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Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 11, No. 2, February 2015
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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The Masculinization of the Human Ecology

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Ecological Footprint
After the Creation ~ Alice Beer (1912-2011)
When God had finished creating
the earth and the sea and the heavens
and every living thing that swam in the water
and flew in the air, and dwelt on the land —

when he had made man in his image,
male and female, he felt exceedingly happy.
A smile spread over his face
that lit up the earth and the firmament
with the joy of creation.

And to single out his favourite
— man made in his image —
he bestowed on him the gift of creativity.

Reflecting on it afterwards he wondered if
— man being man —
he had not been a little impetuous.

ARTICLES

Editorial: The Masculinization of the Human Ecology
Feminism Unheeded, by Robert Jensen
Is the world actually making progress towards sustainability?, by Geurt van de Kerk
A Population Perspective on the Steady State Economy, by Herman Daly
Crossroads on Global Infrastructure, by Brent Blackwelder
Concordian Economics: Tools to Return Relevance to Economics, by Carmine Gorga
Paradigm Junction Project - The Triad of Human Interest, by Don Chisholm
The Case for a Land Value Tax, by Navin Singh
Why and How Should We Build a Basic Income for Every Citizen?, by Marshall Brain
Unconditional Basic Income – an Economic Model for a New Renaissance, by Elizabeth Edgett
Awakening the Divine Spark in the Spirit of Humanity, by Hiroo Saionji
The Degrowth Alternative, by Giorgos Kallis
Development in the Ecological Age, by Charles Eisenstein

SUPPLEMENTS

Advances in Sustainable Development (news, pubs, tools, data)
Directory of Sustainable Development Resources (1000+ links)
Strategies for Solidarity and Sustainability (mitigation/adaptation)
Best Practices for Solidarity and Sustainability (business/governance)
Fostering Gender Balance in Society (peace, food, health, energy)
Fostering Gender Balance in Religion (religious traditions, spirituality)

EDITORIAL: The Masculinization of the Human Ecology

"Nature is like a woman who enjoys disguising herself, and whose different disguises, revealing now one part of her ad now another, permit those who study her and assiduously to hope that one day they may know the whole of her person" (Diderot)

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The feminization of nature, and the masculinization of human ecology, is not only a matter of language pronouns. It reflects a deep seated presumption about the human "right" to dominate nature rather than the responsibility to take care of it. The current ecological crisis may be the time to "turn the page" and start working out a healthier paradigm of human/human and human/nature relations based on three pillars: solidarity (unity in diversity), subsidiarity (individuality in community), and sustainability (equality in mutuality).

The entire universe is one system that includes our planet, which is itself one system (Gaia) in which diverse living organisms coexist with their inorganic habitat. Humans are different because we "know that we know" (Homo sapiens sapiens) but are part of a "community of creation" where different species, and individuals within species, need each other for survival. Given the reality of mutual dependency, reciprocity between humans, and between humans and their organic/inorganic habitat, needs to be fostered in every way possible. This is fundamentally an ethical issue, and one that is becoming increasingly unavoidable with the advent of the Anthropocene.

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Copyright © Rex May
The patriarchal culture of male domination, which emerged in conjunction with wars for control of land and other natural resources during the agricultural revolution, induced human/human and human/nature relations regulated by the physical stronger/weaker ratio. It also influenced the evolution of human languages to the point where "stronger" humanity is generally perceived as "male" and "weaker" nature is regarded as "female." Thus the ancient dictum to "fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28) has not been tempered by the even older dictum to "work it and take care of it" (Genesis 2:15). It is not insignificant that the stronger/weaker binary started with gender relations (Genesis 3:16) and was followed by a farmer killing a shepherd (Genesis 4:8).

