Feminism and the Mastery of Nature

Val Plumwood saw the danger of the western attitude towards nature decades before eco-consciousness went mainstream.


At Val Plumwood's funeral last March, the pallbearers had a difficult time fitting the ecofeminist's casket into the ground. Mourners smiled and said she would have preferred to be buried standing up anyway. She had, after all, spent her entire life on her feet, voice raised, for the issues she believed in so deeply – gender equality and environmental awareness. In the end, the casket fit, but just barely. It was no surprise that she didn’t lie down to rest so easily.

Decades before the dangers of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases entered the public and political consciousness, Plumwood saw the warning signs all too clearly. Many consider her a pioneer of the environmental movement – she called for the preservation of biodiversity in the 1960s and led a vocal campaign to halt logging in the forests of her native Australia.

In the 1970s, she joined a group of philosophers at the Australian National University lobbying to bring environmental issues to the forefront of policy debate. And she launched a radical critique against the traditional western concept of nature. Western beliefs, she argued, discount nature and render it insignificant; in the western framework, only humans matter. Plumwood feared the results of such human-centrist attitudes would be catastrophic.

An ardent writer and philosopher, Plumwood expressed her views in numerous articles and books. Her most famous, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (1993), called for the end of dualism in western thought. Dualism, she argued, is a mental and moral separation of two living entities, such as man and woman or human and nature, and constructing this difference creates “an inferior or alien realm.” The inferior group is consequently subject to exploitation at the hands of the more powerful one. Plumwood argued that although humanity and nature were indeed diverse entities, neither would survive if they were continually subjected to dualism’s hierarchical structure. It would end in the destruction of both groups, she warned.

She was right, of course. And, alongside other environmental pioneers such as Rachel Carson and Arne Naess, she set the groundwork for a profound shift in how we think about the environment. Her ideas were years ahead of their time, if the abundance of plastic bags still being tossed into the Earth’s landfills is any indication of how little has changed.

Plumwood did not just preach, she lived the life she advocated. Together with her first husband, she built a stone house deep in the rainforest of Southern Australia. When the two divorced in 1981, she continued to live there and took the last name “Plumwood,” after Plumwood Mountain where her home was. She lived life on her own terms and with dignity, always forgoing the paved road in order to forge a new path and a new way of thinking.

Ironically, Plumwood’s most courageous battle was not with western capitalism or hierarchical attitudes, but with nature itself. In 1985, a crocodile attacked her while she was kayaking in Australia’s Northern Territory. She escaped from the crocodile’s jaws and crawled for hours until she was rescued. She then took the blame for encroaching on the crocodile’s habitat.

It’s hard to say whether Plumwood would have been amused or frustrated by the coverage of her death, which originally reported she had succumbed to a snakebite. It later said she died of “natural” causes. She would have been the first to accept the idea that humans can be prey as often as they are predators.

18 comments on the article “Feminism and the Mastery of Nature”

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Rob Em

This is the Adam and Eve duality. People suffer from the presupposition that men and women came into existence with distinct genders. However, it is likely that the sexes were not dissimilar initially but through symbiosis at times mutualistic, at others parasitic, the sexes began to differentiate along the lines of gender through selection. The gender traits of males selected sexually by females and the gender traits of females selected by males.(Ideallly, that doesn't factor in the reality of systemic rape.) Across ethno-cultural lines, of peoples who developed in respective isolation to one another, some gender traits are similar but there is a lot of variation. This suggests at the non-inherent nature of the relationship between sex and gender and is a flying spin-kick to the face of the Adam and Eve duality. I'd also like it to suggest that we should stop reinforcing gender culturally.

Sexually, however, the male and a female of a species are also not dissimilar. Both originate distinctly female but the male undergoes defeminization in the later stages of development. Despite this the male sexual anatomy mirrors the female with nipples : nipples, penis : clitoris, testes : ovaries, sperm : ovum, scrotum : labia etc. That we have adopted an idiotic model for viewing our differences does not make us different.

Variation and diversity in ecology is beautiful as it is in the human population. And duality doesn't exist. However, the middle ground of our population has been made taboo and ignored creating a false duality. But we are now beginning to see the beautiful people across the spectrum with genders and sexual traits that don't fit into idiotic conservative dualism. We are on the cusp of accepting the marginalized and shunned middle ground of gender, sex and sexuality into our society. Once we achieve this, we will also begin to appreciate the diversity of our environment. Rage against the monocultures.

[EDIT]
Coincidentally, after posting this I piked up my copy of The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise by R.D. Laing and read in the introduction of The Bird of Paradise:

Jesus said to them://
When you make the two one, and//
when you make the inner as the outer//
and the outer as the inner and the above//
as the below, and when//
you make the male and the female into a single one,//
so that the male will not be male and//
the female not be female, when you make//
eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand//
in the place of a hand, and a foot in the place//
of a foot, and an image in the place of an image,//
then shall you enter the Kingdom//
-The Gospel According to Thomas
Your mind is recordable media.

