Women and Nature: A Radical Feminist Ecopsychology

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Arts at Goddard College. Women and Nature: A Radical Feminist Ecopsychology © Susan Gesmer, January 1999


The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,

As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,

Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam

In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.


The heart of a woman falls back with the night,

And enters some alien cage in its plight,

And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars

While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

Georgia Douglas Johnson



The Brown Pelican has finally battled back from near

The species reward? Someone in Brevard County

is torturing the ungainly birds – breaking their necks

and pinning their wings behind their backs. The death toll

since Feb. is nearing 115, and so far even a $4,700 reward

and a local hot line (1-800-342-5367) haven’t turned up any

solid leads…. Whoever the culprit may be, the level of cruelty

is disturbing. Clara Gunde, head of the local Humane Society,

worries that Brevard County has a future serial killer in it’s

Howard & Van Boven, Newsweek (1998)






To love the stranger, to love solitude – am I writing merely about


about drifting from the center, drawn to the edges,

a privilege we can’t afford in the world that is,

who are hatred as being of our kind: faggot kicked into the icy

river, woman dragged from her stalled car

into the mist-struck mountains, used and hacked to death

young scholar shot at the university gates on a summer evening

walk, his prizes and studies nothing, nothing

availing his Blackness

Jew deluded that she’s escaped the tribe, the laws of her exclusion,

the men too holy to touch her hand;   Jew who has

turned her back

on midrash and mitzvah (yet wears the chai on a thong between  her breasts) hiking alone

found with a swastika carved in her back at the foot of the cliffs

(did she die as queer or Jew?)

Excerpt from Adrienne Rich, Yom Kippur 1984 (1986)



Table of Contents




Chapter 1. Introduction                                                                                                      1



This inquiry

Why there are no men included in this study

Exactly what do I mean by “women’s psychologies”?

Women and nature

Setting the context for women’s lives

Why this topic is of such personal importance


Women’s poetry

Poetry and the hardening social sciences.

Why Native women’s poetry?

Nature and race

Chapter one, conclusion


Chapter 2. Literature Review                                                                                             48


A historic push for the preservation of nature

A short review of environmental movements: John Muir,

Deep Ecology and The Green Movement

Ecofeminism, an introduction

Ecofeminism, its herstory, streams, and tributaries

Ecopsychology, an introduction

Biophilia, biophobia and continuing to build the

Ecopsychology argument

What relevance does all this have to my paper?

Feminist psychology

A partial synopsis of feminist psychological theories



Chapter 3. Methodology                                                                                                              113

My interview questions


Research biases

Interviewee profiles

Research participants characteristics

How I found my participants

Interview structure and how I conducted the interviews



A word on my results

A social psychology of women and nature, an outline of salient    points


Chapter 4. Results The men in the wood and the deer in the glen                                         139

Interviews and analysis


Ellen, Lettie, Rose, Zelda, Gila and Adrienne




Chapter 5. Conclusions                                                                                                        251

I.   Personal reflections: Journey through a year’s seasons

II.  Setting the theoretical stage:

Frankenstein – the experience of female embodiment and   alienation from nature. Rose and Zelda’s “human not  nature”

The Yellow wallpaper: Caged away from nature

Engendered female socialization: Female Perversions and  the drive to connect

Female perversions and my hypothesis

Psychological histories


III. Violence and nature

Trauma and vicarious trauma

Taking off from Carl Anthony

Rose in Germany: The trees of the oppressor, are they the

oppressor themselves?

Some thoughts on my own experience of fear in the woods

Women and nature?


IV. Conclusion: Nature, relationalism, therapism, community and

ecological interconnectedness


But, is nature more than a social construction? Nature, instinct, solace and psyche.


Biophilia, female perversions and seeds of healing

Women and their (domestic and wild) animal loves

Ecopsychology and “The Black Mulberry Tree”

Therapy and therapism

Nature, politic, consciousness raising and community

Final conclusions


Footnotes                                                                                                                             359


References                                                                                                                             370

Appendix A Results chart                                                                                                        388


Appendix B   Consent form and interview definitions                                                     396

Appendix C   Interview questions                                                                                            406

Appendix D   Who am I?                                                                                                        415


Appendix E   The poems            (Cross referenced by page in text                                            417

and page the poem is found in appendix E)


1. Nagasaki Day: Los Alamos, by Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz                                          2/417

2. Hidden Creek at Northspur Junction,

by Mary TallMountain                                                                                                     11/419

3. The Raccoon, by Susan Gesmer                                                                            11/420

4. with no immediate cause by Ntozake Shange                                                                 18/423

5. Taking Back My Night, by Catherine Risingflame Moira                                        18/426

6. Sure You Can Ask Me a Personal Question,

by Diane Burns                                                                                                 34/431

7.   Desert Wash, by Carol Cohen                                                                                          45/432

8.   The Last Wolf, by Mary TallMountain                                                                        274/434

9. Kopis’taya (A Gathering of Spirits), by Paula

Gunn Allen                                                                                                    275/435

10. Sturgeon, by Kateri Damm                                                                               275/437

11. My Grandmother’s House, by Lenore Keeghis-Tobias                               275/438

12. The Strange People, by Louise Erdrich                                                        275/439

13. [Excerpt from] Yom Kipper, 1984, by Adrienne Rich                                    275/II

14. Excerpt from] the Monkey House and Other Poems,

by Irena Klepfisz                                                                                              275/441

15. Every Traveler Has One Vermont Poem,

by Audre Lorde                                                                                                275/442

16. [Excerpt from] The Common Woman Poems.

  1. Helen, at 9 am, at noon, at 5:15, by Judy Grahn         292/442
  2.  17. IV. Carol In the Park, Chewing On Straws

by Judy Grahn                                                                                    292/443

18. VI. Margaret, Seen Through a Picture Window,

by Judy Grahn


19. Nappy edges (A cross country sojourn)

by Ntozake Shange                                                                                 307/445

20. Crossing the Border into Canada, by Joy Harjo                                       315/445

21. Battle Dirge, song by Lierre Keith                                                           360/447




This thesis is dedicated to my friends – Freda, Alannah, Kerry, Judith, Carol, Irit, Barbara, Lierre, Wendy, Nili, and Shelli in particular. These women, and one child, supported my endless need for recusancy with patience, understanding, support and love as time passed week after week, month after month, and year after year.

For Hermine, my partner, who lived with me graciously while I researched and wrote this thesis. For many wonderful dinners served to me while I worked. For her constant support, love and encouragement during all the times I flailed and bantered thoughts, feelings, ideas and worries endlessly past her. Thanks also go to Hermine for her helpful insights in my relentless and passionate fascination and analysis of the film Female Perversions.

For my adored Alaskan Malamute, Cheena, who gave me endless hours of innocent unpretentious moment to moment inspiration. A Dog who is ever comforting to me in her enormously intelligent presence, beauty, and the pleasure of running my fingers through her soft thick fur. For the amazing thirteen lovely gentle deer who, unbelievable but true, visited me on this ridge from whence I wrote, living alone, during the month of May 1998. These visitations gave me the distinct impression – and rightly I deduced – that I was the one in the cage. For the daily company of magnificent tiny Hummingbirds who light up my spirit in spring, summer and fall. To the flocks of Crows, Black-Capped Chickadees, Juncos, Gold, Purple and House Fiches, Redpolls and the Evening Grosbeaks of wintertime. And, finally, to the two phenomenal Barred Owls – Persephone and Tiny – who in the wintertime of 1997-8 took me away from this desk for days on end as I watched them hunting and resting, 15 feet outside of my eastern windows. Summertime it was the vocalizing Coyotes and Barred Owls who woke us night after night calling out in their shrill magnificence “who-cooks-for-you-hoohoo-hoohoo”.


Thank you to the endless wisdom inherent in the expanse of land and sky and wild animals here in the country where I make my current home.


Good bye Sunny-Jim. I have heard your voice in the call of the Owl. Last month you joined Persephone and Jessie in the thicket of wood. Three cherished black cats returned to the earth.


To my brother Lee, who, via email from his law office deep in the heart of Boston thankfully provided me with regular intellectual jousting on subjects of substance more often than not, having nothing to do with this thesis material.

To the two people who gave me my life-blood, my fighting spirit, and ultimately the freedom to find my own voice and to whom I owe everything – Rena and Bennett – my dear mother and father. They gave and continue to bless me with boundless and immeasurable compassion, understanding, love, thoughtfulness, intellectual companionship, perspective, support and are the best two friends a person could ever have. Thank you beloved mother and father.