Fast forward 5000 years, and we are now experiencing the consequences of the "power struggle" between humans and nature:

"The planetary boundaries framework defines a safe operating space for humanity based on the intrinsic biophysical processes that regulate the stability of the Earth System. Here, we revise and update the planetary boundaries framework, with a focus on the underpinning biophysical science, based on targeted input from expert research communities and on more general scientific advances over the past 5 years. Several of the boundaries now have a two-tier approach, reflecting the importance of cross-scale interactions and the regional-level heterogeneity of the processes that underpin the boundaries. Two core boundaries—climate change and biosphere integrity—have been identified, each of which has the potential on its own to drive the Earth System into a new state should they be substantially and persistently transgressed." Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet, Will Steffen et al, Science, 15 January 2015 (this article is a free download if you register with Science)

Scientific evidence may be helpful but is never conclusive. Both supporting and dissenting reviews of the "planetary boundaries" article have already been published. It is ultimately an ethical issue. It would seem reasonable to invoke the precautionary principle for but, as long as financial gain is the only thing that really matters, people turn around and walk away with fingers in their ears when confronted by the I=PAT argument or any other kind of modeling or scientific data; and it is well known that money and power (and honors!) are tightly coupled.

As long as the "stronger" sex continues to dominate the "weaker" sex, and as long as humanity is perceived as strong and nature as weak, it is reasonable to be pessimistic about resolving the ecological crisis. The old saying, "what goes around comes around," is well known to apply in gender relations; both women and men end up being harmed, psychologically and spiritually if not physically. In ecological relations between humanity and nature, there are indications that Mother Nature's patience is growing thin. The industrial revolution significantly enhanced the raw power of human agency, and the information revolution is making even poor people more "powerful" in terms of ecological footprint. As long as "cheap energy" remains plentiful, it is hard to imagine any sensible transition unless an ethical revolution happens worldwide.

Many concepts have been proposed to foster a transition to a sustainable world, such as:

Education and integral human development projects
Responsible consumption for degrowth of economic throughput
Responsible parenthood pursuant to demographic stability
Energy usage and climate change mitigation/adaptation projects
Implementation of financial transaction/speculation taxes
Shift from income/property taxes to land/resource value taxes
Guaranteed basic personal income (conditional or unconditional)
Corporate social responsibility and triple bottom-line accounting
Transferring subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy
Fostering gender equality/balance in society and religion

However, none of these can really make a difference unless human actions are animated by the basic ethical principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, and sustainability.

Solidarity is the ethic of making decisions and acting so as to balance self-interest and the common good. It is a principle of "unity in diversity," whereby diverse needs and desires are worked out so as to reinforce the common well-being.

Subsidiarity is the ethic of making decisions and formulating policies at the lowest possible level of competent authority. It is a principle of "individuality in community," or vertical integration, with each community member allowed freedom of choices and actions commensurate with capabilities.

Sustainability is the ethic of living within the boundaries of natural resources and technological capacities. It is a principle of "equality in mutuality," or horizontal integration, in that hierarchies of authority and responsibility are exercised for mutual support and enrichment over time.

Feminism is having a mitigating effect on patriarchalism, but patriarchalism in turn is proving to be resilient while adapting to the new ecological realities. Money is a factor, but machismo is even more deep-seated in the human ego, male and female, and is prolonging the demise of patriarchy in many subtle (and not so subtle) ways. Witness the slow progress in gender equality initiatives in secular institutions, and even more so in religious institutions. In some cultures, any initiative to foster female leadership in secular (let alone religious) institutions brings about visceral resistance. As long as this is the case, a global ethic of ecological solidarity cannot possibly take root. Likewise, international initiatives like the Sustainable Development Goals may lead to some politically correct lip service but not much in terms of concrete actions.

What is then the outlook for the future of human ecology? It depends, but it doesn't depend on technological fixes getting humanity off the hook, since technologies are ethically neutral and can be used for or against the common good. It doesn't depend on adjusting the industrial system of production and consumption, or economic policy fixes, or the patient endurance of Mother Nature. It depends, rather, on the ethics of human agency, individually and collectively. It depends on embracing a new culture of mutuality and reciprocity between man and woman, and between humans and the human habitat. Unless this happens, the future is grim. But if we can make the patriarchal culture of "big fish eats little fish" evolve into a culture of human solidarity, subject to subsidiarity "checks and balances" and sustainability constraints, then the future is not so grim.


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Feminism Unheeded

Robert Jensen

This article was originally published in
Nation of Change, 8 January 2015
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION

For the past year, the media have been full of discussions of the endemic sexual violence in the contemporary United States, while at the same time pop culture has been celebrating the new visibility of the transgender movement. Both of these cases — which many take to be feminist successes — actually highlight patriarchy’s ability to adapt to challenges and undermine a radical critique of the domination/subordination dynamic at the heart of institutionalized male dominance.

