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Popular Films: The Variety of Popular Approaches to Gender and the Environment
There is no doubt of the dominance of traditional anti-environmentalist versions of masculinity in much of popular culture. Many films present a view of masculinity in its relationship to the environment which fits well with the magazine ads which I have discussed in the last section. I will discuss two popular films here as examples of this genre, "Star Wars" and "Crocodile Dundee".
In "Star Wars" it is the heroes' superior control of large and powerful machinery which enables them to defeat the evil Empire and defend women and the Rebel cause. The environmental implications of this construction of gender were pointed out by Dan Rubey in his early analysis of "Star Wars" for the radical journal of film analysis, Jump Cut. (1985):
Despite the superficial differences between the "good" technology of Luke and his friends and the "bad" technology of Tarkin and Darth Vader, Star Wars offers no real alternatives. The differences are stylistic rather than real; both groups are characterized by a high-energy technology of weapons, power, noise, speed and violence. Obi-Wan Kenobi's laser sword is still a weapon; Han Solo's Millenium Falcon is the fastest ship around, "the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve standard timeparts"; Luke's flying skill is used to kill "womp-rats in my T-16 back home" and then to destroy the Death Star in his final initiation. (Rubey 1985, 102).
The last example is interesting in the casual way that Luke announces this feat, a hunt in which animals approximately a meter in width were attacked with missiles from a flying plane. The implication is that this was a mere diversion for the young Luke, learning to be a man on his home planet. As Rubey points out, the central theme of the film is Luke coming to age, demonstrating his masculinity by defeating other powerful men. He also displays his resentment of the masculine power of Han Solo, the owner of the Millenium Falcon. A key moment is when his older mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi hands him his first "light saber", the "true weapon of a Jedi knight". Rubey suggests the phallic implications of this weapon, which is carried in a pocket and extends to three feet at the touch of a button! The episode links masculinity with power through ownership and control of destructive machinery. Rubey argues that this celebration of machinery is capitalist ideology that joins "chemical agribusiness, high-powered gas guzzlers and nuclear power" to the social construction of masculinity (Rubey 1985, 103).
Another issue considered by Rubey is the portrayal of Princess Leia in the film. Rubey considers that she is the "traditional damsel in distress". She is captured by Darth Vader and rescued by Luke and Han Solo. Her most memorable line is "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You are my only hope" (Rubey 1985, 95). An aspect of this which is related to environmental issues is the portrayal of Leia as the "mother" of her home planet. When she is captured on the Death Star, the evil Tarkin tries to discover the location of the Rebel base by threatening Leia with the destruction of her home planet, Alderaan. Leia's reaction identifies herself, femininity and her "home" planet:
No, Alderaan is peaceful. We have no weapons, you can't possibly ...
Despite the fact that Leia gives away the location of the Rebel base, Tarkin goes ahead and destroys Alderaan. So in "Star Wars", masculinity is the control of machinery and through that the control of other men, the natural world and women.
"Crocodile Dundee" is another popular film in which masculinity is idealized as the control of nature and protection of women. Mick Dundee, the hero of the film, saves the impractical, urban female journalist from wild nature in the form of a buffalo and a crocodile. He wrestles the latter to the ground with his bare hands! Later he shows his masculine prowess by facing down a dangerous gang of urban blacks by scaring them off with his large knife, the one he also uses to deal with crocodiles. Here, racist control by white men, control of nature, and power over women are all linked in a traditionalistic version of hegemonic masculinity (Hoch 1979).
As we have seen Connell defines "hegemonic masculinity" as the ideal and practice of masculinity which supports masculine power (Connell 1987). Hegemonic masculinity is not a fixed essence. For example Connell points out that in early capitalist society, willingness to fight a duel was defined as part of hegemonic masculinity for the European upper class. Later, rational withdrawal from emotional responses came to be seen as appropriate for middle and upper class masculinity. Physical violence and face to face aggression were not seen as appropriate for middle class men. Hegemonic masculinity varies from one culture to another, from one time to another and from one social class to another.
There are important implications of this insight for a feminist analysis of the environmental movement. While a love of the natural world may have been seen as effeminate within western culture, the current environmental crisis may be bringing about the development of new versions of patriarchal masculinity. The themes of some recent popular films suggest a new version of hegemonic masculinity. In this environmentalist version, masculinity is now defined as the powerful and warlike defense of the natural world. In this scenario, elements of the traditional alliance between women and nature are re-cast. A new patriarchal definition of masculinity adapts traditional ideas of chivalry. It defines masculinity as the defence and protection of nature from other men. This mythology fits with traditional versions of masculinity as protection of women from other men.
To understand this new version of masculinity, it is necessary first to say something about the traditional version. As Cranny Francis points out, a myth which represents the traditional view of masculinity is Red Riding Hood. The good woodsman saves Red Riding Hood and her grandmother from the bad wolf :
There is the admired patriarch, the hunter - the male authority figure, who will protect women - apparently from the wolf, though actually from themselves (that is, from any transgressive expression of their own sexuality). The other character is the animalistic, uncontrollable beast within man, who preys on women. (Cranny-Francis 1992, 82)
An interesting feature of this psychoanalytic analysis is that the suppressed sexual side of the civilized masculine personality is represented as a "wild animal" that must be controlled by the responsible superego of the civilized man. In doing this, the civilized man rescues the helpless female from wild nature and also from his own unsocialized instinctual self. As Cranny-Francis points out, men can also identify with the aggressive wild animal self. This certainly complicates the understanding of traditional hegemonic masculinity in relation to the environment. For example, in the film "Rambo, First Blood Part Two", Stallone plays an American soldier who rejects the authority of the army - the civilized man - and follows his animalistic aggressive side - represented in the film as Rambo's Native American forebears, and shown in his use of a bow and arrow, his long hair and headband, the jade stone worn round his neck, his muddy appearance and so on.
What I want to suggest here is that there is a new environmentalist version of hegemonic masculinity within popular culture that re-works all the elements of the traditional myth of masculinity. In this myth, the environmental hero saves the good wolf and Red Riding Hood from the bad woodsman! Psychoanalytically, the natural world is here represented as a place of purity and order. It is the bad woodsman who in these films represents unkempt, dangerous and destructive masculinity, often in the guise of a redneck working class villain.
There are many popular vehicles of this new pro-environmentalist version of competitive masculinity. Two relevant films are "Flipper" and "Dances with Wolves". In Flipper, the hero, a young adolescent boy befriends the Dolphin, Flipper and is supported by his Uncle, a rough and ready fisherman who lives by himself. Together they protect Flipper and the seas from the activities of a group of redneck fishermen who are involved in dumping toxic waste in the ocean. Here the anti-environmentalists are identified by their sarcastic comments about Greenpeace and are portrayed as macho working class rednecks in opposition to the young middle class hero and his salty bohemian uncle.
"Dances with Wolves" was an extremely popular film, especially amongst men, appealing to the same social milieu that had enjoyed "Star Wars" and the "Rambo" films. In "Dances with Wolves" the hero, Lieutenant John Dunbar, is a white soldier on the American frontier. Left to fend for himself at an isolated fort, he befriends a wolf and later a tribe of Native Americans, a group of Sioux. He comes to understand their ways and appreciate their reverence for nature. He attempts, unsuccessfully, to help to defend the tribe and their environment against the predations of white imperialism. As in "Flipper", particularly evil white men in the film are almost always portrayed as redneck working class American whites; paradoxically, members of the same social group who also like the film. Dunbar falls in love with a woman of the tribe, who also happens to be a white woman, rescued by the Sioux in childhood. At the end of the film the hero and his wife flee from the white soldiers, going back to civilization to spread the word to those who will listen. Dunbar's aim is clearly to try to defend the Native Americans and the environment that the white people are destroying.
Politically, the film shares this aim. In terms of the environment, what the film constantly reiterates is that the Native Americans lived in harmony with the environment, taking from it what they needed for their own survival but leaving the natural world intact . The extraordinary beauty of America in the pre-Colombian period is a strong visual theme in the film. Within the film, the white settlers and the army are almost always shown to be environmental vandals of the worst kind and also as disgusting and dirty in their personal habits. An important moment in the film is when the Sioux come upon the buffalo which they have been waiting for, only to find that a party of white hunters has slaughtered a vast number, taking the tongues and the hides to sell while the carcases are left to rot on the ground. Dunbar's narrative voice over comments:
Who would do such a thing? The field was proof enough that it was a people without value and without soul.
In another incident, Dunbar and his Sioux friend, Kicking Bird, go to visit a place the Native Americans regard as the home of the animals. It is regarded as a sacred place. Riding along the ridge, they look into a beautiful unspoiled valley. On the valley floor, the woods are strangely quiet and finally they arrive at a hut only recently left by white people. Surrounding the hut are the rotting corpses of many animals - deer, raccoons and so on. There are shots of the flies buzzing round the corpses. A small pile of empty bottles indicates that the whites have been drinking and as usual thrown their offensive garbage around the place. The film portrays all this as a desecration - as usual the whites "take without asking".
In terms of gender politics the film reverses the Red Riding Hood myth in the way I have specified above. The hero, the point of identification in the film, is a white man who attempts to defend the Native Americans and their environment from other men. Interestingly, it is not only the whites who are presented in this way in the film. The film includes much about the conflict between the Pawnees and the Sioux. At one point the Sioux warriors have left to go on a raid of the Pawnees. Dunbar asks to go but is instead left in camp and asked to look after the family of his friend, Kicking Bird. The camp discovers that a raiding party of Pawnees is about to arrive and Dunbar goes back to camp with a young man of the tribe to dig up a cache of guns to be used against the Pawnees. Using the guns, the Sioux in camp easily defeat the raiding party, despite the absence of their best warriors. Dunbar kills more than one Pawnee in hand to hand combat. In terms of masculinity, the film identifies successful masculinity with successful violence against other men. In another incident, Dunbar is rescued from the whites by his Sioux friends, and helps them to kill the prison party which was to take him to be hanged. It seems in no way surprising that the film could have appealed to the same audiences that liked "Star Wars" and "Rambo".