Thank you, Bennett, for the wisdom of having had done it all before, years hence, when life for an economically bereft token Jew at M.I.T. was another world all together. A world difficult to imagine now when, not forty years ago, Jews were oft prevented from attending universities and frequently barred from teaching in the American academy.


And finally, heart and soul thanks to the seven women who participated as interviewees in this study. Not forgetting Cecile whom it was necessary for me to omit from the final paper due to the mechanical error that occurred with the recorder during the three hours we talked. Your stories lived with me in ways difficult for me to express. You each filled me with a longing for a past long gone and an experience of empathy and compassion which kept me awake many a night. Thank you Ellen for the opportunity to play with you in “the field” and spend hours watching the spellbinding behavior of ants exposed from under trash barrels. Adrienne for bringing into my imagination silver maples leaves shimmering in the wind and the playing in the deep waters at the Connecticut shore. Zelda, for allowing me to accompany you though the rural New York countryside, running together further and further into the wilderness as the voices of civilization called. Rose for making me smile for weeks about your wanting to marry a donkey! That impulse was a magnificent rebuttal for a little girl in the 1960’s to the chains of enforced heterosexuality. Gila for a chance to imagine life on the kibbutz. Growing up in the children’s house has got to be the envy of many lonely and isolated suburban American Jewish children. What I would have given for that life. And thank you dear Lettie, I would give my right arm to have been by your side in loving compassion while you walked along the polluted New Jersey shoreline in your piercing insights and utter solitary despair.

Thank you, my seven research participants, for having enough faith in me to participate in this project. For the time you each took out of your busy lives to help me. And for the effort of doing the hard work of reflection, memory, and sharing. I couldn’t have done it without each one of you.


Finally. There is just something so poignant about Edwina and Edwina, the suffering wounded girl born of patriarchal constriction, resides in each of us.



Women and Nature: A Radical Feminist Ecopsychology



Submitted in partial fulfillment of

the requirement for the degree of

Master of Arts at Goddard College


© Susan Gesmer, January 1999





Chapter 1: Introduction


Just as each of us can be turned into an object, each correspondingly can be a subject who objectifies. We can forego encounter with any consciousness, seeing “it” as “other” than

The oppression of human groups arises from and

mirrors our oppression of other species and involves a similar

reduction, domination, and “animalization” of the total being;

and both are rooted in our disrespect for and rape of nature…

The oppression of women, like all oppressions, begins with this

objectification and domination. We are not dealing with anything as simplistic as sex role divisions but something as complex and fundamental as the dehumanization/animalization reification of one entire sex. As de Beauvoir (1964) suggests, this reification characterizes civilization as we know it… Man is seen as transcendence, woman as immanence; man for-itself, woman as in-itself; man as human, woman as nature; man as positive thrust, woman as lack. Man looks on woman from his vantage point and reduces her to a being that is not for-itself but for-him (Burstow, 1992, p. 3)

I embark on this study with a distinctive radical feminist ecofeminist ecological sociopsychological orientation that I will continue to formulate throughout this paper. I understand the oppression, exploitation, and domination of women by male patriarchal cultures and the oppression, exploitation, and domination of the earth, the animals, peoples of color, aboriginal peoples, and the fish, birds, trees, mountains, seas, and all other sentient beings whom man does not favor to be all intricately tied together in a complex and multidimensional mosaic of domination and violation of body, mind, soul, and spirit. (See Appendix E, poem number 1, “Nagasaki Day: Los Alamos” by Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz)


For hundreds of years dominant western patriarchal philosophy and religion have placed women and nature on the same side of a rigidly demarcated universe. During this long span of time patriarchal societies have systematically denigrated the good name of women, animals, and the natural world (Ussher, 1991; Daly, 1978; Collard & Contrucci, 1989; Diamond & Orenstein, 1990 ). The results have been far reaching for both women and the wilderness. Dominant patriarchal ideologies have provided the rationale for the oppression and destruction of both women and nature, e.g., the cold-blooded systematic murder of up to 9 million women in the Middles Ages during the European witch burnings (Dworkin, 1974; Daly, 1978; Ussher, 1991); the near destruction of old- growth trees in American forests; and the wholesale slaughter on this continent for economic gain of the grizzly bear, wolf, beaver, and other predatory and fur-bearing animals over the past 300 years. Around the world women, animals, and natural resources have been forced to take on the role of handmaiden to the dominant religious and economic social order (Collard & Contrucci, 1989; Griffin, 1978; Payne,1996). More recently women and nature have been forced to be in service to a rapidly expanding industrialized technologized world.


This inquiry – Specifics

This thesis inquiry examines theory generated within the distinct yet conjoint fields of feminist and ecofeminist theory, feminist and Native poetry, ecology and ecopsychology. In doing so I hope to shed light on women’s social and psychological experiences with nature and the natural world from a unique vantage point: a radical feminist ecological psychological perspective, which combines, I believe, paradigms still mostly splintered in academic writings.


Much has been expressed and written over the past centuries in the western world by poets, short story writers, nature writers, healers, herbal gatherers, midwives and witches, artists, naturalists, ecologists, historians, politicians, religious inquirers, and academics about the human relationship or lack thereof to the natural world. Within the western scientific tradition “scholars” have attempted to make sense of the natural world from a Cartesian scientific premise: that the universe is understandable through mathematical means and that the physical world is wholly mechanistic. Having thrown a very heavy stone, Cartesian thought has rippled through almost every field of thought.

Just a little over a hundred years old, the field of ecology attempted to repudiate this Cartesian legacy. The term ecology is commonly attributed to German ecologist Ernst Haeckel.1 The fact that Haeckel was a social Darwinist and fierce anti-Semite is little known. Fortunately, those of us who identify with the ecological movement can breath a sign of relief because the ecological paradigm was at least equally the result of the work of American feminist Ellen Swallow as well as many others. The following citation sheds some light on the philosophical underpinnings of this emerging field from Swallow’s holistic ecological grassroots common woman perspective.
Ellen Swallow’s aim was to understand the environmental dynamics of industrialization and to provide the community, particularly women, with the expertise to monitor their own environment…For Swallow the importance of educating women was that the home, even more than the workplace, was where primary resources such as nutrition, water, sewerage, and air could be monitored. She argued that science should be in the hands of women so that “the housekeeper should know when to be frightened.” (Mellor, p. 15)


The newer rapidly growing fields of ecofeminism and ecopsychology are a result of the massive devastation that man has wrought in the natural world examined from feminist and psychological paradigms. Although feminism and psychology are often at odds and the schism is not easily bridged, ecofeminists and ecopsychologists share the sentiment that the natural world and the future survival of humanity are interwoven and that human beings and nature do not exist in an inherently dichotomous relationship. The split between culture and nature is man-made.

The human heart and the earth heart beat as one. We do not merely live on the body of the earth; we are a part of the body of the earth. Ecopsychology points out that the industrial paradigm is destroying not only the world’s oceans, rivers, forests, animals, plant life, children, women, native peoples, and third world peoples, but also is having a devastating effect on all our psychological lives. This includes those of us privileged enough to live in wealthy countries living far away from the direct and visible devastation wrought by the multinationals.

The relationship between human beings and nature is the bedrock on which the fields of ecology, ecopsychology, and ecofeminism rest. Human beings not only evolved from animals that walk on four feet and sprout tails, but about 99% of our human genes are identical to those in chimpanzees. Biochemically humans are more like chimpanzees than chimpanzees are like gorillas (Kellert & Wilson, 1993). A rarely known fact is that we share a 5% genetic commonality with reptiles (Nabhan & Trimble, 1994). What then does it do to our human psyches, to our instinctual and psychological lives, to pretend that we exist in a wholly separate and quite superior realm to other animals?

Human ecology, ecofeminism, and ecopsychology ask: What has caused this separation between nature and society? What are its historical, economic, religious, patriarchal roots? What does it mean for the individual in society? What does it mean for the social fabric as a whole? What economic implications does it have for women, children, people of color, and third world peoples? What impact does it have on the ability of people, often women, in third world countries, who are dependent on the earth for food and sustenance, to provide for themselves and their families (Warren, 1996)? Where is this artificial separation, this human/nature dualism taking us individually and as a world society? Is it really a separation between “human” and nature or “man” and nature? What are the physical and psychological consequences of global industrialization, ozone depletion, overpopulation, nuclear technologies and nuclear waste, the Star Wars Program, genetic engineering, resource depletion, and the loss of thousands to extinction? What are the social, psychological, and economic implications of all of this and more? What are the personal, social, economic, cultural effects on women? Why in this dualistic formulation of mind/body or culture/nature did women get equated with body and nature and men with mind and culture? Who says mind and culture are better? What makes the patriarchal word rule and how do these rules affect women?

