The phrase “Mother Nature” has never sat comfortably. Mainly because equating nature with motherhood sets an expectation that it is nature’s job to look after us, and that we have no active role to play in looking after nature in return. This association between nature and the maternal, feeds into patriarchal ideas around womanhood and femininity placing nature in the position of something to be controlled, diminished or even ignored altogether. The natural world will not be so easily dismissed. We must wake up now before we find ourselves sleepwalking into a future with a climate so volatile we will struggle to sustain human life on this planet.
Origins of Nature as Mother
The concept of Mother Nature has its roots in Greek mythology. The Goddess Gaia essentially gives birth to nature. Creating everything that exists within it and giving birth to her own husband, God of the sky, Uranus. You would think that a Goddess with the ability to create life would instill a sense of awe, maybe even fear, and yet this isn’t the case. In birthing nature, Gaia has fulfilled her ultimate role as a feminine being, which is to give and sustain life. There is little else attributed to her and we are left to wonder what other talents she holds, what else she might be capable of.
Stereotypes of Motherhood
When we see traditional depictions of mothers, they are often in a serving role. Even in the 21st century, the stereotypical image of the smiling, nurturing mother is stubbornly difficult to shake off. Applying this same concept to nature may seem harmless, but it oversimplifies our relationship with the natural world. Just as nature can provide food, shelter and comfort, it can also be destructive and should be respected as such. Our place as human beings on Earth is startlingly fragile, a slight increase or decrease in its temperature, for example, could lead to a climate crisis so significant it would wipe out humanity altogether. We cannot expect nature to coddle us in the face of our greed and lack of consideration for the planet. The image of a loving and caring Mother Nature does little to serve us and shields the patriarchy from confronting the decisions that have led us here.
Deciding to Build a Better Future
We have treated nature, particularly in the West, as something we can conquer and tame without consequence. We have destroyed swathes of forest and greenery in the name of progress. As consumers, we have been encouraged to take from the Earth but rarely give back and it has led us to a point of crisis. Climate change activist Greta Thunberg said, “Humanity is now standing at a crossroads. We must now decide which path we want to take. How do we want the future living conditions for all living species to be like?” She is right to pose this important question and it is one we are duty-bound to answer. It is not for Mother Nature to save us from the chaos we have created but rather for us to do what is necessary to replenish all we have depleted.
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