In many ways, Dunbar's relationship with the Native American/White woman, Stands With a Fist, parallels his relationship with the Sioux and with the natural world. He first meets Stands With a Fist when she seems to have cut herself with her own knife in mourning for her husband, who has been killed by the Pawnee. He rescues her from her suicide attempt, if this is what has happened, and takes her to the Sioux camp, draped over his horse. She is almost always shown in the film as shy, demure, and a little scared of Dunbar and even of the Sioux men in general. She falls in love with the dashing Lieutentant and they are married in a Sioux ceremony. Later, he takes her with him as they escape from the white army. When he asks her if she will leave the tribe with him, she sums up her attitude to their marriage:
My place is with you. I go where you go.
There are some other relevant aspects of the gender regime idealized in the film. While the political egalitarianism of the Sioux is stressed, the film clearly portrays the Sioux as a happily patriarchal society. Husbands and wives may disagree and women are certainly people who give advice. Nevertheless, it is men who make all the key political decisions and ultimately, it is the men who are to be obeyed. For example, it is the men who decide how to relate to Dunbar as a white man, it is Kicking Bird who decides when Stands With a Fist can cease her period of mourning for her first husband and so on. Reviewing the social life of the Sioux, Dunbar narrates:
I had never known a people so eager to laugh, so devoted to family, so dedicated to each other, and the only word that came to mind was harmony.
While I have to say that I enjoy the film immensely, it is hard to avoid the feminist questions which the film raises. The film strongly suggests that the "natural" way for humans to live is in a harmonious and sustainable relationship with the natural world. In this setting, men and women will come to happily accept a complementary division of labour in which men are warriors and decision makers, and women and children are protected.
While these two films are persuasive vehicles for environmentalism, they offer little joy from a feminist perspective. "Dances With Wolves" might also be seen as somewhat paternalistic in its presentation of indigenous culture, rescued again by the white man. More generally, what they indicate is that hegemonic masculinity in the current period is diversifying in its response to the environmental crisis. While one version of hegemonic masculinity still celebrates masculinity as power over nature through high tech machinery, another version sees masculinity as the joint protection of nature and women from other men. As I have argued, this kind of mythology re-works the elements of the Red Riding Hood myth into a new environmentalist package.
We can look at the ways in which this new strand of patriarchal popular culture might be interpreted within ecofeminism. Firstly, the fact that there is a new, environmentally friendly, discourse of patriarchal society gives support to the social constructionist approach, in its dispute with essentialist ecofemininsm. Masculinity and femininity are culturally constructed and they can change. So this validates constructionist ecofeminism as a kind of social analysis. On the other hand, this new development does not hold out much hope for the political program of constructionist ecofeminism. The political program of constructionist ecofeminism is to strengthen the alliance between women and nature and to convert men to what has traditionally been a "feminine" view of the natural world. This strategy is to be conducted as part of a wider assault on patriarchal society. The new patriarchal environmentalism represents a worrying alternative to this ecofeminist political strategy - it valorizes men as environmental warriors and retains the patriarchal elements of traditional masculinity.
It is interesting to wonder whether any kind of ecofeminist political position is ever offered by popular culture. I will look at two films that contain some elements of the ecofeminist perspective - the very popular "Babe" and the moderately popular, "The Secret Garden".
"Babe" does not immediately spring to mind as an ecofeminist film. On the face of it, the film is about a male pig, who proves his credentials in the masculine world by rounding up sheep and so wins the approval of Farmer Hoggett, the patriarchal boss of the farm. With the support of his pig, Farmer Hoggett goes on to win the approval of male authority in the national sheep dog trial, where Babe wins against all the dogs. What is worse is the comic portrayal of Mrs Hoggett as a bossy, conventional and flustered matron. In a way the film perpetuates the anti-feminist myth that such women dominate their husbands, while the reality of the plot leaves Farmer Hoggett in charge. Nevertheless, I was struck by the fact that when I went to see Babe, with my children, the audience was almost entirely composed of women and children. Mothers were not the only women present in the audience, it was also attended by groups of female friends of varying ages. As well as that, the film certainly presents what is widely regarded as a "sentimental" anthropomorphic view of animals, associated in this culture with women and children.
There is no doubt about the environmentalist credentials of the film. The film follows the argument of Peter Singer's famous book, "Animal Liberation" (1990), very closely. Animals should be treated as equals. They should be respected and should not suffer needlessly to satisfy human desires. Animals have their own interests, which should be recognized; it is a travesty to regard them as merely instruments to satisfy human ends. This political message of the film is announced from the very beginning when the camera shows us mother pigs, suckling their young in confined stalls in a huge, dark barn. The sinister humans come to collect the adult pigs for slaughter, and the pigs are shown in their hundreds walking towards the huge truck which will take them to be slaughtered. The baby pigs are left to mourn their mothers and are forced to suckle on a machine teat that looks like an alien artifact. The narrative voice over during this sequence intones:
This is a tale about an unprejudiced heart, and how it changed our valley forever. There was a time, not so long ago, when pigs were afforded no respect, except by other pigs. They lived their whole lives in a cruel and sunless world.
The way this passage puts this situation in the past tense is in itself a political message, since it tells the audience that the horror of factory farming is a social choice; animals could be given respect by humans and these cruel conditions could be overturned. The animal liberationist message of the film is conveyed through the plot device of anthropomorphizing the animals and giving them human voices to present their understanding of the situation. For example, Babe is horrified to learn that the reason pigs are kept by humans is for food. His friend, Ferdinand, the duck, tries to avoid this fate by finding a use that humans will accept. The sheep inveigh against the cruelty of the dogs who round them up, describing them constantly as "wolves", making no distinction between dogs in the wild and dogs under human control. Of course all this is played for laughs and it might be thought that audiences would dismiss the political message as being just as fantastic as the plot used to convey it. I want to argue the opposite to this, suggesting that the comedy allows the audience to come to grips with a very painful topic. The largely female and child audience responds to the film in terms of discourses of femininity, childhood and sympathy for animals that are quite strong in the community at large.
So what is the feminist content of this film? I want to look at the film in relation to Chodorow's analysis of masculinity, discussed in the previous article. In the context of the traditional family, coming of age for men means abandoning attachment to women as mothers and rejecting the nurturing qualities associated with mothering. It means distancing oneself emotionally from those over whom one would exercise power and competing with other men for mastery. In terms of this culture's rejection of the natural world, it means rejecting "childish" and "feminine" concern for the well being of other animals. In "Babe" this path to adult masculinity is challenged. The film can be seen as a coming of age story in which "Babe" comes to age as an adult male. However at every step of the way, Babe succeeds by rejecting patriarchal advice to be cruel to other animals. Instead he listens to and is defended by a variety of nurturing mother figures. While Farmer Hoggett is initially the patriarchal and cruel farmer, he is seduced by Babe into a different way of looking at other animals. He ceases to see Babe as merely an instrument to satisfy human needs and comes to look on him with love and affection.
Space does not permit an investigation of the ramifications of this plot theme in all its detail. A few examples are of interest. The first sheep that Babe meets is called "Ma" and she takes a mothering role in relationship to Babe, warning him against the cruelty to sheep which is the normal pattern of behaviour by the sheep dogs. At this initial meeting she speaks to him as follows:
Ma: Seem like a nice young pig. What be your name?
Ma: Not like them wolves. Treat you like dirt they do. Bite you as soon as look at you ... some wolves is so bad, they'll run a sheep down and tear it to pieces.
Babe: Fly would never do that.
Ma: Fly, is it? Well a right vicious creature she be, I tell you.
Babe: Not Fly.
Ma: The wolves is cruel to us sheep. Always have been. Brutal. Savages. That's
they be. Oh, I wouldn't like to see a gentle soul like you, mixing with the likes
of them, young'un.
At the time of this conversation, Fly is the mother sheep dog who is looking after Babe, and Babe is thinking more and more that he would like to be a sheep pig himself. In this conversation he is made to realize that the sheep will see such a transition as joining with the enemy. Ma is like the old wise woman, advising the young boy to retain his identification and sympathy with women, and not to join the patriarchal club of cruel and dangerous adult men. Later, in the paddock, Babe tries to round up the sheep. Fly urges him to take control as follows:
Fly: You're treating them like equals. They're sheep. They're inferior. We are their masters. Make them feel inferior. Abuse them. Insult them.
Babe: But they'll laugh at me.
Fly: Then bite them. Be ruthless. Whatever it takes, bend them to your will.
He gets nowhere with these tactics and Ma admonishes him:
Ma: Enough wolves in the world already without a nice lad like you turning nasty.
You haven't got it in you, young'un. No need for all this wolf nonsense. All a nice little pig like you need do is ask.
Ma tells the other sheep that Babe really has a heart of gold. Babe asks the sheep politely and with great respect to walk out in two lines. When they do this Farmer Hoggett is amazed. The father sheep dog, Rex, is horrified at this departure from stern control. He reprimands his partner Fly, who has encouraged Babe to become a sheep pig:
You and I are descended from the great sheep dogs. We carry the blood line of the ancient Bahoo. We stand for something. And today, I watched in shame as all that was betrayed.
In these incidents, Rex represents the tradition of patriarchy and the social power that is associated with ruthless control over others. While Fly initially urges Babe to follow this model, she also comes to stand for the mother who supports her son's departures from hegemonic masculinity. Ma, the sheep, is another mother figure who urges the son to retain his respect for women, the less powerful and the supposedly inferior animals.
