FEMINISM AND ECOLOGY
Empirical science left repercussions in its wake: the sudden advancement of technology upset the natural order. But the recent interest in ecology, the study, of man’s relationship to his environment, may, by 1970, have come too late. Certainly it is too late for conservationism, the attempt to redress natural balances. What is called for is a revolutionary ecological program that would attempt to establish a humane artificial (man-made) balance in place of the natural one, thus also realizing the original goal of empirical science: human mastery of matter.
The best new currents in ecology and social planning agree with feminist aims. The way that these two social phenomena, feminism and revolutionary ecology, have emerged with such seeming coincidence illustrates a historical truth: new theories and new movements do not develop in a vacuum, they arise to spearhead the necessary social solutions to new problems resulting from contradictions in the environment. In this case, both movements have arisen in response to the same contradiction: animal life within a technology. In the case of feminism the problem is a moral one: the biological family unit has always oppressed women and children, but now, for the first time in history, technology has created real preconditions for overthrowing these oppressive “natural” con-
ditions, along with their cultural reinforcements. In the case of the new ecology, we find that independent of any moral stance, for pragmatic—survival—reasons alone, it has become necessary to free humanity from the tyranny of its biology. Humanity can no longer afford to remain in the transitional stage between simple animal existence and full control of nature. And we are much closer to a major evolutionary jump, indeed, to direction of our own evolution, than we are to a return to the animal kingdom from which we came.
Thus in terms of modern technology, a revolutionary ecological movement would have the same aim as the feminist movement: control of the new technology for humane purposes, the establishment of a beneficial “human” equilibrium between man and the new artificial environment he is creating, to replace the destroyed “natural” balance.
What are some of the concerns of ecology that are of direct interest to the feminist movement? I shall discuss briefly two issues of the new ecology that particularly pertain to the new feminism: reproduction and its control, including the seriousness of the population explosion and new methods of fertility control, and cybernation, the future takeover by machines of increasingly’ complex functions, altering man’s age-old relation to work and wages.
Previously I had taken copious notes, written whole drafts on the population explosion, quoting once again all sorts of frightening statistic» about the rate of population growth. But on second thought, it seemed to me that I had heard it all before and so had everyone else. Perhaps for the purposes of this book, we would do better to discuss why these statistics are so consistently ignored. For, despite increasingly dire pronouncements from every expert in the field, few people are seriously worried. In fact, the public euphoria and laissez faire actually seem to grow in direct proportion to the need for immediate action to stave off future disaster.
The relation between the two situations is direct: inability to confront or deal with the problem creates a sham confidence, the extent of which is borne out by a recent Gallup poll (August 3, 1968) in which, to the question, "What do you find to be the most pressing prob – lem confronting the nation today?” less than 1 percent of the national sample of adults questioned mentioned population. And yet at the very least, to quote population experts Lincoln H. Day and Alice Taylor Day, in their book Too Many Americans, "To support an increase of another 180,000,000 (forty-four more years, at current rates) this country would have to undergo changes in the condition of life as radical as those that have occurred since Columbus.” This is the most conservative estimate. The majority of demographers, biologists, and ecologists are considerably more pessimistic. Books come out all the time on the subject, each with a new slant to the terrors of the population explosion (If we had reproduced at this rate since the time of Christ, by now we would have. . .. If we continue at this rate, starvation will look like. .. by the year…. So and so many rats congested in a room produce XYZ behavior. . . .), books with such titles as Famine, 1975, The Population Bomb, and so on. Scientists themselves are in a panic: a well-known biologist at Rockefeller University is reputed to have stopped speaking to his own daughter after the birth of her third child; his students multiply at their peril.
Yet the public remains convinced that science can solve the problem. One reason the man on the street believes so ardently that “they” can handle it—in addition to the Witchdoctor Mystique that “they” always seem to find an answer for everything—is that information filters down so slowly from above. For example, the public began to hear about the “green revolution” only when scientists abandoned hope in it as anything but a desperate stopgap measure to delay worldwide famine for another generation; but rather than causing widespread alarm and immediate action, this information acted as a bromide.
