In their essay on power Margo Adair and Sharon Howell
observe that "The hierarchical and competitive nature of
our society gives everyone plenty of opportunities to
experience [being both the dominator and the
A woman of color at this month's session
said that at her job she often detected racial
discrimination. When she learned that a white co-worker was
not able to bring her lesbian lover on company trips, she
became aware that, racism notwithstanding, she likewise
enjoys prerogatives of power (heterosexual privilege in this
Also, she had at first assumed the lover was a man.
Conscious of her own prejudiceand the general
public'sshe now tends to say "he or she."
Some of us lamented that the words we need to re-language
power dynamics are often not even in a dictionary.
The authors assert that "Ecofeminism offers a very
different sense of powerpower that comes from living in
harmony rather than hierarchy." In agreement, one woman
said that ecofeminism is not about setting up hierarchies to
judge who's more oppressed than whom.
To argue that sexism is
more harmful than racism, for example, pits groups against
each other, places women of color in a conflicted position,
and creates a hierarchy of oppression. On the other hand, the
woman expressed frustration with many men who claim that
they, too, are oppressed by patriarchy.
Well, yes, of course
they are, but clearly, she exclaimed, the psychic pain
economically-advantaged, able-bodied, straight, white men
experience is substantially different from the real, material
struggle and psychic pain a Native American woman
living on a dirt-poor reservation endures. As African
American writer Hattie Gossett once remarked, these men are
"whining from the catbird seat."
conceded that the issue is slippery. Ecofeminists don't want
to discount anyone's suffering by prioritizing oppressions.
Yet a response is in order when those who are privileged by
race, class, or gender expropriate the language of
oppression. This serves to downplay past wrongs and obscure
their present power. One woman submitted that if people with
privilege are serious about overcoming their own oppression,
their healing process needs to include proactive engagement
in social change.
We wrangled with the old question of whether authentic
change comes from working within the system or outside of it.
One woman rejected the notion that simply putting enough
women, men and women of color, lesbians and gays, etc. into
positions of power will result in social transformation. She
felt that regardless of who's at the helm, the system is
Another woman countered that the
continuum is long and wide; we must encourage resistance
wherever it is expressed. A woman of color explained that she
conforms at work with pearls and nylons, but wears her hair
braided. This subtle Black-identified statement creates its
own radical ripples throughout the corporate culture.
A couple of women were delighted that we have a feminist in the
White House. Considering Hillary Clinton's ambitious agenda,
they found themselves reluctant to criticize the First
Woman's conventional version of feminism. Another woman was
thrilled that Maya Angelou was selected to read poetry at the
Clinton inaugural. Somewhat unsettled by the group's
enthusiasm, one woman declared that the inclusion of women of
all races in the body politic should be a given.
reminded her that a celebratory mood is justified in light of
the fact that we've just survived twelve years of aggressive
affirmative action for aristocratic white men.
Adair and Howell write that power relations are usually
unnamed, unspoken, and kept invisible. They contend that
"the silent conspiracy that upholds the status quo"
is broken when people openly discuss the "power
One woman, however, questioned whether feelings
are honestly exchanged in relationships where there is an
imbalance of power. She gave an example of going out for
dinner with a wealthy friend. They split the bill even though
the friend had ordered more. The woman confessed that because
of her own issues growing up working class, she was too
ashamed to ask her rich friend to pay her fair share.
The woman also hypothesized a situation in which a racist remark
is made in a group consisting of only one person of color.
Would that person of color appreciate a critical response
from a white "ally," or would calling further
attention to the racism leave the person of color feeling
uncomfortable? One woman pointed out that politics of power
are always present and always cause anxieties
whether verbalized or not.
Another woman shared poet Pat
Parker's paradoxical advice to "the white person who
wants to know how to be my friend." Parker counsels:
"The first thing you do is forget that i'm Black.
Second, you must never forget that i'm Black." In
applying to ecofeminism the wisdom gleaned from Parker's
"zentence," we are reminded that ecofeminism is
indeed a contextual ethic.
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