In terms of the cultural construction of femininity in this society, Babe represents a kind of wish fulfilment myth for women and children. In the myth, the women successfully oppose the son's transition to adult hegemonic masculinity. In the end, Farmer Hoggett, as the leading patriarch, sees the error of his ways and comes to accept his unconventional son as a legitimate adult. Even Rex, the sheep dog patriarch, comes to love Babe. This theme is linked to issues concerned with the relationships between humans and nature. At the present time, ruthless control over nature is a part of hegemonic masculinity; a viewpoint on nature that is to some extent rejected by women and children. In the film, Farmer Hoggett, the patriarch, comes to reject this way of looking at the natural world. In coming to love Babe for his own sake, and not as a prospective meal, he accepts the point of view that Babe enunciates - that all the animals deserve respect and to be treated as equals. A key moment in the film is when Babe is sick and Farmer Hoggett feeds him with a bottle, taking the role of the mother. Following this Hoggett gets to his feet to sing the theme song of the film, which is basically a love song, which he addresses to Babe - "If I had words to make a day for you, I'd give you a morning, golden and new".
While I have suggested that "Babe" is a somewhat ambivalent film from the perspective of feminism, the same cannot be said for "Secret Garden". This is a film whose ecofeminist perspective is perhaps related to the fact that the book from which it was taken was written by a woman, Frances Hodgson Burnett. The director of the film and many of the other people who worked on it are also women. However it is also worth noting that the film never attained the popular success of "Babe". In this film the heroine is Mary Lennox, a girl who is orphaned in India and returns to England to her uncle's manor in the countryside. The uncle, Lord Craven, is absent, devastated by the death of his wife. Mary challenges the power of the housekeeper, Mrs Medlock and defies her by discovering the Secret Garden. This was her aunt's garden. Mary and a local boy, Dickon, decide to restore the garden to its former glory. Knowing about plants, Dickon helps and instructs Mary in gardening. Dickon is accompanied by a retinue of wild animals, who have become his friends. Mary herself is befriended by the robin, who shows her how to enter the garden. Meanwhile Mary discovers her cousin, Colin, who is kept in bed in a darkened room and attended by Mrs Medlock. He is supposedly ill, having been born prematurely when his mother died. Mary gradually inspires Colin to leave his bed and join her and Dickon in the garden. Mrs Medlock is horrified. She tries to stop Mary from seeing Colin. Later, she refuses to let the children write to Lord Craven to ask him to come home to see his son. Colin learns to walk and eventually to run and play. As Spring arrives and the garden blossoms, the children conduct a night time ritual. They dance around the fire and call upon Lord Craven to come home. The spirit of Colin's mother helps the message to travel to Lord Craven. He comes home and vows never to leave his son again. Mary's project in restoring the garden and the family is a great success!
A key to the film is the link between the life of the garden and the life of the humans. Colin is convinced he is going to die and his father morbidly expects this outcome. When Mary first encounters Dickon, she tells him about her discovery of the garden. It is winter and there are no green leaves in the garden:
Mary: I've stolen a garden. Maybe it's dead anyway. It's a secret garden.
Dickon: This garden's not dead. It's as live as you are or me.
His statement represents his faith in the vital powers of nature and the kinship between humans and the natural world. Their alliance and also Mary's friendship with his elder sister, and with the old gardener, Ben, represents a cross class alliance between the rural working class and the aristocratic Mary. When Mary tells Colin about the garden she emphasizes its magical life giving powers:
When you open the door, you can't see anything. Then you go down some stony steps. By the time you reach the bottom, you're surrounded by flowers. Every day new flowers open. It's like magic. Baby animals are being born.
Later, Lord Craven acknowledges Mary's power to awaken life:
You brought us back to life, Mary. You did something I thought no one could do. Don't be afraid. I won't shut it out again. Believe me.
Here Lord Craven vows never to distance himself emotionally from the life force represented by Mary, the girl child, and by nature, the garden. He eschews patriarchal separation from women, children and the natural world. In her final narrative voice over in the film, Mary links the parable of the garden to the relationship between humans and the natural world as a whole:
The spell was broken. My uncle learned to laugh and I learned to cry. The secret garden is always open now. Open and awake and alive. If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.
This film, and perhaps the book upon which it is based, represents the whole political program of ecofeminism. It is women, who with their ties to the natural world, will awaken human society to the evil life denying darkness of patriarchal society. It is women who will be the catalysts for the restoration of a harmonious relationship between humans and nature, in which we encourage and see our kinship with the life giving powers of the earth garden. The film also strongly suggests that this restoration will also be a process of class alliance, in which the remote upper class, will learn from the lower ranks in society.
I want to suggest that these kinds of ecofeminist narratives are quite rare in popular culture and that narratives of hegemonic masculinity are more common. Within film, this may be partly the result of a situation in which, internationally, it is young single men who are the biggest market for films. Nevertheless, the success of films like "Babe" or "The Secret Garden", and their popularity with women and children, provides some support for the ecofeminist analysis of culture. The fact that these two films are clearly marketed as "women's films", partly because they show such an empathetic portrayal of nature, is significant. It provides evidence for the ecofeminist view that western culture links women and nature. It provides evidence that at some level, maybe partly unconscious, women do give their support to the kind of politics represented by ecofeminism.
Popular media and Ecofeminism
This review of magazine ads and popular films identifies three different tendencies within popular culture in relationship to the issues raised by ecofeminism.
In the first, probably predominant tendency, hegemonic masculinity is identified with the control of nature and science is presented as the instrument of this control. There is an identification of masculinity with control and ownership of machinery which gives mastery over nature and is powered by large engines. Masculine leisure within urban life is identified with a return to the natural world as its conqueror, a nostalgic recapturing of the identity of the frontier warrior. The existence and dominance of this version of popular culture confirms the ecofeminist analysis of society - as ecofemininists say, masculinity is identified with the control of nature. This hegemonic discourse is also what ecofeminism opposes politically.
At the same time a second strand of recent popular culture shows masculinity as the defence of nature, women and indigenous people against the rampaging forces of modern life, capitalism, other men and the like. While this development is welcome from an environmentalist point of view, it is not entirely welcome from the ecofeminist point of view. It confirms the constructionist analysis of constructionist ecofeminism - gender and its relationship to the environment is socially constructed, not innate. However, it also suggests that the ecofeminist analysis of contemporary culture is becoming superseded by events. Patriarchal masculinity is no longer exclusively defined in terms of domination of nature. As well, it suggests the existence of an environmentalist political strategy that opposes the political program of ecofeminism - an anti-feminist defense of the environment.
Finally, there is a minority viewpoint within popular culture in which women's relationship with nature is celebrated. In this viewpoint the tie between women and nature also becomes a model for the restoration of a harmonious relationship between humans and the natural world. There is a utopia sketched in which men are converted to this program. While this is a minority tendency within popular culture as a whole, its successful marketing as "women's" culture suggests that it resonates with the underlying feelings of many women. The existence of this tendency supports ecofeminism as social analysis - as ecofeminists say, women's culture is based on an empathetic relationship with the natural world. It also supports the political program of ecofeminism - the appropriate political strategy is to combine a defense of nature with an opposition to patriarchal power; to convert men to a more "feminine" way of looking at things.
While survey data and the analysis of popular culture give us two ways of looking at gender and the environment, it is also interesting to look at the insights that can be gained through in depth studies of people's approaches to environmental issues. I would like to consider two qualitative, or interview based studies which I think are relevant to the ecofeminist agenda, in so far as they give us some indications about how men and women construct their gender identity in relationship to environmental issues.
Environmentalist Men and Ecofeminism
The first of these is a chapter of Connell's recent work "Masculinities" (1995). The book as a whole considers masculinity in relation to sets of interviews in Australia with men from different backgrounds. In this particular chapter - called "A Whole New World" - he specifically concentrates on men who are activists within the environmentalist movement. He looks at the way they are re-working their masculine identity in relationship to an ecofeminist critique of competitive aggressive masculinity . Although Connell's chapter deals with only six men as examples, it can be reasonably argued that these men represent a more widespread trend. Their interviews show us how feminism may influence environmentalist men in the context of an ecofeminist analysis. Summarizing this situation for Australia, Connell writes:
In Australian politics there are few areas where feminist pressure has been more successful. Men engaged with environmental politics cannot avoid gender politics as defined by feminism, whatever their personal histories. (Connell 1995, 121)
Based on the six life-histories, Connell argues that none of these men were initially supporters of feminism. Before their exposure to feminism within the environmental movement, they had oriented their lives to central features of hegemonic masculinity - such as "competitiveness, career orientation, suppression of emotions, homophobia" (Connell 1995, 123). As these men entered the environmental movement, their attitudes to gender began to shift. Barry Ryan, one of these men, talks about his initiation to Green politics at the Franklin Dam blockade in Tasmania:
I was just going there for a couple of weeks; and I got there and I discovered all these wonderful people being extremely nice to each other, and having a good time, and doing something valuable, and learning so much ... Discovered some really good ways of working in groups and having relationships. I had my first, what I thought were valuable relationships with women there ... Really nice relationships because they were fairly self-aware people I think, and fairly confident in themselves - you had to be, to be involved in something like that - and mostly they were older than me ... And after that six months I'd had some really, really good friendships with women as well as sexual relationships with women. And I started to discover that most of my friendships were actually with women, and I was less interested in friendships with men. (Connell 1995, 127).