The Miracle-of-Modern-Science is only one of a whole
stockpile of arguments that, no matter how often they are disproven, keep bobbing up again. There is the Food Surplus argument, the Vast-Stretches-of-Unpopulated-Land argument, the Economic argument (more people keep the economy going), the Military argument (population increases defense strength, cf. the Chinese Boogy-Woogy) and many more, varying in their sophistication with the social milieu of their propounders. It is useless to argue— and. therefore I won’t do it here—for it is not at all a question of correct information, or logic. There is something else that unites all these arguments. What is it?
Underlying all these arguments is the peculiar chauvinism that develops in the family. In past chapters we have discussed some of the components of this psychology: The patriarchal mentality concerned only with its own interests, and with its progeny only insofar as they are heir and ego extension, in the private bid for immortality (why worry about the larger social good just so long as—that beautiful phrase—You And Yours are “happy” when the great catastrophe hits); Us-Against-Them chauvinism (blood is thicker); the division between the abstract and _the concrete, the public and the private (what could be more abstract and public than a demographic statistic? what could be more private and concrete than one’s own reproduction?); the privatization of the sex experience; the power psychology; and so on.
Leftists and revolutionaries, unfortunately, are no exception to this universal malpsychology generated by the family. They too indulge in Us-Against-Themism, though this time in reverse. If “Us,” the upper-class and highbrow intelligentsia; argues that “We better not have a decrease in birth rates or the rabble and/or the weak – minded will take over,” “Them,” the "rabble” (lately known as the “lunatic fringe”), counters with paranoia about being birth-controlled out of existence—“Genocide of the Third World and Undesirables at Home.” This fear is well-founded. However, it is also responsible for a general failure of vision on the Left to see beneath the evil uses of birth control to a genuine ecological problem which no number of fancy arguments and bogey statistics can erase. It is true that capitalist imperialist governments are only too glad to dispense birth control devices to the Third World or to Blacks and the poor in the U. S. (particularly welfare mothers, who are often made into guinea pigs for the latest experiments), while at home they think nothing of giving a man a ten-year jail sentence for dispensing Emko Foam to a young, white, unmarried coed; it is true that a redistribution of the world’s wealth and resources would greatly ease the problem— even if it could happen tomorrow. But the problem would still remain, for it exists independently of traditional politics and economics, and thus could not be solved by traditional politics and economics alone. These politick and economic complications are only aggravations of a genuine problem of ecology. Once again radicals have failed to think radically enough: capitalism is not the only enemy, redistribution of wealth and resources is not the only solution, attempts to control population are not only Third World Suppression in disguise.
But often there is a more serious error: the misuse of scientific developments is very often confused with technology itself. (But do the black militants who advocate unchecked fertility for black women allow themselves to become burdened with heavy bellies and too many mouths to feed? One gathers that they find contraception of some help in maintaining their active preaching schedules.) As was demonstrated in the case of the development of atomic energy, radicals, rather than breastbeating about the immorality of scientific research, could be much more effective by concentrating their full energies on demands for control of scientific discoveries by and for the people. For, like atomic energy, fertility control, artificial reproduction, cybernation, in themselves, are liberating—unless they are improperly used.
What are the new scientific developments in the control of this dangerously prolific reproduction? Already we have more and better contraception than ever before in history. The old spanner-in-the-works intervention of conception (diaphragms, condoms, foams, and jellies) was only the beginning. Soon we shall have a complete understanding of the entire reproductive process in all its complexity, including the subtle dynamics of hormones and their full effects on the nervous system. Present oral contraception is at only a primitive (faulty) stage, only one of many types of fertility control now under experiment. Artificial insemination and artificial inovulation are already a reality. Choice of sex of the fetus, test-tube fertilization (when capacitation of sperm within the vagina is fully understood) are just around the corner. Several teams of scientists are working on the development of an artificial placenta. Even parthenogenesis—virgin birth— could be developed very soon.
