We treat Mother Earth badly because we call her mother

Using ecofeminism to understand our exploitation of Mother Earth

A mother gives everything she has for her children—her energy, money, time and love. The image of a mother is patient, nurturing, gentle and caring. She is committed to the well-being of her children before her own most days, even though she knows that she may never receive the same in return. We have learned to expect the unconditional care that our mothers or mother figures give us, and have failed to recognize their limits and our responsibility to return such generous love.

The relationship many of us have with our mothers can fundamentally describe our relationship with the Earth. We learn to expect the unconditional care our mothers give, regardless of their human limits, because they’re obligated to love us no matter what. We feel that it’s a compulsory part of being a mom, just like sustaining humanity is an unquestionable part of being Earth. They will deal with what I present them because that’s what they do. They’ve handled it before, so they will do it again. They’ll forgive me, they always do. It’s just the way our relationship works.

I originally heard this question from Dr. Valerie Bridgeman at a conference in Elkhart, Indiana. When I first heard this, I was still. I tried to remember when the last time was that I called my mother. Why don’t I show her the same selflessness she shows me? Why do I take my mother for granted?

This lack of respect translates eerily to the identity we’ve given to “Mother” Earth. We have become so wrapped up in our pursuits that we’ve laid waste to the environment that made our growth possible. When we finally drive home to see our mother, we notice lines in her face where we didn’t remember them before. When we visit the mountains, we see blackened trunks and meadows of ash where forest fires have claimed mismanaged lands. The expectations we have for the mother figures in our lives reflect the expectations we have for our “she” planet. She’ll clothe us, bathe us, provide for us, please us and she’s built to sustain us. We believe she can fix it, but we have failed to see the warning signs.

So why do we treat Mother Earth so badly?

Maybe we treat her so badly because we call her ‘she.’ Connections between the treatment of women, minority groups and the environment in Western society are described in ecofeminism, a term coined by Françoise d’Eaubonne in her 1974 book “Le Féminisme ou la Mort.” These groups have been historically devalued, underrepresented and taken advantage of, and ecofeminism contextualizes this treatment as exploitation born of a male dominated society. While this political phenomenon may seem like a jump for those of us thinking about our mothers, our expectations for women, minorities and the environment are exorbitant when compared to the voice we give them in everyday choices. Ecofeminism connects the mistreatment of women and minority groups to the feminization of the environment and the consequential devaluing of marginalized groups.

People may not believe that they actively devalue women (like their mothers), but the political assemblages that dictate their reproductive healthcare are still dominated by males after decades of women fighting for equal say. People may believe that the additions of demographic “boxes” on forms remedy the history of prejudice experienced by minority groups, but “checking a box” does not stimulate the reconciliation and healing needed to create a future where all people are truly equal. People may believe that the government is doing the best it can for the environment, but environmental agencies are still run by climate change deniers, and protectors of our international waters are still manipulated by major oil conglomerates. In these cases and countless others, the ones most affected by the aftermath have had the least influence in the process. While it is true that some steps are being made for underrepresented groups today, women, minority groups and the environment still lack the representation and equal treatment they deserve especially in matters that concern them the most. The consequential desecrations of land, extinctions of species and natural disasters due to climate change ultimately infringe on the rights of all future generations, and these actions reflect the current disrespect and violation of the natural world and those in it. History has not required Westernization to acknowledge the shattered and anguished victims it has left in its wake, both human and non-human.

“Maybe it’s because we call her Mother.” Dr. Bridgeman’s statement questions our system of values and actions surrounding women, minority groups and the environment. We must learn to question entitlement and revalue the care that mothers and the planet provide. The Earth may not reveal the immediate effects of the violations she suffers, but the signs blaze before us as we are forced to look at the consequences of our actions.

Katie Issac is a senior environmental science major and is a Guest Writer for The Syrinx

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