Connell argues that one source of change for these men was the concrete social practice of the environmental movement. He sees four aspects of environmentalist practice as undermining hegemonic masculinity:
1. The ideal and practice of equality in opposition to hierarchy and authoritarianism.
2. The emphasis on collectivity and solidarity in opposition to individual success.
3. The ideal and practice of personal growth - an attempt to reform daily relationships with others.
4. The pursuit of organic wholeness - an attempt to develop a transcendental experience, a link with nature. (Connell 1995, 127-128)
Linked to this were these men's contacts with explicit feminist politics, usually through meeting feminist women within the environmentalist movement. Connell mentions quite specific changes in personal style and behaviour that have gone with this - role sharing with a woman partner, being more open emotionally in work relationships, being less defensive and competitive in relationships with other men, developing strong friendships with women, being open to being influenced by women. Connell sees some problems in the way these men have incorporated feminist ideas. For example, he believes that these men tended to see feminism as totally a matter of individual change, a matter of individual men taking on personal responsibility. Connell argues that this approach ignores the necessity for feminism to also be a collective project of political change to dominant structural arrangements. Notwithstanding such concerns, Connell's study shows how it is that the environmental movement and the context of ecofeminism can influence men to make some real changes in a feminist direction. It provides evidence for the ecofeminst claim that there can be a linking of environmental politics and feminism which can assist feminism as well as the environmental movement.
Class and Gender Allegiances and Women's Attitudes to Environmentalism
The other qualitative study I will consider is my own study of attitudes to environmental politics amongst members of the Australian public. Approximately fifty in depth interviews with focus groups and individuals were conducted. Interviewees were drawn from a wide cross section of the Australian public in terms of age and social class background. What I mainly want to consider here is the different ways in which women in these interviews responded to environmental politics. Related to this, I shall also consider some of the ways in which men define their gender in relationship to environmental politics.
Surveys show us that indeed, some women are drawn to environmental activism. The surveys show us, as well, that marginally more women than men do support environmentalist positions. However the survey data also leaves us wondering why most women are not a lot more active in environmentalist politics. In depth interviews can begin to answer this question.
The Ecofeminist Position
The interview with which I started the last article confirms an ecofeminist analysis in two ways. Firstly, there is a gap between the men and the women in environmental attitudes; secondly, the women take up an environmentalist position that exemplifies ecofeminist politics. In the extract quoted at the beginning of the last article, two of the men who were interviewed, Robbie and Guy, took a position that was anti-environmentalist. While they acknowledged that environmental damage was a reality, they saw it as an inevitable outcome of human nature. All of the three women, in this group, Sally, Liz and Megan, were much more sympathetic to the environmentalist perspective and to ecofeminism. A third man, Malcolm, also supported this perspective. His position is strikingly similar to that of the men described in Connell's study.
There were many other examples of this conflict of perspectives within the interview. One incident began with a debate about whether it was moral to buy something that had been produced by sweated labour in a developing country. Robbie argued that such consumption was inevitable because people would always be guided by self interest and not by moral considerations:
Robbie: It's human nature. Economics is defined by human nature and politics are defined by human nature which is to procreate, dominate and expand.
Sally: So that's human nature?
Liz: But that, that's only a problem of our society. I think there are societies that aren't based.
Robbie: Well we, because we are that. We are sort of directed in that manner to dominate is why capitalism and western society is dominating the rest of the world, because it's a much more powerful form of expansion than any other sort of more equal socially structured system.
Sally: How do you see that sort of problem? Do you think it should be stopped?
Robbie: I don't know. I don't think we're ever going to be able to do it. I think humans as dinosaurs are doomed. We're going to die. The planet'll be alive a lot longer than we are. I mean even if we kill it the earth and soil will still be there and it'll regenerate in a hundred thousand years or the meantime.
In this passage Robbie puts a view of human nature and its relationship to capitalism and the environment. He presents a sociobiological model of human nature in which humans are naturally competitive and this is related to reproductive imperatives (Morris; 1967; Tiger 1969; Dawkins 1976). Within this model, capitalism is a system which fits human nature better than other social systems. Because of this, capitalism is thriving and replacing more egalitarian and cooperative social arrangements. This process will be played out to the point where environmental catastrophe wipes out the human species.
This view of human nature as competitive and in tune with the capitalist economy has been called the theory of "possessive individualism" (Macpherson 1962). According to Macpherson, this view of human nature originated as an ideological defense of capitalism with philosophers like Hobbes and Locke and was perpetuated in classical economic theory, by writers such as Adam Smith. Clearly it is also alive and well in much contemporary sociobiological theory (Singer 1993). This theory of the inevitability of aggressive competition also fits with a hegemonic masculinity which upholds this behaviour as a masculine ideal (Connell 1987; 1995). In combination, these discourses treat men as the primary instance of human nature, with women departing from this normative standard.
What is fascinating in this interview, which was far from the only example of this perspective, is that this competitive human nature and its expression in capitalism are not regarded as ultimately benign. The end result is catastrophe. Fatalistic acceptance of this outcome fits another norm of hegemonic masculinity; death and destruction can be seen as merely an event, to be regarded dispassionately without identification (Seager 1993). From a purely scientific, that is detached, point of view, none of this really matters since life on earth will regenerate even in the absence of the human species.
In this and other sections of the interview, the women are sceptical about Robbie's view of human nature, wondering whether competitive, dominating behaviour is truly universal or is instead socially constructed within this particular society. Women are encouraged to be nurturant and sympathetic, especially in the context of motherhood. Women are also expected to avoid overt competition (Gilligan 1982; Tannen 1991; Plumwood 1993). So women are unlikely to identify with a view of human nature that sees humans as unrelentingly competitive.
In another passage in this interview, Robbie and Guy argue that humans will use up this planet and move to another planet so environmental destruction of the Earth does not ultimately matter. The women find this an immoral option. In other passages they debate whether animals, such as a stick insect, have value whether or not humans have a use for them. Of course Robbie and Guy resolutely refuse to accord any moral value to animals unless it is a value that they have for humans. The women and Malcolm reject this human-centred ethical outlook.
Another interview showed that the ecofeminist perspective is not restricted to middle class tertiary students and their friends. Diane has worked as a secretary most of her life and was beginning her training for a more professional position when she was interviewed. She is a member of a local environmental group and has for a number of years been active in local issues, working to prevent a road being constructed through a bush park. In a long statement she counterposes human selfishness to the needs of members of the natural environment:
We're not giving any thought to the future. It's a here and now thing. Even though we mouth off about we've gotta save everything for our children, I don't truly believe we mean that. I think we as human beings are quite selfish. We think we own all this. That it's our playground and whatever we destroy will come back again. And I’ve got to say that I’ve only just begun to think like this. I too was like I’m accusing everybody else as being. I just thought it was all there, for me. For us. You know. So what if you pulled a tree out? There’s six others. So what if you pulled bush rock out and moved it from one place to another? You haven’t done anything. ‘Cause you don’t see the harm you’re doing. I mean I can’t comprehend what it must be like to pull out a whole load of bush rock and take a little lizard’s home or even smaller than a lizard. You know I can’t comprehend that. But it happens. That’s what we’re doing. We’re shifting it all round, moving it all here. Just for us. Yeah. We’re replacing trees. We’re educated now, we, what we take out we put back, or we mean to. But we don’t put back the same because we can’t because the big trees get into the drains, or into the swimming pool, so we can’t have anything that’s gonna get into the drains, so we’ll rip that big tree out, and we’ll put a little, we’ll put two bushes in, but that’s not the same, not like that big tree that you used to stand there and think, ‘Ohh, My God, how old are you? What have you seen? Who’s sat up in your branches. Wow’. Two nice little bushes, yeah, birds are attracted to them. They come running. Tweet tweet. But they can’t nest in these little bushes. Got nowhere to sleep now these little birds. Ohh it’s sad.
In this passage Diane begins with a point of view similar to that of Robbie and Guy in the last interview - humans are selfish. But unlike them she argues that we must resist this selfishness through a change in values. She also attacks the view that nature can be owned by humans - this she identifies as a moral mistake. We think we own nature but actually other species also have rights over the natural world. This view is then illustrated through a number of related examples drawn from her immediate neighbourhood. People believe they have a right to cut down trees that are seen as inconvenient and to move bush rock to create aesthetic effects. But in both cases humans are trampling on the ethical rights of other species; the trees themselves, the lizards and other smaller animals who live under rocks, the birds who dwell in trees.
What immediately strikes one about this passage is its determined cuteness; it is almost a self parody of the moral position associated with femininity. It is what one male environmentalist that I met described derisively as the "Bambi" view of nature. Diane's speech can also be seen as a "reversal" of the dominant discourse (Foucault 1980b; Weedon 1987; Davies 1991) that brings together and stigmatizes women, children and empathetic concern for other species. It throws out a challenge; call me silly and childish if you like but I will not be talked out of my position.
An emphasis on women as mothers goes with this. When she says that "we" are not looking after the future welfare of our children, her accusation speaks most strongly to women as mothers. When she is speaking about the lizard and the birds, it is the absence of a "home" that is seen as the problem. The animal species are given human concerns and these are the human concerns associated with emphasized femininity and mothering - looking after the home or nest.
Her presentation of animals and plants reminds one of texts written for children. The most extreme example is when she addresses the tree rhetorically as a person - "How old are you? What have you seen?". This "anthropomorphic" language achieves an ethical point - the tree as a plant species is granted ethical rights. In this, as in the other cases, the language of empathy and identification is used to present an ethical viewpoint that is hard to justify within the dominant framework of scientific understanding. It is the viewpoint which is implicit in the stigmatized "Bambi" view of nature.
This ethical viewpoint comes closest to the ecofeminist ethics proposed by Plumwood in which individuals and species are granted ethical status, rather than nature as whole being hypostatized as a person (Plumwood 1993). Plumwood also suggests that our ethical relationship to nature should be guided by empathy and identification. Within Diane's speech there is continuous emphasis on empathetic identification with other species. We are invited to put ourselves in the place of a lizard, a tree or birds, and to derive ethical conclusions through this process of particularization and emotional response - "It's sad" (Gilligan 1982; Plumwood 1993).