As painful as it might be to read, the following citation helps bring some of these questions together in a poignant and unmistakable form.


A healthy sexual being poses near her drink: she wears bikini

panties and luxuriates on a large chair with her head rested

seductively on an elegant lace doily. Her inviting drink with

a twist of lemon awaits on the table. Her eyes are closed; her facial

expression beams pleasure, relaxation, enticement. She is touching her crotch in an attentive, masturbatory action. Anatomy of seduction: sex, object, drink, inviting room, sexual activity…. But a woman does not beckon. A pig does. “Ursula Hamdress” appeared in “Playboar,” a magazine described by critics as “the pig farmers Playboy.” How does one explain the substitution of a nonhuman animal for a woman in this pornographic representation?… I not long ago described Ursula Hamdress on a panel titled “Sexual Violence: Representation and Reality”… In the same month…three women were found chained in the basement of Gary Heidnik’s house in Philadelphia. In the kitchen body parts of a woman were discovered in the oven, in a stewpot on the stove, and in the

  1. Her arms and legs had been fed to the other women held captive there. One of the survivors reported that during the time she was chained, Heidnick repeatedly raped her… I hold that Ursula Hamdress and the women raped, butchered, and eaten under Heidnik’s direction are linked by the overlap of cultural images of sexual violence against women and the fragmentation and dismemberment of nature and the body in Western culture. (Adams, 1991, pp. 39-40)


Why there are no men included in this study

I have not included men in this project because I believe that male and female psychologies are different due to economic, political, and social stratification within patriarchal societies. Numerous psychological and psychosocial studies have documented this fact over the past decade (Gilligan, 1982; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, Tarule, 1986; Greenspan, 1983; Kaschak, 1992; Burstow, 1992; Westkott, 1986; Mirkin, 1994; Chesler, 1972).

Also my own knowledge and experience of psychology draws mostly upon women’s psychologies. I have studied mostly within the field of psychology and as woman this is where I have the most intimate and direct experience. To include men in this research design would have been a theoretical challenge that I would love to meet, but time and research parameters did not allow it. By necessity, it would have altered the focus of my research. Further study is necessary of the relationship between men and nature as well as of the contrast and comparison between the psychologies and social psychologies of both sexes and their connection or lack thereof to nature and the natural world.


Exactly what do I mean by “women’s psychologies?”

I carried into my research for this thesis the central presupposition that women’s psychologies are not shaped by some vague internal process separated from the world in which they live. Women’s psychologies reflect and mirror the world in which women live, the messages that women are taught, the experiences women have, and the uniquely female historic and culturally reflexive methods each woman uses to survive. Women’s psychologies are a result and reflection of the immediate and daily psychological experience of women in patriarchal societies (Burstow, 1992; Kaschak, 1992; Greenspan, 1983; Mirkin, 1994; Chesler, 1972) as well as the sociopsychological historical specificities of the peoples from which each woman comes. Women do not exist, each alone, in existential Angst and isolation within a balloon of their own psychological making, each girl and woman inventing her own pain and struggle. The people and the environments around us as well as the ancestors who came before us shape who we are individually and as a culture.

Human psychologies reflect our mammalian biologies and our historic and socially constructed experiences as well as the geography of the land on which we live. Environmentally speaking, we are not only where we live but we are what we see, eat, breathe, drink, feel, and think in that geographic and social environment. As a species we cannot divorce ourselves from this truth. As animals, human beings are mammals with a social and biological imperative.

Women’s psychologies reflect women’s reality on this planet. I believe also that “something” exists within the psyches of human beings independent of the larger social context. This experience is not women’s alone. I believe this “something” exists within the soul and spirit of all mammals. This paper is about what this “something” has to do with our mammalian embodiment, our irrefutable physical groundedness in the physical world, and the myriad consequences of this fact.

I believe that women’s psychologies reflect “something” about our relationship to nature and the natural world; something far less tangible than the consequences of daily experience, cultured socialization, or even history. This “something” too often becomes elusive or evaded as we as women struggle daily to survive within a consumer-oriented, patriarchal social system. (See Appendix E, poem number 2, “Hidden Creek at Northspur Junction” by Mary TallMountain and poem number 3, “The Raccoon” by Susan Gesmer ). This “something” has been right before human eyes for eternity, and the modern psychology has been trying to name it since before Freud. Patriarchal religions have found it extraordinarily threatening to their survival.

In this research I hope to make this “something” visible. My assumption is that this missing link has everything to do with nature and the natural world. I believe this knowledge of this phenomenon has not been totally lost in modern society but that it still pulses strongly as an undercurrent of our human psyches, manifesting itself in thousands of ways in our behaviors and societies. I am making an attempt to gather “it” up and put “it” into a conceptual schema. I hope to uncover and make visible this “it”–this something that the patriarchy has worked hard to repress–using my research participants’ stories to elucidate my theme. Jean Baker Miller (1976) hypothesized that women as a class are closer to certain “essential human qualities” because men have made women “the ‘carriers’ for society of certain aspects of the total human experience…” (Miller, 1976, p. 23). I’ve wonder how this concept might come into play in the relationship between women and the natural world.

As I take you, the reader, on this journey, it is important for you to understand that I am not a biological determinist and this is not a paper advocating biological determinism. I do not believe that we are governed by our biologies. My perspective most firmly plants the lives and psychologies of men and women in society and history. As a class women have a qualitatively different relationship with families, work, the economic and political spheres, and the natural world than do men. (This is not because women are biologically different than men. I believe that should we live in a truly gender egalitarian society, women and men would look and act quite similarly, have similar goals and aspirations, and dream similar dreams. For an interesting account of this subject in women’s fiction, see Herland (Gilman, 1915, 1979), a vision of the equality between the sexes as relevant and pertinent today as it was when it was written almost 85 years ago.)

Human beings are mammals; and no religious, cultural, or scientific ideology, nor technological advancement can change this reality. Our earthly bodies are of bone, blood, and flesh and are the home in which all sentient beings are embodied. These bodies carry our hearts, minds, psyches and souls–they are our hearts, psyches, and souls.


Women and nature

Are women more tuned into the body of the earth than men? What does this say about women’s psychological lives? Was Freud right? Are women what men have been saying they were all along, “the weaker sex,” succumbing to every harsh wind that passes their way? What does this say about women’s socialization? Are women “more sensitive” than men, more relational, as a current body of feminist psychological literature hypothesizes? If women are more relational than men, are we just relational to other human beings, or do we also function in relation to other sentient beings? Who then defines sentient? How many women cry when a beloved tree is cut down by a landlord or city government? How about an entire forest of 3,000-year-old redwood trees?

I have come to believe that women’s relationship with nature mimics their relationship with everything. In other words, if our relationship with nature is different than men’s, it’s because of the socialization process and how women learn to relate. How we women learn to connect with nature, men, our families, the work place and everything else in our lives is based on gender, class, ethnicity, race, religion, and the particularity of one’s own life experiences. I think it is safe to say that from the time women are tiny little tots wearing starched ruffled pink dresses and bows in their well-combed hair, they are being taught to please. In order to know whether you’ve pleased someone, you have to pay close attention. When you are paying close attention to another person, you are being in relationship to something outside of yourself. In order to survive and to please their mommies and daddies, their teachers at school, their eventual girl- and boyfriends, spouses and children, girls frequently learn to be far more relationally oriented than is good for them. Sometimes this learned behavior becomes pathological. Women are taught to be connected, and our survival depends in many cases upon taking this characteristic deeply to heart and soul.

This thesis is about the complexities and consequences of this socialization in relationship to the natural world.


Many social movement poets and protesters have cried, “You can’t kill the spirit.” Is this true? What is “the spirit?” What does “the spirit” have to do with the material world? Is it possible that some women find in their relationship to nature and the natural world “something” bigger and greater than the menial struggles of daily life? If so, why would the patriarchal social order seek to suppress and destroy this connection? How many women are given a prescription for a handful of green pills with a heart in the center to soothe an unnamed ache in their souls for a connection to something about which they are not even aware? Might this nagging unhappiness better be addressed by interacting with fluffy, feathered, furry animals or by laying one’s tired body on the ground in a grassy meadow while you watch the clouds pass overhead as birds and crickets sing and there is no other sound but the beating of one’s own heart? What does it do to relationally socialized women to live on an earth that is being destroyed each moment, in addition to having to experience the violence done to themselves and to other women?

