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Nature As Female

Book Review: "Loving Your Mother: On the Woman-Nature Relation"
By Catherine Roach

The popular poster of planet Earth with the line "Love Your Mother" is cute and creative. Yet Catherine Roach alerts us to potential problems of anthropomorphizing Earth as mother in light of traditional patriarchal attitudes toward motherhood.

For example, mothers are frequently regarded as caretakers always there to provide for us and clean up after everyone's mess. To view Earth as mother within this context is a disastrous metaphor for the environment given resource exploitation and human pollution.

One woman felt that Roach's example implies a static, one-dimensional relationship of young children to mothers. Why can't we imagine the relationship reversed wherein as mature adults we take care of our mothers? Another woman added that such a protective and respectful attitude toward elders is customary in many traditional, particularly non-Western, cultures. Viewed form this perspective, the symbolism of Earth as mother can inspire a sense of social responsibility toward the planet.

Other women were wary of the implications of a mother/Earth metaphor in this context since, under patriarchy, mothers-as-crone are all too often devalued, if not abandoned. Women further cautioned against using mother as a metaphor given the dysfunctional nature of most family relationships in advanced capitalist societies.

Several women commented that the concept of dependency is dualist. Why can't our relations with mother/Earth be one of interdependency and coexistence? Women liked Roach's suggestion that we imagine Earth as our neighbor or our partner, i.e., an image less wrought with gendered baggage.

Roach's second theme deals with the classic debate of whether women are closer to nature than men. One woman felt that the question is as inappropriate as asking whether New Yorkers are closer to nature than country dwellers. We're all part of nature, some of us are just more aware of our connection. Roach also asserts that because men experience human biological processes, such as "eating, sleeping, eliminating waste, getting sick and dying," they are equally close to nature.

It was speculated that men, too, may experience cycles of sorts. One woman gave the example of men's tendency to have erections in the morning. Another woman observed that females likewise eat, sleep, etc., so that "washes." Furthermore, these are mundane acts compared to uniquely female functions.

She maintained that menstrual cycles, birthing and breast feeding are considerably more significant and complex than ejaculation of semen, the sole biological function Roach cites as uniquely male. Several women found this hierarchal analysis of natural processes problematic as it leads to biological determinism, a theory patriarchy has always used against women.

Rather than downplay our gender difference, however, many ecofeminists exalt them. Embracing the concept of the universality of a cosmic Mother Earth, for instance, has empowered lots of women. One woman strongly urged that the feminine principle needs to be especially stressed at this point in the history of our species. Excessive male energy has created an utterly lopsided situation. A pronounced emphasis on femaleness can help reestablish parity between the yin and yang.

Other women disagreed, saying that promoting female principles over male principles prioritizes women, creates further imbalance and reinforces dualistic thinking. Overcoming patriarchy, they felt, can be best achieved through a "partnership" relationship with men.

In response, the woman clarified that her "cosmic mother" position is not about separatism nor female supremacism; she fully supported a post-patriarchal vision of gender equality. While in the throes of patriarchal duality, though, she felt that putting the female principle front and center is a necessary strategy for correcting the current imbalance. The pivotal question remained unresolved: Is it really possible to eliminate duality while relying upon seemingly dualistic concepts?

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