Life On Earth vs. Death by Patriarchy

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Singing Bird

Top Song Birds in America – Song Sparrow photographed by Bill Leman

In the mid-1940s, environmentalist Rachel Carson became concerned about the broad use of synthetic pesticides in the United States. Many synthetic pesticides had been developed through the military funding of science following World War II, and Carson’s friends living on Long Island noticed that while the local application of DDT was killing insects, it was also killing birds.

Because of the impact on bird populations, the Audubon Naturalist Society actively opposed chemical spraying programs and recruited Carson to help publicize the U.S. government’s spraying practices and related research. Carson then began a four-year project gathering examples of environmental damage attributed to DDT. By the end of her research, she had investigated hundreds of individual incidents of pesticide exposure and the resulting human sickness and ecological damage. Her conclusions were published in 1962 as the book entitled “Silent Spring,” a metaphorical title suggesting a bleak future for the entirety of the natural world, not only the literal predicted absence of birdsong.

The development of chemical and herbicidal warfare gave rise to the domestic application of the same chemicals by the corporations that developed them. On September 20, 2016, top executives from Bayer, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical, and Syngenta testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C. asking federal regulators to approve mega-mergers between the corporations, which have today fundamentally reorganized global agriculture. (Executives from the sixth company involved in the consolidation, China National Chemical Corp., declined an invitation to appear at the hearing.)

The worldview that allows for and supports the exploitation of natural resources is linked with patriarchal socio-cultural systems that are characterized by competition for land, the control of women and children, and subjugating peoples of other cultures considered to be threatening to nationalistic concepts of racial and biological purity. Social power within patriarchal systems is all about control – of men and women, of resources, of economies, of leaderships, and of nature itself. The patriarchal system is preoccupied with structures of dominance and submission, a dynamic that has put both human societies and Earth’s ecosystems in peril.

Carolyn Merchant is an American ecofeminist philosopher and historian of science. She is most famous for her theory presented in her book, “The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution” (1980), in which she identifies the Enlightenment as the period when science began to objectify nature as an inert resource for exploitation that needed to be forcibly dissected in order to be made to give up its riches and power. Her book and theory continue to be relevant in today’s Anthropocene era of globalization and global climate change. I highly recommend Merchant’s book, and she is currently Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics at UC Berkeley.

Just a few days ago, I read an article by Catwhipple in “The Circle” (an online magazine for Native American news and arts).  The article, Sex, Fossil Fuels, and Matriarchal Economics, connects the dots between exploitation of the environment by the oil industry with the phenomenon of missing and murdered indigenous women plaguing the United States and Canada.

Catwhipple writes:

The man camps and the consistent violence against Native women which occurs at the hands of the fossil fuels industry is a huge issue, and it’s also the metaphor. “Let me shove this pipeline down your throat”. That’s basically what the MN PUC [Minnesota Public Utilities Commission] just said to Native people, with the approval of the permits for Enbridge’s Line 3. That’s what $11 million worth of lobbying will buy you in Minnesota. The rape of the north and the rape of Native women. How much more graphic than “let me shove this down your throat…” do I have to be?  Consent is consent. Consent is about sex and consent is about pipelines and megaprojects. In the old days, the company men and their governments used to just rape and pillage. That was how it went. It’s not supposed to be those days now.

Sadly, most people realize that the days of colonialism, racism, and patriarchy remain a powerful influence. However, the current national and global struggles may indicate the last stand of a system that perceives its immanent demise.  The truth behind climate change is that either our current socio-cultural system is radically transformed or this planet will die by our collective hand.

Affecting many nations, men and women who identify with the toxic system of patriarchal authority and privilege have girded their collective loins today for what seems to be a 12th hour stand against those who don’t see nature or women as ultimately expendable.  Women and nature are inextricably linked within the patriarchal worldview, which long has been the dominant system informing resource exploitation and the oppression of peoples. What once may have contributed to the aggressive survival of our species is now condemning all other species to death, along with our own.

The origin of the term ecofeminism is attributed the French writer Françoise d’Eaubonne in her book “Le Féminisme ou la Mort” (1974). Ecofeminist theory posits that a feminist perspective of ecology does not place women in the dominant position of power, but rather calls for an egalitarian society in which there is no one dominant group.

