Women & Nature
By Molly Murfee
The body of the earth and the body of women are not separate.
Control of women and control of the earth rise from the same gnarled root.
It is not surprising, here, now, the suppression of one gnaws on the heels of the suppression of the other.
Gerda Lerner in her 1986 landmark book, The Creation of Patriarchy, states its dawn began in 4,000 B.C.E. in ancient Mesopotamia with the invention of the concept of fatherhood, and the emerging social rule of male members of the family to own and control the physical spoils of agricultural pursuits.
Power and possession walk hand in hand.
Women had been held in the highest sacred regard as life givers, reflecting the very birth energy of the earth. Women and life, like the cycles and phenomenon of nature, were mysterious and mystical. Birth was not was not something men had power over. It was obviously disconcerting.
In ancient classical mythology we begin to see male deities giving birth without women. When Zeus discovered his wife Metis pregnant, learning her children would threaten his position as king of the gods, he swallowed her. Athena, the Greek goddess of war and wisdom, burst forth from her father’s head fully formed, armed, and sporting a snake-fringed breastplate. Unlike the violent and bloodthirsty Ares, however, Athena’s wars were only cast in necessary defense.
As the patriarchal Roman Empire forcefully spread throughout Europe, it encountered societies with matrifocal systems still intact. Every regional tribe had its own set of specific deities, often with overlap in theme and personality as nearby societies traded and interacted. There were earth spirits who demanded a contractual balance between the land and the humans who lived within her folds. There could not be more taking than giving, not more destroying than restoring. Villages were filled with female healers, prophesiers, and midwives who used the plants they found in nature to cure and teach. There were poets who listened to the voices within an animate earth—those of the tree, and the rock, and the wind—and maintained the stories of ethical responsibility. These mediators between the land and her people demanded restraint, reciprocity.
And for a society bent on infinite acquisition—
—this, obviously, just wouldn’t do.
It is hard to pave the way for limitless growth with the doorstop of respect. It is hard to control people when their loyalties are all spread asunder. Subjects had to be united under one theological roof, under one ruler, and for this, the Roman Empire wielded Christianity like a weapon, with a judgmental male sky god looking down, threatening eternal damnation should anyone disobey the rules, granting dominion to men over both women and nature. It was a powerful tool on both accounts.
Fast forward two thousand years.
The foundations of the colonization of this country gave industry the keys to an unobstructed path to limitless growth. The extraction of minerals was held in the highest regard, and Manifest Destiny gave us the right to do whatever we pleased without responsibility or retribution. Our cultural identity wraps itself around a determination of the irrefutable and all-powerful wield of industry’s money. We are the empire all over. Different clothes, but only slightly.
When a society chooses a hierarchical structure to operate by, the formidable and intimate relationship of wild women and wild nature, with all of their unpredictability and ecological equanimity, their tap into the mystery of birth and death, their demand of respect, cannot be tolerated. Both must be made inferior. Contained, manipulated, dominated, minimized, and subjugated so that the "true ruler" might easily take his throne. To maintain the patriarchal line, birth must be controlled. To assure the proper numbers for a group to stay dominate, birth must be controlled. The suppression of women and the suppression of nature are not separate issues, disparate protests, they are simply different shades of the same. It is all about power, who wields it, and who gets to stay in it.
Women are the physical embodiments of the divine feminine in the earth itself.
Suppression of women is the suppression of the earth.
Rape of nature and women come from the same seed.
Dominance. Power. Greed. Goods.
Powerful women, embodying sexuality, sensuality, drive, passion, independence, and autonomy are the very qualities patriarchal powers are desperate to suppress.
Attacks on women and nature are attacks on the divinity of both.
Our bodies, the earth’s body, are the same.
Our breath, the earth's breath, are the same.
Our water, the earth's water, are the same.
Our fire, the earth’s fire, are the same.
We are a voice for this earth, ourselves.
Bursting forth like Athena through the millennia.
Place-based author Molly Murfee is a recent finalist of the Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction and a contributor to the Bread Loaf Environmental Writer’s Conference. Molly has taught environmental literature and creative writing with Colorado College, Colorado State University, the Audubon Expedition Institute, and Western Colorado University. She is at work on her creative nonfiction book, The Adventure of Home, re-membering our indigeneity to this Earth by unraveling the destructive foundations of colonialism, and reweaving mythologies of a sacred wild. Sign up for Molly’s Earth Muffin Memos Blog & Newsletter for more on her book, field-based writing and nature connection workshops, online advertising and syndicate column opportunities, and freelance writing services at www.mollymurfee.com.