Publications / Annual E. F. Schumacher Lecture

Women and the Challenge of the Ecological Era

When E. F. Schumacher visited The Land Institute in March 1977, we were only seven months old. We were small, but our place was not beautiful. Three partially-paid staff members and eight students worked and studied in a building under construction. Outside, in the mud around the building, there were piles of scavenged materials: lumber, 220 patio doors bought for a bargain price, scrap iron, and more. But Dr. Schumacher affirmed our efforts, and his ideas influenced the developing mission of this newest nonprofit devoted to sustainable alternatives.

Now we are fourteen years old with thirteen staff members and nine student interns. The Land Institute is still small by most standards but, we think, much more beautiful with our gardens, boardwalks, trees, research plots, and nearly one hundred acres of never-plowed native prairie. We have an office building in addition to the classroom we were constructing in 1977 plus barns and farm equipment. The two Carpathian walnut trees we planted in memory of Schumacher are thriving.

Many of the problems we discuss at The Land Institute would have interested Schumacher, but I doubt if the topic of my talk is one he would have chosen. While he obviously respected and quoted prominent women of his day, like the rest of the society he considered that the main role for women was predetermined by their sex. They were to care for their children at home. In the important essay on Buddhist economics in Small Is Beautiful, he described the three functions of work: to give a man a chance to utilize and develop his faculties, to enable him to overcome his ego-centeredness by joining with others in a common task, and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence. When he said “a man,” he meant a man. Women were not part of this description. “Women on the whole,” he said, “do not need an outside job.” The legitimate need for women to have fulfilling work in addition to parenting responsibilities was not part of his range of considerations.

Attitudes about women’s roles were already undergoing change in 1977 when Schumacher visited us, but I think he would be surprised at how actively women participate in mainstream society now. In general, society approves when they “utilize and develop their faculties” and engage in meaningful work, and it does not expect them to provide all the support services (cooking, cleaning, and laundry) that free their husbands to pursue careers. And just in time. Women’s perspectives, values, and skills are needed as we respond to the complex problems making up the environmental crisis that is the theme of this year’s lectures. We are in an age of ecology, what we might call the ecological era.

The challenge of the first part of the ecological era has largely been to recognize and understand our dependence upon nature, upon ecological systems, and to realize that humans cannot continue to ruthlessly exploit the nonhuman world to satisfy our needs and greeds.

The challenge of the second part of the ecological era—from 1990 on—is to transform our society so we can act on our ecological knowledge, change destructive patterns, and develop a sustainable society. Women must have a large part in this.

I shall describe here the ecological era and, occurring in the same time frame, the feminist era. In my view, and the view of a growing number, the coming together of the ecological and feminist movements gives us a greater opportunity to change patterns that not only lead to the extinction of countless other species but also destroy what supports humans. We must change the underlying conceptual framework of Western society: a hierarchy that ranks white heterosexual male values, ideas, and work above that of women, people of color, and all other life forms. Certain attributes of women’s culture must be employed to help us adapt to sustainable, ecological living patterns. What we might call a feminization of the culture will come about in response to the environmental crisis in the most decentralist social organizations of all, our families and partnerships. Let me begin by describing the ecological era.

The Ecological Era

In Nature’s Economy (1979) Donald Worster writes that the Age of Ecology began “on the desert outside Almagordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, with a dazzling fireball of light and a swelling mushroom cloud of radioactive gases.” We had created a force capable of destroying the planet. Before Worster, in 1948 Fairfield Osborne, in his book This Plundered Planet, said he had come to understand toward the end of World War II that humans were involved in another war, one against nature. This was not the age-old literary theme of conflict with nature, in which nature was a worthy opponent. Osborne and Worster both recognized that nature was now the victim of our aggressive actions.

