dunlap argues that these survey results should not be taken at face value. He points out that Reagan was actively hostile to the environmental movement. In 1983, only 21% of the public gave Reagan a positive rating on environmental matters while 74% gave him a negative rating. At the same time, support for the enviornment was apparently soaring year by year so that by 1986, 66% said that environmental improvements should be pursued "regardless of cost", while only 27% opposed this, supporting the economy in front of the environment. Yet Reagan won the 1984 election with a landslide! As Dunlap concludes " I suspect that decisions at the ballot booth will be influenced more by economic than environmental conditions - survey responses to environment-economy trade-off items not withstanding" (Dunplap 1989, 134).
What is the relevance of this for ecofeminism? There is some evidence that large majorities of women are concerned about the environment and say that they think that the environment should come before the economy. It is true that more women than men will voice concerns about the environment in surveys. If we look at grassroots activism, Seager and other ecofeminist may even be right that environmental action is much more usually carried out by women than by men. If we look at voting it may also be true that more women than men vote for green parties. So all this gives ecofeminists a reason to celebrate women's environmental consciousness. Yet at the same time, what we have to also acknowledge, and hopefully understand, is that involvement in environmental politics is restricted to a small minority of women. Why do the great majority of women avoid environmental politics? This question cannot be answered by public opinion surveys but may be approached through in depth interview studies.
The survey data do not support the ecofeminist position very strongly for another reason as well. They suggest that women's support for the environment is only marginally greater than that of men. When differences are counted in percentages of the total population, they are less than ten per cent. There is not a great gender gap here, which suggests that most women draw their political allegiances on environmental matters from the same sources that influence men.
Within an ecofeminist perspective, the failure of women to support environmentalism can be seen as what marxists call "false consciousness". Women are socialized to support men's power and the degradation of nature that accompanies it. This kind of position makes most sense from within an essentialist ecofeminist perspective. Since women are supposed to be essentially linked to the environment, their apparent unwillingness to support environmental concerns very strongly in any practical way must be evidence that their true, essential femininity is being suppressed and overlaid by "masculinist" thinking. For example, along these lines Spretnak writes about the nineteenth century when women in the United States would wear feathers and the stuffed bodies of birds on their hats. She compares these women with present day women who are blind to ecological problems. She claims that these women of the nineteenth century "were team players, defenders of patriarchal, anthropocentric values" (Spretnak 1990, 4). One could assume that women today who go along with environmental destruction are also defenders of "patriarchal", that is men's values.
This is a complex situation and I do not wish to dismiss the claim that women may be victims of patriarchal false consciousness. On the other hand such an analysis can only be given by admitting the absence of one kind of evidence for the ecofeminist position. The false consciousness explanation begins with the fact that women's actual actions and beliefs do not show that there is a huge difference between men and women in the way they relate to the natural world. It must begin by admitting that women do not, for the most part, engage in political actions in defense of nature that vastly differentiate them from men. The false consciousness theory of women's environmental politics accepts that, at least at a superficial level, men and women mostly share environmental attitudes and political practices.
Another way for ecofeminists to deal with women's lukewarm support for environmentalism is to say that women's underlying support for the environment is overlaid with a thin veneer of patriarchal values. However, a serious environmental crisis awakens women to their real and deeper feelings and provokes actions like those at Love Canal. Maria Mies takes this position. She argues that attitude and opinion surveys give "very little information about women's true consciousness" (Mies & Shiva 1993, 40). In terms of feminist issues, it is a crisis, such as a divorce, which leads women to bring to consciousness a more accurate understanding of their condition. By implication, the same argument is relevant to environmental issues. It is a crisis, such as that which took place at Love Canal, which allows women to see environmental damage clearly and undertand its links with patriarchal society.
This is certainly a valid critique of the meaning of attitude surveys. They do not predict the kind of drastic changes in attitude that can accompany a serious crisis. On the other hand, it could equally be the case that environmental crises would also disturb men and undermine their support for the status quo. It seems likely that a major, undeniable and life threatening decline in the ecological situation in wealthy countries would also see a huge influx of men into the environmental movement.
Analysis of Popular Culture
Another way of approaching ecofeminism is to look at contemporary popular culture. Studies of today's popular culture can reveal the ways in which gender and nature are juxtaposed in contemporary thinking. An analysis within the framework of cultural studies is appropriate. We can look at contemporary popular culture and examine specific popular "texts" - movies, advertisements, popular novels and the like - to see how masculinity and femininity are constructed in these texts in relationship to nature. This analysis adds to the study of attitudes to nature which has been developed by writers such as Merchant and Plumwood. They have examined scientific texts and the writings of key male theorists in the western tradition. An analysis of popular texts allows us to look at how these manifestations of elite culture resonate with popular themes in culture today. We can ask whether the environmental movement has had any impact on the construction of gender in popular culture and we can consider whether there are any popular vehicles for the ecofeminist perspective.