In 25 years of being part of a radical feminist movement, I am less optimistic than ever about the capacity of our society to face the truth about the pathology of patriarchy. This culture of denial is not limited to sex/gender, but has become the norm in regard to the unjust and unsustainable hierarchies at the core of all of this society’s social, political and economic systems — with profound human and ecological implications.

Before defending this assertion, there’s a reasonable question to consider: Who cares what I think? I am, after all, a middle-aged white man, a tenured full professor at a large state university, with a U.S. passport, married to a woman. In privilege roulette, I am a winner on all the big identity markers: race, sex/gender, economic class, nationality, sexuality (the last one is complicated; more on that later). According to the rules of progressive politics, I’m supposed to preface every assertion I make with self-abnegation. Who am I to make claims about the proper analysis of these systems of illegitimate authority, given that I live on the domination side of all these dynamics?

Humility is a virtue, and people with my unearned advantages should double-down on humility. But false humility can become a rationalization for silence. Accepting the leadership of people from oppressed groups is an important principle, and privileged voices are not always needed in some debates. But on matters of public policy we all should be part of a collective conversation, and there also are times when people with privilege can say out loud what others say quietly in private. This essay offers my own analysis, but in solidarity with many others who share these views but feel constrained in speaking, out of concern for institutional standing and/or personal relationships.

Patriarchy

This past year I have written about rape culture and trans ideology, in both cases anchoring an analysis in the problem of patriarchy. I’m often told that the term “patriarchy” is either too radical and alienating, or outdated and irrelevant. Yet it’s difficult to imagine addressing problems if we can’t name and critique the system out of which the problems emerge.

The late feminist historian Gerda Lerner defined patriarchy as “the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in the society in general.” Patriarchy implies, she continued, “that men hold power in all the important institutions of society and that women are deprived of access to such power. It does not imply that women are either totally powerless or totally deprived of rights, influence and resources.”

Like any resistance movement, feminism does not speak with one voice from a single unified analysis, but it’s hard to imagine a feminism that doesn’t start with the problem of patriarchy, one of the central systems of oppression that tries to naturalize a domination/subordination dynamic. In the case of feminism, this means challenging the way that patriarchy uses the biological differences between male and female (material sex differences) to justify rigid, repressive and reactionary claims about men and women (oppressive gender norms).

How should we understand the connection between sex and gender? Given that reproduction is not a trivial matter, the biological differences between male and female humans are not trivial, and it is plausible that these non-trivial physical differences could conceivably give rise to significant intellectual, emotional and moral differences between males and females. Yet for all the recent advances in biology and neuroscience, we still know relatively little about how the biological differences influence those capacities, though in contemporary culture many people routinely assume that the effects are greater than have been established. Male and female humans are much more similar than different, and in patriarchal societies based on gendered power, this focus on the differences is used to rationalize disparities in power.

In short: In patriarchy, “gender” is a category that functions to establish and reinforce inequality. While sex categories are part of any human society — and hence some sex-role differentiation is inevitable, given reproductive realities — the pernicious effects of patriarchal gender politics can, and should, be challenged.

Rape

In patriarchy, rape happens if a man forces a woman to have sex when the woman clearly has not consented or cannot consent. Only men who force women into sex in those situations are deemed to be rapists, only a small percentage of those rapes are reported to police, and an even smaller percentage of the rapists are arrested and convicted. The strategy of narrowing the definition of rape and limiting the number of men identified as rapists deflects attention from other questions about patriarchy’s eroticizing of domination and the resulting rape culture; from larger questions of how men are socialized to understand sexual activity, power and violence; and from the complex ways women are socialized to accommodate men’s demands.

Here’s one clear expression of this limiting strategy: “Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.” Surprisingly, that statement is from a letter issued by one of the country’s leading anti-violence groups, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN. Even those working to end rape sometimes feel the need to ignore or avoid feminist insights, a phenomenon I explored in an essay last year.

Rape is a crime committed by individuals, of course, but it is committed within patriarchy, and if we were serious about reducing the number of rapes, we would be talking about the roots of that violence in patriarchy. But such an analysis doesn’t stop at what is legally defined as rape, and leads us to a painful inquiry into the patriarchal nature of what the culture accepts as “normal” sex based on men’s dominance. Those same patriarchal values define the sexual-exploitation industries (pornography, stripping, prostitution) and the routine sexual objectification of women in pop culture more generally.