Are people, even scientists themselves, culturally prepared for any of this? Decidedly not. A recent Harris poll, quoted in Life magazine, representing a broad sampling of Americans—including, for example, Iowa farmers— found a surprising number willing to consider the new methods. The hitch was that they would consider them only where they reinforced and furthered present values of family life and reproduction, e. g., to help a barren woman have her husband’s child. Any question that could be interpreted as a‘furthering of “sexual revolution” alone was rejected flatly as unnatural. But note that it was not the “test tube” baby itself that was thought unnatural (25 percent agreed off the bat that they themselves would use this method, usually given the preconditions we have described), but the new value system, based on the elimination of male supremacy and the family.
It is clear by now that research in the area of reproduction is itself being impeded by cultural lag and sexual bias. The money allocated for specific kinds of research, the kinds of research done are only incidentally in the interests of women when at all. For example, work oa the development of an artificial placenta still has to be excused on the grounds that it might save babies bom prematurely. Thus, although it’would be far easier technically to transfer a young embryo than an almost fully developed baby, all the money goes into the latter research. Or again, that women are excluded from science is directly responsible for the tabling of research on oral contraceptives for males. (Is it possible that women are thought to make better guinea pigs because they are considered by male scientists to be “inferior”? Or is it only because male scientists worship male fertility?) There are great numbers of such examples.
Fears of new methods of reproduction are so wide-, spread that as of the time of this writing, 1969, the subject, outside of scientific circles, is still taboo. Even many women in the women’s liberation movement—perhaps especially in the women’s liberation movement—are afraid to express any interest in it for fear of confirming everyone’s suspicions that they are “unnatural,” spending a great deal of energy denying that they are anti-motherhood, pro-artificial reproduction, and so on. Let me then say it bluntly:
Pregnancy is barbaric. I do not belifeve, as many women are now saying, that the reason pregnancy is viewed as not beautiful is due strictly to cultural perversion. The child’s first response, “What’s wrong with that Fat Lady?”; the husband’s guilty waning of sexual desire; the woman’s tears in front of the mirror at eight months—are all gut reactions, not to be dismissed as cultural habits, Pregnancy is the temporary deformation of the body of the individual for the sake of the species.
Moreover, childbirth hurts. And it isn’t good for you. Three thousand years ago, women giving birth “naturally” had no need to pretend that pregnancy was a real trip, some mystical orgasm (that far-away look). The Bible said it: pain and travail. The glamor was unnecessary: women had no choice. They didn’t dare squawk. But at least they could scream as loudly as they wanted during their labor pains. And after it was over, even during it, they were admired in a limited way for their bravery; their valor was measured by how many children (sons) they could endure bringing into the world.
Today all this has been confused. The cult of natural childbirth itself tells us how far we’ve come from true oneness with nature. Natural childbirth is only one more part of the reactionary hippie-Rousseauean Retum-to – Nature, and just as self-conscious. Perhaps a mystification of childbirth, true faith, makes it easier for the woman involved. Pseudo-yoga exercises, twenty pregnant women breathing deeply on the floor, may even help some women develop “proper” attitudes (as in “I didn’t scream once”). The squirming husband at the bedside, like the empathy pains of certain tribesmen (“Just look what I go through with you, dear”), may make a woman feel less alone during her ordeal. But the fact remains: childbirth is at best necessary and tolerable. It is not fun.
(Like shitting a pumpkin, a friend of mine told me when I inquired about the Great-Experience-You’re-Miss – ing. What’s-wrong-with-shitting-shitting-can-be-fun says the School of the Great Experience. It hurts, she says. What’s-wrong-with-a-little-pain-as-long-as-it-doesn’t – kffi-you? answers the School. It is boring, she says. Pain – can-be-interesting-as-an-experience says the School. Isn’t that a rather high price to pay for interesting experience? she says. But-look-you-get-a-reward, says the School: a- baby-all-your-own-to-fuck-up-as-you-please. Well, that’s something, she says. But how do I know it will be male like you?)
Artificial reproduction is not inherently dehumanizing. At very least, development of an option should make possible an honest reexamination of the ancient value of motherhood. At the present time, for a woman to come out openly against motherhood on principle is physically dangerous. She can get away with it only if she adds that she is neurotic, abnormal, childhating and therefore “unfit.” (“Perhaps later. . . when I’m better prepared.”)