It is worth noting how this kind of analysis can help us to find a way around the thorny issues raised by the survey data. For example, it may be that women answering survey questions do not reveal the full extent of their difference from men on environmental issues. It may be that the marginal differences in attitudes revealed in surveys are a sign of much deeper fractures in the culture between men and women. We can put this case at its most extreme as follows. When women answer questions in surveys, they tend to give what they think are politically responsible answers. Since it is men who are taken as the legitimate political actors in society, women tend to give answers that they think make sense in terms of the kinds of things men might say. Yet at some deeper level, partly unconscious, it may be that women are much more deeply disturbed by the environmental crisis than men. Men may just see the crisis of the environment as something that is not really relevant to them personally and emotionally or as something that can be ultimately resolved by masculine technology. We can perhaps tap into these issues by looking at popular culture. Popular culture texts, within cultural studies analysis, are like dreams within Freudian psychoanalysis. Their symbols and deep structures reveal things about the unconscious fantasies that structure everyday life (Walkerdine 1986; Horrocks 1995). They may show us that within popular culture, women and men do in fact have a radically different relationship to the natural world. Here, I will consider two examples of popular cultural forms; the first is a magazine aimed at men "Men's Health", which can be examined as an example of the construction of hegemonic masculinity in relation to the environment, and the second is a set of popular films which reveal a variety of environmental and gender positions.
Seager (1993) is a writer who also looks at these issues, examining various ads to show how popular culture validates the myth of the man as the conqueror of nature and presents the conquest of nature as a key sign and proof of masculinity. In terms of the analysis of the social construction of gender given by Connell, her analysis shows us how "hegemonic masculinity" is constructed as the conquest of nature, machines and women. Connell defines "hegemonic masculinity" as that ideal and practice of masculinity which supports the continued dominance of men within any particular patriarchal society at a given time (Connell 1987). Hegemonic masculinity represents a strategy of successful control over women, and in that way it is "hegemonic" or dominant. However other forms of masculinity may oppose hegemonic masculinity and Connell refers to them as "subordinated masculinities". In writing about contemporary society, Connell argues that both gay masculinity and some versions of environmentalist masculinity challenge the current version of hegemonic masculinity (Connell 1995). Within this context, what Seager presents to us is a dominant myth of masculinity; she is not implying that all men are comfortable with this view of masculinity.
Men's Health: Hegemonic Masculinity and the Environment
Presenting an analysis similar to that of Seager, I will consider this social construction of hegemonic masculinity in the advertisements and feature articles of a popular Australian men's magazine - "Men's Health". I am sure the reader will have no trouble at all in finding similar material in magazine or television advertisements of their own choosing. I will briefly describe some of the adverstisements and features in the August 1998 edition.
An advertisement for "Greg Norman" products shows a back view of Norman standing up on the seat of a small yellow open top jeep with a roll bar. To emphasize Greg's courage and his confident control over machinery, the jeep is perched facing downhill on a rocky slope with a big drop directly in from of it. Greg's power and control in this perilous situation is indicated by his nonchalant standing position. On the top of his vehicle is his kayak. In front of Greg and, importantly, below him, is a grand vista stretching into the distance, with rocky hills at the horizon. It is a desert scene but in the foreground is a green golf course, complete with small pines and a glistening pond. In big block letters plastered across this vista are the words "Attack Life". What is suggested is that Greg is a master of this approach and that he has attacked and conquered the natural landscape in front of him. He has mastered it. This impression is reinforced by the presence of the golf course, a lush green civilized lawn established within a desert, an anomaly within nature that reveals the civilizing work of our hero. In terms of the way the ad addresses its readers, it invites the reader to reveal himself to be the kind of man that Greg Norman is - by buying Greg Norman's products. In terms of hegemonic masculinity, Greg represents an ideal of hegemonic masculinity which, it can be safely assumed, the reader endorses as a model for his own life. Fearless, aggressive and technically assisted mastery of nature is a key ingredient of this hegemonic ideal.
Another advertisement with the same message is an advertisement for a four wheel drive, a large red car. The slogan is "Deep in thought.". The advertisement is designed to appeal to the middle class professional and re-assure him that a masculinized control of nature is possible for a member of the middle class (Connell 1987; Connell 1995). It is peppered with links between science and the control of nature. In that way it is a popularization of the association between science, masculinity and the control of nature that Merchant (1990a) traces in the modern western tradition:
Only one 4WD has the intelligence to get you out of deep water without even thinking about it. Ford Explorer with Control-Trac; the smart 4WD system that constantly monitors terrain, senses loss of traction and automatically adjusts the power applied to the front and rear wheels. All in milliseconds ... In addition, Explorer XL's powerful 4 litre fuel injected V6 or the Explorer XLT's 4 litre overhead cam V6 and unique 5 speed automatic lets you dive into just about anything that crosses your path.