So, the comfortable notion that we can condemn the bad rapists, and then all other sexual activity is beyond critique, evaporates in a feminist analysis. That doesn’t let rapists off the hook, but instead asks all of us to be honest about our own socialization. Taking rape seriously requires a feminist analysis of patriarchy, and that analysis takes us beyond rape to questions about how patriarchy’s domination/subordination dynamic structures our intimate lives, an inquiry that can be uncomfortable not only for those who endorse the dynamic but also for those who have accepted an accommodation with it.

This past year, with the media full of stories about the way in which women are particularly at risk in and around predominantly male institutions (fraternities, big-time athletics, the military), there is surprisingly little talk about patriarchy, about the socialization of men into toxic notions about masculinity-as-domination, especially in these hyper-masculine settings. The focus is diverted into questions about rules and regulations, about whether a particular university official, police officer, or commanding officer failed to hold a rapist accountable. All are relevant questions, but none is adequate to face the challenge.

What are we afraid of? The possibility that we can’t transcend patriarchy, that significant numbers of men won’t engage in the individual and collective critical self-reflection necessary? Are we worried that, without such self-reflection, we will not significantly reduce the myriad ways men not only rape but exploit women sexually?

I am not preaching from on high about this; I am a product of the same patriarchal culture and my work in feminism hasn’t magically freed me from the effects of that socialization. If anything, it’s made me more acutely aware of how easy it is to slip back into domination/subordination patterns, even when I’m trying to identify those behaviors and resist. I am worried, too, but that makes me more determined to hang onto the feminist framework.

Trans

The debate within feminism over trans, transgenderism and transsexualism (terms vary depending on speaker and context) goes back to the 1970s (the publication of Jan Raymond’s “The Transsexual Empire” in 1979 is a flash point) and continues today (the publication of Sheila Jeffreys’ “Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism” in 2014 is a new flash point). For a fair-minded account of the contemporary debate, see Michelle Goldberg’s recent New Yorker piece, “What is a woman? The dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism.”

In two previous essays, I articulated concerns about the transgender/transsexual ideology, rooted first in a feminist critique of the patriarchal gender norms at the heart of the trans movement,  and second in the troubling ecological implications of embracing surgery and chemicals as a response to social and psychological struggles.

If one understands gender categories (man and woman) as being primarily socially constructed, then trans ideology actually strengthens patriarchy’s gender norms by suggesting that to express fully the traits traditionally assigned to the other gender, a person must switch to inhabit that gender category. For years, radical feminists have argued that to resist patriarchy’s rigid, repressive and reactionary gender norms, we should fight not for the right to change gender categories within patriarchy but to dismantle the system of gendered inequality.

If one understands socially defined gender categories as being primarily rooted in biological sex differences (male and female), then trans claims are not clear. If someone says, “I was born male but am actually female,” I do not understand what that means in the context of modern understandings of biology. (Note that people born “intersex,” with reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not clearly fit the definitions of female or male, typically distinguish their condition from transgenderism.) Although not all transsexual people describe their experience as “being shipwrecked in the wrong body,” as one trans writer put it, I struggle to understand, no matter what the metaphor.

If there is an essence of maleness and femaleness that is non-material, in the spiritual realm, then it’s not clear how surgical or chemical changes in the body transform a person. If that essence of maleness and femaleness is material, in the biological realm, then it’s not clear how those changes in selected parts of the body transform a person.

I have been asking these questions not to attack the trans community, but because I cannot make sense of the trans movement’s claims and would like to understand. I am not suggesting that individuals who identify as trans/transgender/transsexual are somehow illegitimate or don’t have the right to their own understanding of themselves. But if that community asks for support on policy questions, such as public funding or mandatory insurance coverage for sex-reassignment surgery, the basis for that policy has to be intelligible to others.

