I’m a feminist and an environmentalist. I like it that way. I always thought the two ideologies were mutually reinforcing – feminism is a social justice issue, climate change is a social justice issue (since it impacts those who are already vulnerable the most). Climate change disproportionately affects women (links here, here & here), but at the same time there is also evidence to suggest that increasing women’s rights across the globe will do a lot to mitigate against the effects of climate change. So far, so reinforcing.
But then I came across these articles on French feminist academic Elisabeth Badinter. I’m a little behind the times, but last year she published a book, Le Conflit, La Femme et La Mère (The Conflict, The Woman and The Mother), which argues that environmentalists, among others, are pressuring women to be perfect mothers and essentially driving them back into the domestic sphere.
“Between the protection of trees and the liberty of women, my choice is clear,” she says. “It may seem derisory but powdered milk, jars of baby food and disposable nappies were all stages in the liberation of women.”
Reusable nappies, the modern insistence on breast-feeding, the trend for local and organic food and made-from-scratch meals are, to Badinter, a modern form of oppression leading to a limitation on women’s personal freedom and the “tyranny of motherhood”.
Now, Badinter’s views are strongly worded, but it has made me wonder whether she has a point. The washing machine, microwave, supermarket, ready meals and other such time-saving, energy-intensive inventions have historically freed up women’s time and, to some extent, encouraged their entry into the workplace.
Cécile Duflot, leader of France’s Green Party, rejects the Badinter thesis saying, “Greens have always been feminists and always defended equality in the sharing of household tasks. There are indeed men who like to cook for their children, but for Elisabeth Badinter, it is unthinkable to imagine that cooking for a child means anything other than an obligation.”
Of course, I imagine there must be joy to be found in breast-feeding, or cooking for your child. But I think Duflot is slightly missing Badinter’s point here. Duflot asserts that green feminists are for the sharing of household chores between husband and wife, however I think Badinter hits upon the reality – that, surprising as it may seem, household tasks still fall to the woman to complete.
According to the Office for National Statistics, women in the UK spend nearly 3 hours a day on average on housework (excluding shopping and childcare). This compares with the one hour 40 minutes spent by men. Another survey found that 80% of women compared with 17% of men are responsible for looking after the children or arranging childcare facilities. I know that personally, I did a lot more housework when I was living with a boy than I do now, living alone. A problem shared is not necessarily a problem halved.
So I completely get Badinter’s point – the green movement’s push to get us all growing our own vegetables, to shop locally instead of at the supermarket and to take public transport instead of whacking all the kids in the back of the car, can seem like an extended joke designed to take up women’s lives and leave little room for independence.
Even for those of us without kids, Seeds and Stitches (where I first stumbled across Badinter) describes this pressure to be eco-fabulous very well:
“Home made Christmas and Birthday presents, restricting the clothes I buy for 3 months and (admittedly failed, sob) attempts to grow vegetables. I am on a never ending quest for life improvement… We must work, have a fulfilling relationship, be really creative or crafty, cook like Nigella, have photogenic babies, open an etsy shop selling vintage wares, have Apartment Therapy worthy homes and dress stylishly.”
It’s enough to make you want to be a French feminist academic. That’s right, crack open that red, pass me a fag and a great hunk of brie.
But. Although I agree that the current burden-sharing within households leaves MUCH to be desired, I am (of course) not ready to give up on environmentalism. I believe in making things, I believe in public transport, I believe in healthy and nourishing food. I also believe that our real work in solving this dilemma is recognising that equality between men and women, a sharing of the burden, is going to be essential if we are to mitigate against the effects of climate change without making the situation of women around the world worse.
So, if you are a woman, don’t write off environmentalism, instead become an out and proud feminist. If you are a man, same deal, but shout even louder. We need equality, and we need everyone on board if we are to be successful, fair and free in this fight against climate change.