Monday, 19 December 2016

Ecofeminism in Mass Media Imagery

Reading Mass Media Imagery: Ecofeminism

It is normal practice to associate female imagery whenever mass media deals with Nature. The mass media is all about popular, shallow and superficial human psychology. It deals with what is popular and at superficial shallow level of memory. At this conscious level of memory, people readily accepts imagery which are floating at upper surface of memory. That is the reason why nature is so easily and conveniently associated with female. Without any question, it is readily accepted by the people of all cultures.

That is the reason that this political newspaper print advertisement gets accepted without any question.



Who will help us to critically examine this and similar mass-media imagery where female is equated with nature (and sometimes children too - the innocence of children is also exploited in similar manner in mass media imagery. Here both images are used)?
Well, let us quote Richard Kerridge at length to contextualize this hypothesis in proper theoretical framework.
"In 1974, an influential essay by Sherry B. Ortner, 'Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?', sought to explain, in terms of structuralist anthropology, the presence in diverse cultures of the idea that women were subordinate to men. The underlying idea, Ortner discovers, is that woman is closer to nature. (Buell, Lawrence, The Environmental Imagination). This helps to explain the acquiescence (agree to something passively: to agree or comply with something in a passive or reserved way) of women in their own subordination: they accept the general logic of human domination of nature.Beliefs that legitimate the oppression of women also legitimate environmental degradation. This is ecofeminism's key insight. Certain fundamental binary oppositions fit neatly over one another, creating the ideological basis for both sorts of harm:
Male     |    Female
Culture  |      Nature
Reason    |    Emotion
Mind    |     Body" 
(Kerridge)


Sherry Ortner concludes the essay with remarkable observation wherein she brings out the debate of Nature vs Culture equating it with Female vs Male:
"Ultimately, it must be stressed again that the whole scheme is a construct of culture rather than a fact of nature. Woman is not “in reality” any closer to (or further from) nature than man – both have consciousness, both are mortal. But there are certainly reasons why she appears that way, which is what I have tried to show in this paper. The result is a (sadly) efficient feedback system: various aspects of woman’s situation (physical, social, psychological) contribute to her being seen as closer to nature, while the view of her as closer to nature is in turn embodied in institutional forms that reproduce her situation. The implications for social change are similarly circular: a different cultural view can only grow out of a different social actuality; a different social actuality can only grow out of a different cultural view. It is clear, then, that the situation must be attacked from both sides. Efforts directed solely at changing the social institutions – through setting quotas on hiring, for example, or through passing equal-pay-for-equal-work laws – cannot have far-reaching effects if cultural language and imagery continue to purvey a relatively devalued view of women. But at the same time efforts directed solely at changing cultural assumptions – through male and female consciousness-raising groups, for example, or through revision of educational materials and mass-media imagery – cannot be successful unless the institutional base of the society is changed to support and reinforce the changed cultural view. Ultimately, both men and women can and must be equally involved in projects of creativity and transcendence. Only then will women be seen as aligned with culture, in culture’s ongoing dialectic with nature."
In short, we must be absolutely clear about what we are trying to explain before explaining it. We may differentiate three levels of the problem:
1. The universal fact of culturally attributed second-class status of woman in every society. Two questions are important here. First, what do we mean by this; what is our evidence that this is a universal fact? And second, how are we to explain this fact, once having established it?
2. Specific ideologies, symbolizations, and social-structural arrangements pertaining to women that vary widely from culture to culture. The problem at this level is to account for any particular cultural complex in terms of factors specific to that group-the standard level of anthropological analysis.
3. Observable on-the-ground details of women’s activities, contributions, powers, influence, etc., often at variance with cultural ideology (although always constrained within the assumption that women may never be officially preeminent in the total system). This is the level of direct observation, often adopted now by feminist-oriented anthropologists.
Three types of data would suffice: (1) elements of cultural ideology and informants’ statements that explicitly devalue women, according them, their roles, their tasks, their products, and their social milieux less prestige than are accorded men and the male correlates; (2) symbolic devices, such as the attribution of defilement, which may be interpreted as implicitly making a statement of inferior valuation; and (3) social-structural arrangements that exclude women from participation in or contact with some realm in which the highest powers of the society are felt to reside.2 These three types of data may all of course be interrelated.
It all begins of course with the body and the natural procreative functions specific to women alone. We can sort out for discussion three levels at which this absolute physiological fact has significance: (1) woman’s body and its functions, more involved more of the time with “species life,” seem to place her closer to nature, in contrast to man’s physiology, which frees him more completely to take up the projects of culture; (2) woman’s body and its functions place her in social roles that in turn are considered to be at a lower order of the cultural process than man’s; and (3) woman’s traditional social roles, imposed because of her body and its functions, in turn give her a different psychic structure, which, like her physiological nature and her social roles, is seen as being closer to nature.
Kolodny's The Lady of the Land examines the way in which colonial nature writers in the USA represented the land as female. Louise Westling's The Green Breast of the New World (1996) extends this analysis to twentieth-century novels. 
Some may argue that the use of female imagery in this ad along with female Chief Ministe of the state (West Bengal) Mamta Banerjee is to display female as source of strength and power.
Some ecofeminists also argue that the identification of women with nature should now be seen as a source of strength. But this sounds double trap for women. Thus, Janet Biehl Finding Our Way: Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics (1991) and others are wary of any strategy that, by accepting women as essentially less estranged from nature than men, and problematizing rationality too prohibitively, risks leading women back into the old cultural spaces.
Isn't it time for our ad makers to awaken their gender conspicuousness or read more into the theories of gender studies to sensitize their creative genius?
The Ministry of HUman Resource and Development which heads higher education institution in India, comes up with various schemes to sensitize students towards gender issues. But the fact remains that our political leaders are still not aware about new though and concepts regarding gender issues. Our creative geniuses in mass-media caters what is popularly consumed by mass.