Here nature is portrayed as a dangerous, or at least annoying, other. However it can be overcome through the power of scientific intelligence and through the power of machinery. The masculine owner of the car, the "explorer", and the masculine reader are identified with the qualities of the car. The owner must be intelligent if his car is intelligent, and the reader would likewise express his superior intelligence by buying this vehicle! Linked to this appeal to the reader as intelligent is the depiction of science as the intelligent control of nature. The use of difficult scientific terminology congratulates the reader - he is the kind of powerful and intelligent middle class man who can understand science and the power over nature that it offers. Science is identified with the control and surveillance of nature - the phrase "monitors terrain" objectifies nature as an obstacle to transport . The scientific terminology of "milliseconds" assures the reader that the car embodies the latest technological developments.
The picture shows the car forging ahead through water , with its bow wave washing over the top of the wheel. Nature here is "deep water", something that you need to get out of. Later, you are urged to "dive into" anything that "crosses your path". Again, nature is something that may inhibit the free access of the "Explorer". It is personalised as something that may oppose or "cross" you. Nature is an enemy to be overcome by the real man and his car.
At four litres the engine size of this vehicle is immense, especially as most of the time its buyers will be just using it to get around in city traffic. All that extra power is extra carbon dioxide, exacerbating the greenhouse effect. But here it is offered to the reader as an appropriate symbol of his own personal power, of his masculinity. The environmental consequences of cars have of course often been the target of the green movement, something which is neglected completely in this ad.
The advertisements described so far do not obviously personalize nature as a woman. Instead, women are absent. Nature stands in as the antagonist which masculinity has to conquer. However another advertisement in the magazine does bring women into the picture, filling in the remaining pieces of the jigsaw that links men, science, nature, machines and women. This Volvo ad suggests that women are owned by men and are analogous to the machinery that men also own. The left hand page shows a woman standing in silhouette, draped by a long flowing scarf with the caption "it will move you in ways Volvo never has". On the right hand page is a picture of the back of the car in pink, emphasizing its gentle curves. The photography emphasizes the analogy between the woman and the car. The wording describes the car as "a unique combination of muscle and grace". The Volvo is both a powerful masculine machine that can control nature - "muscle" - and also a female machine that has "grace" and can "move" the owner. The ad emphasizes the feminine aspect of the machine and personalizes the car as a woman, which the man can appreciate and own.
Putting this set of three ads together, we can say that they show that man controls nature, that man uses science to control nature, that man controls and owns machines, which help him to control nature, that man owns woman, which is both nature and a machine.
Articles in the magazine carry similar themes. One tells the reader how to pick a bow for archery, advising:
If you plan to hunt buffalo and wild boar (and who doesn't at some point in their life?) you need as much weight as you can handle.
Shooting and hunting wild boar and buffalo is portrayed as a man's hobby. The man pits his will against nature, killing with a bow and arrow to show courage.
On the next page is an article on how to mow lawns entitled "How to kick grass". The title links the competitive world of men in business - "kicking ass" - to competitive control over nature. The prefacing caption reads "Is your lawn looking like a Brazilian rainforest? Time to break out the Victa and show it who's boss". Here it is implied that an icon of hegemonic masculinity would actually level a Brazilian rainforest. However Mr Average in suburbia can identify in a small way with this masculine feat by mowing the lawn on the weekend! The appeal of this ad is a jokey cynicism about environmentalism. Readers of the ad know very well that the environmental movement is pitted against the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest. Here the reader is urged to identify with this destruction as a dramatic symbol of masculine power. Popular texts like this are very hard to interpret within a cultural studies framework. The analysis I have given above sees the article as endorsing hegemonic masculinity as the control of nature. At the same time, the form of the article as humour could be seen as undermining this kind of hegemonic masculinity by not taking it too seriously. The reader maybe knows that it is not such a good idea to level a Brazilian rainforest and also knows that this kind of masculine power is a phony ideal which in reality he can never attain. The closest he will ever get to this masculinity is the somewhat pedestrian task of mowing the lawn.
Despite this questionable exception, these ads and articles can be seen to be popular expressions of a hegemonic masculinity that is defined through the control of nature - seen as an antagonist. Within this version of masculinity, women are either absent or likewise seen as part of the world which the man owns. Science and the machinery which embodies it are tools which the man can use to control nature. Intelligence, power and courage are all identified with the successful control of the natural world. While I will not examine women's magazines in this article, the reader will be aware that women's magazines do not appeal to the readers in terms of promises to gain power and become successful through aggressive and scientific control over nature, men and machinery. The rest of this section on popular culture will consider some popular films which represent a variety of ways of looking at gender and nature.