I believe that our socialization as females makes girls and women particularly sensitive to the earth/spirit/heart/mind connection. I do not think this is something we must deny to avoid the further degradation of our beings. What effect does it have on them if, in order to win patriarchal social approval, women sever this connection to emotion, instinct, intuition, connection, heart, body, blood, and the earth? What effect does it have on women’s psychology to live in a culture that makes a correlation between women and the earth and men and the spirit, but values the latter and relegates the former to at best second place? What effect does it have on our psychologies to live in a culture that derides women and the earth, institutionalizes this in its social structures, and uses both for its philosophic and economic ends? And what would girls and women gain from an intimate, free, and boundless relationship to the earth? These are some of the questions that guided the formulation of my interview questions and the methodology used in this study.

Is it possible that the relationship between women and the earth is essential to our well being, although denied by the dominant social order? Does this embodied and deeply felt relationship keep the hearts of some women beating in our chests? Or does the absence of this ancient relationship between woman and earth wreak psychological havoc?


Setting the context for women’s lives

In asking these questions I would like to point out the important connection between gender, class, physical well-being, and violence.

Every nine seconds in America a woman is beaten. Every 13 seconds a woman is raped. Two thousand women are raped each day in America. In 36 states it is legal for a husband to rape his wife. Ninety percent of all sexual victims are female. Thirty-eight percent of girl children are sexually molested before the age of 18. Each year approximately 1,500 girls and women are killed my male partners or former partners in the U.S. Every 18 days in the state of Massachusetts a woman is killed by her husband or boyfriend. There are 5,000 serial sex murders in America each year. Pornography is always involved in these murders. There are three times as many “adult bookstores” as McDonald’s, and the pornography industry earns 12 billion dollars a year. The pornography industry is larger than ABC, NBC, and CBS combined. Between 80% and 95% of women working in the pornography industry are runaways from incestuous homes. Seventy percent of all young prostitutes were incest victims. More than 4,000 children are murdered each year in the U.S. and their most frequent assailant is a parent or caretaker. Nine out of every ten men use pornography. Fifty percent of homeless women are fleeing domestic violence. Husbands, ex-husbands, or lovers beat almost 4 million women in the United States each year. Sixty-five percent of all women who go to hospital emergency rooms are there because of assault. Women currently earn 76 cents on every dollar a man earns in America. The majority of heads of single parent households are women and one in three of these households live under the poverty line. Approximately 80% of women in Puerto Rico have been sterilized.2

Women are like the canaries in the mines not because they have some special biologically based or essentialist connection with the harm wrought against nature and the natural world. Women are like the canaries in the mines because they are socialized to be caretakers and caregivers in patriarchal society (Merchant, 1995) and because of their socialization many women’s lives are laced with poverty, abuse, fear, and physical and emotional vulnerabilities. In patriarchal societies girls and women are socially and psychologically pitted against mothers, sisters, free-roaming animals, and the earth. Girls and women are beaten, incested, raped, battered, murdered, demeaned, degraded, psychiatrically institutionalized, psychotropically drugged, paid 76 cents to every male dollar, and often have no choice but to prostitute themselves economically, physically, and sexually. All of these experiences are assaults against our bodies, minds, hearts, and dignity. In Middle Eastern countries women are regularly murdered in the name of “family honor” by brothers, uncles, and fathers should they look in the “wrong” direction or somehow act in the “wrong” way. When Melanie Kaye wrote the following, she made this point very cogently:
Every woman fears rape, or lives inside limits imposed by that

fear: no late night walks, no living alone, no hours of solitude by the river. if she relates intimately to men, the threat of violence has probably sufficed to keep her in line. if she is a lesbian, her comfort is that the threat probably comes from men she is not intimate with… since I began writing this, L -, a close friend, has been raped. she carries a knife, has fought men, though she’s small – and he was big, quick. she was afraid to use her knife. now she has an infection and might be pregnant. in sum: if you are a woman, you have probably been raped or beaten or will be; at least a woman you love has been raped or beaten or will be…rapist and batterers are the military end of the patriarchy (1979, 1991).


(See Appendix E, poem number 4, “with no immediate cause” by Ntozake Shange and poem number 5, “Take Back My Night” by Catherine Risingflame Moirai.)


This war against women when combined with the disappearing ozone, global warming, endless air and water pollution and environmental toxins, with the liberal selling of DDT to third world countries whose produce is then brought back into the U.S. although DDT is no longer sprayed on fruits and vegetables in this country, toxic waste dumps, and more results in the human canaries in the mines syndrome of which women are frequent victims.


Why this topic is of such personal importance

The subject of women and our relationship to the natural world has been central to my life. From the time I could reach out my small hand and make physical contact, I have had a passionate love of and fascination with trees. I loved climbing trees, swinging from trees, playing near trees, sitting under trees, but most importantly just being near trees. As I got older, I began to look at trees in a slightly different fashion. They began to hold an ineffable religious sort of fascination with their large trunks and roots going deeply into the earth, the branches stretching up into the sky, the delicate spring buds, the rich, dark green summer leaves, the cycle of birth and death they seemed to embody. Deeply inspired, I began writing poetry on the theme of trees in my early teenage years. In my current life I often leave my house to walk in the woods with one of my tree identification guides in hand.

As is true for many girls before it is socialized out of them, I was interested in interacting with the natural world as a child. I loved exploring the last remaining undeveloped places in my suburban neighborhood: a small field by an old abandoned house, a rocky outcropping too steep to build on (although eventually they did). I spent endless hours sitting on the dike that carried the water into my community. It was a wild untouched oasis just up the road from my house. Years later on a trip back to my childhood neighborhood, I was devastated to find that the town had put a fence around this last remaining expanse of undeveloped land. Afterwards I spent days wondering where today’s children would go to play, dream, and fantasize outside of four walls. Sitting alone for hours on this little patch of unmowed grassy hill and gazing outward over the neighborhood was deeply significant to my social and psychological development–so much so that I cannot imagine how I would have survived my suburban childhood without these few acres of refuge.

Profound experiences with the natural world ceased to happen as I grew older in suburbia. Instead as a girl in the 1960s struggling with the numerous forces of gender socialization, I became wholly occupied with attempting to squeeze myself into proper female shape and form. Literally and metaphorically, I spent many years struggling to simply stay afloat. In a very real sense I became profoundly alienated from the natural world. Nature became something to fear. My overriding unconscious relationship with the natural world, with free-roaming animals, and the idea of wilderness became that expressed in the well-known children’s fairy tales read to me years before. The natural world became a place where Goldilocks is captured by the menacing bears; where Little Red Riding Hood is threatened by the frightening forest wolves; a place where the three innocent domesticated piglets in their kindly stick and twig home are threatened by the powerful breath of the harsh winds of the wilderness.

My simple experience of watching the sun set in the western sky over a row of neighborhood houses slowly faded from my daily life to be replaced by curlers, cooking, sewing, and required home economics classes, dreaded gymnastics classes I was forced to take and flunked, clothes, make-up, and boyfriends. My love for the endless expanse ocean, the wilderness of the forests, and the creatures and animals that inhabited these landscapes became more and more distant. Although as a young woman I went hiking and camping and took trips with my friends to wilderness settings, isolated woods and beaches became a place where I as a female became a potential victim of attack, rape, and other male violence. These places were safe only with male friends. Adventures taken in solitude or with other girls too often turned into gendered nightmares where I was confronted with frightening or harassing men imploring, “You girls are alone in such places? We’d love to keep you company,” to worse scenarios. “What are two nice girls like you doing alone in a fancy restaurant like this” can too easily take a different turn in a desolate wilderness landscape and more than once it did. I learned my lessons and eventually my life became totally focused in the city where I went to college, worked, frequented the bars, and formed my social network. My only access to wild animals became the zoo, the circus, or the aquarium. How many girls and women follow this same progression?

Even in the midst of this late adolescent female life nature followed me in a doggedly persistent fashion. Even in the inner city streets of the largest American cities there are trees, there are stars at night, and there the moon constantly waxes and wanes.

When I was an adolescent, I had a very significant and repetitive dream. In the dream, a large gorgeous horse comes galloping down Route 9 and into my suburban neighborhood. It is night and very dark outside, but the horse knows where it is going. This animal makes its way down the crisscrossing streets to the house where I am living with my parents and brother. I wake with a start realizing that the horse has finally come to rescue me and furtively grab a few items. I dash outside, leap on the horse’s waiting back, and we gallop off together away from the numerous abuses, inequities, and unhappiness of my young female life.