But I think we did not actually start the ecological era until this understanding became a part of the general public awareness, something that came about in the mid-1960s. By the time of the first Earth Day in 1970 the thinking, reading public in this country had become acquainted with several ecological concepts and had extended them to the human experience. We could see ecological damage that humans had created; we began to understand that what we do to nature, we do to ourselves.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, called attention to the flagrant misuse of persistent pesticides such as DDT, chlordane, heptachlor, and dieldrin as well as to their devastating effect upon species other than insects. The chapter “Earth’s Green Mantle” explained connections between plants and animals and described the concept of the web. This ecological concept was popularized around the time of the first Earth Day. And though, as David Ehrenfeld pointed out in The Arrogance of Humanism, “we greatly exaggerated the fragility of that web in developing our economic arguments for preserving natural resources,” still for those who had never thought much about our dependence upon nature, the concept was an eye-opener.

Next it was “carrying capacity” that became widely discussed when Paul Ehrlich’s book The Population Bomb was published in 1968. The book stimulated people to ask questions like the following: How many people can the earth support? At what standard of living? By replacing what other life forms?

The idea of cycles in nature—nutrient cycles, life cycles, reproductive cycles—also became part of the public’s awareness in the early stage of the ecological era.

The awakening of our minds to these and other ecological concepts led to an active grass-roots environmental movement in the early 1970s and the founding of alternative organizations such as the New Alchemy Institute, already established in 1969, and later The Land Institute in 1976. National environmental organizations had the support of their local letter-writing constituencies when promoting the significant national legislation of the period: the National Environmental Quality Act requiring environmental impact statements, establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce new laws regulating air and water quality, and legislation protecting wilderness. The Arab oil embargo of 1973 led to a growing awareness that natural resources were finite. We began to think about the fuel “cycles” of power plants, about net energy balances, and we experimented with conservation and renewable energy.

The ecological era continued into the 1980s in spite of Ronald Reagan and James Watt. Perhaps because of James Watt, the national environmental organizations became stronger and their leadership more professional but, sadly, not in proportion to the destructive forces that increased their membership. Three Mile Island. Bhopal. Chernobyl. Prince William Sound, Alaska. These plus other environmental catastrophes caused the public to acknowledge increasingly the inherent dangers of large-scale industrial technology. In the 1980s we wrestled with the clean-up and safe storage of toxic and radioactive wastes. We realized that both capitalism and socialism externalized the environmental costs of industrial growth and acted in ignorance of the second law of thermodynamics.

The relevance of ecology to farming became clearer in the 1980s as we studied the negative consequences of industrialized agriculture: soil loss, groundwater contamination, and the demise of family farm communities. In 1980 The Land Institute launched a research program based on nature as the teacher and the measure in agriculture. We set out to learn the wisdom of the prairie, a self-sustaining ecosystem that produced the soil that made Midwest corn and wheat fields productive. We continue our efforts to bring ecology and agriculture together as we attempt to develop prairie-like mixtures of perennial plants that produce seeds for people and livestock. We expect these domestic prairies to replace conventional crops on highly erodible soil. They will require no pesticides or herbicides and will use little or no chemical fertilizer. Tractor fuel consumption will be lower as we eliminate annual tillage for planting.

The conservation provisions in the 1985 farm bill were put there by the American people—city and country folk alike—to protect soil and water. Farmers were told they must comply with conservation requirements on highly erodible land or be ineligible for subsidies. The discussion of ecology in agriculture increased as some researchers studied predator-prey relationships to control insect pests. We began hearing about studies of the role of legumes in the nitrogen fertilizer cycle and research on decomposition of organic material and release of soil nutrients.

In 1990 we are in the second stage of the ecological era. The second Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1990, focused on global environmental problems such as acid rain, the greenhouse effect, and ozone depletion. But everyone was reminded that solutions should be carried out locally, in particular places. One wonders if we will ever go beyond the Earth Day T-shirt level of consciousness. In this next stage of our ecological era we must do more than pick away at the symptoms of ecological disruption. It is essential to gain control over that which is responsible for our aggression against the earth, the hierarchic framework for society that is the basis of interaction between humans and the nonhuman world.