So, I am not discounting the experience of people “whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth,” the American Psychological Association’s definition of transgender. Instead, I am exploring alternatives to the trans accounts of that experience. For me, this is not an abstract question. As a child, I struggled with gender norms and sexuality. I was small and effeminate, one of those boys who clearly was not going to be able to “be a man,” as defined in patriarchy. My sexual orientation was unclear, as I struggled to understand my attraction to male and female, something that could not be openly discussed in the 1970s where I was growing up. And my early life included traumatic experiences that further complicated my self-understanding.

The story of my struggle has its ups and downs, with many moments of self-doubt and despair. Eventually, I came to terms with gender and sexuality through feminism — specifically the radical feminism that emerged from the anti-rape movement and critiques of the sexual-exploitation industries — and that politics gave me a sensible framework for understanding my history in social and political context. I often wonder what would have happened if, when I was an adolescent in the midst of those struggles, the culture had normalized trans ideology. I can’t see how a trans path, which does not demand that one wrestle with the pathology of patriarchy, would have left me better equipped to deal with gender and sexuality.

My experience doesn’t fit in the category of “gender dysphoria,” as I understand it, and I’m not projecting my experience on everyone who struggles with the brutality of patriarchy’s sex/gender system. I’m simply suggesting that the liberal ideology of the trans movement (liberal, in the sense that it focuses on an individual psychological response to structures of power and authority) is inadequate, and that demonizing those who raise relevant questions benefits no one.

Honest conversations

Supporters of patriarchy have had to yield to some of the demands of feminism, such as giving women access to previously closed-off opportunities in education, business and government. Most men committed to patriarchy have been willing to condemn the most abusive behaviors that come from institutionalized male dominance, so long as the core ideology is protected. These relatively small concessions, which do constitute a kind of progress, are often accepted as adequate, perhaps because a more direct confrontation with patriarchy is dangerous.

I think that’s why the current mainstream conversation about sexual violence so rarely confronts the patriarchal gender norms at the heart of the violence. Rather than going to the root of the problem, most commentary focuses on how changes in policy can minimize the risks to women and increase the effectiveness of criminal prosecutions of men who rape, as it is narrowly defined in the law. And given the very real suffering that results from men’s violence, anything that reduces that violence is important.

That’s also why the current mainstream conversation about trans so rarely directly challenges the rigid, repressive and reactionary gender norms of patriarchy. Rather than going to the root of the problem, most commentary focuses on how changes in individuals can alleviate their distress because of gender norms. And given the very real suffering that results from oppressive gender norms, anything that provides individual relief is important.

No one has a magic strategy to end men’s violence or eliminate oppressive gender roles. It’s possible that, given how entrenched patriarchy is worldwide, there is no way to overcome male dominance, at least not in the time available to us as the ecosphere’s capacity to support large-scale human societies erodes. But it’s difficult to imagine any progress without a deeper critique of patriarchy’s definitions of masculinity (dominance, competition, aggression) and femininity (demure, passive, objectified).

I’m not telling anyone how they must understand these issues or themselves, but I can’t see the value in suppressing critical questions out of a fear of being seen as too radical or insufficiently inclusive. Political movements are based on a shared analysis of the world, and that analysis can’t be fully developed unless relevant questions are open for discussion and debate.

My concern is that when a feminist analysis of rape in patriarchy is offered, mainstream voices dismiss it as “too radical.” Some of my friends in the movement against sexual violence have told me they feel pressure not to talk about patriarchy and feminism in their institutional work. That’s ironic, since rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters typically were started by second-wave feminists with a radical critique. Many of those who staff those organizations today bring a radical analysis and spirit to that difficult work, but the fundraising and public-relations efforts for those centers tend to avoid the subject.

My concern is that when a feminist analysis of trans ideology is offered, mainstream voices dismiss it as not adequately inclusive. Friends have told me that they suppress their questions out of fear of being labeled transphobic and marginalized in work and personal networks. There are trans activists who incorporate a critique of patriarchy into their work, and more open conversation about these strategic questions would be beneficial to all, especially given the heightened vulnerability of people who identify as trans to sexual violence.

My concern is that we are losing the ability to face the pathology of patriarchy honestly, and we can’t fight what we can’t name. There is no guarantee of success in the struggle against patriarchy, but as James Baldwin put it more than 50 years ago, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. His latest books are Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialogue, and We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out. He is also the author of All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice; Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity; The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege; Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity; and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream. He is also co-producer of the documentary film Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing, which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist.


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