More than one woman whom I interviewed for this study told me about fantasies or dreams of horses or horse-like animals in their childhoods: Lettie named her bicycle “my steed;” Rose fell in love with donkeys as a child and grew up “wanting to marry a donkey.” What do these hoofed animals symbolize in the emerging female psyche? What psychological and social function does it serve a girl to actually have a horse when she is growing up? As a 43-year old woman, I fantasize going back into my childhood with an animal protectorate–my beloved 75-pound dog, Cheena. If only I had had an animal like her in my childhood. I am sure that those little boys and girls who teased and beat me would have stayed clear. If I had not escaped the physical batterings, I would at least have had my dog to hold when I got home from being harassed at school.

Horses have too often been interpreted in the dreams of girls and women in a psychoanalytic context. The horse of the female imagination is, of course, supposedly male. The girl or woman longs for the horse or the horse’s “member” just as she is (supposedly) desiring her father sexually because she wants (supposedly) a penis. I think this widely accepted interpretation of why girls long for horses is a grave error and does not hear the true voice of the girl calling for help. My dream, like those of the women I interviewed, was not a dream to be interpreted through a psychoanalytic malecentric lens. It was not a dream about a big strong virile he-man that my suffering girlhood self was desperately hoping would rescue me from the unhappiness of my daily life. Rather, the dream was about my girlhood connection to nature and the wilderness. Living the archetypal suburban life was suffocating me. I dreamed of an escape from this using one of the few symbols of freedom, power, and the wild available to me– the horse. How many millions of women, as children, longed for a horse? How did they then address or fulfill this craving, this girlhood wanderlust? This question and its various manifestations in the life of girls and women are the theoretical bread and butter of this research project.

For me and for most of the women whom I interviewed for this paper, my relationship to nature and the natural world has been about surviving the social and cultural world in which we live. Although not always obvious to me, nature has provided hope, renewal, determination, spirit, perseverance, connection, desire, and purpose more consistently than anything else in my life. As Adrienne later discusses, the natural world is always there–all we have to do is open our eyes to it.

I have had a 43-year love relationship with trees and could not begin to imagine a life without them. I am certain that had I have lived in some sterile futuristic society under a plastic dome, or if mankind had succeeded in destroying our planet’s dwindling wilderness, I would not have survived to the age I am now. Nature has been a salve–a salve that I have applied to the wounds I have suffered at the hands of a misogynist patriarchal earth-hating, female- hating western world culture.

No less significant is the fact that I believe that my relationship with nature and the natural world has happened as much in thought, imagination, and dreams as in reality. In a time of serious physical illness, I dreamed about black bears incessantly. One night in a dream an enormous gorgeous black bear came to my house, stood under my bedroom window, and told me in so many words that her life was gravely endangered. In this extremely powerful dream this bear told me that I must let her into my house quickly, harbor her in my attic, and when it was safe, drive her in my car 20 miles to a large local state forest. I didn’t understand the dream until a year or so later when I bought a house less than a mile from the state forest where the bear implored me to take her. The bear and I have both come home.

At an earlier time of tender psychological growth I thought constantly of birds. In a ceramics department at a city university, surrounded by concrete and parking lots, digging my hands into the clay of the earth, I created numerous winged bowls with a potter’s wheel and my imagination.

This is an important point. If we destroy the natural world, kill the birds and fish and animals, “manage” the remaining wilderness rigidly, from where will our imaginations originate?
…the Indians of that particular tribe had recently realized that

human encroachment on the wilderness areas within their

reservation boundaries was really destructive to the animal

balance in the area. So they went back to their ancient tribal way….The old way was that, once in a person’s life as a small one, a child, he or she would go out into the wilderness and spend a few days. While there, that child would receive a spirit friend and animal friend that would be with them the rest of their lives. That journey was the only time that the person would ever encroach upon the space of those beings who actually don’t like cities and farms and mines and rivers and dams and all those kinds of things…. We stay connected if, once in our lives, we learn exactly what that connection is between our heart, our womb, our mind, and wilderness. (Allen, 1986, pp. 63-64)


The stories in my life of deeply significant interactions with nature are endless, carrying me along like a slow strong current. Whether dream, imagination, or actual experience, these interactions with nature began when I was a young child living in the suburbs of a huge American city and from that day forth have never ceased to be an overriding metaphor of spiritual guidance in my life. In many cultures and traditions–Native American, Far Eastern, pagan, Aboriginal, Biblical–as well as in contemporary ecological, ecopsychological, and various literary traditions, the world of nature is often referred to as the “great cathedral.” Ever since I can remember, nature has evoked and inspired deeply spiritual and rejuvenating experiences in my life. Nature has provided hope to me in times when hope was scarce.

From the time I was a child it was apparent to me that something was wrong with the ways of the world. I saw that some people were poor and others wealthy. I saw that some people had power and others did not. I saw that all this inequity was based on the color of people’s skin, what existed between their legs, how old they were, where they lived, how strong or weak they were, how much they knew, or how much they pretended to know. I also saw that people were separated from the natural world. In school when we went outside to “the playground,” it was to form teams and compete in sports. I saw the adults driving nicely painted metal boxes back and forth to huge “supermarkets” where they bought frozen and canned foods of all varieties.

As a child I instinctively felt that much of this was wrong. Not morally wrong, since at that time I had no framework in which to make this type of judgment, just wrong. Awful. Ugly. Somehow not the way things were “suppose to be.” One form that this knowing took was very much in the spiritual, religious, or psychological realm of experience.

Most of my childhood religious experiences did not take place in the synagogue sitting next to my brother and parents. Instead they took place when I was quietly walking the mile down tree-lined suburban streets to elementary school. They happened when I was riding my bicycle with the spring rains stinging my face, when I was climbing a weeping willow tree wishing I could hug it and not risk ridicule. I had one deeply significant experience with the natural world as a teenager leaning against a huge oak tree while waiting for my best friend outside of Harvard University.

As a child it seemed that all the people were going inside to a synagogue or a church to pray and to participate in communal religious or spiritual rituals and ceremonies. My child’s heart if I were “crazy” for finding more meaning outside in the natural world than inside in prayer. My solitary experiences with the natural world had some deeply negative psychological consequences in my teenage and early adult life. I felt a profound sense of separation between the true experiences I had in the world and those I had with my family, at school and Hebrew school, and with my friends. I also experienced a difficult problem with denial–the denial of my relationship to nature. I will discuss these two very important subjects later in this paper. At the moment, let me to ask the following question: In order to grow into properly socialized women, how many millions of girls sever their relationship with their own biological mother as well as the mother earth?


Women’s poetry

Literature and poetry often speak the voice of the culture. The world of the arts can serve as a brilliant bridge between the solitary human psyche or soul and the communal social experience.

Because I believe there is a great deal of information about women’s lives personally and politically that is expressed in their poetry, it is my hope that I will be able to incorporate this poetic sensibility into this project. In this research project it has been important not to lose the deepest transcendent voice of the individual. My hope is that women’s poetry will help to illuminate these voices.


Poetry and the hardening social sciences

In the early years of ecofeminism some criticized the fledgling academic field: “The poetic and impassioned style of writing… fuel[ed] some of the criticisms of ecofeminism as essentialism and mystical” (Mellor, 1997, p. 3). The poetic leaning of some early ecofeminist writing undermined and de-legitimized ecofeminist assertions in academe. For example, the Susan Griffin’s pivotal text Woman and Nature (1978) was misconstrued as essentialist and biologically determinist.

This critical stance fit snugly with the male academic tendency to demean “women’s writing” that did not wholly reflect the male literary model: scientific, objectified, removed. Although not common knowledge–since history tends to forget itself with each generation–the academic world has only recently accepted women’s writing. The way was paved by writers such as Mary Wollestonecraft (mother of Charlotte Perkins Gilman), Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, and many others. Some members of the 1950’s literary academic world came to accept “confessional writing,” as it derisively called, but labeled it “women’s writing” and relegated it to the back burner.