So in all this, Diane clearly links her environmental politics to aspects of emphasized femininity. In doing this she takes up a position close to deep ecology and ecofeminism.
Nevertheless, these two interviews were in some ways exceptions; they were minority positions in terms of the way most Australian women look at environmental politics.
Environmentalism as Hegemonic Masculinity
The discussion of Connell's interview study has shown that men can arrive at an environmentalist perspective as part of a more generalized rejection of hegemonic masculinity (Connell 1995). I have also suggested that my interview with the focus group of tertiary students gave us an example of a man who looked at environmentalism from this perspective (Malcolm). However it is equally apparent that men can arrive at an environmentalist position from within the framework of hegemonic masculinity. I have argued this in terms of the way popular culture provides an environmentalist position for men that is linked to hegemonic masculinity; man becomes the strong defender of the environment and women. I was also able to identify this position within my interviews.
Karl is one of the key figures in a local environmentalist group. At the time of the interview he worked as a technical specialist within a large industrial company; a company that is at least partly responsible for many of the environmental problems which concern him. Karl is a migrant to Australia and has lived here now for several decades.
Terry: So what do you think about in the future then in terms of all that?
Karl: Well. I’m hoping that the society will see their way so we’ll reduce our consumption of electricity. There’s a whole lot of unecessary thing we use electricity on. We fill our homes with little gadgets. We have overpackaging products. We use far too much energy and I’m not just talking about electrical energy here, but also stored energy in fossil fuel, in transport products from one place to another. We need to drastically modify our way of life. Now it can be done. I know my electricity bill is only half of what the electricity bill of people I work with in a similar situation. Because we are conscious of our, of the pollution electricity contribute to, to Greenhouse effect and what have you. So we deliberately try to reduce our consumption.
This passage links a program of deliberate and conscious control over human action with a reduction of life to a simple monastic austerity. Rational self control and monastic asceticism are both identified by Weber as part of the moral package which was promoted by puritanism - "the Protestant Ethic" (Weber 1958). Both may also be associated with masculinity as rational control of emotions and the world at large (Hoch 1979; Benjamin 1983; Theweleit 1987). The first part of the passage rails against excessive consumption "unnecessary thing", "fill our homes", "little gadgets". All these phrases suggest a way of life that is frivolous and childlike in its excess. The solution to all this is rational self control - we are "conscious", we "deliberately try". As is common with puritanism there is an opposition between the elect, who are showing the way and exercising control and the damned, whose slackness is causing the trouble - "my electricity is only half of what the electricity bill of people I work with in a similar situation". As we shall see in the next passage, Karl does not shrink from the final solution for these sinners:
It’s on my mind. Almost every hour of the day I think about what contribution I can make for the environment and how we can solve some of the problems. Now unfortunately most of the people I know that are involved with the environment are also pacifist. So, one of the natural solution would be, that we had a green revolution, we killed all these business people off, killed all these massive amount of consumers off, started from scratch with a developed society where there, electricity was a scarce, scarce commodity, and energy in general was treated as a scarce commodity. But living in a democracy by choice and not being, and being a pacifist, not the way we can go about it, so the only way we can really go about it is education. So we need to find the right people to get the message across.
This is an interesting passage. Karl first begins by lamenting the softness of his fellow environmentalists. As pacifists, they are not prepared to contemplate the "natural solution" of killing off most of the population. Later, he says that he himself prefers democracy to an environmentalist dictatorship. So, we must educate the rest of the population to reach the same conclusions as environmentalists. "Education" appears here as a form of social control over the consumerist masses; a more peaceful solution than actually killing them off. Using Foucault's terminology, environmentalism is taken up here as a form of "governmentality" (Foucault 1979; Foucault 1980a).
It is probably unfair to regard Karl's drastic "final" solution as in any sense a political program. However it is not unfair to regard it as a daydream, a fantasy. I want to propose that at the very least this is a peculiarly masculine fantasy, in which the rational man distances himself from the sufferings that would be caused by this solution. He celebrates a fantasy in which he alone is left to go on while others around him are dying (Theweleit 1987). It is a Rambo, James Bond type scenario.
There are many places in Karl's interview where he demonstrates an understanding of environmental problems in terms of science. What these passages also show is that Karl describes environmental problems in terms of their consequences for the human species.
We're talking about atmospheric changes that is going to be catastrophic to you just breathing. If the 02, which is 21% of the atmosphere at the moment drops to 19%, you gonna be gasping for breath. If it dropped to 15% you gonna die. If on the other hand it goes to 25% and you have a forest fire, everything combustible in the way of that fire is going to burn and it's going to be flash burnt.
Throughout the interview Karl identifies the goal of environmentalism as the wise use of natural resources. For him, environmentalism is the scientifically rational approach.
There are in fact a number of ways in which Karl's approach gets close to that of Robbie and Guy. All three present an anthropocentric ethical position - it is humans that we are concerned about ethically. Great faith is vested in science, rational detachment and the implementation of rational control. For example, for Robbie and Guy, the competitiveness of human nature is a scientific fact, established by biology and psychology as sciences. For Karl, the Greenhouse effect is referred to frequently in terms of scientific knowledge. Also, for Karl, what we need is rational control over the consumption of energy and the proliferation of wasteful trivia. All three expect an apocalyptic future and have a fantasy in which some small part of humanity is rescued from this disaster. All three see this apocalyptic outcome as a likely result of the operation of competitive capitalism.
Despite all these analogies there is a key difference. Robbie and Guy are resigned to this apocalyptic outcome and argue that it is not really their concern. Karl is concerned and sees the human species as having a small chance of survival through a program of rational self control. Overall, the interview with Karl shows us how men can support environmental politics and still retain important aspects of hegemonic, patriarchal masculinity. The next set of interviews that I will discuss are those in which women reject environmental politics for a variety of reasons.
Environmentalism Seen as Middle Class Totalitarianism
Margie is a working class woman whose position illustrates very clearly the problems of linking femininity and environmentalism. She ultimately rejects environmentalism in terms of a number of concerns that are socially constructed as aspects of "emphasized femininity" - empathy, ethics as particularistic rather than abstracted, the rejection of masculine violence and political power and so forth. Her analysis also relates to a working class suspicion of environmentalists as "totalitarians"; the kind of suspicion that Baudrillard (1988) sees as characteristic of many people's reaction to political life today. In answer to a question about what she took to be some major environmental problems Margie replied:
Margie: Ohh. This is a tough one, I've heard about there's a hole the ozone layer, I have heard, ohh you can see where the oil leaks out and all those animals are getting, full of oil. I don't know. Other than that there's always the greenies going on about not cutting down wood and so on and so forth. Not much. I don't really know much. I don't seem to be worried about it too much.
Terry: What do the greenies go on about then?
Margie: Well, I think that they're all into natural things and trying to save our natural resources and they don't want to cut down the trees, and they don't want you to kill off the animal life, which is all well and good, and it's good of them to do that to be interested in and to take that part of their life, but sometimes I think maybe you've got to learn to stand back. I mean cutting down the rainforest is awful yes, but people do need fuel, don't they and things like that. I mean you've got to sort of decide when it's right to make a stand and when it's right to let other people get on with their life.
There are a number of points in this passage where Margie acknowledges aspects of the ecofeminist perspective. When asked about environmental problems, she almost immediately focuses on a problem experienced by another species, and relates this to a particular piece of news footage in which we were shown birds and other animals covered in oil, and invited to feel sympathy with their plight. In her statement about the rainforests - that cutting down the rainforests is "awful" she also suggests that environmental issues are not just about human needs.
So in both of these statements she echoes the ecofeminist position that women may come to environmentalism through an empathetic relationship with other living beings (Plumwood 1993). However in ultimately rejecting environmentalist politics, what takes priority for Margie is her empathy with other humans. She imaginatively constructs a scenario in which people in other countries - the poor of the developing world - "need fuel" and are being hampered in their lives by environmentalists who are trying to protect the forests. In general, environmentalists should stand back and "let other people get on with their lives". For Margie, the issue is sympathy for the daily experiences of other people.
In another part of the interview, Margie relates her avoidance of politics to a fear of political fanaticism; she does not want to be drawn into a political allegiance that may turn out to be totalitarian.
I'm basically saying on human nature, using human nature that people when they get fanatical about something lose their sense of - what's the word - judgement, you know, they don't , they don't, they're involved, they're not standing back, but I don't know because I can't give you any actual instances of this. Hey, this is sitting on the fence, talking about this. I don't actually know any greenies or ... and I hide from the news... Oh well sometimes I hear things 'cause my husband watches it and my husband listens to the radio of a morning and the evening news, you hear certain things but I don't go out of my way to keep informed about what's going on in the world ... It's the ostrich syndrome ... I don't like to know about wars. I don't like to know about wars which have been going on for years hven't they? Over there. Most things I don't think that you've really got much power to change, being one person on your own. Umm So it's no good getting het up about it. And, and I think it just sort of stems over from when I was a child and I first heard about concentration camps.
Margie goes on to say that at this time she decided that if she had been a Jew in Germany it would have been better not to have known that the holocaust was going to happen, because you could have done nothing to prevent it.
One of the effects of this and other passages in her interview is to make an association between the fanaticism of environmentalists and that of totalitarianism. She suggests quite clearly that environmentalists are "rationalists" in Oakeshott's use of that term (1962). That is, they make decisions based on abstract principles without looking at the particular situation of individuals. Like Oakeshott, she sees this approach as incipient totalitarianism, that can at any moment turn into the full blown article (see also Baudrillard 1988).