The Feminist Era

The ecological era appeared simultaneously with the feminist era. Changes in the status of women, in women’s perception of themselves, in the opportunities and challenges they face have never before been so widespread nor so widely recognized as they have been in the period from the mid-1960s until now. I speak, of course, as a white, middle-class, married woman with three grown children, someone for whom the last twenty-five years have been a period of slow awakening. My own experience and the influence of women writers and feminist activists make me see the world in an entirely different way than I once did. My daughters and the young women interns at The Land Institute continue to enlighten me. Though I share much with women of color and lesbians, I am aware that their experiences have been in different contexts, and I know they have other opinions and proposals for change that I cannot adequately express.

Though I choose to describe the feminist era as beginning in the mid-sixties, parallel to the ecological era, I know that the groundwork of feminist philosophy was laid by women in the nineteenth century and feminist activism was born of the suffragettes in the early twentieth century. How much we owe to our foremothers—Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Margaret Sanger, and others—for revealing the realities of sexist oppression. And how deprived our whole culture has been by the suppression of such books as Woman, Church and State, written by Matilda Joslyn Gage, first published in 1893 and reprinted in 1980.

I did not learn about these women when I was in school, nor in college. I was not taught that women abolitionists who attended the international anti-slavery convention in 1840 were not allowed to sit in the convention hall with the delegates or participate in the deliberations. Many women abolitionists were among the early advocates for women’s rights: they spoke against the injustice of the common-law doctrine that considered wives to be chattel of husbands, that denied women the right to own property, that would not allow women to vote or hold office. When African-Americans were given the right to vote, white men still denied women—of all races—the same right. Why did the textbooks clearly teach the immorality of African-American slavery but not the immorality of women’s oppression?

Women becoming adults in the 1950s, like me, did not question much. Textbook stereotypes, women’s magazines, and movies all reinforced the belief that “a woman’s place is in the home.” This attitude kept women from competing for jobs with men who were World War II veterans, and it stimulated the consumer economy as women made a career of purchasing household goods for life in suburbia. Those who went to college and earned academic honors were not as much of a success by societal standards as those who dropped out after “catching a husband” and became adept at home decorating, dinner parties, and raising well-scrubbed children.

When I was twenty, I read Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House, first performed in 1879, and suddenly recognized the tyranny of patriarchy. I was horrified and depressed. But there was no one to talk to about my feelings, so I soon was again absorbed by the culture, became engaged, bought a copy of one of those glossy bride magazines and a cedar chest, and got married.

My mother-in-law approved of my temporary teaching job, saying that I was earning a PHT degree, Putting Hubby Through (a graduate program). She fully expected me to become a full-time homemaker again and stay home with our two preschool children when my husband finished his Ph.D. I expected this of myself. Friends in the Graduate Student Wives Club and I discussed our dissatisfactions, our buried intellectual interests, and the conflicts we felt because of our belief that it was the mother’s duty to be home with the children.

The involvement of many women in the environmental movement has been an extension of the motherhood role. Women have always been involved in reform movements that they see as related to the welfare of their home and children. From promoting spittoons in the streets of frontier towns to prohibition of alcohol to working for air-pollution abatement and the safe disposal of hazardous or radioactive wastes, family well-being has been the impetus for action.

Friends and I arranged a “teach in” for homemakers at the Salina, Kansas, YWCA on Earth Day 1970, which then led to the organization of the Salina Consumers for a Better Environment. We lobbied grocery stores for less plastic packaging and more recyclable containers. We promoted tree planting. We also set up a speakers’ bureau with self-educated women available to speak to clubs and service organizations about all the environmental issues of the day, everything from overpopulation to pesticides to declining fossil fuel supplies. My own interest in the issues—the personal environmental crusade I took on—kept me busy for most of the next decade as a professional citizen. The challenge of learning about many new subjects so we could give speeches and lobby lawmakers eased some of the suburban homemaker dissatisfaction Betty Friedan described in The Feminine Mystique, which had hit me hard when I read it in 1966. While still loyal homemakers for our husbands and children, we could also spend our days working in common cause with other women environmentalists. Undoubtedly we did some good, but from another perspective our involvement in working for the public good and our children’s future sidetracked us from seeking personal fulfillment and independence.

