Authorities have observed that climate change is a feminist issue because it disproportionately affects women. Among these, the United Nations has gone further to acknowledge that climate change is a feminist issue because women are on the forefront of adopting climate-change mitigating techniques and technologies. A recent UN report states that “women are key actors in building resilience and responding to climate-related disasters…” But overarching these admittedly important issues is the greater understanding – not mentioned by the UN report – that climate change is a feminist issue on the socio-spiritual level. This side of the issue is often overlooked because the institutions who compile reports are immersed in a masculine way of thinking.
What do I mean by a masculine way of thinking and why do I label it in this seemingly gendered way? Masculine values are those of winning, achieving, proving, succeeding, counting, controlling. pursuit of achievement and status; individual self-reliance; strength and aggression. The UN climate report cited above goes on to say that “Enacting good policies requires quality data, so that we can quantify the issue and measure improvement…” Reports such as this make their points by tabulating numbers and citing statistics, not seeing that these are already masculine ways of expressions and that numbers can only ever tell part of the story. These masculine traits and values are social constructs and not necessarily to be associated with the male biological sex. Both men and women and other-gendered can display masculine values and attributes but they are labeled masculine because society typically associates them with the male gender.
Richard Rohr expands on the discourse of masculinity by citing a spiritual dimension. He claims that a masculine spirituality “…would emphasize movement over stillness, action over theory, service to the world over religious discussions, speaking the truth over social niceties and doing justice instead of any self- serving “charity.” It is clear that we need a balance of both masculine and feminine spirituality but we have found ourselves, under patriarchal institutions, tilted dangerously far to the side of the masculine.
The perfect symbol of the patriarchal system and image of masculine values is the very location of UN headquarters: New York City, where the buildings loom overhead and reach ever upwards to scrape the sky, where the energy is palpably frenetic and the pace of life is rushed: a city that never sleeps, never slows down, never takes time for introspection. How do you feel in your body when you picture an image of New York City?
To restore balance, we need the discerning wisdom and compassion that are associated with the feminine aspects of humanity and with indigenous wisdom. It’s time to swing the pendulum back away from hardness, aggressiveness, competitiveness towards gentleness, compassion, cooperation, and sharing. Feminine values include nurturing, caring, and relatedness to all living things and to the planet. We are not seeking a matriarchy, but a partnership, which re-balances masculine and feminine values. Replace the picture you have in your mind of New York City with an image of a clear, tranquil lake surrounded by trees with children playing around it. How does that now feel in your body?
Make no mistake, there is a grandeur in the achievements of the patriarchal systems; enormous energies have been expended in what has been thought to be of benefit to human society. However, in our era of climate breakdown, humanity finds itself at a crossroads. The power of the masculine has been to deeply disturb the most significant functioning of the earth. For too long everything feminine, including the earth, nature, and the body, has been profoundly depreciated by our rational masculine and patriarchal way of seeing, observing and perceiving. We have privileged thought over feeling, the technological over the natural, science over poetry, the objective over the subjective, distance and dispassion over connection and relationship, the rational over intuitive, shamanic forms of thought. Technological progress is the result of our civilization’s ingrained habit of prioritizing masculine rationality, seeking to dominate nature, over feminine intuition and care and stewardship of the Earth. But this so-called progress has reached well past its point of diminishing returns.
In response to the alarming evidence of climate chaos, a new kind of collective feminine leadership is coming into its own. It is already happening though it is not always visible. We are actually in the midst of a massive up-welling of human potential and creativity and we see it in the movements that are emerging like the earth’s antibodies rising up to protect itself: Extinction Rebellion, Standing Rock and even Occupy Wall Street which was a response to the egregious income inequality of our times are all such examples. These movements come to heal the Earth. None of these movements place emphasis on the individual but on the collective. Ask yourself who is the person associated with leadership in these movements? There is no particular name that comes to mind as these movements do not have any one leader. The new superheroes are not individual saviors – neither male nor female – but the group, the collective, the whole. In order to move into the more beautiful world, it’s going to take all of us together. These are the first instances of collective leadership – a feminine way of acting.
If you are asking yourself at this moment what you personally can do to express your own feminine leadership, I provide here a list of actions or non-actions to consider:
- Work less;
- Take vacation time closer to home;
- Be present to your friends, your children, your family members;
- Slow down;
- Grow a garden;
- Give your time and skills in the spirit of the gift;
- Shop local
- Don’t shop at all;
- Use less packaging. (Use less of everything);
- Express gratitude
As you can see from the above list, feminine leadership is as much or more about non-doing as it is about doing. It might seem surprising to hear that the only way to change is by non-doing, but if we continue the old behavior that worked so well in the past, we will destroy ourselves, our society, our planet, our chances for life. Like planetary midwives helping to deliver ourselves toward our next evolutionary stage, we are birthing feminine energy into the world. Paradoxically, this feminine energy is emerging due to climate change and at the same time it is rising to heal the ravages of climate chaos.
Feminine spirituality is rising up and being liberated for the sake of the larger human family and all life on Earth – and just in time! For in feminine creativity lie innovations, gifts, and vital contributions to our social potential and to the evolution of humanity. Climate change is indeed a feminist issue but to understand the shift in consciousness that that we are undergoing, we must understand it as a collective spiritual initiation rather than merely a statistical one. I began this essay citing authority but I will end it by saying, if we slow down and listen carefully, it’s possible to hear the hum of a cultural shift from individual authority to collective authorship.
Nurete Brenner, PhD,With a PhD in Organizational Behavior from Case Western Reserve University, an MBA from the University of Derby and an MA from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and BA from Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, Dr. Brenner brings a global perspective to the work she does. She has designed a Masters degree program in Ecological Leadership whose core tenets are social justice, the value of life, and an understanding of the sacred. Dr. Brenner has taught courses in Economics and Ecology, socially-conscious business and Earth-conscious leadership at various colleges in the US and in Israel. Dr. Brenner also leads workshops and seminars on EcoJudaism and connecting to Earth. She is co-Director of Lake Erie Institute whose vision is to cultivate ecological community and leadership through holistic environmental education, to help restore balance with the Earth.