Challenging Rape Culture and Environmental Plunder

As I have argued before on the World Buzz, we must confront our globally endemic rape culture in order to curb sexual violence against women. In order to do this, we need to engage in sustained social discourses that challenge patriarchy. This will result in not only a more peaceful and equitable gender balance, but also perhaps a platform to address the major ecological predicaments of our time.


The link between the domination of women and of nature has been stressed by an intellectual and political movement known as ecofeminism. This term, ecofeminism, was apparently coined in 1974 by Françoise d’Eaubonne, who was part of a rich tradition of French feminism. Nearly a generation earlier, in her seminal study Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex), Simone de Beauvoir likewise suggested how the patriarchal logic of domination has subordinated both women and nature, two subjects which have long been conflated, for better and for worse.


In fact, this link between nature and women is present in the etymology of the word “nature” itself, which ultimately derives from the Latin verb nasci, “to be born,” thus alluding to the most fundamental feature of womanhood – the bearer of life. This link was respected by many ancient religions. The ancient Greeks worshipped Gaia, who was the goddess or personification of the Earth. Her ancient Roman counterpart was Terra. Even today, the Indigenous peoples of the Andes give reverence to Pachamama, the goddess of Mother Earth.


In the modern industrial world, however, Mother Earth is generally no longer endowed with such reverence. She has been denuded of her spiritual significance and imaginatively turned into an inert storehouse of raw materials, ripe for plundering. Thus, looking at the graphic pictures of the ruthless exploitation of tar sands in northern Alberta, Canada, for example, one cannot help but see it as a form of rape. This term, by the way, is not being used metaphorically. In fact, one of the first meanings of the word “rape” in the mid-14th language of Middle English was “the act of taking something by force, plundering.” That is, quite simply, what the tar sands operations are all about. They are brute force in extremis.


Thus, the tar sands operations are exemplary of both the extremities of modern industrialization and of patriarchy. The millennia-long legacy of male domination, oppression, and ownership has arguably laid the seeds for the attitude that not only justifies but indeed demands the terrible exploitation of Mother Earth. And just as women are pervasively objectified, stripped of their dignity and inherent moral value, so too is nature denuded of its spiritual essence. As we move forward, then, in challenging and ultimately overturning our rape culture, we must appreciate how much is at stake. It is not just about curbing sexual violence against women, although that is a hugely significant priority. But in addition to that, it is about saving our shared home from destruction.


Submitted by Jeff Benvenuto


The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not represent the opinions of Rutgers University or the Division of Global Affairs.

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