From Paganism to Christianity

Prior to the majority of the world’s population taking the belief of the Judeo-Christian religions, a variety of pagan religions that centered on nature-oriented gods were the norm for most cultures throughout the world. Because many societies were largely agriculturally centered thousand of years ago, prior to the Roman Empire, people relied heavily on the different seasons and how they influenced production of crops. This caused people to worship nature and create gods and goddesses associated with nature. Often, the main figures were fertility goddesses, because they were the ones who were thought to control the fruitfulness of crops. Also, these goddesses had traits of gentleness and protectiveness, inspiring their worshipers to maintain the same characteristics in nature, which they held as sacred.

When Christianity took over during the rule of Constantine in the Roman Empire, paganism became illegal. Within 100 years of his rule, Christianity spread throughout Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa, and became the most popular religion in the world. Obviously, this would modify the perspectives of societies that transitioned to Christianity. God replaced the praised fertility goddess. Also, a hierarchy is sometimes referred to in the bible, which places men first, then women, children, nature, and animals last. For example, Colossians 3:18 states, “wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” Though the bible does not specifically state that God is male, it refers to him with male pronouns. In addition to this, God is often described with characteristics such as being all-powerful and jealous. This may have influenced societies that follow Christianity to value or justify transitions from agricultural states to military states.

It is difficult to fully understand the transition from pagan societies to Judeo-Christian, which influenced patriarchy, because different societies and tribes had their own unique set of ideals that fit each different cultural situation. However, a conclusion that pagan societies, which often worshiped nature and held the virtue of fertility in females as vital, can show that under paganism, women have held an understanding of the importance of respecting nature for thousands of years, while Christianity may have played a role in influencing a different means of prioritizing. From this, an emphasis on militarization and development may have occurred, leaving nature to be ignored.

The Chipko Movement

In the early 70’s, deforestation began in areas in the Himalayas in India. Not only were the people living in the areas that deforestation affected attached to the forests surrounding them, but the loss of trees created landslides and made rivers disappear. Villagers relied on the resources the forests had to survive, such as water, fodder, and fuel. As a result, the foragers of the villages were forced to travel greater distances to obtain these supplies. Traditionally, these gatherers have been women, and so were the most affected.

The first demonstration occurred spontaneously and inspired a chain reaction in the Uttar Pradesh region of the Himalayas, where villagers formed groups of predominately women to protest the government’s intrusion on their forest. These protesters practiced the Gandhian methods of satyagraha and non-violent resistance, through the act of hugging the tree to protect them from being felled. This is where the term “tree-hugger” comes from. Also, this effort is named the Chipko movement because chipko is Hindi for embrace. Its leaders and activists are primarily village women, acting to save their means of subsistence and their communities.

 The Chipko movement is visibly an ecofeminist movement. Because of the female villagers’ connectedness and love to the forest in which they inhabited, they were able to halt the oppression of the government and industrialization on their communities. The Chipko movement was vast in the Himalayan areas and spread as far southward as Rajasthan. Activists in this movement include Vandana Shiva, a significant activist in ecofeminism, and Mrs. Gandhi. By the 1980’s the movement led to the formation of people-sensitive forest policies, which put a stop to the open felling of trees in much of India.

 

Just Another Frackin’ Environmental Issue

“Fracking” or hydraulic fracturing is a way of extracting natural gases from shale rocks in the ground by drilling and forcing a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand through the drill to crack the shale and extract the natural gases. While there are some benefits to this process, there are just as many harmful effects as well. Depending on the drilling size, 1-8 million gallons of water and 40,000 gallons of chemicals are used just for one fracturing procedure. Up to 600 types of chemicals are used including known toxins and carcinogens such as methanol, radium, hydraulic acid, formaldehyde, lead, and uranium. Not only is nearby groundwater contaminated from this mixture, but only 30-50% of the fluid, which is not biodegradable, is salvaged, leaving the remaining in the ground. There have been over 1,000 cases of water contamination next to areas of gas drilling as well as incidents of sensory, respiratory, and neurological damage due to ingested polluted water. The fluid that was extracted from drilling holes is left in open-air pits to evaporate, emitting dangerous VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) into the atmosphere, creating contaminated air, acid rain, and ground level ozone. While fracking may reduce the price of oil and increases our production of fossil fuels, the cost for this, in my opinion, is too much. Fracking has comprised ground water contamination, risks to air quality, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, mishandling of waste, and the health effects of all these, as well as its contribution to raised atmospheric CO2 levels by enabling the extraction of previously isolated hydrocarbons. In short, our country’s regulations must change, otherwise hydraulic fracturing will continue to taunt our environment and communities.

