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Beyond Mothering Earth - Ecological Citizenship and the Politics of Care

Beyond Mothering Earth - Ecological Citizenship and the Politics of Care Sherilyn MacGregor UBC Press, pp 286, CAD 22.00
Reviewed by Reggie Modlich

Beyond Mothering Earth provides a feminist analysis of existing ecofeminist and environmentalist theories relating to caring in and for the earth; it also offers a positive direction for the future. The North shares far greater responsibility both for causing and potentially mitigating looming climate changes. Being a white, middle-class feminist from the North, concerned with the state of our environment, Beyond Mothering Earth touches many deeply felt experiences and quandaries that have been gnawing at the back of my mind for years. Another major plus - MacGregor's book wrote her book in a style that non-academics can understand it.

Most significantly, MacGregor focuses on caring from domestic chores to mothering. For most women, it's a huge, complex, and conflicting component of our lives. Theorists often overlook the complexity, magnitude, value, and, most of all, the legitimacy and necessity of caring work. Some ecofeminist theorists go as far as ascribing women's traditional care giving role to the maternalistic nature of women. This is a treacherous concept that plays into the most reactionary and fundamentalist interests, absolving men and, for that matter, the public sphere from sharing responsibility for care giving.

Environmentalists too frequently acquiesce to the increasingly loud neo-liberal choir assigning responsibility for protecting or "caring for" the environment to individuals and their lifestyles, i.e. women in their homes. While creating awareness and acting to protect the environment at the individual household level has value, I did feel Beyond Mothering Earth could have pointed more strongly to the limitations of saving the environment at the level of the private household. Complicity of governments at all levels with corporate interests is an important part of the environmental context in capitalist economies. Although not the book's focus, this factor could have been stressed more forcefully.
MacGregor presents her research by giving voice to actual women. In this way Beyond Mothering Earth, reverberates strongly in all of us women readers. The author confirms that limits and contradictions in the realities, identities, and experiences have come to co-exist in the lives of most women. While real in the life of the individual woman, MacGregor feels that "it is questionable whether 'lived experiences' will provide sufficient insight into macro-political problems or global ecological developments like climate change, (p130)." Theorists need to come to terms with the contradictions, relativity, and limitations of lived experiences and also transcend the bondage of age-old patriarchal dualistic thought to arrive at dynamic and valid theories.

It always puzzles me that there is not more rage - rage at the inequity, the lack of understanding, the attempts to sanctify in theory this oppression of women's multiple roles; at neo-liberals' and even environmentalists' to further burden, guilt-trip, and privatize care giving, and in this way, cloak the power imbalance between North and South, the super powerful and the powerless. Of course, this reality plays itself out far more drastically, brutally and mostly as a matter of survival for women of the South, a reality often misconstrued by ecofeminist theoreticians who tend to ignore women of the North, because their activism is an option rather than a desperate act of survival. It is the frustration of a mother sitting helplessly in the crowded hospital emergency room while her asthmatic child is gasping for air that makes her realize improving air quality takes more

than obediently filling the "blue box ." And only when she starts speaking up, she realizes and experiences governmental complicity with corporate interests, bureaucrats, and councilors rolling their eyes, humiliating and stonewalling her. That is when an activist mother turns into a political analyst and realizes the devaluation of her role and status.

MacGregor proposes a "Project of Feminist Ecological Citizenship" as a most significant response to this sanctified, privatized, and growing burden on women and taking it in a public direction. She admits to the limits of current forms of citizenship, be it the intermittent vote, or the bureaucratized and institutional social service and welfare systems, but she points to the public domain as the only hope for human kind. MacGregor is careful not to define her concept, leaving it open, inviting new concepts for participation as well as service delivery. Only in this way will caring work be legitimized, valued, and shared regardless of gender, "...a cosmopolitan approach to ecological citizenship, with its emphasis on universal rights, responsibilities, and risks, is more in line with a feminist desire for a politicized and generalized ethics of care than eco-communitarian or individualist approaches to green virtue ." The project implicitly reinforces the validity of the concept of "public interest" so downplayed and neglected today.

Beyond Mothering Earth addresses the fundamental and global aspects of women's care giving role. Climate change seriously threatens the individualized approach to care giving. I highly recommend it's reading to all feminist environmentalists, who are concerned about climate change.