Rob Em

This is the Adam and Eve duality. People suffer from the presupposition that men and women came into existence with distinct genders. However, it is likely that the sexes were not dissimilar initially but through symbiosis at times mutualistic, at others parasitic, the sexes began to differentiate along the lines of gender through selection. The gender traits of males selected sexually by females and the gender traits of females selected by males.(Ideallly, that doesn't factor in the reality of systemic rape.) Across ethno-cultural lines, of peoples who developed in respective isolation to one another, some gender traits are similar but there is a lot of variation. This suggests at the non-inherent nature of the relationship between sex and gender and is a flying spin-kick to the face of the Adam and Eve duality. I'd also like it to suggest that we should stop reinforcing gender culturally.

Sexually, however, the male and a female of a species are also not dissimilar. Both originate distinctly female but the male undergoes defeminization in the later stages of development. Despite this the male sexual anatomy mirrors the female with nipples : nipples, penis : clitoris, testes : ovaries, sperm : ovum, scrotum : labia etc. That we have adopted an idiotic model for viewing our differences does not make us different.

Variation and diversity in ecology is beautiful as it is in the human population. And duality doesn't exist. However, the middle ground of our population has been made taboo and ignored creating a false duality. But we are now beginning to see the beautiful people across the spectrum with genders and sexual traits that don't fit into idiotic conservative dualism. We are on the cusp of accepting the marginalized and shunned middle ground of gender, sex and sexuality into our society. Once we achieve this, we will also begin to appreciate the diversity of our environment. Rage against the monocultures.

[EDIT]
Coincidentally, after posting this I piked up my copy of The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise by R.D. Laing and read in the introduction of The Bird of Paradise:

Jesus said to them://
When you make the two one, and//
when you make the inner as the outer//
and the outer as the inner and the above//
as the below, and when//
you make the male and the female into a single one,//
so that the male will not be male and//
the female not be female, when you make//
eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand//
in the place of a hand, and a foot in the place//
of a foot, and an image in the place of an image,//
then shall you enter the Kingdom//
-The Gospel According to Thomas
Your mind is recordable media.

Anonymous

This blows my mind. I don't really understand what exactly your saying. Are you speaking of the illusion of separateness? In reality male and female are far from the same but at the same time have a perfect form of balance as nature does. Male and female are one when combined together. But when you think about it everything is already one because we are all interconnected through the constant vibration of atoms (energy). The universe is one big organism but we have the illusion of separateness because we have two eyes on our heads which makes our perspectives different. But all in all we're just looking at ourselves but feel like aliens to one another. We are all one huge complicated (in illusion) consciousness.

Anonymous

This blows my mind. I don't really understand what exactly your saying. Are you speaking of the illusion of separateness? In reality male and female are far from the same but at the same time have a perfect form of balance as nature does. Male and female are one when combined together. But when you think about it everything is already one because we are all interconnected through the constant vibration of atoms (energy). The universe is one big organism but we have the illusion of separateness because we have two eyes on our heads which makes our perspectives different. But all in all we're just looking at ourselves but feel like aliens to one another. We are all one huge complicated (in illusion) consciousness.

Anonymous

Humans aren't aliens to this planet. We are not an accident the earth created, we have just as much a meaning as trees which give off give oxygen and bees that make honey. We are apart of a balance that we are not in control of. Just because we have a conscious thought and have an illusion in the form of free will, the earth is in control and it will do what it knows best which is to maintain its balance. Our ego's convince that we are more powerful than nature. Nature will eradicate us if it needs to and it hasn't yet.

Anonymous

Humans aren't aliens to this planet. We are not an accident the earth created, we have just as much a meaning as trees which give off give oxygen and bees that make honey. We are apart of a balance that we are not in control of. Just because we have a conscious thought and have an illusion in the form of free will, the earth is in control and it will do what it knows best which is to maintain its balance. Our ego's convince that we are more powerful than nature. Nature will eradicate us if it needs to and it hasn't yet.

walikchris

In traditional Western thought women have been associated with nature and both have been characterized as being inherently less intelligent and more emotional in contrast to the supposed rational men. Deconstructing this ideological and oppressive dualism is incredibly important, but that does not mean we should ignore actually existing differences and hierarchies. ( thesis , essay and dissertation writing )

walikchris

In traditional Western thought women have been associated with nature and both have been characterized as being inherently less intelligent and more emotional in contrast to the supposed rational men. Deconstructing this ideological and oppressive dualism is incredibly important, but that does not mean we should ignore actually existing differences and hierarchies. ( thesis , essay and dissertation writing )

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