Women became important in local chapters of mainstream environmental organizations in the 1970s. Too often they left the leadership to men and fell into the housekeeping chores: telephoning, licking stamps, baking cookies, and writing letters. This volunteer work force declined in the 1980s as more women took full-time jobs and professionals did more of the lobbying and office work. If we are to think globally and act locally and if we are to develop decentralist responses to the environmental crisis, we need to revitalize grass-roots organizations. But who will do the important volunteer work?

This brings us to the challenge for the next phase of the feminist era. The women’s movement to this point has affected the way women work, how they relate to their families, and especially what they think about themselves and their aspirations. In contrast to the 1950s, women expect to find careers in business, medicine, politics, and law. But greater equity in the workplace has not led to greater equity in the home. Studies show that women do a disproportionate share of the housework, take most of the responsibility for the children, and get less personal support from men than they give. Women develop their faculties on the job but still provide most of the physical and emotional support for the family. We have made great strides in social justice—except in our basic social unit, the home.

This inequity persists because the underlying conceptual framework for society is a hierarchy with white heterosexual men at the top. Men are considered to be more important than women and to pursue more important work. Men’s patterns of thinking and making moral choices, of organizing ideas or work, of determining justice, of judging esthetics have been the standards for Western culture and the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

These standards, carried out through industrialization, have molded the workplace in our country. Industrial values dominate: high production for profit is the bottom line, growth and more growth is the major goal, bigger or more is better. People must work at least forty hours a week—or fifty or sixty if they are aspiring corporate executives or academics—in order to hold jobs with decent pay. We cannot ignore the fact that many women are employed outside the home not because they have fulfilling work but because the family needs two salaries. Men—and now women—on that treadmill cannot reestablish a proper relationship with the earth, let alone an adequate relationship with their families and communities.

Women increasingly understand that working for their own release from male dominance cannot succeed unless they work to eliminate the dominance of one race over another, one age group over another. Sexism, heterosexism, ageism, racism, classism, and naturism are all the same problem. Women are not out to replace male dominance with female dominance but to correct the problem of dominance. Our goal must not be to change who dominates but to get rid of the model that justifies and promotes domination.

The environmental crises we face are the result of human domination over the natural environment. Humans have exploited the nonhuman world, treating other life forms as “the other ” just as the dominant race has treated people of color as “the other” and just as men have treated women as “the other.” The difference is that the consequence of our subjugating nature could be the destruction of ecosystems and the extinction of people of all races as well as many other species.

Now we must conclude that to live within the limits of natural ecosystems, to live sustainably, will require an entirely different way of relating to one another and to the earth. Rather than set up hierarchies of value, we must learn to deal with differences (gender, race, and species) by a process Riane Eisler, in The Chalice and the Blade (1988), calls “linking” instead of “ranking.” We must reestablish a way of relating to the natural world that will make us sensitive to the needs of other species.

A Synthesis of the Ecological Era and the Feminist Era

In this next phase of the ecological era and the feminist era, we must learn from nature and from women in order to transform our destructive patterns, but we cannot learn in a system that oppresses nature and women. The first step away from this system is to cultivate and elevate in importance some of the qualities and values most generally associated with women that can help us abandon our suicidal patterns. These are not to be considered innate characteristics, and they are not universally found in women, but they are identified more often with women than men, even though men express them too. Until recently, men have been criticized for exhibiting such qualities because that identified them with the “inferior” gender. But as we face a large number of environmental threats, not the least of which is still nuclear annihilation, we desperately need new standards of behavior. The feminization of our culture has already produced beneficial results in many workplaces, which leads us to believe that women’s cultural patterns can benefit society on a broader scale also. These qualities are described in slightly different ways by different people. I’ve grouped them in four general categories, each of which includes a number of related traits.

First, women are considered to be nurturers. They take care of the physical and emotional needs of their families, but their strong nurturing impulse extends to all living things. They tend to place individual growth and fulfillment above abstractions. Women are attentive to the needs of nonhuman growing things such as pets, garden flowers and vegetables, and houseplants. Some claim that women are closer to nature, perhaps because their monthly cycle and their capacity to give birth and produce milk make them more attuned to the world around them.

