WOMAN AND NATURE -- THE ROARING INSIDE HER
These words are written for those of us
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
Two decades have passed since I wrote Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her: Measured against the scale of evolution, the time it took, for instance, for the first living cells to become trees or animals or human beings, twenty years seems like a very short period of time. Yet the book was written in the midst of a crisis that has deepened in the intervening years. When life as we know it hangs in the balance, even the smallest moments in time take on a greater weight.
The fate of the earth was on my mind twenty years ago. But I was more sanguine about it than I am now. The times were generally more hopeful then-not because the world was a better place but because the atmosphere was charged with vision. In 1974, as I began writing this book, many women and men in my generation were thinking about the manner in which we live and about how we might create a more just world. We were asking probing and insightful questions about race and sexuality, about violence and power, and in the process scrutinized the culture we had inherited for clues to how we might see differently and thus change.
In the mid-seventies, while teaching and writing, I became interested in an old, stereotypical notion about women. Woven everywhere into the tapestry of European art and literature and seemingly an inseparable part of most philosophical and scientific texts-even embedded in the structure of European languages-is the assumption that women are closer to nature than men are. The notion is not intended as a compliment. In the hierarchical geography of European tradition, not only are human beings elevated above the rest of nature, but men are closer to heaven than women. In short, the idea that women are close to nature is an argument for the dominion of men.
During the most heady days of feminism, there were some who turned this idea on its head and argued that indeed women are closer to nature, a proximity making us superior to men. By the same token, the taxonomy of virtues through which men dominate-the capacity for reason and cool-headedness-was also reversed. Rationality itself became suspect, and passionate sensuality was enshrined.
I do not agree with the idea that women are closer to nature than are men in either its traditional or inverted form. Everything that exists on Earth, including rational thought, is part of nature. Thus, that one element would be closer to nature than another seems implausible to me. What does, however, seem very possible to me is that one gender may be more aware of being part of nature than another. And yet this difference in awareness must also be treated with subtlety. Today, largely due to the feminist movement, many more women are abandoning traditional feminine roles altogether and in some cases have become as divided from an awareness of natural process than any man. But even women who have a more direct knowledge of the stuff of earthly existence because they play traditional domestic roles are not born with this proclivity. They are shaped to it by society. As Simone de Beauvoir wrote in the mid-twentieth century, "A woman is not born she is made." And the same can be said for the tendency of some men not only to think of themselves as apart from nature but to place themselves at a distance from actual life processes. This behavior has less to do with genetics than with another tendency. When civilizations come to embody certain ideas through the influence of art, science, and institution, we who are the citizens of those civilizations come to resemble those ideas. As Oscar Wilde has written, "Life imitates art."
If society has succeeded in making men and women after a set of ideas that in the end diminishes human nature, we are now perilously close to making the earth after a philosophy that not only limits but even erases nature. As logical as the arguments for controlling women and nature appear to be, they veil a profound illogic, a heated fear, indeed a terror, that serve as the engines for a civilization in retreat from natural processes that must and do include change and loss, vulnerability, the rise and then ebb of powers, mortality. The association between women and nature has not only served to oppress women, it has also acted as a device for denial, a means to evade the simple truth that human existence is immersed in nature, dependent on nature, inseparable from it. By imagining women as closer to nature, it becomes possible to imagine men as farther away from nature. And in this way, both men and women can indulge in the fantasy that the human condition can be free of mortality, as well as the exigencies and needs of natural limitation.
It is popular now to speak in glowing terms of free markets, as if the marketplace had no relationship to earthly necessity but were instead entirely conceptual and could thus grow as numbers grow, without boundaries and without end. This is the latest fantasy of dominion over the earth, as if through the power of will human beings can make natural resources multiply on demand. But loving freedom as we do, we are ignoring another kind of freedom-liberation from a limiting philosophy, from a habit of self-deception that prevents us from treasuring what we actually possess: life.
At the heart of what I discovered as I wrote Woman and Nature is a vision of freedom from an imprisoning state of mind. The book is written in poetic prose, a style that allowed me to move underneath the seemingly logical propositions of our culture, not only to discover the machinery of our fear but to find evidence for a wisdom that is at once old and new, forgotten and yet still alive.
If the next twenty years are crucial in the history of the planet, so is the future of this wisdom -- logical and sensual, realistic and imaginative -- that is in us all and is indispensable to our survival. Read this book playfully, read it to the edges of the pages and then over the margins into other books, other worlds, other possibilities.