As d’Eaubonne defines the approach, ecofeminism relates to the oppression and domination of all marginalized groups (women, people of color, children, the poor) to the oppression and domination of nature (animals, land, water, air, etc.). The author argues that oppression, domination, exploitation, and colonization from the Western patriarchal society has directly caused irreversible environmental damage.  With the rate of species extinction growing exponentially with each successive generation of humans, the impact of human habitation has had a catastrophic impact on every habitat. As ecofeminism makes clear, any positive change of course requires an accompanying change of the basic socio-cultural structures and economic practices informed by the patriarchal influences in many developed nations.

Socially conservative and militant expressions of the Abrahamic faiths in particular need to be challenged. The development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each substantively arose within patriarchal societies as ideologies under-girding and legitimating the subjugation of women that accompanied the conquering of lands, including the habitats with all the species and resources therein.

Progressive Christian theologians and writers have long championed a rediscovery or socio-cultural archaeology of early Christian belief and context. We frame an understanding of the ministry and teaching of Jesus that emphasizes the transformational nature of love for one’s neighbor, care of community, and liberation from systems of oppression. The resistance to forces of empire calls for the social movement away from patriarchal structures and norms to those that emphasizes human equality, care of creation as a vital imperative, equitable economy, and governing principles that assure the same.

Recently, the current United States administration’s opposition to abortion has led to the watering-down of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning rape as a weapon of war and reaffirming the UN’s opposition to sexual violence. However, the US – along with China and Russia – insisted on removing all references to women’s sexual and reproductive health or else the three countries would veto the resolution.

The US administration opposed all mentions of reproductive health on the grounds that health services for women victimized by rape during times of war implied support for abortion. The administration has taken measures to avoid supporting efforts and organizations that provide abortion services to women, including victims of rape.

CNN reported that the US move against the UN resolution is “just another expression of the contempt that this administration has for women’s rights and reproductive health and rights,” said Stacie Murphy, Director of Congressional Relations at Population Connection Action Fund. “It’s certainly typical of this administration when it comes to anything having to do with reproductive rights, sexual assault,” Murphy said.

The current administration of the United States is a casebook example of how the patriarchal worldview – supported in this instance by a conservative Christian belief system – is operating at this moment and in our generation to obliterate those voices, lives, and landscapes most affected by its consequences. Violence against women is not only aided and abetted, it is sanctioned and frequently legislated.

Women are not the only one’s negatively impacted and subjugated within patriarchal systems. Patriarchal norms place men at risk in terms of their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Emerging literature on toxic masculinity illuminates our country’s current struggles with gun violence, the prison industry, violence towards women, and racism – just to name a few examples.

A recent article in the New York Times by Wil S. Hylton describes how as a young man he was influenced by the behavioral modelling of a male cousin. The author was drawn to cousin’s strength, his bravado, his violence until his cousin physically assaulted him, placing his life in jeopardy. As Hylton shares his story, we learn how the episode forced him to come to terms with how that idea of masculinity poisoned his cousin’s life and his own. Reading Hylton’s story is like watching someone, with their last breath after a harrowing climb, plant a flag in the top of an unfathomable cultural iceberg. It’s chilling, and no man should have to endure it, but Hylton makes us have to look.

Jared Yates Sexton has written about the challenges that men have to “detoxify their masculinity” in his newly released book, “The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and the Crisis of Our Own Making.” Sexton addresses toxic masculinity as, “An especially potent and toxic system of power and control that has subjugated women and minorities for generations via methodical and organized actions powered by misogyny and racism, a unique brand of maleness that has held sway over the United States of America since before its founding.”

Perhaps, the results of our 2016 national election and the resulting societal destruction over the subsequent years have helped to illuminate the psychology behind patriarchy. Additional social factors such as the unrelenting phenomenon of mass shootings in schools and in places of worship are social symptoms of a common cause affecting our entire national life and role on the world stage.

Our current administration has made legislative incursion into our national parks, lands previously set aside as wilderness areas, and treaty lands held by Native American communities.  The language of climate change has been deleted from government websites and reports, while traditional energy corporations continue dangerous resource extraction methods and alternative energy resources are resisted.  Incursions have been made into legislating control over women’s bodies, depriving LGBTQ persons of basic benefits and employment, consolidating control over natural resources, jeopardizing long-standing peace negotiations and historical alliances, criminalizing refugees, and protecting gun rights ownership over the rights of children.