I believe that poetry is an art that sheds light on the subject at hand–the relationship between women and nature. Poetry can come from the hearts and minds of people who do not necessarily have educational privilege or who cannot otherwise speak on the topic. The wonderful introduction to a 1990 ecofeminism anthology expressed what I hope to achieve by including poetry in my paper (although anthology itself has since been criticized for its “soft” approach [Mellor, 1997]): “…dispel the notion that poetry and politics, spirituality and activism, scholarship and vision are to remain forever divided,             either from each other or within the same person (Diamond & Orenstein, 1990, p. vii)


Why Native women’s poetry?
… Native women from many tribes show a natural appreciation of feminist concerns since they either come from tribes that were

matriarchal and matrifocal in nature – and therefore find

themselves disposed by the encroachment of European patriarchal

forms – or come from tribes where female spheres of power remain denigrated in favor of male power…. A pained recognition of the condition of many Indian women causes writers to express concern, but the root of their problem appears attributable to the callousness and sexism of Indian men and white society equally. In their evocations of female gods and spirits and in their descriptions of traditional societies, the writers often reveal a poignant desire to return to older social and ceremonial forms, which intertwine men and women in mutual, complementary roles as religious leaders, healers, political figures, and educators. Tightly woven indeed is the double bind of race and gender. (Green, 1984, p. 10)


I have laced this paper with the poetry of women, primarily Native women from North and South America. As I poured over texts searching for words that would most accurately reflect what I was trying to say, it became clear to me that those words came more often than not from the pens of Native women.

I have immersed myself in the poetry of Native peoples because Native women from this continent have frequently written about nature from a very political place. Rather than romanticize the brutality of the Native experience or proclaim a Goddess-given affinity between Native women and the earth, the poetry of Native women spoke to me because many Native peoples were once intimately connected to the natural world. In their creation and emergence stories the Pueblo people understand themselves to have emerged from the land. Native peoples were once intimately connected to the spirit of the land and animals. They understood the threads that connect us to animate, inanimate, and everything in between. This connection is an unmistakable focus of much contemporary Native women’s fiction and poetry. Many of the Native women poets and novelists weave together themes of class, colonization, race, the industrial/technological machine, capitalism, misogyny, religion, gender, consumerism, embodiment, and the natural world.

The following citation is taken from the introduction to Returning the gift: Poetry and prose from the first North American Native Writer’s Festival, edited by Joseph Bruchac (1997). It is worth including here:
The domination of “American” literatures written in English,

French, and Spanish by writers with European roots is…I feel,

coming to an end. Some critics have described Native writers

of the United States and Canada as “marginal,” their work as a

literature at the edge of the so-called “mainstream.” But such

descriptions are a matter of perspective. Native literature has

much in common with the works of Asian Americans, African

Americans, and Spanish speaking Americans, many of whom

have strong Native roots themselves. The “mainstream” in

America is being turned back by a tide of multiculturalism.

The growing popularity of North American Native writers in

Europe, ironically, is one indication that the vitality of

indigenous voices is more attractive to a great many in the

community of world literature than many of the American

writers described as established and mainstream. European

            domination – literary, political, cultural, and military to the

            point of genocide – and the responses to it have been central

            in much Native writing. (p. xviii) [Italics mine]


Although I am a person of European heritage, I do not believe that I objectify, co-modify, or do further harm to Native culture by recognizing the wisdom and knowledge of various Native tribes whose lands have been colonized and whose peoples have been taken almost to the brink of total annihilation. Rather, I believe that by continuing to ignore and marginalize what Native writers say, rather than recognizing the wealth of cultural and religious knowledge they have, that we contribute to their continuing silencing and oppression.

As a Jew, my ancestors lived in “The Pale of Settlement.” They were perceived and treated as pariahs and the “other.” They were slaughtered and persecuted, kept from employment and land ownership, expelled from one country to another, and severely persecuted and vilified over the past two millennium and into modern European history. Although there were certainly exceptions to this statement based on geography and history, Jews were primarily viewed as the “other” in European society just as Native Americans were seen as the “other” by the colonizers of the Americas and their ancestors. It is important to remember that skin color is a social construction used to empower the few and disempower the many in contemporary society. Without coopting the Native experience, I can identify with it as a Jewish person and a woman. (See Appendix E, poem number 6, “Sure You Can Ask Me A Personal Question” by Diane Burns.)

Talking about the work of Ruth Frankenberg (1993) on the topic of the social construction of whiteness, Carl Anthony points out:
Ruth Frankenberg refers to the “social construction of whiteness.” She speaks of whiteness as being “intrinsically linked to unfolding relations of domination.” I see it as an unmarked, unnamed status, a structured invisibility that lends itself to false, universalizing claims that reduce other people to marginality simply by naming them different races… the construction of a multicultural self means the deconstruction of the idea of whiteness, and the corresponding ability to meet others as equals. (Anthony in Roszak, Gomes & Kanner, 1995, p. 269)

With few social institutions who embraced them and facing constant anti-Semitism, many Jewish people throughout Europe longed to return to The Land (Israel) which represented their freedom from centuries of bondage. This longing was deeply embedded in Jewish religious literature and culture. Unable to legally own the land throughout Europe, Jews living in Shtetles (villages) no doubt, had to develop at least a symbiotic relationship with the natural world. (Adrienne, p. 51) Writing about Freudian theory, ecopsychologist Winifred Gallagher (1993) points out the following fascinating connection between the history of the oppression of Jews and modern psychoanalytic thought. Couching her analysis within ecopsychological glasses, she says

…the inward orientation of psychoanalysis, rooted in the thinking of its early Eastern European forefathers, reflects something the enclosed, restricted environment of the shtetl, whose residents could not always move about freely. In such a culture, what psychoanalysts would later disparage as a “flight into health”

was not necessarily an option… That kind of thing was, they said, “running away from your problems”, even though the people who

ran away sometimes felt better. (Gallagher, p. 14, 1993)

Nature and race

It is important for me to make the following point here, in the first pages of this paper, although I will write about this topic in greater depth in relationship to Rose’s experience as a Jewish Lesbian living in Berlin and my discussion of Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier’s book Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience, (1995).

Nature and the natural world out of the cities is often not a safe, embracing, nurturing, happy place of solace, freedom of movement, and meaning for people of color. Nature as seen in wilderness or rural land has become a commodity in America and as such it is owned by the dominant culture. “Nature” outside of the cities is it not available to millions of poor city bound people. Nature reserves, national and state parks, and protected lands owned by the state are a political entity and as such they are not always a safe haven for many different peoples – including women – nor the remaining few free roaming animals allowed to live in the relative wilderness (Walker, 1988; Anthony, 1995).

The point I am trying to make is that the countryside does not mean the same thing to a person of color as it might to a white person; it does not mean the same thing to a man as to a woman; and it does not mean the same thing to a poor person as it does to a wealthy one. Nature and the wilderness as a material reality are governed by rules of class, race, religion, culture, patriarchy, and history, condition. Whether or not a human being is welcomed and how they perceive nature within or outside of the cities everywhere in the world is based on culture, class, race, gender, sexual preference, ageism, ability and disability, the history of the groups to which each of us belongs, what might be going on in their environment at any given time.What meaning we each attribute to nature and the natural world is similarly based on these factors. The following citation illustrates this point very clearly

In 1994 I was sitting in a restaurant having a salad and

looking through The New York Times . I saw a photograph of

what looked like a young girl in her twenties talking to a tree.

“What is this about?” I wondered, having a daughter about the

same age. But when I looked more closely and read the caption,

I discovered that this was a young Bosnian girl who had hung

herself from the tree. Young girls throughout the countryside

were fleeing the villages in advance of soldiers who were coming to take them off to rape camps. Many young girls were choosing to hang themselves rather than be captured. (Galland, p. 12, 1998)


In America there are literally hundreds of acts of racist, misogynist, and classist violence every day most of which usually never hits more than local news. The following story from my own personal experience and the coincidence of having the radio on at a particular moment brings home the points I am making above. While I was driving in my vehicle I heard a news report: Lawyers for The National Association For the Advancement of Colored People had become involved in a local case. The previous night a black man had been drinking and speeding in a vehicle in a nearby rural town and sometime between his arrest and the next morning, this young man of color had died. The report then went on to say that this young man had recently suffered a terrible loss; his mother had been killed in Springfield by a serial sex murderer who has been killing women of color in Springfield for many years now. The NAACP was launching an inquiry into the details of this man’s death.

What happened here? It is 1998 and this murder took place in a small rural town no more than twenty miles from the city of Springfield and twenty miles from where I currently live. Simply put, this black man, in a somewhat altered state of mind, made the fatal mistake of leaving the city for the white countryside of Huntington, Massachusetts.

