Earth Needs Matriarchs

Why the response to climate change must be fundamentally feminine

In the summer of 2019, I miraculously found a parking spot in San Francisco. Just a few blocks from a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, I rounded the corner of a blue house to discover, for the first time, the mesmerizing Palace of Fine Arts. It’s magnificent if you ever get to visit it or Google it. I was walking into Planet Home, a one day conference focused on planetary solutions. Because the lineup included some incredible thought-leaders, experiential exhibitions, and headliners Bill Nye and Snoop Dogg, it was the kind of solo travel I will always say yes to. I just didn’t expect it to change the course of my life.

In the final hour of the event, as crowds flowed to the main stage and light had disappeared from the tall windows wrapping the hall like Stonehenge, I stood on the fringe, looking at Bill Nye the Science Guy in front of a powerpoint. You know when you’re playing with magnets and they all jiggle around each other, tempting attraction or rejection, until *SNAP* two connect and everything aligns? That was me. Me and Bill. From the stage, Bill Nye said these words: “The #1 thing we can do to combat climate change is to invest in women and girls.”

And that was it.

Then Snoop Dogg came out.

And now I am here, a year and a half later, writing about EcoFeminism.

Women x Climate

In much of the world, it is women who are the primary providers of food, water, fuel, and caregiving in communities. Food, water, and fuel come from resources in the region, and the availability of those resources directly determine how women spend their daily lives caring for their communities. Availability of resources — and equally importantly, understanding when and how to access them — is affected by weather patterns, animal migrations, human trade, social stability, and more. All predictable, reliable patterns. Patterns known intimately to the people who live on the lands; shared generation to generation; patterns that evolve gradually. Climate change has brought drastic, rapid, never-before-experienced, ecological breaks in these patterns — ecological breaks like flooding, sea level rise, or droughts that wipe out soil, food, and fuel. Because women are the primary caregivers, they are the first to be impacted by these effects. The U.N. estimates 80% of those who have already been displaced by climate change are women.

If you’re wondering when you’ll see the effects of a collapsing climate, you’re wondering when it will affect you. Climate collapse is already affecting millions of our sisters from the moment they woke up this morning.

Intersectional Environmentalism

Intersectional environmentalism — or IE for short — identifies the ways in which the injustices happening to marginalized communities and injustices happening to the earth are interconnected. It’s an inclusive philosophy and movement that advocates for both the protection of — and justice for — people and the planet. One of these environmental intersections is the changing climate and the women of our planet. Climate feminism, or ecofeminism, is a philosophical and political movement that combines ecological concerns with feminist ones; exploring the connection between the oppression of women and destruction of nature. Both are consequences of the patriarchy, capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy.

Dr. Vandana Shiva is a prominent ecofeminist. She believes that the historical and current worldview creating environmental degradation is the same worldview creating a culture of inequality for women. Our patriarchal system has birthed an arms race, world wars, civil conflicts, deep inequalities among ethnicities, gross wealth inequities, and a global culture that denies merely being born is enough reason to be fed and nurtured. Toxic masculinity has run its course as the model for power.

Feminine Fundamentals

When we consider feminine qualities in quality leadership, we instantly see a list of what is missing in our systems:

Qualities of the Divine Feminine:

  • Mothering in the form of nurturing and nonjudgmental acceptance
  • Peace in the form of the impulse to live in harmony
  • Inspiration in the form of intuition and insight from shared music and art
  • Abundance in the form of freely given food and water supplied by Earth
  • Beauty in every spiritual form

The feminine has been oppressed, suppressed, violated, and ignored for generations in western culture and policy. And while this essay is aptly published on International Women’s Day, divine feminine applies to everyone — that’s what makes it divine. It lives in all of us.

Women are the first to be impacted by climate effects — and the first to know how to innovate and adapt and reimagine systems that are no longer working, or never really worked in the first place. So when I write about climate solutions, and we step up to this overwhelming planetary crisis, trust in this: The solutions will be intersectional and fundamentally feminine. The industrial, capitalist, colonialist societies we live in were built through the suppression of the powerful, essential, live-giving feminine. Half of our human psyche, the half that nourishes and sustains us, has been left out of the conversation and the construction — that era has ended. In our global crisis of a collapsing climate, women are uniquely situated to be agents of change who will restore balance and restructure systems. The response to climate change must be fundamentally feminine.

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Rah Riley

Writer, creative strategist, and ecofeminist exploring social strategies for social good. Infographics of my Medium articles can be found at @HeyRahRiley on IG.