The popular poster of planet Earth with the line
"Love Your Mother" is cute and creative. Yet
Catherine Roach alerts us to potential problems of
anthropomorphizing Earth as mother in light of traditional
patriarchal attitudes toward motherhood.
For example, mothers
are frequently regarded as caretakers always there to provide
for us and clean up after everyone's mess. To view Earth as
mother within this context is a disastrous metaphor for the
environment given resource exploitation and human
One woman felt that Roach's example implies a static,
one-dimensional relationship of young children to mothers.
Why can't we imagine the relationship reversed wherein as
mature adults we take care of our mothers? Another woman
added that such a protective and respectful attitude toward
elders is customary in many traditional, particularly
non-Western, cultures. Viewed form this perspective, the
symbolism of Earth as mother can inspire a sense of social
responsibility toward the planet.
Other women were wary of
the implications of a mother/Earth metaphor in this context
since, under patriarchy, mothers-as-crone are all too often
devalued, if not abandoned. Women further cautioned against
using mother as a metaphor given the dysfunctional nature of
most family relationships in advanced capitalist societies.
Several women commented that the concept of dependency is
dualist. Why can't our relations with mother/Earth be one of
interdependency and coexistence? Women liked Roach's
suggestion that we imagine Earth as our neighbor or our
partner, i.e., an image less wrought with gendered baggage.
Roach's second theme deals with the classic debate of
whether women are closer to nature than men. One woman felt
that the question is as inappropriate as asking whether New
Yorkers are closer to nature than country dwellers. We're all
part of nature, some of us are just more aware of our
connection. Roach also asserts that because men experience
human biological processes, such as "eating, sleeping,
eliminating waste, getting sick and dying," they are
equally close to nature.
It was speculated that men, too, may
experience cycles of sorts. One woman gave the example of
men's tendency to have erections in the morning. Another
woman observed that females likewise eat, sleep, etc., so
that "washes." Furthermore, these are mundane acts
compared to uniquely female functions.
She maintained that
menstrual cycles, birthing and breast feeding are
considerably more significant and complex than ejaculation of
semen, the sole biological function Roach cites as uniquely
male. Several women found this hierarchal analysis of natural
processes problematic as it leads to biological determinism,
a theory patriarchy has always used against women.
Rather than downplay our gender difference, however, many
ecofeminists exalt them. Embracing the concept of the
universality of a cosmic Mother Earth, for instance, has
empowered lots of women. One woman strongly urged that the
feminine principle needs to be especially stressed at this
point in the history of our species. Excessive male energy
has created an utterly lopsided situation. A pronounced
emphasis on femaleness can help reestablish parity between
the yin and yang.
Other women disagreed, saying that
promoting female principles over male principles prioritizes
women, creates further imbalance and reinforces dualistic
thinking. Overcoming patriarchy, they felt, can be best
achieved through a "partnership" relationship with
In response, the woman clarified that her "cosmic
mother" position is not about separatism nor female
supremacism; she fully supported a post-patriarchal vision of
gender equality. While in the throes of patriarchal duality,
though, she felt that putting the female principle front and
center is a necessary strategy for correcting the current
imbalance. The pivotal question remained unresolved: Is it
really possible to eliminate duality while relying upon
seemingly dualistic concepts?