The Womyn of Earth
I first knew I wanted to be a scientist in seventh grade, when my female teacher helped stimulate my ever-growing fascination with the natural world. One day, I sat in class listening to her explain, to my surprise, that global warming was still just a theory, that we had to absorb the evidence and make a call for ourselves, and that it didn’t have to be true if we decided it wasn’t because the curriculum demanded this sense of doubt be taught. I came from a home where my siblings and I loved animals, loved the natural world, and religiously watched Animal Planet and nature documentaries. I knew the threat of climate change to be very real. Why was my favorite teacher telling us not to go home and tell our parents we talked about it in class today?
As a young girl, there were a lot of things I didn’t know yet. I didn’t know that climate change was not a widely believed truth at the time. I didn’t know that many people felt no responsibility for ensuring the preservation of our planet and its resources. I didn’t know that being a woman would affect the opportunities I had to study the world around me and change how seriously others took me. I didn’t know there were centuries of men behind toxic precedents that have and do require unmatched perseverance and bravery to stand against, to break. At a young age, I was defiant of conventions I was not yet aware of, and now I see how remarkably privileged I was for that, how I stand on the shoulders of women who had to fight to be scientists, to be leaders, and how the planet needs us now more than ever.
In high school, I joked about how I wanted to change the world. I thought (and still think) that through science and the communication of science to the general public in a way that’s digestible and interesting, a better, more environmentally friendly world is possible. Over the years, I’ve had many role models and scientist I looked up to who I thought were changing the world as we know it, and I’ve come to especially admire the trailblazing women in science.
When I first learned about Jane Goodall, I loved her because she saw non-human animals the same way I did and made it her life to live in the forest among them and then go across the globe to fight for them. She was gentle, yet radical and hugely impactful. Later, I learned how Jane stood against the men in her field who wanted to discredit her work, including her world-changing observations of the chimpanzees in Tanzania. If you’re unfamiliar with Jane’s studies, she was the first to discover that a species other than humans--chimpanzees--could use tools, among many other realizations of the intricacies of chimp societies she saw during her time in Africa. In the 1960s, when she made the discovery, man was logistically separated from animals specifically by their ability to use tools, and further, there was little to no belief that animals other than humans had thoughts, emotions, or personalities. Not only was Jane a woman causing a stir in a male-dominated field, but she was also redefining the boundaries of human and non-human, showing the world that other animals are capable of what men thought only they could do.
Today, Jane Goodall is one of the many faces of the modern environmentalism movement and her legacy continues through the work she and others do with the Jane Goodall Institute, which has committed to protecting natural areas and wildlife, funding scientific, ecological research, working with communities around the world to move towards a sustainable future, and has created a global youth program to help stimulate curiosity and compassion for the Earth in young people. Magically, this Institution also helps financially and socially support women in underprivileged areas receive access to education, family planning, medical care, and clean water. In defiance of men, Jane continues to help move the world towards a place of equality for women and our planet alike.
Jane is one of the many persistent woman who have changed the world, and one of many who have felt inclined to be a voice for the Earth. In fact, femininity and the culture around our planet has revolved around and involved each other for centuries. Our planet and Nature has been personified by a female form in cultures around the world, and language tying femininity to the natural world dates back to the 13th century B.C. when Ancient Greeks described Nature as “Mother Gaia.” The idea that Nature’s gender in female is rooted in the idea that this Earth birthed life and nurtures it, like women and mothers do. Because women have the ability to foster new life, this idea helped early civilizations conceptualize the laws of all life on Earth.
Coincidentally, throughout history, the environmentalism movement has been heavily lead by and thrives under powerful females such as Jane, Mei Ng, Wangari Muta Maathai, and Rachel Carson. In fact, in the 1960s, women often played important roles in the growing environmental justice movement. Societally, their role as homemakers and caretakers often placed them in positions where they were able to see the determinants of environmental degradation because they more often interacted with the land and its resources, especially in rural areas and in certain cultures. Additionally, the societal expectation of women to be mothers may have made them feel more inclined to make sure their children would inherit a habitable planet.
More recently, Greta Thunberg has made national news with the climate strike initiative she led that asked young people in schools across the world to strike for better policy to protect our planet and appropriate action be taken by political leaders and governments. The environmental movement is definitely not a women’s movement alone, but there seems to be well embedded links between femininity and the protection of the planet.
While there’s elements to the mindset that ties the Earth and women together that bring energy to femininity, many believe this connection has uniquely tied the planet and women together as things men seek to dominate and own. A movement called ecofeminism took to popularity in the 1980s when women began to see the link between their societal oppression and the exploitation of the environment. Supplementing this idea was the realization that women in poorer countries were almost always disproportionately, negatively affected by environmental issues. To this end, some more extreme versions of ecofeminism seek to destroy the links between the Earth and women in order to reform society around ideals that are less patriarchal, better for women, and better for the planet. Others, called cultural ecofeminists, appreciate what they see as the natural association between women and nature, and use that to motivate their belief that humans and Nature can coexist in magnificent ways.
With both, criticisms exist that call the movement too heterosexual or that it further drives the divide between binary genders that now many consider to be outdated. While the movement is not perfect, central to the vision is that of an interconnectedness between all humanity and Nature, a cooperative place where all life has value, regardless of gender, species, or even Kingdom. Not only are these womyn fighting for their rights as equal human beings, but for the planet we must learn to coexist with and care for.
As someone who feels strongly linked to this Earth, the connections society draws between Nature and womanhood typically did not bother me as I continued to build my world view. I talked to people extensively about how much I loved the idea of Mother Nature and Gaia; I thought it was a beautiful depiction of how I viewed harmony in Nature. I still do, but I now realize the limitations that that image enforces. Unfortunately, patriarchal ideals run rampant through society, and their roots remain deeply, thickly stuck in the ground of the domination and misuse of both the planet and female-identifying individuals--and most other minority group. It is time this ends. It is well beyond the time we prioritize social justice for all, well beyond the time we start mending the divides between identities in society, and well beyond the time we start prioritizing the health of our Earth above the transient desires of men. Time is up.
Both a female body and our celestial body creates life, both--along with many others--have been used and policed by men, and now we all demand the respect we’ve been owed.