Discussing what feminism means to her as a woman of color, in the preface to This Bridge Called my Back: Writings by radical women of color (Moraga & Anzaldua, 1981) , Cherrie Moraga makes the following comment:

Take Boston alone, I think to myself and the feminism my so-called sisters have constructed does nothing to help me make the trip from one end of town to another. Leaving Watertown, I board a bus and ride it quietly in my light flesh to Harvard Square, protected by the gold highlights my hair dares to take on, like an insult, in this miserable heat. I transfer and go underground. Julie told me the other day how they stopped her for walking through the suburbs. Can’t tell if she’s a man or woman, only know that it’s Black moving through that part of town. They wouldn’t spot her here, moving underground. (Moraga & Anzaldua, p.xiii,1981.)


If I had interviewed six woman of color for this thesis, no doubt, my conclusions would not look the same. Like our lives in the cities, suburbs, and in between, our lives in the natural world are governed by race, class, gender, and history. It is crucial not to overlook the profound political framework that defines all of our lives. As such, we are a clog in the wheel of patriarchal social construction. But, as is my contention in this paper, although our human relationship with nature, the animals, and the wilderness is socially forged, it is also more than socially manufactured.



When I first began thinking about this subject I was coming from a particular social milieu and ideology. My thinking was a product of the second wave of the women’s movement in America. In the 1970s and 1980s the second wave women’s movement in the states was influenced by that movements predecessor – the hippy’s! – who, as Joni Mitchell said in her 1969 song Woodstock were “going on down to Yazgurs’ farm….I’m going to camp out on the land the land/ And try an’ get my soul free/ We are stardust/ We are golden/ And we’ve got to get ourselves/ Back to the garden”. In this wonderful little refrain that strikes a memorable cord for many of today’s baby boomers, Joni neglected to indicate that on the land the sexes were still gender stratified and women remained more or less enslaved to the mandates and wishes of men. Camping out on the land or leaving the cities and moving to rural areas women were still “barefoot and pregnant” – having babies, planting, harvesting, preparing, and canning food, raising children, and taking care of the house. Like the urban based liberation movements – in the country women’s place was still in the background and living on the land provided little new found gender freedom for women. Women were still making the coffee for their men.

By the late 1970’s western women were beginning to emerge from this servitude. Swinging the pendulum of historical inquiry to the other side of the equation, women scholars such as archeologist Marija Gimbutus – who had spent a lifetime digging in the field and whose revealing results on the matriarchal origins of civilization had been relegated to boxes in the basements of museums – began publishing pivotal work about history in a herstorical womanist light (see Gimbutus, 1991; Sjoo & Mor, 1987; Adler, 1979; Briffault, 1931; Budapest, 1979; Daly, 1973; Davis, 1971; and Spretnak, 1982.)

During this time, many women, including myself, found a great deal of strength, power, and meaning reconnecting with the suppressed and hidden “Civilization of the Goddess”, and the more recent herstory of the witches, herbalists, and healers. A great deal was written about womens pivotal role in prehistory (before the written word) and the primacy of The Great Mother. In this light the significance of men in herstory became relegated to a role of conquering matrilineal societies, waging endless horrific wars and domesticating the land and animals.

This is the context from which I came; thinking that somehow women had a superior moral character and a par excellence relationship with nature because, in the annals of patriarchal history, women were, after all, just along for the ride.


I have since come to lean toward a more social constructionist understanding of history and gender. In terms of our human relationship to the natural world, men are clearly feeling and thinking sentient beings who cry, bleed, suffer, have an embodied physicality no less profound than women. Therefore, if women and men relate differently to the natural world then the reasons must rest somewhere in the mandates of culture, in other words, in the social construction of reality, personality, history, and politic.

At this point it was necessary for me to ask myself: What then

would make women’s relationship to nature, the natural world, the wild and domesticated animals in their lives, and the earth appear so much more connected than that of men? The answer I found resides in that word – connected.3

Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring (1962) over 35 years ago. At the time her book was published the dangers it delineated from the hundreds of scientific studies Carson had accumulated were taken relatively seriously and changes were instituted in the U.S. to stop the eventuality of a world where there was no longer birds to sing in the spring. Although DDT was not banned until 1972, Carson’s work paved the way for the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. (DDT began being used in a widespread fashion in this country in the 1940’s and although finally banned for use in the united states by 1972, it is still manufactured in Mexico, India, and Indonesia and used in developing countries.)

Since Silent Spring (Carson, 1962), there have been numerous studies done showing the devastating effects of chlorinated hydrocarbons, primarily the pesticide DDT, as well as numerous other pesticides on human, mammal, and bird life life. More significantly, “Each year 25 million people, primarily in the Southern Hemisphere, are poisoned through occupational exposure to pesticides; of those, 220,000 die, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the U.S., 300,000 farmworkers are poisoned each year” (Honey, 1995).

It is important for consumers to know the dangers of pesticides – insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Many common pesticides we all consume on our fruits and vegetables daily contain multiple residues of known carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disrupters. Massive pesticide use in agriculture has been directly related to numerous global species destruction (Houle, 1991). Although the evidence is not so clear cut (sic), ecofeminists were making a similar connection between women’s ill health and massive chemical use in agriculture and industry that scientist’s were making between DDT and the production of estrogen and calcium in peregrine falcons. For peregrine falcon’s, DDT resulted in fatally thin eggs shells and social/psychological behavior gone completely haywire (Houle, 1991, p. 16). The truth of the matter is that in the 1990’s four species of animal and plant life a day go extinct. Since human DNA structure differs only 1.6 percent from that of the chimpanzee (Larsen, 1998) the future health and well-being of humans also continues to be in great jeopardy. 4

I am a firm believer in the feminist maxim that the personal is political and the political is personal. I do not believe that human beings live in bubbles of isolated experience, thought, or feeling. I don’t believe that I was alone in my childhood experiences with nature and the natural world.

This is the seed, germinated long ago, from which has grown my deep interest in ecofeminism and ecopsychology. My own experience is the basis for my hypothesis that our disconnection from the natural world is oftentimes reflected in a disconnection from our “selves” – and it’s logical corollary – that our connection to nature and the natural world may serve as a vehicle for women to more deeply connect with themselves as well as a world outside of our own personal lives and physical bodies. This was my experience. Why should I assume I am alone in it?

This perspective is in keeping with the spirit of current ecopsychological and ecofeminist paradigms, which in part, attempt to bridge the artificial split between the internal human psyche and the external political, social, religious, scientific, historic, and physical world. My sense is that women, women’s socialization, women’s psychological struggles and the methods of coping which they take on to survive have a great deal more in common with old growth trees, chemical pesticides, nuclear waste, endangered Brazilian sea turtles, violence against women, chronic fatigue immune dysfunction disorder, water and air pollution, psychological disconnection, post traumatic stress disorder, coyotes, bears, barred owls, unformed falcon egg shells, the strip mining of the oceans, and the North Atlantic Auk (extinct since the last matting pair were killed by Icelandic fisherman in 1844) than meets the naked patriarchal eye. In fact, like moose who thrive in newly planted forests where there’s space to move between the trees, women are surviving their imposed exile from the natural world and the continuing onslaught somewhere between the cities, suburbia, and the call of the wild. Although daunted, women are connecting with the natural world by sliding themselves in between a rock and a hard place. [See poem number seven, “Desert Wash”, by Carol Cohen]

Thus, I started research on this paper asking whether women gain psychological solace and healing through their relationship with the natural world and the corollary, whether or not women are troubled psychologically, emotionally, and/or spiritually by a lack of connection to nature. By the time I sat down to analyze my seven interviews, my answer to this question had become resounding “yes”. All of my interviewees found meaning, strength and solace in the natural world and to varying degrees each woman had gone through some hard times dealing with the separation between culture and nature imposed upon their connection to nature by the society around them. The responses to this original pressing question became the bedrock of my emerging theoretical paradigm. No longer the focal point, I was then able to examine many other significant strata which were layered atop the hows and whys of my original query.

In this paper I am exploring how women, as human beings, have a need for love, connection, intimacy and community. I will be looking at how women in particular are oftentimes socialized to be earnestly relational yet so often experience themselves as alone, bereft of community, living false lives within the patriarchal nuclear family structure and the soul emptiness of capitalistic consumer mandates. For some women, both past and present, nature is one of the places in their lives that provides meaning, solace and connection as they they away from disappointments in work, love, family, and culture at large. What then does it do to women within patriarchal cultures to be derided and compared to nature and animals in the “historic and causal…twin dominations of women and nature” (Warren, p. xi, 1996) where women are regularly called “chicks, bitches, pussies, foxes, dogs, cows, beavers, birds, bunnies, kittens, sows, lambs, hens, shrews, geese, fillies, bats, crows, heifers, vixins…” (Feminists for Animals Rights, p. 2, 1998) and considered man’s possession? What does it do to relationally oriented women to be living in an era which continues to be devouring the natural world?