Dualism: Animals and the Environment

In patriarchal dualism, one side – those who are assumed to be superior and are referred to as the “self,” – oppose the second side who are thought of as the “other.” With this philosophy, those that are the object or the “self,” benefit because they are usually the ones in power. Consider the opposing pair humans and animals. It is impossible for animals to ever be the object or the “self” because we, as humans, have the ability to hold complete control over the fate of them; therefore, we will prioritize ourselves over them. Because of this, animals are exploited and neglected. Similarly, society and the environment counter each other and if you have not caught on already, according to this way of thinking, society is dominant, while the natural environment is merely the “other.” Concurring to dualism, humankind will never find a solution to the current destructions we cause in regard to the environment and animals because we will always choose ourselves and society over the “other.”

Man-Woman Dualism

In Western patriarchal society, the philosophy ‘dualism’ is a worldview that categorizes the world into opposing pairs of concepts. One in each pair is deemed superior to the other, while the ‘other’ is often stigmatized and discriminated against. Both concepts are bound into complex relationships, which end up reinforcing each other. The standard paradigm in dualism ranks God the highest, then men, women, children, animals, and nature. Based on this view, women and men are counterparts and women are inferior. ‘Male’ qualities are valued over ‘female’ qualities such as passivity, weakness, and irrationality. Intrinsically, these qualities are not bad, but our society views them this way. Many ecofeminists believe that ‘female’ qualities such as nurturing, nonviolence, and sensuality are especially appropriate for creating an environmentally aware society. However, some feminists ridicule this idea because it is believed to support feminine stereotypes. Ecofeminism merely suggests that sometimes, but not always, biology makes certain qualities in women more likely to appear than in men, and there should not be stigma for this, as dualism suggests.

You Are What You Eat

In my last post, I explained the appalling details of factory farming. I realize it isn’t exactly easy to completely avoid goods from factory farms, however, it is achievable if one gradually transitions from general brand products to those from farms with proper ethics. First, it’s important to keep in mind a couple of aspects when deciding to stop purchasing certain products. Foods that are organic, free-range, and cage free are generally more expensive, so be prepared to pay more. A way to work buying animal based foods into a tight budget is to cut back on consumption. While this is probably unfavorable to many, in reality it will improve health because most Americans eat much more meat and cheese than necessary.

There is a strategy to buying foods that are not factory farmed and from farms that have treated their livestock ethically. You can do this by looking at labels. While organic is usually a good term, it does not specify that animals receive access to pastures. So when looking at labels, a few to look for are domestic, pasture, grass fed, and free-range, however, some of these are better than others. A way to ensure that you are purchasing from brands and farms that do not factory farm is to research the company. Also, the possibility to explore unconventional grocery stores that are independent, local, or specialize in organic products is a great alternative. Supporting local business and even farmers markets can help improve your local economy and assist in deciphering where the food you are purchasing came from.

There is much to cover on food production in the country and the importance of ingesting quality animal products. Ultimately, it is the consumer’s responsibility to determine what brands are acceptable to purchase. At first it can be difficult, but eventually you can get used to buying only humanely raised animal products. Hopefully if enough of us strive to make differences in our communities, we can inspire changes in the law that specify all livestock are raised morally. This could eventually lower the prices of these goods as well.

While many ecofeminists believe we should stop eating animal based foods altogether and become vegan, I find this an unlikely resort to the issue of animal abuse. As I said prior in this post, small steps toward a goal is imperative to reaching a greater goal, and the greatest goal to me as an ecofeminist is reaching a balance of equality between the environment, animals, and humans. We can eat animals and use resources from the environment without exploiting the two. To improve our current treatment of animals we must stop supporting factory farms.

“The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” – Jeremy Bentham

When it comes to buying groceries, many of us are not looking at the labels, but what the price is. Between buying free-range chicken that’s $5.95 per pound and the package of six chicken breasts on sale for $4.00, which would you buy? In the rush of buying groceries at the supermarket, it’s easy to take a quick look at the product in mind and merely choose the cheapest available, however, we as Americans need to wake up. It’s time that we become conscious of the treatment of the animals we eat, through their feed, living conditions, and even the ways they are slaughtered.