This is hardly a free atmosphere of inquiry. Until the taboo, is lifted, until the decision not to have children or not to have them “naturally” is at least as legitimate as traditional childbearing, women are as good as forced into, their female roles.
Another scientific development that we find difficult to absorb into our traditional value system is the dawn of cybernation, the takeover of work functions by increasingly complex machines—machines that may soon equal or surpass man in original thinking and problem-solving. While it may be argued, as with artificial reproduction, that such machines are barely past the speculative stage, remember that it was only five to ten years ago that experts in the field were predicting that five or six computers would satisfy permanently the needs of the whole country.
Cybernation, like birth control, can be a double-edged sword. Like artificial reproduction, to envision it in the hands of the present powers is to envision a nightmare. We need not elaborate. Everyone is familiar with Technocracy, 1984: the increased alienation of the masses, the intensified rule of the elite (perhaps cyberneticians), baby factories, increased government efficiency (Big Brother), and so on. In the hands of the present society there is no doubt that the machine could be used—is being used—to intensify the apparatus of repression and to increase established power.
But again, as with the population explosion, and birth control, the distinction between misuse of science and the value of science itself is not often kept clear. In this case, though perhaps the response may not be quite so hysterical and evasive, we still often have the same unimaginative concentration on the evils of the machine itself, rather than a recognition of its revolutionary significance. Books and research abound on how to avoid Technocracy, 1984 (e. g., Alan Weston’s Privacy and Freedom), but there is little thought about how to deal effectively with the qualitative changes in life style that cybernation will bring.
The two issues, population control and cybernation,
produce the same nervous superficial response because in both cases the underlying problem is one for which there is no precedent: qualitative change in humanity’s basic relationships to both its production and its reproduction. We will need almost overnight, in order to deal with the profound effects of fertility control and cybernation, a new culture based on a radical redefinition of human relationships and leisure for the masses. To so radically redefine our relationship to production and reproduction requires the destruction at once of the class system as well as the family. We will be beyond arguments about who is "bringing home the bacon”—no one will be bringing it home, because no one will be "working.” Job discrimination would no longer have any basis in a society where machines do the work better than human beings of any size or skill could. Machines thus could act as the perfect equalizer, obliterating the class system based on exploitation of labor.
What might the immediate impact of cybernation be on the position of women? Briefly, we can predict the following: 1) While at first automation will continue to. provide new service jobs for women, e. g., keypunch operator, computer programmer, etc., these positions are not likely to last long (precisely why women, the transient labor force par excellence, are sought for them). Eventually, such simple specialized control of machines will give way to a more widespread common knowledge of their control and, at the same time, at top levels, increased specialized knowledge of their more complex functions by a new elite of engineers, cyberneticians. The kinds of jobs into which women have been welcomed, the lower rung of white-collar service jobs, will be cybernated out. At the same time, housework will become more fully automated, reducing women’s legitimate work functions even further. 2) Erosion of the status of the “head of the household,” particularly in the working class, may shake up family life and traditional sex roles even more profoundly. 3) Massive unrest of the young, the poor, the unemployed will increase: as jobs become more difficult
to obtain, and there is no cushioning of the cultural shock by education for leisure, revolutionary ferment is likely to become a staple. Thus, all in all, cybernation may aggravate the frustration that women already feel in their roles, pushing them into revolution.
A feminist revolution could be the decisive factor in establishing a new ecological balance: attention drawn to the population explosion, a shifting of emphasis from reproduction to contraception, and demands for the full development of artificial reproduction would provide an alternative to the oppressions of the biological family; cybernation, by changing man’s relationship to work and wages, by transforming activity from “work” to "play” (activity done for its own sake), would allow for a total redefinition of the economy, including the family unit in its economic capacity. The double curse that man should till the soil by the sweat of his brow and that woman should bear in pain and travail would be lifted through technology to make humane living for the first time a possibility. The feminist movement has the essential mission of creating cultural acceptance of the new ecological balance necessary for the survival of the human race in the twentieth century.