At another point in her interview, Margie claimed that environmentalists prevented the bush from being burned off. A common practice in Australia has been to set fires in winter to clear undergrowth. The object of this exercise was to prevent wild bushfires in the hot months of the year. Environmentalists are supposed to have stopped this burning off to save wild animals from fire. As a result, it is claimed, the undergrowth and ground fuel built up to the point where destructive wild fires were inevitable. So Margie went on to blame environmentalists for the disastrous bushfires of 1994. Margie's position on this sees environmentalists as a powerful middle class lobby group. They are supposed to have have influenced governments to prevent burning off at the expense of the ordinary suburban residents, whose houses were destroyed in bushfires, and the ordinary farmers, whose farms were burned by bushfires.
There were many places in the interview where Margie made it quite clear that she saw environmentalists as middle class. When I asked her what kind of people environmentalists were, she said that they were generally better educated and "more aware", middle class people. Margie's anti-environmentalist position is articulated in the context of a working class political analysis. Environmentalists are seen as middle class people who make use of abstract theory to interfere in the lives of other less privileged people - working class people, the poor of developing countries. Her statement that "there's always the greenies going on" encapsulates this working class critique exactly. Environmentalists are an extremist fragment of the middle class whose constant barrage of moralising verbiage is typical of the middle class in general.
This resentment of environmentalists as middle class can be understood within the class theory presented by the Ehrenreichs (1979). The Ehrenreichs argue that modern consumerist capitalism has thrown up a new class whose function is to control and supervise the daily work and consumption of the working class. They call this the "professional managerial class" and include in it professionals such as teachers and social workers, as well as those in the entertainment industry and advertising. It also includes managers, bureaucrats and technicians who supervise work. In all cases, the antagonism that exists between these classes is a result of a central reality of modern capitalism. Modern capitalism separates mental and manual work in order to remove the control of culture and work from the working class. This separation is not a necessity of "complex modern production" but a necessity of capitalist social relationships. The role of the new professional-managerial class is to moralize and guide the working class, in both work and culture at large. Writing of the relationships between these two classes the Ehrenreich's comment:
... the antagonism between the PMC and the working class does not exist only in the abstract realm of "objective" relations, of course. Real-life contacts between the two classes express directly, if sometimes benignly, the relation of control which is at the heart of the PMC-working class relation: teacher and student (or parent), manager and workers, social worker and client, etc. The subjective dimension of these contacts is a complex mixture of hostility and deference on the part of working-class people, contempt and paternalism on the part of the PMC. (Ehrenreich & Ehrenreich 1979, 17).
This conflict is central to the way working class women (and men) view environmentalism. Margie was typical of many of my interviewees in her distrust of environmentalism, which is seen as one more version of the middle class project of moralizing and containing the working class.
Margie's position is related to the construction of emphasized femininity in several ways:
1. She defends a moral position based on empathy with particular individuals - those whose homes are burned in bushfires, those who need to cut wood and so on. She opposes this to what she sees as an abstracted and universalistic ethic of environmentalists, who are fanatics who seek to impose their ethical conclusions on other people regardless of the consequences. So in this she, like the ecofeminist interviewees described above, defends an ethics of empathy, identification and particularism (Gilligan 1982).
2. Within a dichotomy between a public world of politics and a domestic world of empathy and concern, she chooses the latter. This is the position nominated as the feminine one within emphasized femininity (Bloch 1978). She avoids the news, which only contains stories of violence and war, while her husband watches it. So she claims to have little knowledge of environmental issues or of environmentalists; although actually she has quite a lot to say about both. Her culturally constructed femininity actually makes her unavailable for ecofeminist politics; because it is unavoidably political.
From the point of view of ecofeminism, she is someone who shares some of the guiding ethical approaches of ecofeminists. She acknowledges some of the moral problems of human interference with other species. On the other hand, by giving the human species absolute priority, she ends up by criticising environmentalists as narrow minded fanatics.
Working Class Rejection of Environmentalism
Another interview gives a further example of working class women rejecting environmentalism for class based reasons. The focus group for this interview consisted of Mandy, who is now a tertiary student, her husband Martin, who is employed as a tradesman and Mandy's sister Adelle, who is on a supporting parents' benefit. While all three are concerned about environmental issues and discuss environmental problems, they indicate quite firmly that they would never support an environmentalist party. The unanimity of the different speakers is marked. In a situation where Martin does not dominate the conversation as patriarch, the two sisters nevertheless relate their political position to the influence of key men in their life.
Martin: I still remember. Ohh, you gotta vote Labor, gotta vote Labor, as a young feller. I always remember that. And I, I haven't seen a change in my life yet of what goes on in the Parliament. I reckon they're both even terms. Whoever gets in, it's good for their side. But umm, I haven't really seen a great, there's been no changes well I don't think in fifteen years.
Terry: So are you saying whatever party's in power it hasn't been much different.
Martin: No I don't think so, not at all.
Terry: So Adelle, what do you think.
Adelle: Yeah I agree.
Terry: Well you were saying before that you'd be worried by voting informal that you might umm?
Adelle: Well, I think, I, ‘cause I've always voted Labor ((Laughs)).
Mandy: I think too that comes a lot from our father. He's very Labor right down the line. He was a union delegate and whatever and very Labor and I think that we were just brought up to.
In this passage all three interviewees are explaining why they would not vote informal even though they have little faith in the political process. Starting with Martin, they relate their support for Labor to the influence of their fathers. Martin implies his father through the phrase "young feller" which suggests that part of adult masculinity is to take up a political position, preferably based on one's father's example. Mandy and Adelle specify their father directly as someone who was an active participant in the Labor movement. Within patriarchal culture, it is men who are active participants in the public political process associated with social class. In some sense men carry the political culture of their families.
This becomes a serious barrier to the ecofeminist political project. Ecofeminism requires that women take up a politics based in the culture of femininity - the alliance between women and nature. But patriarchy also specifies that women are not to see themselves as political actors and should leave politics to men. This is made very manifest in Margie's interview but it is also apparent here. Mandy and Adelle take their politics quite seriously as members of the working class. However at the same time, they develop their political views in the context of the political positions taken up by the men of their family. This politics is often based in the economic position of men as principal wage earners.
Within this context, class issues take priority. Adelle and Mandy said that one of the reasons they would not vote for an environmentalist party was that they feared that environmentalists were not concerned about the issue of unemployment. This was joined to a belief that many environmentalists were middle class. In fact, in the following passage Adelle put the view that environmentalist protesters are the spoiled children of wealthy families:
Terry: So what about you, Adelle?
Adelle: I don't think they know what they're talking about sometimes.
Terry: Mmm. Like in what way?
Adelle: I think a lot of them'd come from the city and they'd just go out there and just, you know.
Terry: What, do you think it's all just theory?
Mandy: Well what were you saying to me about those umm, ahh, when they protest about the trees and they tie themselves?
Adelle: They just don't know what they're talking about. I really don't. I mean, I think these umm. No I think they go on, yeah they do, they go on. Yeah. That's about it.
Martin: It gets attention though and that. That's one thing. You see it, you always see 'em tied to tractor or underneath dug in holes or you got.
Adelle: Yeah but the trees'd die off. I mean they grow again anyway, I reckon. I think half of them are going more for the fun of it. People that haven't got better things to do I think. They want to get attention.
Terry: So do you object to the fact that a lot of them are unemployed.
Adelle: Oh yes ((Laughs)).
Mandy: Think they're a bit radical.
Adelle: Yeah radical.
Terry: And why is this a problem?
Adelle: I just think they carry it too far. I don't know. I just can't explain that one.
By specifying environmentalists as people who are "from the city" Adelle identifies them as middle class urbanites. According to a typical sentiment of working class culture, they are seen as mere theorists with no practical hands on knowledge (Sennet & Cobb 1973; Ehrenreich and Ehrenreich 1979; Willis 1983; Pont 1997). Adelle uses the same phrase as Margie to describe the vocal style of environmentalists - "they go on". By implication they are haranguing, moralistic, and overly verbose! The direct action taken by environmental protestors is seen as theatrical and extremist. Adelle's attack on this relates to puritan norms of Anglo Saxon culture in which overt moralism, theatricality and public displays are seen as deeply embarrassing. The term "radical" says that environmentalists threaten the fundamental economic order of society. Finally, Adelle's most bitter critique of environmental protestors is that they are going for the fun of it, they have nothing better to do, they are unemployed and seek attention. In all this Adelle draws on more themes from puritan Anglo Saxon culture - these people are flouting the norms of the work ethic, they are not serious, they have chosen not to have a job, they are displaying themselves in public (Pont 1997). These criticisms amount to the view that environmental protestors are the spoiled children of middle class parents who have the time and money to go around interfering in the serious business of other people's occupations.
The next passage shows Adelle moving quite close to an ecofeminist position and then putting it into perspective in terms of the centrality of class issues:
Martin: Well they don't actually all go on just forestry alone, do they, the greens? Well, Greenpeace, you got that.
Adelle: I like the ones on the water.
Mandy: ((Laughs)) You like the ones on the water!
Terry: Well, yeah, yeah. That's interesting, so you kind of when they're saving the whales, you think that's fine, you don't have a problem with that?
Terry: Is that because it's not involved in our jobs in Australia, is that the big problem with the other stuff?
Mandy: I'm just wondering Adelle, if that opinion of it had any to do with Dad working in, when he used to work in the, when he used to work with the logs years ago.
Adelle: Or even Mick was saying around the work.
Mandy: Yeah, see we come from a real country family. We all come from the bush.
Martin: That's why I was going to bring that up, from Scone. And what's the name of that where they're logging up there? Barrington Tops. Well they're logging there now, Adelle's uncle, Mick. Well anyway, he's, he's a man on the country all his life and he's explained it to us.
Adelle: And he knows the land.