More ever, what is interesting is to see the way she comes to this conclusion. We may agree or disagree with the conclusion but the process of questioning in the essay demands attentions.
The essay is subdivided in parts with sustained argument on nature as female and culture as male.
She proves Universality of female subordination with the help of these three points:
In Nature and Culture, she argues that universal devaluation of women can be explained on terms of biological / genetic determinism.

She furthers her questioning by asking: Why Is Woman Seen as Closer to Nature?
In her own words:
The discussion on following arguments is based on universal human and cultural values:
1) Woman’s physiology seen as closer to nature.
2) Woman’s social role seen as closer to nature.
3) Woman’s psyche seen as closer to nature. 
One must read an essay for detailed discussion on these arguments. Click here to read the essay.
This essay / paper provides significant insights into reading such mass-media imagery.

Feminist environmental justice campaigners, such as Vandana Shiva, points out also that women and children are disproportionately vulnerable to environmental hazards. This particular ad makes use of both mother and child.

Kolodny's The Lay of the Land examines the way in which colonial nature writers in the USA represented the land as female. () Louise Westling's The Green Breast of the New World (1996) extends this analysis to twentieth-century novels. () (Kerridge) 

Some may argue that the use of female imagery in this ad along with female Chief Ministe of the state (West Bengal) Mamta Banerjee is to display female as source of strength and power.

Some ecofeminists also argue that the identification of women with nature should now be seen as a source of strength. But this sounds double trap for women. Thus, Janet Biehl in Finding Our Way: Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics (1991) and others are wary of any strategy that, by accepting women as essentially less estranged from nature than men, and problematizing rationality too prohibitively, risks leading women back into the old cultural spaces. (Biehl)

Isn't it time for our ad makers to awaken their gender conspicuousness or read more into the theories of gender studies to sensitize their creative genius?

The Ministry of Human Resource and Development which heads higher education institution in India, comes up with various schemes to sensitize students towards gender issues. But the fact remains that our political leaders are still not aware about new though and concepts regarding gender issues. Our creative geniuses in mass-media caters what is popularly consumed by mass.


Works Cited

Biehl, Janet. Finding Our Way: Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 991.
Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1955.
Danone. "Vandana Shiva: an ecofeminist environmental activist." n.d. http://downtoearth.danone.com/. Danone.com. Web. 12 Dec. 2016. <http://downtoearth.danone.com/2013/07/19/vandana-shiva-an-ecofeminist-environmental-activist/>.
Kerridge, Richard. "Environment and Ecocriticism." Literary Theory and Criticism. Ed. Patricia Waugh. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007. 530-543.
Kolodny, Annette. The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975.
Ortner, Sherry B. "Is female to male as nature is to culture?" Woman, culture, and society. Ed. M. Z. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1974. 68-87. Web. 12 Dec. 2016. <https://www.uio.no/studier/emner/sv/sai/SOSANT1600/v12/Ortner_Is_female_to_male.pdf>.
Westling, Louise. The Green Breast of the New World : Landscape, Gender, and American Fiction. University of Georgia Press, 1996.

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