This article is taken from a larger text. ~J
Women, Men, and Nature
As we have seen, in dominator ideology male control over women is justified by dogmas placing man and spirituality above woman and nature. But these dogmas also require that men view their own bodies (which, like women’s bodies, are obviously part of nature) as objects to be controlled. These attitudes were in the West exacerbated by Christian teachings of the inferiority of both women and the bodily or carnal, including the Church’s condemnation of sexual pleasure. However, as we have also seen, this dualistic (or more accurately, dominator) view of men and spirituality as superior to women and nature is characteristic of many Eastern religions, philosophies, and even mystical traditions.
So the view of nature as something to be controlled, which is so decried today by environmentalists and others trying to find healthier and more sustainable lifestyles, can hardly be blamed, as some writers have, on Newtonian science or Cartesian rationalism. 27 Newtonian science and Cartesian rationalism certainly represent a detached, male-centered approach. But they are merely mechanistic updates of much earlier views. Indeed, the supposedly modern view that nature (and thus also the human body) is to be conquered and controlled by men can in Western tradition easily be traced back to the Babylonian Enuma Elish, where, as we saw, Marduk creates the world by dismembering the body of Tiamat. Moreover, although it is in a less violent form, the notion that males can, and should, control nature is central to the biblical creation story that is a cornerstone of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religion. What we are told here is that all of nature was created simply because a male deity ordered that it be so— and even beyond this, that when God created humans in his image, he gave man dominion “over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” 28
This notion that man can, and should, have absolute dominion over the “chaotic” powers of nature and woman (both of which are in Babylonian legend symbolized by the goddess Tiamat) is what ultimately lies behind man’s famous “conquest of nature”— a conquest that is today puncturing holes in the earth’s ozone layer, destroying our forests, polluting our air and water, and increasingly threatening the welfare, and even survival, of thousands of living species, including our own. This is also what lies behind a medical approach to the human body that all too often relies on unnecessary and/or harmful chemical and surgical intrusions — an approach that in Western medicine goes back to the “heroic” remedies developed by the Church-trained doctors who during the late Middle Ages gradually replaced traditional healers (many of them women burned as witches) and their more natural herbal and other treatments. For here too the guiding philosophy is one of omniscient doctors giving orders and of detached external control; in short, of domination over rather than partnership with nature.
None of this is to say that modern science and medicine have not made major contributions to human welfare — which they clearly have. But it is just as unsound to insist that modern science and technology alone can solve our mounting ecological problems as it is to blame all these problems on modern science and technology.
Indeed, the stereotypes of modern science and technology as either villain or savior obscure the real issue. It is not whether we should, or should not, develop science and technology. It is rather how science and technology should be developed and applied. 29
There are in nature both creative and destructive forces, and a major achievement of human culture has been the development of technologies to better deal with, or at least minimize, the damage from destructive natural phenomena such as periodic floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. Medicine has also made great strides toward curing and preventing destructive viral, bacterial, and hereditary diseases. We obviously want to continue developing these kinds of technologies. But we also need to learn to work more in partnership with nature, including partnership with the human body as part of nature.
For instance, rather than merely seeking to control nature’s periodic floods using modern technology to dam rivers, we need to understand how dams can under certain circumstances also have adverse economic and environmental effects, as in the case of the famous Aswan Dam in Egypt — which wreaked havoc with the natural cycles of soil enrichment through the Nile’s periodic flooding, leading to massive use of chemical fertilizers, and with this, not only to great ecological damage but, in the long run, to drops rather than increases in crop productivity. 30
Another example is that rather than seeking to deal with bodily malfunctions through massive chemical therapies, which often create more health problems, we need to move toward what is today accurately called a more holistic approach to the human body— one that recognizes the interaction between mind and body and the great untapped power we humans have to heal ourselves.
This takes us to something else that is still also rarely brought out: that largely because women have not been socialized to believe they should “conquer” nature, women today play a major role in articulating and disseminating this more holistic or partnership-oriented view of natural processes. There are many books by women dealing with this issue. For example, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was the first clarion call for the modern ecology movement. Our Bodies, Ourselves was a landmark book in holistic medicine, a powerful tool in women’s struggle to reclaim our bodies, and with this, the authority to heal that was (after the Church’s extermination of Europe’s women healers during the witch-hunts) monopolized by male physicians. And ecofeminist books such as Carol Adams’s Ecofetninism and the Sacred, Lorraine Anderson’s Sisters of the Earth, Irene Diamond’s and Gloria Orenstein’s Reweaving the World, Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature, Carolyn Merchant’s The Death of Nature, and Vandana Shiva’s Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development vividly show that the devaluation (and conquest) of woman and the devaluation (and conquest) of nature are all of one cloth. 31
Taking this more partnership-oriented view of both women and nature an important step farther is Elizabeth Dodson Gray’s Sacred Dimensions of Women’s Experience. For this work not only stresses the need to understand and change gender stereotypes if we are to make real progress; it puts at issue nothing less than what is and is not sacred.
Renaming the Sacred and the Obscene
As we have seen, how we define what is sacred is integral to how we define reality. Thus, Gray writes: “It is not accidental that in the Genesis 2 account of creation Adam ‘named’ all the animals. Naming is power, the power to shape reality into a form that serves the interest and goals of the one doing the naming.” 32
It is all too evident that a dominator way of naming reality is not serving the best interests of either women or men. It has led to chronic violence and injustice and is ecologically unsound. Even beyond this, the view of the world as a pyramid ruled from above by a remote, otherworldly deity robs both women’s and men’s day-to-day experiences of wonder and meaning, investing only that which distances us from life with holiness.
Perhaps the most glaring example is that while we have no lack of religious ceremonies to deal with death, we as yet have hardly any rites to imbue the act of giving birth with sacred meaning. Quite the contrary, in the Bible we are told a woman is tainted and unclean from giving birth33— a complete reversal of the ancient view of giving birth as a sacred act in image after image of pregnant and birthing Paleolithic and Neolithic female figures. So the fact that women and men are today beginning to consciously resacralize giving birth through rituals of celebration is a very important partnership sign. 34 . . . (continued).
Again, I will say the book from which this short article is taken gives information that I believe is absolutely basic to our understanding of the false matrix in which we are presently living. Our world view of ourselves and our place on our planet has been totally corrupted. When we take the time to understand the details —and the depth — of what we have erroneously learned, we will find that truly, the truth does set us free! ~J
Eisler, Riane (2012-01-03). Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body- (Kindle Edition $.99 – a Kindle App is a free download). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.