Martin: And he said. What they're chopping down now is nothing to what's going to grow anyway and he's saying, they've just picked a little spot which people are making money on and causing a ruckus over really nothing, yet.
Mandy: See, most of our family, they come from Wauchope and it used to be a timber town. And I think maybe a lot of our views about chopping the trees down and the unemployment whatever. I think that's possibly.
Terry: So are you worried that the environmentalists are, you know, going to wreck the timber industry.
Adelle: Ohh, no. I don't think they'll ever do that.
Mandy: ((Laughs)) Those bushies stand firm.
Adelle's curious statement that she likes "the ones on the water" is related by me to the main issue for which Greenpeace has received TV coverage - their water protests against whaling, and one might also mention their protests against drift netting (turtles, dolphins), long lines (albatrosses), killing baby seals and so on. In all these cases an appeal is made to the public in terms of what I have referred to above as the "Bambi" view of nature. These are nice innocent animals which we should protect as a mother protects her child. Although the interview data is sparse here in view of Adelle's replies, she agrees with me that she likes Greenpeace because of their potests against whaling. If you like, this is the one place in this interview where Adelle takes up the position of an "ecofeminist". Certainly it is a rare moment in her talk.
This leads to another discussion in which Martin, Mandy and Adelle collaborate to reject environmentalist attacks on the logging industry. This presentation refers to an Australian icon - the "man on the country" who "knows the land", in opposition to impractical city folk who base their views on mere theory or sentiment, a dichotomy recently popularized again in the Crocodile Dundee movies. For Mandy, Adelle and Martin, this iconic support is mustered in defense of working class jobs. The success of the capitalist economy is ultimately the source of jobs and the problem with environmentalists is that they attempt to prevent activities that "people are making money on" with a consequent danger to jobs. Adelle and Mandy have both a father and an uncle involved in the timber industry. They identify themselves with these people as members of their family, including them in Mandy's statement "we come from a real country family". Adelle and Mandy round off this discussion by arguing that environmentalists will never defeat the united power of the country people - "those bushies stand firm".
As women, Adelle and Mandy subordinate any "feminine" concerns they may have about the environment to a politics which is tied into the requirements of men as key family wage earners. Almost every environmental policy threatens the jobs of some section of the working class (see "Letter to the Green Parties" for more discussion of this - also Leahy 1994; McLaughlin 1993; Trainer 1985; Trainer 1991; Trainer 1995). This becomes the key issue in the way these working class women relate to the environmental movement.
Looking at the response of working class women to environmentalism through these interviews, we can argue that ecofeminism is just one way in which women may view environmental matters. Margie, Mandy and Adelle have moments in which they express some sympathy for the environmental movement in terms of their empathetic concerns for other living creatures. However, overlying this and dominating their talk are the class concerns of working class women. We can see this as a particular illustration of a more general point made by Connell about feminist politics. Connell writes:
Interests can be constituted on very different bases, which may cut across each other. Marriage and kinship involve collective practices in which advantage may be gained for one family over another family, and people may well see this as the primary definition of their interests. On the other hand 'men' and 'women' are collectivities of a more generalized kind which have conflicting interests defined by the inequalities of income power and so on already documented. (Connell 1987, 138).
In this context the project of the ecofeminist movement is to represent the interests of women as a collectivity in relationship to environmental issues. It stresses aspects of the culture of women which separate them from men on environmental issues. However links of marriage and kinship also tie women to collective practices that define their interests in solidarity with the men in their lives - to issues of social class. These class interests are often defined in conflict with the aims of the environmental movement.
Middle Class Rejection of Environmentalism
It can be even more obvious that middle class women experience environmental issues through the filter of their class politics. Beth is trained as a graphic designer but now stays at home to look after her children, a choice which she defends in terms of her children's needs, but which also fits with her husband's long and unpredictable hours of work as a contract engineer for mining companies. Her citique of the environmentalist movement is both political and cultural.
Terry: So when you say it was greenies who were against burning off. So what -
Beth: Well that's what they always say. The greenies don't want you to burn off, so no one burns off ... You can't burn off, so they're making it more difficult to burn off. You've got to have. I think in this area now, you've got to have a building permit virtually to burn off.
Terry: Yeah that's right. But see I don't see all that as coming from greenies. It's also the local Fire Brigades. I mean they're scared of fires getting out of control. And Councils are scared of getting sued. You know like ...
Beth: Ohh, yeah, you've got all that too. But then just talking to the average person, like our neighbours around here, they fancy themselves as greenies. I mean I have a number of friends in the Wilderness Society and they are against all those sorts of things. They don't want the burning off. Until now. They've seen the devastation that it caused. And where we had our farm there was a mob down the end. She works for some Government Department. Department of Lands or whatever, in Canberra. And they have never burnt off. They have never cleared their land of even all the weeds. So all the scotch thistles and everything are coming up. 'Cause they just want it for the wombats and the you know. But they've gone completely the other way and there's noxious weeds and they won't even pull those out. Now it's just invaded the whole property. I mean but you don't go crazy with these things. You don't just go and burn everything either. I mean back burning. When you're burning off you do it sensibly. That's what we tried to do.
Beth sees environmentalists, who are disparagingly referred to throughout as "greenies", as fellow members of the middle class, as neighbours and friends. The phrase "they fancy themselves as greenies" suggests that they are seeking status through claiming to be environmentalists. The implication is that they are gaining this status by taking the moral high ground, a moral status that they do not really deserve. Environmentalists are also seen as responsible for an unwanted increase in governmental supervision of independent action. As with the working class interviewees, an overestimation of the power of environmental groups to affect government policy goes along with an opposition to environmentalist pressures on governments. Also, as with the working class interviewees, environmentalists are portrayed as impractical people whose actions are ultimately harmful to others - the massive bushfires supposedly caused by the failure to burn off.
Beth distinguishes her own family's farming practices from those of the environmentalist "mob down the end", the term "mob" suggesting that they may not live in families like normal people. She sees her family's practices as "sensible" control - control of weeds and bushfire through burning off. In fact she and her husband burned off every year. This may be appropriate to maintain pasture, but for bush regeneration it is excessive (Buchanan 1989). Presumably the "mob down the end" allowed plant growth as part of a bush regeneration strategy. Beth sees their behaviour as causing a massive invasion of feral nature - "it's just invaded the whole property". The concept of "noxious weeds" that is employed here treats land as serving primarily for the commercial production of grazing animals. Within Beth's productivist ethic, the development of land for the sake of other species is regarded as irrational "they just wanted it for the wombats and the you know". A later comment in the interview reinforces Beth's disparaging picture of environmentalists:
Beth: Some of the ones that I know who are middle class people. On the weekends they like to dress sort of hippyish. Umm, you know. And go to the Wilderness Society shop and buy all their Christmas presents and that. Well that's fine. But I don't always know if they actually do as much as they say that they do, sort of thing. About certain things. I think it's just an image for them, rather than getting out there and doing anything.
Terry: So why has that image got appeal for those people?
Beth: I don't know, they're still living in the sixties I suppose. I mean if you stuck them out in the log cabin out in the bush, they wouldn't be there for very long I don't think.
The view that environmentalists are all talk and no action is a typical working class critique of the middle class (Willis 1983). Here, this accusation is used by Beth, a middle class person herself, to attack another section of the middle class. Bourdieu (1989) argues that different groups in modern society separate themselves off from other groups by a process of cultural differentiation. He maintains that this socidal differentiation is related to the variety of occupational niches within modern society. Studies by Pakulski (1991) and others have suggested that the environmentalist movement is disproportionately drawn from sectors of the middle class in government employment - in education, social welfare and the like. Beth, however, comes from a different section of the middle class - those with jobs as scientific advisers to industry, a group who are understandably worried by environmentalist policies. Her rejection of environmentalists here is a rejection of their culture - a form of "social closure" that separates her section of the middle class from their section (Parkin 1979).
What Beth says about environmentalists is that their lifetsyle is merely an "image". Their "hippyish" clothes are here presented as a form of conscious display, a style. This is related to a common view in Anglo Saxon puritan culture that clothing should be "sensible", "rational" and "practical", rather than individualistic and expressive (Hebdige 1979; Wilson 1985). According to Beth, the image favoured by environmentalists lies. The "hippy" image affected by "greenies" pretends that environmentalists live a subsistence lifestyle in the bush. In actual fact, they are no different to the rest of the middle class, who get in their cars to go Christmas shopping and have money to buy expensive presents. They are merely weekend hippies. They have actually compromised their countercultural ideals to get good jobs within the capitalist system. While the hippy counterculture has been decisively defeated politically, these people are a sad self-deluding relic of that social movement. Sensible, normal, people know that times have changed.
Despite this dismissal of the environmental movement, Beth has her own share of apocalyptic nightmares about environmental problems:
Beth: I suppose it'll take a long time before something drastic happens.
Terry: Yeah, it's hard to know.
Beth: But I guess we'll adapt. You have to adapt. Maybe we'll end up in one of those glass bubbles ((Laughs)). That big glass dome thing that they've got in America.
Terry: I know, the Ark or whatever it's called.
Beth: Yeah. I think that's a good idea what they're trying to do there 'cause it might be necessary in a hundred years ((Laughs)). But I'm certainly not pessimistic about ... Like I think it's a shame that a lot of young kids now are feeling that there's nothing to live for, you know and they're committing suicide and all that. 'Cause I think there's always something to live for. There's always something will be sorted out. You know I don't think the world's going to blow up with a big bang ((Laughs)). So I mean people will still be here. We'll just have to adapt differently.