Second, women see themselves in relationship to others. Psychologists say that men are more likely to think of themselves as individuals who must accomplish things independently, while women tend to exhibit cooperative individualism. They see themselves as wives, mothers, friends, and members of groups and communities. Women empathize with others and are more adaptable and cooperative in group situations. They tend to integrate rather than separate, preferring networks to hierarchies.

Third, women have an attachment to the day-to-day process of sustaining life. They are used to taking care of many details at the same time. They will do the nitty-gritty work necessary to keep the household in good condition, complete projects, and organize events.

Fourth, women have a preference for negotiation as a means of problem solving that springs from an antipathy to violence. They tend to make moral choices based on causing the minimum of hurt, while men will tend to make moral choices based on rights and justice. Carol Gilligan points out in her book In a Different Voice (1982) that women do not like to make moral decisions based on dichotomies: either this is right or that is right. They prefer to look at the context of a problem and find a way out that causes the least hurt for those involved.

Why are these qualities associated with women? I think they are the consequence of the history of women’s position. We’ve had to learn these patterns as subordinates, in some cases using them as techniques for survival. They are needed to do parenting and housekeeping, tasks traditionally relegated to women and passed on from mother to daughter. Society at large has benefited from the display or expression of women’s qualities that help groups to work harmoniously, and society would benefit more if these qualities could replace some qualities of the dominant gender such as aggressiveness, competitiveness, and the tendency to prefer large and sweeping solutions or generalizations.

Women’s culture has generally been disdained, and many women have forsaken much of it to become “honorary men” and succeed in the corporate business world. If gender differences are wiped out by women becoming men, then the earth will get a double whammy. But in a recent article in Working Women Thomas J. Peters, co-author of In Search of Excellence, says that women are feminizing corporate offices and sometimes even being praised by their employers for introducing different ways of organizing work and relating to other employees.

Now we seem to be in a new trap. Because women’s culture could be a dose of good medicine for society, are women responsible for solving our problems? Does this mean that women must be earthkeepers and work out the truce in the human war against nature? This sounds as if women are expected to clean up after men again. But we don’t want to do that anymore. We want to share the clean-up jobs as partners and equals.

In a conversation I had with the organizer Byron Kennard in 1980, he referred to women activists as the “conscience of the community.” They feel personally responsible for righting the wrongs in a community and volunteer their time to organize causes. Women cannot carry this role alone, however, if they seek fulfilling work outside the home.

For progress to be made in the new stages of the ecological era and the feminist era, men and women must cooperate. It is time for the old domination structure to crumble, time for men to share the housekeeping and earthkeeping tasks, unglamorous as they may be. Instead of women sacrificing their talents and goals to enable their husbands to succeed, it is time for husbands and wives to help each other. But partnership and sharing must be extended beyond the household. Just as more working men now share in doing the laundry and shopping on evenings and weekends with their working wives, more men must share the tasks of community building, of earthkeeping.

We have problems even with this arrangement, however, if children are in the household and the parents’ full-time work and volunteer schedules deny children loving attention. Varying the industrial model in the workplace by means of shared jobs, part-time work, and flexible working hours would enable us to express our nurturing natures more adequately.

Many fathers now do take care of their children. They are not babysitting; they are parenting. As men consider childcare a shared responsibility and are spending more time with their children, a pattern unfolds that benefits not only women but men and the whole society.

To make progress in the second stage of the ecological era, humans must remake the relationship between nature and culture. The notion that women were closer to nature, thus wild, led men in the past to believe that women were not to be trusted but must be controlled and tamed. Our challenge is to learn from nature, from the wild, to study nature as the standard for agriculture and nature’s economy as the basis of our human economy. As Ynestra King said, “Freedom lies in becoming natural beings in the deepest sense, rather than beings against nature . . . .”

Our Next Steps

The scope of our environmental problems is enormous: we must address our excessive faith in and dependence upon technology, the overconsumption and waste of resources, overreliance on nonrenewable energy, destruction of habitats, and above all the question of how many people the earth can support. We must redefine national security and subdue costly militarism. We have so far been unsuccessful in turning around our bent for destruction through state and national legislation. (I do not mean by this that we should abandon protective laws such as the Clean Air Act.) And we will not be successful until we stop believing that an increasing domination of nature is a measure of human progress.