The voices of scientists, physicians, ecologists, progressive theologians, journalists, park rangers, Native leaders, human rights advocates, international representatives working for peace and social justice – all of these voices are being vilified by those invested in preserving the worldview that is now killing all of us and all of life on earth. We must keep speaking, writing, resisting, and insisting on justice and equity for all and for Nature herself.

The hateful movement of conquer and divide must be replaced with the loving movement of resist and unite. We are in the midst of a critical historical moment of social transformation, and we must be willing to take the reins of our social direction and not accept the bit being forced upon us by those who claim that life is sacred when all their actions speak otherwise. We must strive beside one another for the change that brings greater justice to all people as well as to our waterways, lands, and air.

The desperate ultimate landscape presented in Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” has haunted my fears since I was a child and first encountered her prophetic work. I need the birds to sing, which is why I pledge to them every morning – as they greet the rising sun –  that I will do all that I can so that their song will not be lost, that every spring will hold their voices of hope, endurance, and perseverance. If they can speak with such resolve, so must I –  and so must we all.

“There Was a Little Girl”

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Longfellow & Daughter

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his daughter, Edith, ca. 1868 / G. P. A. (George Peter Alexander) Healy, photographer

 

Much quality ink has been spilled in multiple academic fields concerning gender studies.

Research in the areas of world history, anthropology, literature, ecology, human sexuality, business leadership, religious studies, neurological sciences, and so many more have explored the millennia-long phenomenon of the oppression of the feminine and the suppression of women’s experience.

There are always the notable exceptions of examples of women’s empowerment in certain minority cultures or within societal moments in time. In the same way, there is always the revealed truth that women are frequently enculturated participants in enabling the patriarchal torture and abuse of their own daughters and sisters.

Additionally, there are those men in various places and times who are faithful allies in the struggle for women’s equality, who somehow – in spite of being subjected to the forces of patriarchal formation inflicted upon them –believe that women are people and that “man” is not the default for societal preferment or even the best moniker for the human species.

The most recent cultural manifestation of our continuing gender dialog has emerged in the conceptual language of “toxic masculinity” and “fragile masculinity.”  The former refers to unhealthy male empowerment that manifest as violence, including violence towards women (or patriarchal conceptions of the feminine), while the latter refers to unhealthy emotional responses to societal challenges to and critique of toxic masculinity.

The newest television advertisement for Gillette products depicted a series of instances in which men are seen intervening in the sexual abuse, bullying, or marginalization of others. [The ad can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koPmuEyP3a0%5D  Newly released during the recent Super Bowl, the ad campaign caused men informed by toxic masculinity to enter into the arena of social media commentary as though they were contestants in a communication version of WrestleMania.

Myriad comment strings foamed profusely with written hyper masculine spittle and smack. Their emotionally violent response – bullying, alienating, sexualizing Gillette’s ad and message – proved the point that Gillette was making. As the commercial stated, for men to be their best, men need to do more to be better people. A close facial shave is insufficient.

I would add that it’s vital to society and to men’s wellbeing that men need to be emotionally healthier in general.  Sadly, the concepts of masculinity and femininity within traditional patriarchal expectations of men and women don’t make it easy for anyone living within patriarchal culture (the current dominant culture) to become personally and socially healthy.  It’s an uphill, cold, muddy slog for all of us.

Various cutting edge corporate models and psychological profiles of leadership categorize me as an alpha female with a shared leadership style and commitment to empowering every voice, encouraging the contribution of diverse experience and perspectives. Evaluations conclude that I am a leader with multiple and broad leadership strengths that include competence, confidence, resilience, and grit. None of those qualities are associated with the feminine within patriarchal societal gender expectations. All of those qualities are required for leading organizations through the current global and national changes our world is currently experiencing.

The very premise of how we understand the role of what has constituted our social institutions for multiple generations is undergoing radical and rapid change. The tectonic plates of former international alliances, former tenets of religious belief, and former economic structures are all heaving under the socio-cultural pressures to shift from a global patriarchal worldview to one in which all playing fields are made level.

Throughout this global shift, the world that is passing away will recognize its demise in the rising influence of what it is not: of what is not traditionally masculine, what is not male, what is not white, what is not heterosexual, and in what is not resource wealthy.  The dying patriarchal culture will respond with what it has always relied upon to keep both men and women of all types in thrall – violence. That violence must not be tolerated, and it must not be met with the same.

