Bioregionalism / Western Culture / Women

by Marnie Muller

This piece was originally published in Home! A Bioregional Reader, edited by Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant, and Eleanor Wright, New Society Publishers, copyright 1990.

Bioregionalism begins to tap the very heart of Western historic tradition by re-asking the question: “What is our place in the universe?” Bioregionalism does this by squarely challenging the error of hierarchical thinking as it looks at:

  1. the historic dogma of the male God’s dominion (read oppression) over the heavens and the male (white) human’s dominion (oppression) over the Earth;
  2. the secular, Ptolemaic system of anthropocentrism, whereby all of nature revolves around the human race;
  3. the more “liberal” concept of benign (read paternalistic) stewardship whereby humans “take care of” the Earth.

As if that was not enough in itself, bioregionalism has also begun to challenge the very innards of historic Western tradition by examining the error of body/mind dualism. This dichotomy has been woven into the very fabric of Western culture for hundreds of years, and it will be difficult to realize all the ways it has affected and lobotomized us. However, bioregionalism, with its emphasis on incorporating (literally) the sensual, the spiritual and the mental in our relationship with our Earth means that healing is occurring—that mind and body are beginning to grow together once again. Praise to all of us in our efforts toward this healing, for it is with this healing that our Earth will become less tormented. Another error of thinking underpinning Western culture which bioregionalism challenges is the “Trash your homeplace, there’s always a new frontier” mentality.

In light of bioregional self-criticism, I ask that we all regard these errors of thinking in depth, in order to see how they affect not only how Western culture relates to the earth but also how it relates to the female. In the interest of bioregional self- criticism, I suggest that we explore in earnest how these two areas are vitally intertwined and how, in order to deal with the treatment of Earth, we must also deal with the treatment of Women.

Hierarchical Thinking

For thousands of years we have been assured that God is male; that the human male has dominion over the human female; that the human female came from the human male; that the human male has dominion over the female and children; that the human male has dominion over the female, children and animals, plants and the Earth itself. This opinion has been the basis for overt physical, political, spiritual and psychological oppression for centuries. Finally, a number of males today have begun to “catch on” (many females have known for quite some time), to realize that by this system they, too, are entrapped. They have begun to realize the perverseness and pervasiveness of this system, as some people in the white population have begun to get a glimmer of the oppression directed towards peoples of color. Still, realization is only a first step. Pervasiveness is insidious when it comes to actually changing an age-old system.

Body/Mind Dualism

By historically divorcing “mind” from “body,” Western culture was able to do away with a number of truths. This was accomplished by drastically reducing the human powers of perception and declaring them to be false. Our perceptions (not deceptions) had told us that the Earth was alive, that we were part of this functioning process…that the food we ate and the air we breathed united us with this process…that our children were born of this process…that the Earth turned from this process. Stars beckoned us. Waters lapped us. Sunlight fell on us. Music/sound pulsed through us.

Western culture untied us from this “process”—from sensual reality. (By “sensual,” I mean all the aspects of our being which allow us to experience fully, with all our senses, the creation around us.) Western culture began to emphasize mind and “spirit” and to denigrate the sensual. The sensual became “other”—it was a source of enticement, temptation, sin, blame—something to be suppressed. Because the culture was dominated by male patriarchal concepts which identified the male with “mind,” the female was then identified with “sensual,” “flesh,” “dark.” With suppression came oppression. Objectification and use of the female and objectification and use of the Earth occurred. Perception of the full presence of the female and of the full presence of the Earth was obscured because of this objectification.

The Homeplace

In bioregional thought, the homeplace is sacred. In Western culture, it is the place “to get away from;” the homeplace is the place where chores need to be done, where children are, where the elderly need to be cared for. In a wider context, the homeplace is boring, should be used up so that new frontiers can be moved towards. At best, it is used as a retreat.

Throughout cultural history, the female is associated with the homeplace. It is here where we, as bioregionalists, most need to look. Whether male or female, we need to allow our homeplace to be resacralized. Our shelter (whether nomadic or stationary) is our place from which we go out and to which we return. It is our membrane—something to be cared for, nurtured with energy, loved. Sometimes we have a shelter with someone else—a partner or friend. Sometimes we have children—sometimes we have elders with us—in our shelter. It is a place to be in, to relax in, to prepare food in, to repair when necessary. It is situated in a wider place—a homeplace of Nature—a place to know…to find out about water, animals, plants, trees, soil, wind currents, seasons, migration patterns. Reconnecting with our homeplace allows us, in a safe way, to begin reconnecting with our inner selves. In turn, we then connect or reconnect with other humans.

In addition to Western culture’s treatment of the Earth and of the female, we also need to look at Western culture’s treatment of the child. Our homeplace will not become “breathable” again until we do this. Western culture treats the child as though s/he is not really all the way there. It is as though the culture’s bounds of reality have become so narrowed that no longer can the full presence of the child be acknowledged. Within the child’s psyche, there is so much crossover between the “sensual” and the “conceptual” that in order to acknowledge and rejoice in the full presence of the child, we as a culture would have to “un-atrophy” our powers of perception and reincorporate the “sensual” into our lives. A step in our own healing process is to recognize and nurture in children the gifts of “being” we are attempting to reclaim for ourselves.

As we bioregionalists truly begin to locate ourselves in the universe, let us, as females and males, begin to locate ourselves in relation to each other. Then we can mutually begin to work together on an equal basis to reform the values of our human culture as it affects ourselves and our homeplace, Earth.

(First published in Raise the Stakes, No. 10, Summer 1984.)

Marnie Muller is an author and educator. She is founder and co-editor of Katuah Journal, a bioregional journal of the Southern Appalachians. In the 1980s, she served on the coordinating committee of the first and second North American Bioregional Congresses. She has taught many places, including the Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center, and designed the spiral walk installation at the Asheville School.

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