The majority of animal products, mainly eggs, milk, and meat, are produced in factory farms. A factory farm is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a large industrialized farm; especially : a farm on which large numbers of livestock are raised indoors in conditions intended to maximize production at minimal cost.” Usually, in order for these farms to “maximize production at minimal cost,” they confine the animals at the highest stock density possible. This requires antibiotics and pesticides to alleviate the spread of disease caused by these crowded living conditions. Some of the effects of factory farms are close captivity such as cages and even lifetime captivity in sheds, injuries caused by unsuitable housing, lack of light and fresh air, injuries caused by overcrowding, health problems caused by extreme selective breeding, fast spreading infections, debeaking of chickens to avoid pecking in overcrowded living, forced feeding, etc.

Factory farming leaves more of an impact than just on the animals it abuse. The environmental impact of this type of “farming” are equally detrimental. Deforestation, pollution of land, water, and air through agrochemicals and manure waste, and reduction of genetic diversity are only some of the environmental impacts.

I only briefly touched on the facts of factory farming. There are many other injustices I can go into further detail about, such as the way that animals are often slaughtered for meat production. Because factory farming is only concerned with the cheapest means of producing, there is no regard for the ethical treatment of animals. The way most of the animals are both raised and killed should, in my opinion, be illegal and considered torture, however, the owners of these big name companies are rich and powerful, which means they unfortunately have political power.

As an ecofeminist, this is one of the biggest ecological issues we currently face. The complete disregard for animals is unethical. These practices are manipulative of living beings and destructive to the environment. The reason these animals are so disrespected and uncared for is because those in authority lack sentiment for anything different from themselves. It is the same story that has been told thousands of times before through every type of exploitation. Those in power, which in our patriarchal society has often been rich, white men, have little regard for that which they control. African-Americans, women, and animals have all had experience of being thought of as property. Each of the ways different groups of people have been objectified and abused is analogous to the way those in power view those with less power. To finally achieve respect and a balance between the environment and our culture, we have to rid our country of any kind of mistreatment towards living beings, including animals and the environment. This also means, we have to stop buying into the cheapest means of living. By buying from these big named companies that do no respect animals or the environment, we are simply encouraging the problem.

Connecting Women and Nature

Although in current society, struggles to protect the environment and efforts to make women of the same social status as men are seen as separate, the theory of ecofeminism states that these issues are fundamentally interconnected. As I have stated before, both nature and women have been dominated by male culture for thousands of years. Nature has often been described with feminine characteristics, one of the most obvious being “Mother Nature.” Many ecofeminists believe that because of this relation, women are more in tune with nature than men.  One of the reasons we think this is because women and nature are both viewed as perpetually fertile by society, as a never ending source of either resources, love, or even offspring. A stigma is attached to women who are infertile or do not wish to bare children. Another connection females and nature are believed to share is the menstrual cycle, which is linked to the lunar cycle. This indicates a relation between the biology of women and the cycle of nature. Ecofeminism pushes the idea that it is the bond between the environment and women that causes men to feel a barrier between the two, and in turn to exploit them both.

To Those Without a Voice,

For thousands of years, humankind has misused those that are perceived as insignificant. The idea of hierarchy has induced this. Those that are more powerful often exploit those in weaker positions merely because they can. What makes these abusive actions even easier is when what is being abused is objectified, perhaps because it is not male, not white, not human, or not “alive” (ex. vegetation). Whatever false justification is used to consume certain life and the environment on the Earth to the point of misuse almost always leads to abuse. All these varieties of exploitations are directly linked.

The theory of ecofeminism is the idea that all oppression induced by patriarchy is related to the destruction of nature. The word nature could be replaced with gender, sexuality, race, species, the environment, etc. Essentially, anything in the natural world whose needs are being tossed aside to cater to the needs of the privilidged. At this point in time, it appears as though what is getting the short end of the stick are those without voices: nature, animals, and the lower class are not being heard, especially those that are women, LGBT, and anyone who is thought to be different.

There are many different issues related in ecofeminism including ecology, feminism, animal rights, etc. A few that I will go over in the future of my blog are animal rights, specifically the mass production of meat and dairy products in the United States. I will stress the importance of avoiding factory-farmed products and encourage the consumption of animal products from farms that allow free range. Furthermore, it is important to research certain products and companies because now that the cat is out of the bag as to how to majority of the animal products in this country are produced, these big name companies are doing their best to conceal the truth. Also, I will go over the history of objectification and abuse of the environment, animals, women, etc. and look at it’s evolvement into what we currently see.

Until my next post, I will leave you with a quote from my archeology professor, Dr. Charles Riggs. “Ever since we’ve learned how to domesticate plants and animals, we’ve been making nature our bitch” (2013). In my opinion, this sentence sums up ecofeminism fairly well because it ties together the environment, animals, how human kind has abused what many may call our resources, and relating them to the word “bitch” which is a word often used to demean, oppress, and even abuse.