Intersections: Feminism

“Both [women and earth] are assigned instrumental value, with little or no intrinsic worth apart from their potential to serve the needs and desires of men. Women whose bodies mediate physical existence to humanity thus become symbolically the oldest archetype of the connection between social domination and the domination of nature.”
Elizabeth A. Johnson¹

In the previous blog post, I brought out the idea that part of God’s act of creation on Day 3 was imbuing the created stuff of the earth power to continue the creative process itself. Plants and trees and other vegetation are given the power to carry on in this work; they are given the power to participate in creation by being creators themselves.

We have not yet come to the creation of humankind in our Genesis study, but as a preview: humans are created and then told “be fruitful and multiply”; they are given the power to participate in creation by  being creators themselves. We hold this in common with the seed-bearing plants, the fruit-bearing trees – the stuff of the earth and the earth itself. This is our first hint – and there will be many more – that people and earth are interrelated to a point beyond hierarchy. We are kin.

To understand the earth (with the life it holds) and humankind as kin is to call into question our typical avenues for understanding our relationship to the rest of creation. In her book Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit, Elizabeth A. Johnson posits that there are (at least) three possibilities of how we conceive of our relationship to the earth and only one appropriately understands the connection between human beings and earth. She explains three models:

The Absolute Kingship Model: “It is based on hierarchical dualism that sees humanity separated from the earth and placed in a position of absolute dominion over all other creatures who are made for us…This is a patriarchal pyramid, resulting in a top-down domination of nature by man” (29).

The Stewardship Model: “This model keeps the structure of hierarchical dualism but calls for human beings to be responsible caretakers or guardians of the earth and all its creatures…humanity is still at the top of the pyramid of being but has a duty to protect and preserve what seems weaker and more vulnerable” (30).

The Kinship Model: “It sees human beings and the earth with all its creatures intrinsically related as companions in a community of life. Because we are all mutually interconnected, the flourishing or damaging of one ultimately affects all. This kinship attitude does not measure differences on a scale of higher or lower ontological dignity but appreciates them as integral elements in the robust thriving of the whole” (30).

Johnson suggests that the reality of our connection with the world is not one of hierarchy, but one of mutual dependence and unquestionable interrelatedness. When the way in which we understand our basic connection to the world is not based in hierarchy and separation, the arguments for subjugation of creation or for the subjugations of other human beings cannot be found in creation theology. When we operate out of a model of kinship, there is no one “at the top” who assigns only instrumental value to those “below,” ignoring intrinsic worth as part of creation. When the way in which we understand our basic connection to the world is based in mutual dependence and interconnectedness, we have every reason to see the inherent value of all things created. Our relationship with the earth is something greater than dominion, it is kinship.

This little book  (a collected lecture series at only 68 pages) is an absolute gold mine. In it, she explores the interrelated subjugation of women, the earth, and the Holy Spirit. It has been a constant companion since it was assigned for a class a few years ago, and I would highly recommend it to anyone studying feminism, ecology, trinitarian theology, or even liberation theology. She explains her thesis: “The exploitation of the earth, which as reached crisis proportions in our day, is intimately linked to the marginalization of women, and that both of these predicaments are intrinsically relate to forgetting the Creator Spirit who pervades the world in the dance of life” (2).

The Amazon listing:

¹Johnson, Elizabeth A. Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit. New York: Paulist press, 1993.


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