In his book Envisioning a Sustainable Society: Learning Our Way Out (1989) Lester Milbrath discusses the concept of social learning. He says that social learning, which is impossible to define in a phrase, comes about in different ways, generally recognizable only after it has happened. One way to explain it is to say that social learning occurs when society comes to understand something sufficiently for one dominant institution or practice to be replaced by another. We are in the midst of social learning about the relationship between men and women as well as our human relationship with nature, which has created the environmental crisis, but we have not reached the point where significant social change is imminent.

Milbrath suggests that we might open up our collective mind for social learning to take place because of a “slowly accelerating cascade of unfortunate developments.” More industrial accidents like those at Bhopal and Chernobyl, increased ozone depletion, cancer threats, contaminated drinking water, population growth, and famines will finally convince us. As stories accumulate that show us the world is not working, he says, we may finally come to our senses. Then social learning will soak in and we will have the potential for a sudden shift from the dominant social paradigm to a new paradigm.

David Ehrenfeld concludes the chapter “The Conservation Dilemma” in The Arrogance of Humanism (1978/1981) with a similar position: “Non-humanistic arguments [for conservation] will carry full and deserved weight only after prevailing cultural attitudes have changed.” The change may come only by a miracle, that is (he quotes Lewis Mumford), “‘not something outside the order of nature but something occurring so infrequently and bringing about such a radical change that one cannot include it in any statistical prediction.’” He reassures the reader that those who have considered the nonhumanistic arguments for conservation of nature will be ready to take advantage of the favorable circumstances. And in a broader context, those of us who have considered the advantages of a world in which patriarchy is no longer the conceptual framework and in which people understand and value our linkage with the natural world, will be ready for the paradigm shift or the miracle, and we can help it to happen. In the meantime, we should continue our work to effect social learning.

Social learning is underway in many parts of our culture. I am encouraged by what I see as an effort to integrate ecology and feminism into agriculture, religion, the arts, and community development.

Most people begin to understand their connection to the natural world when they start learning about food production. I think social learning has begun in agriculture as the environmental consequences of industrial farming have become public information. The connections between heavy use of agricultural chemicals and drinking water contamination led to revolutionary groundwater protection legislation in Iowa. The treatment of animals raised in confinement now really troubles consumers. Farmers themselves are looking for a way out of the costly input treadmill, and a transition from conventional agribusiness to sustainable farming has begun for many. In the grain/livestock agriculture of the Midwest, farmers like Dick and Sharon Thompson and their fellow members of Practical Farmers of Iowa talk about practices that will prevent soil erosion and nurture soil organisms. The Thompsons emphasize care and attention in their livestock programs, which are unlike large-scale hog confinement operations in Iowa. Each year several hundred farmers attend the Thompson field days and learn about their crop rotations and, most importantly, about their philosophy of working with nature. Similar learning goes on in sustainable agriculture organizations and on-farm experiments in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has not provided leadership; it is the decentralist organizations that are guiding us to a more ecological agriculture and making social learning happen.

The Land Institute goes further than other organizations in aiming for long-term sustainability in agriculture. We want to develop crops that can feed us when cheap fossil fuel is no longer available. This means creating apartnership with nature in which elements of the ecosystem contribute to soil fertility and to insect and disease control. Our focus on bringing ecology and agriculture together naturally embraces some of the feminine qualities I mentioned. For example, we must think about how the species of our planet relate to one another and the places where they grow. Researchers must pay close attention to the growth habits and particular needs of each species. Our ecological model is not a pyramid with humans at the top of the food chain but a network of organisms linked together. Though the mixtures of grain crops we develop will mimic the prairie of the plains and Midwest states, we think the ecological principles we learn can apply to other ecosystems around the world.

