Mother Earth used to symbolize the power of nature. Early civilizations were careful not to piss her off. Now she is a caricature, rarely referred to except in cartoons and commercials. Even on Earth Day we don’t mention Mother Earth anymore.
That could partly be because motherhood in general doesn’t inspire the awe that it used to. Even before people understood the mechanics of reproduction, they recognized that mothers had something special going on. Life burst forth from females; men weren’t seen as contributing to that process. And over time, men became jealous of the power that women had and sought to control it. Enter patriarchy.
If men hadn’t decided that they had dominion over everything, we wouldn’t be in the mess environmentally that we are in today. The ancients paid close attention to what made nature work and they followed rules that protected it and enabled it to be more productive. But as man became more sophisticated, he began to think that he could bend nature to his will. He stopped worshiping fertility goddesses. He turned his back on Mother Earth, or Mother Nature (the word for nature comes from the Latin, natura, which means “birth” or “character”).
Now when we refer to nature, we use the terms “the Planet” or simply, “Earth.” Nature is now an “it.” We talk of “environmental footprints” instead of grievances against the gods. There are even those among us who deny that we’re harming the world and its life forms. These are the people who want to stay in control. They aren’t about to defer to Mother Nature. They haven’t believed in her for a very long time.
One of the things most damaging to nature that mankind has concocted is war. In 1967, a poster was created which became the anti-war icon of the Vietnam years. The poster proclaimed that “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” It caught the public imagination because it was hard to argue with the truth of its words. War is the ultimate sin against Mother Earth; it negates everything that she stands for.
War and environmental damage spring from the same source: the belief that the Earth belongs to us. We fight to protect our right to exploit Mother Earth as we see fit. It’s still all about control of her resources. The impulse that seeks to keep women down is the same one that seeks to subdue Mother Earth. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that.
It was a mother who created the anti-war poster I wrote about above. Over the intervening years it has been mothers who have fought the hardest against war. (Think of Cindy Sheehan.) Women are more aware of the horrible consequences of war. We are the ones who are raped, whose children don’t live to grow up whole and healthy, or to grow up at all. We are the ones who send the children we bore to fight, knowing that many of them may not return. We are the ones who can see more objectively what war costs us all.
I’m not saying that all men are power-hungry or insensitive about what we’ve done to our world. But, after all, it is men who set the policies, who plan the battles, who make the decisions about who or what we will seek to dominate. If women are to make their concerns known, we have to be more than outspoken. We have to push ourselves into positions where we can make a difference. We have to stand with Mother Earth in defense of our world and all living things on it.