and the Environment: A Look at the Link
Kawar rocks. As a member of the Steering Committee of Environmentalists
for John Kerry, he believes that the prevalence of females working
as environmental stewards is a chief reason why a woman should be
next in line for the United States presidency. His lead in to this
stellar view was an opinion altering question, “Why do you
think there are so many women working for environmental causes?”.
Judging from the attendees at the environmentally themed classes
I’ve taken and events I’ve attended, men appear well
represented to me. But Ferris’ query became more understandable
after I was gently twisting the arm of a young man who was considering
becoming a Crew Leader in the Sustainable Works Student Program,
one of the community services our environmental nonprofit offers.
The student asked a little sheepishly, “But am I going to
be the only guy doing this?” And Ferris, my coworker, is the
first and only man thus far hired in Sustainable Works’ five-year
history. His minority status as the “token male” in
the workplace brings home the question: Are women particularly well-suited
for environmental work?
Sandy Grant, an environmentally-focused urban planner who was recently
appointed to the City of Santa Monica’s Sustainable City Task
Force, thinks so. The Sustainable City Task Force overlays a quality-of-life
perspective on the ecological issues of resource conservation, environmental
and public health, transportation, and land use. The program includes
economic development, community education, civic participation,
and human dignity as measures of civic success.
Sandy’s role on this committee allows her to put her vocation,
urban planning and community organizing, to good use. According
to Sandy, her disposition toward strengthening community has deep
roots in an innate feminine energy. She traces her aptitude to the
hunter-gatherer model of prehistoric society where women worked
together to create a livable habitat, preparing and refining the
spoils of the men’s expeditions for food and goods. Choosing
not to raise children, Sandy feels that she applies her ability
to foster growth into her work instead. She resonates with Joan
Borysenko’s model of the Guardian: as a woman moves beyond
her reproductive years, her capacity to nurture is extended to the
“world family”. Sandy’s penchant for community
building again mirrors the Guardian role: her environmental consciousness
extends not only to the earth, but leans strongly to the people
who inhabit it.
Although Ferris Kawar refutes the notion that women possess inborn
qualities that would allow them to excel in environmentalism, he
believes that cultural conditioning may explain women’s heightened
interest in environmental issues. As Sustainable Works’ Residential
Program Coordinator, Ferris runs a voluntary program that teaches
Santa Monica residents how to be more resource efficient. He finds
that 65 to 70% of his participants are women and, like Borysenko’s
Guardians, the most receptive and informed audiences are women between
the ages of 50 and 65.
However, rather than chalking this up to a biological imperative,
Ferris believes that this age group has a more personal relationship
with the environmental crisis due to the gender roles that defined
their formative years. For example, being more likely than men or
younger women to have prolonged, hands-on experience with housework,
these women are invested in learning about the effects of the chemicals
in the cleaning solvents they have used throughout the years. Ferris
finds that the women he teaches are generally more open and aware
of environmental problems. He thinks this may in part be attributed
to an informal community amongst women where information is freely
shared, a trait that is not encouraged amongst men.
Sandy and Ferris agree that women and environmental work make a
good match and that there are larger forces than the individual
that inspire women to get involved. But while Sandy feels her environmental
work is the outward expression of a female essence that fosters
growth and connection, Ferris sees the dictates of gender roles
putting women in a prime position of concern and receptiveness.
Whether or not women care about the environment because it is encoded
in them to do so or because their housewifely duties put them at
a higher risk of chemical poisoning is ultimately not important.
What is of great consequence is the Earth’s unprecedented
state of environmental decline. The human population, women and
men included, must rally to attend to its care.
Elektra Grant is a staff member
of Sustainable Works, a nonprofit organization that teaches sustainable
practices to individuals, institutions and businesses in the urban
environment. She is enrolled in the Environmental Studies program
at Santa Monica College.