The historical connections among food, religion, and women may be revitalized as churches recognize a new role in the ecological era. The newly appointed spiritual leader of the Church of England and seventy million Anglicans worldwide say that “God is Green.” Although churches and synagogues in the United States mostly ignored the first Earth Day in 1970, they actively participated on April 22, 1990. From a concern about hunger and rural justice, religious leaders saw connections to soil and water stewardship. Now they regularly preach environmental messages from the pulpit and urge a higher ecological consciousness among their members. Jewish and Christian theologians are trying to renew a philosophy of nature and ethical guidelines for the human-nature relationship. Ten years ago women clergy were scarce, but now women are spiritual leaders throughout several Protestant denominations, and gender-inclusive language is found in church ritual. Books on theology by women have opened up discussions on the similarity between domination over women and domination over nature. Social learning is taking place.

The arts are also contributing to social learning and will help us change our conceptual framework for human-earth relations. The emotional response that the arts elicit affects social learning. Of course, the arts should not be forced to serve a particular moral vision or political position; artists respond to the world as they experience it, and the ecological era and feminist era have been a part of their experience. I think it is significant that more women artists are writing and exhibiting their works and that ecological themes are used more often by both women and men.

Our arts associate at The Land is Terry Evans, a photographer whose book Prairie: Images of Ground and Sky(1986) has taught an esthetic understanding of prairie to many people. She is collaborating with nine other landscape photographers, three women and six men, in a special “Water in the West” project, which will depict many kinds of water use in western states. All the artists are concerned about problems resulting from the use of land and water. The project is unique in the way these independent artists learn from one another and work together developing the project.

Simone de Beauvoir said: “Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men. They describe it from their own point of view, which they mistake for the absolute truth.” Representation of the world from the perspective of women and their ethical sense of relatedness to living things and their propensity to nurture life are needed now. More than ever, we should encourage the feminization of the arts. We need an alternative to what Ynestra King calls the “androcentric master narrative.”

“Praxis” is defined by David Orr as “the science of effective action.” Action can contribute to social learning, and social learning must prepare us for action—that is, for political action. William Ophuls, in Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity (1977), describes politics as “the art of creating new possibilities for human progress.” New possibilities and effective action seem most likely to materialize within the context of communities.

Faith in the small-scale, local approach turns into action in projects such as those begun through the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. The activities of community-based programs—land trusts, organic farm marketing cooperatives, and economic renewal projects such as Self-Help Association for a Regional Economy—are models of local politics as defined by Ophuls that open our minds to social learning. As communities stop trying to solve their economic problems by bringing in large polluting industries or expecting federal government assistance, they can improve their support of what is already there and develop more locally owned and locally controlled enterprises.

The most local situation of all, the smallest political unit, is the home. Here is where effective action toward social transformation begins—with partners in households helping each other develop as individuals, as individuals in relationships with others and the natural world. By caring for each other and sharing in the tasks of living, we undermine the old hierarchical framework that keeps us on the path of environmental destruction.

I conclude with three stanzas of a prayer in the form of a poem by Barbara Deming:

Spirit of Love
That flows against our flesh
Sets it trembling
Moves across it as across grass
Erasing every boundary that we accept
And swings the doors of our lives wide—
This is a prayer I sing:
Save our perishing earth!

Spirit that cracks our single selves—
Eyes fall down eyes,
Hearts escape through the bars of our ribs
To dart into other bodies—
Save this earth!
The earth is perishing.
This is a prayer I sing.

Spirit that hears each one of us,
Hears all that is—
Listens, listens, hears us out—
Inspire us now!
Our own pulse beats in every stranger’s throat,
And also there within the flowered
ground beneath our feet,
And—teach us to listen!—
We can hear it in water, in wood, and even in stone.
We are earth of this earth,
and we are bone of its bone.
This is a prayer I sing, for we have
forgotten this and so
The earth is perishing.


Publication By

Dana Lee Jackson

Dana Lee Jackson has worked in sustainable agriculture and food systems for over 35 years. In 1976 she co-founded, with Wes Jackson, The Land Institute, where she held several positions until 1992. A senior advisor to the Land Stewardship Project in Minnesota and to local food projects in her community, she has also served on the Project in … Continued

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