In this passage, Beth paints a scenario which one would have to classify as apocalyptic - the life support systems of the planet will be so much destroyed that we will have to live in glass domes. The fact that she shares this apocalyptic view with so many of my other interviewees backs up the views of eco-psychologists like Macy (1981) and Roszak (1992). They argue that a deep, if often unconscious, fear of environmental apocalypse plagues everyone in modern society. In this account Beth distances herself from the horror of this scenario in a number of ways. She moves this scenario at least one hundred years into the future; a time by which her own children will be dead. She is supremely confident that these problems will be solved by technology. She argues that there is always "something" to live for, however drastic things get. In another statement on these issues she develops the theme of technological optimism:
Beth: Well I suppose that'll happen gradually, and they'll have to adjust.
Terry: Yeah but the year 2030's not that far away, I mean it sort of.
Beth: But then I guess too, you go back eighty years and we didn't have any of these problems, we didn't have motor cars zooming around. Things have changed a lot in eighty years too. And I suppose they'll just have to change drastically in the next forty years ... I think once again, it'll probably be dealt with every ten years or something. People will suddenly notice the difference and they'll deal with it ... I think, ((Sighs)) think we're lucky where we are ((Laughs)).
Terry: Yeah, yeah, why is that?
Beth: I sort of feel that Australia is doing probably more than a lot of other countries and because we're confined, we're not going to have the problems like the acid rains and all these horrific things like they have in America. Then in Europe you got the nuclear problems that they can have from time to time, which don't affect just that country but a whole lot of countries.
This passage combines a recognition of the seriousness of environmental problems - acid rain, the Chernobyl disaster, the greenhouse effect - with a countervailing assurance that science and governments will solve these problems. The phrase "people will suddenly notice these problems and they'll deal with it" suggests a consensus view of society in which society is organised collectively by everybody for the ultimate benefit of everybody. In the consensus model, people are rational and science is the ultimate form of rationality. In terms of femininity, this suggests that the role of the woman as housewife is to keep the home fires burning confident in the knowledge that the men will ultimately sort things out (Bloch 1978). Appearances notwithstanding, they have got everything under control. This is not unlike the "ostrich syndrome" described by Margie.
Within a class analysis, Beth's optimism may reflect a technocratic ideology in which the scientific professional elite mistakenly believe they are in control (Ehrenreich & Ehrenreich 1979). This optimism also colours Beth's approach to more immediate political issues. I asked Beth whether a continuation of economic growth was advisable, or even possible given finite limits to growth. Beth indicated that she has perfect confidence that the growth economy can be maintained indefinitely. Beth argues that the appropriate role of environmental parties is to influence the major parties to consider environmental problems. Personally, she would not vote for them:
Terry: Would you ever vote for an environmentalist party?
Beth: If they were sensible enough about it and it wasn't just. I mean you can't just vote for someone because they've got some environmental issues that they want fixed. Because that's not going to help run the country.
Terry: What about groups like Greenpeace, the Conservation Foundation and so on?
Beth: I mean I think they're necessary and they might be very radical to start with and I think that's necessary to get the politicians thinking, 'cause if you don't have the radicals well nothing happens. It's like with every movement that's ever happened. Then after a while all the radicals are pushed aside and the normal people flow through. I mean yes, you do need that because it makes everybody aware. They can be a pain in the bum at times, but at least it's helping make people aware. It's making the governments more aware.
Here, Beth welcomes tendencies in Greenpeace and other organisations to modify their radicalism by cooperating with business and abandoning their countercultural idealism. They need to become "normal people" and their proper role is to influence governments rather than to attempt to "run the country". Clearly she is concerned that if they were permitted to "run the country" environmentalists might destroy the economy.
In Beth's analysis, environmentalists are seen in terms of their class position and rejected as a danger to the smooth functioning of the capitalist economy. They are an annoying and impractical section of the middle class who let bushfires, feral plants and wild animals take over the cultivated space - ruining it for commercially productive use. They are irrational extremists who have given up on sober restraint in dress and appearance. They are liars who take the moral high ground, pretending that they are monks in hair shirts. The reality is that they are actually well-off middle class people who display themselves in ridiculous dress on the weekends. During the week, they have sensible jobs like the rest of the middle class. These people in their self delusion and obsessions are a danger to the smooth functioning of an economy that benefits everyone. Thankfully, this kind of extremism is no real threat.
As this article has indicated, ecofeminism suggests an alliance between women's culture and environmental concerns. My interview study explains some of the barriers to that alliance. The most fundamental of these is social class. For both working class and middle class, environmentalism is perceived as a threat to the capitalist economy. For women, class politics can be taken to be more important than any alliance with nature that they may experience as part of their feminine culture. As well, a barrier to ecofeminism lies in the fact that women are expected within patriarchy to stand back and follow their husbands and fathers in political matters. This is a serious enough barrier to feminist politics itself, but it is even more so for environmentalism, which operates directly on the terrain of class politics.
While this is all very disheartening from an ecofeminist perspective, there are some glimmers of hope. For women who do take up environmental politics, a more or less self consciously ecofeminist position is very attractive. Ecofeminism provides a way to link the ethics of deep ecology to persistent and important aspects of feminine culture in modern society. It is also very much available for men - as a framework in which they can both support feminism and celebrate an environmentalist ethic. Even women who reject environmentalist politics also express aspects of the ecofeminist position at some times. It is no accident that Margie specified her concern for animals, when she was asked to nominate key environmental problems. It is no accident that she focused on the plight of third world people when she looked at environmentalist issues. It is no accident that Adelle specified Greenpeace and their actions on the water as one of the things that drew her towards environmentalism, since these protests are so closely associated with the sufferings of non human species. Even Beth is plagued by the concerns that ecofeminism addresses - what will be the long term consequences for our children and grandchildren if we go on in this present course? Why are young people so despairing of the future that they are turning to suicide?
More qualitative research needs to be done to investigate people's relationship to environmental issues in depth. What this initial investigation does suggest is an answer to the question - why is it that most women do not participate in environmentalist actions or vote for environmentalist parties. It is concerns with class and economic issues which are at the foreground in most women's approach to environmentalism. At the same time, this study also shows that the strategy of ecofeminism has some real support amongst women in wealthy countries, and that it has some potential to expand its support. Both my research and also Connell's also show that the ecofeminist position is also available to environmentalist men as a way of linking their support for environmentalism with an acceptance of feminist politics.
This article has been an exercize in what is referred to in methodology textbooks as "triangulation". I have looked at what can be said about ecofeminism by using a wide variety of approaches to current social reality. One approach has been the analysis of political struggles that are regarded as key examples of ecofeminism in action. A second approach has been the study of popular culture to investigate the way environment and gender are linked. Another two approaches have been to see what surveys and interviews in wealthy countries can tell us. None of these approaches are entirely satisfactory in themselves and there are some obvious problems in the restriction of much of the data to wealthy countries. Nevertheless, taken together, we do begin to get a picture of the relevance of the ecofeminist position - to environmental and feminist politics and to daily life experiences of nature and gender.
In discussing three different examples of ecofeminist actions I argued for a constructionist perspective on ecofeminism. An adequate understanding of the way women became involved in these three political actions was only possible if the particularity of different social constructions of femininity was acknowledged. While the action at Greenham Common involved an explicit and intentional joining of environmental and feminist politics, this was much more muted in the other two cases. In the case of the Love Canal struggle, various particular aspects of the social construction of femininity within American suburbia accounted for the fact that women took up and dominated the environmentalist struggle against industrial poisoning. In the Chipko struggle, peasant women were called to defend their forests because of their traditional relationship to forest-based production within the peasant economy. What all three events had in common was that women were pitted in struggle against the forces of an establishment that was both patriarchal and allied to the global interests of capital.
The remaining part of this article considered the extent to which women, especially in the wealthy countries, give their support to an environmentalist position of the kind that ecofeminism proposes. It also considered the extent to which masculinity is socially constructed as the domination of nature. Answers to this are mixed. The surveys suggest that women are more likely to support an environmentalist position than men. However, the differences are not that marked. As well, while men and women both give substantial support to the cause of the environment, this support does not translate into participation in the environmental movement or strong electoral strength behind environmental politics.
Looking at the implications of popular culture, the ecofeminist analysis is more strongly supported. It seems undoubtedly true that the dominant version of hegemonic masculinity identifies masculinity with the dual domination of nature and women. As well, the ecofeminist analysis gains support from the fact that films that are popular with women often identify femininity with an empathetic concern for other species. This cultural studies analysis of popular media may indicate that, at a subconscious level, men and women differ quite substantially on environmental issues. On the other hand, the survey data indicates that this difference does not translate into very strong differences in political behaviour according to gender.
The qualitative data provided by two different interview studies helps to understand this paradox. I argue that when women deal with environmentalism as a political issue they are likely to bracket out their empathetic and "feminine" concerns for the natural world. Instead, they tend to produce a political position that relates most strongly to their class interests within the framework of the capitalist economy; class interests that are most often articulated by men and relate to the role of men as principal wage earners. Within the framework of these class interests, the environmentalist movement is chiefly seen as an irritant within the capitalist economy. The working class can view it as a middle class interest group that ignores the problems of the working class. The middle class view it as a barrier to the smooth working of the capitalist economy and dismiss it in terms of a range of cultural norms related to puritanism.
While all this suggests a somewhat bleak outlook for ecofeminism, there are some reasons for optimism. Women's empathetic concern for nature is a real cultural phenomenon, even if its political manifestations are not as strong as one might hope. It provides a basis from which many women have developed an environmentalist perspective. Ecofeminism also provides a discourse which can be taken up by men as a way of linking environmentalist and feminist concerns. As the environmental crisis deepens, its main rival is not likely to be old fashioned anti-environmentalist masculinity at all, but the new version of pro-environmentalist patriarchalism that is being developed. On the other hand, from the point of view of the environmental movement as a whole, this new patriarchal pro-environmentalism may persuade men who could not countenance ecofeminism.
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