Every society has the key within it to ending its own violence. In the case of a democratic society, that key is the vote. However, the key can only be turned by harnessing the anger (unrealized hope) of its citizens. Right now in the United States, influencers both within and outside of our borders are trying to direct and influence our anger by bending it towards one another, shifting our focus away from our national government –  a leadership that embodies traditional patriarchal tenets at every possible level.

Psychological warfare is an old game, but with the rise of social media it has become easier to influence large portions of the population within short amounts of time. Toxic masculinity is at the global controls of this mind game, and we all must be “woke” to its influence and impact, as well as its goal of self preservation.

I had a recent experience in my professional life that reminded me anew that I am an alpha female leader helping to shift the global tectonic plates within the patriarchal institution in which I work. Once again, I had the experience of the reality that women in leadership are not rewarded for the same attributes that are rewarded in men, which is an ongoing frustration for me.

Since the most recent reminder, I have been struggling with my feelings of anger (unrealized hope) as well as the subsequent guilt of how my anger has slipped out sideways to cause harm in my personal relationships and work over the past few days. For a man, this is simply considered to be career stress. For a woman, it is a personal failing. An angry woman plays into the pejorative judgment of patriarchy, even though anger in men is considered normative when their expectations, needs or hopes are not met.

Yesterday, I remembered a couplet from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), “When she was good, She was very, very good, And when she was bad she was horrid.”

You see, within the gender norms of patriarchal culture, women and girls are not permitted to be angry and are expected to sublimate their anger (sit on it), which can cause as many problems as when men are permitted to be as angry as they feel by expressing that feeling through violent action. Neither extreme is personally or socially healthy.

Longfellow’s poem is entitled, “There Was a Little Girl. Longfellow’s son, Earnest, recalled that his father composed and sang the poem while pacing back and forth with Edith [his daughter], then a baby, in his arms. Here is the full version of the poem:

There was a little girl,
And she had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.

One day she went upstairs,
When her parents, unawares,
In the kitchen were occupied with meals,
And she stood upon her head
In her little trundle-bed,
And then began hooraying with her heels.

Her mother heard the noise,
And she thought it was the boys
A-playing at a combat in the attic;
But when she climbed the stair,
And found Jemima* there,
She took and she did spank her most emphatic.

Yes, that’s right. The little girl is punished by her mother for expressing her frustration at her needs being ignored, while her brothers are expected to play war. That’s patriarchal culture in a nutshell.

The fact that the poem is composed during a moment in which Longfellow is apparently engaged in a nurturing act towards his daughter is rather akin to the gas lighting indicative of patriarchal behavior towards women – indoctrinating girls from an early age to perceive and receive oppressive and abusive messaging as loving action from a male. And gosh-golly, who could ever dare to judge Longfellow harshly – he was and is known as a great man and artist. Therein lies the trouble of the past and current age.

Men and women of every culture, nation, and generation are not passive products of their time and circumstance. Longfellow doesn’t get a pass in 1853 when Edith was born and neither does the President of the United States in 2019 when I’m an American citizen. People make choices in every generation. Resistance and persistence are not newly invented cries against the injustice and illness of patriarchy. These words of psychological and social wellness have been rediscovered and unearthed for our time. They should be uttered like a charm against disease, as a mantra of societal healing and global transformation.

My own promise is that I will continue to make noise no matter what the punishment, to work to change structures, and to give voice to my experiences so that they do not live harmfully within me or arise to cause harm in the very relationships that are dearest to me. I can be better, and sharing all this in a constructive way helps me achieve the health that I want for myself and to encourage for all.

To be better as a society and within a dramatically shifting world is something we can only achieve through healthy communication and commitment to being in relationship with one another, within our nation, and within our international alliances. At this epoch in the life of the world, it’s not about a having a close shave. It’s about whether we live or die. We cannot allow anyone to keep us from one another (domestic or foreign) in order to achieve greater mutual human understanding.

We are all people. We must not neglect one another’s needs. We must not allow violence to go without intervention. We must be awake to the changing world around us and find courage in one another so that in our day we can realize the hope that has been longed for by many peoples throughout many cultures, disciplines, and centuries – to be the best we can be – together.

 

*[Note: The pseudonym reference of “Jemima” in Longfellow’s poem refers to one of the daughters of the biblical patriarch, Job; Jemima was valued for her beauty].

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