Chapter two. Literature Review

Introduction –

There has been an overwhelming amount written in the realm of ecology over the past 150 years in America. So much, in fact, that at one point it comprised its own literary genre and became known as “wilderness writing”. Most of the more influential or prolific white male nature writers are well know: Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, George Perkins Marsh, John Burroughs, John Muir (influential in the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872), Theodore Roosevelt, and Aldo Leopold (influential in the creation of New Mexico’s Gila National Forest in 1924). Although they have barely been mentioned in history books (Merchant, 1995) there were many thousand influential naturalist in the past century who were women. Rachel Carson became perhaps one of the best know woman scientist during the early years of the field of ecology, known for her rigorous scientific research and documentation about the harmful effects of pesticides in her book Silent Spring (1962), which was then responsible for the banning of DDT use in the United States.

When discussing the involvement of women in liberal political spheres at the beginning of the twentieth century one must remember that women did not yet have legal citizenship. Yet, from before the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 until the vote was won for women in 1920 there were numerous powerful and influential women who organized, lobbied, wrote and lectured on the preservation of nature. I will address this topic again later in the chapter.

Many modern American artists and photographers, such as Eliot Porter and Georgia O’Keeffe, provided their artistic version of this twentieth century wilderness paradigm. The same was true in the realm of music. In Beethoven’s 5th symphony thunder is invoked; Debussy wrote “Afternoon of a Fawn”. Christopher Castle writes “The long tradition in Western music from Beethoven to Ives, from Debussy to Messiaen, of works invoking places and aspects of nature has been extended [in modern times] by composers working with sampled sounds of places, notations of bird songs, DNA structure, or the radio frequency of stars” (Castle, 1996).

Essentially, no matter where we reside, nature and the natural word is always around us and throughout western history various people have made their relationship to nature their life work. Even in the depths of the cities and industrialization – the sky, moon, sun, and stars remain sometimes visible. In the old days, before so many people lived in cities globally, nature was the bread and butter of peoples lives. Before the artificial separation imposed by western philosophy and religion between mind and body, heart and soul, indigenous peoples in all of the Americas lived their lives in an entirely connected fashion. Economically this is still very much the case in non-western countries where the desecration of the earth by industrialization and technology has only served to make the lives of women so much more about poverty and deprivation. (This topic has been extensively researched and documented by ecofeminists such as Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, 1993; and documented in many ways through the life work of Marilyn Waring, in her thirty years of being a politician and feminist activist from New Zealand). The following citation paints a picture of this connection between the economic exploitation of women and the earth.

The dark side of the women/nature association is especially vivid in the intersection of women’s oppression and the exploitation of nature in many developing countries today. For example, all over the world Western “green revolution” agriculture methods have been imported into developing countries either through misplaced altruism or, increasingly, under pressure as a short-term intensive method of cash-crop production to pay off Third World debts. Green revolution methods include growing crops in monocultures using genetically engineered seed, chemical pesticides, deep plowing, and intensive irrigation, which permanently destroys indigenous soils… Vandana Shiva has shown how in India, as in many parts of the world, women’s impoverishment has increased and their status decreased relative to men as the environment has been degraded, exacerbating prior gender inequities… through explicit and measurable links between environmental degradation and violence against women, Shiva shows that “in the perspective of women engaged in survival struggles which are, simultaneously, struggles for the protection of nature, women and nature are intimately related, and their domination and liberation similarly linked”. (Warren, 1996, pp. 5 – 6)


In more recent years hundreds of writers/ecologists/naturalists have continued the tradition of the first wilderness writers and taken their thoughts ever further. The focus of many of the first wilderness writers was on the conservation of American lands. The issues at hand now loom much larger. In some sense Rachel Carson’s expose’ – written while she herself was struggling with cancer, which she died of not many years after publication of Silent Spring (1962) – on the horrifying effects of pesticides on wildlife was the beginning of this new sociopolitical environmentalism. The range of writings and focus is broad and extends from the nonfictional writings of Paul Shepard’s Nature and Madness (1980), a psychological interpretation of the reasons for the separation between modern society and the natural world, to the current work of Jerry Mander, Susan Griffin, Carolyn Merchant, Vandana Shiva, Joanna Macy, Alice Walker, Terry Tempest Williams, Mary Daly, Theodore Roszak, Carol Adams, Marti Kheel and many others. There were dozens of significant naturalist writers predating Rachel Carson some of whom included T.H, White, John Crompton, Jean-Henri-Fabre, H.M. Tomlinson, Edward Abbey, D.C. Peattie, W.H. Hudson and more.


Over a hundred years ago, feminist writers such as Mary Shelley Wollestonecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and numerous others, made the theme of women’s disconnection from the natural world the central metaphor of their fiction. Shelley’s Frankenstein monster was as alienated and separated from its true herbivorous and peaceful nature by the mandates of 18th century society as was Gilman’s heroine of The Yellow Wallpaper (1890) who “went crazy”, turning into more animal than human, after her husband confined her in the second story bedroom of a countryside manor. Numerous current feminists and ecofeminist carry the torch of Shelley and Gilman in their writings.

Nor can one ever forget the poets when talking about the natural world, since nature has served as the inspiration for poets for millennium. Poets so commonly use nature and the natural world as subject matter for their work that there have been hundreds of thousands of poems published throughout the centuries on this theme. (And millions more unpublished.)


A historic push for the preservation of nature –

The American fight against the dominant Eurocentric perspective of the superiority of “man” and the inferiority of the natural world has raged for hundreds of years. Since the beginning of the industrial age there have always been voices of writers and artists in rebellion against what they believed to be a false separation between human beings and nature.


Women and environmental movements

I knew women had to have been as least as active as men, if not more so, in political activities related to the environment throughout the past two hundred years of industrial and technological growth because I had long ago learned of two significant historical women led movements. The first was the Audubon movement, begun in 1886, with clubs everywhere lead by women in the fight to stop the wholesale killing of birds for women’s hats. Second, I was aware of the Chipko, or Tree Hugging Movement in India which “.. has its historic roots in ancient Indian cultures that worshipped tree goddesses, sacred trees as images of the cosmos, and sacred forests and groves. The earliest woman-led tree-embracing movements are three-hundred years old.” (Merchant, 1995).

A lover of birds and a hugger of trees since I was a child, I paid careful attention when I happened upon historic information (originally in illustrated children’s books) about both of these groups. Although it has religious roots, the contemporary Chipko tree-huggers have a material and economic basis for their political actions because – unlike western countries who exploit the entire globe for food, medicine, and the like – the subsistence production economies of third world peoples makes physical survival directly and intimately tied to the land. Merchant (1995) talks about the women lead modern Chipko movement


In the 1970’s women revived these Chipko actions in order to

save their forests from for fuel wood and their valleys from

erosion in the fact of cash crop markets. The basis of their

movement lay in a traditional ecological use of forests for

food… fuel, fodder, fertilizer, water, and medicine. Cash cropping, by contrast, severed forest products from water, agriculture, and animal husbandry. Out of a women’s organizational base and with support by local males, protests to save the trees took place over a wide area from 1972 through 1978, including actions to embrace

trees, marches, picketing, singing, and direct confrontation with lumberers and police… The Chipko movement’s feminine forestry-paradigm is based on assumptions similar to those of the emerging science of agroforestry, now being taught in Western universities. (Merchant, 1995, p. 20)

Third world women have been consistent and ardently active organizers globally against modern development projects which have been exported to third world countries.


In the twentieth century, northern industrial technologies and

policies have been exported to the south… Green revolution

agriculture (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, dams, irrigation equipment, and tractors), plantation forestry (fast-growing, non-indigenous species, herbicides, chip harvesters, and mills), capitalist ranching (land conversion, imported grasses, fertilizers, and factory farms) and reproductive technologies (potentially harmful contraceptive drugs, sterilization, and bottle feeding) have further disrupted native ecologies and peoples… Women of the South have born the brunt of environmental crisies…. As subsistence farmers, urban workers, or middle-class professionals, their ability to provide basic subsistence and healthy living-conditions is threatened.Women in the third world, however, have not remained powerless…. They have organized movements, institutes, and businesses to transform….. (Merchant, 1995, p.19)


Merchant (1995) then goes on to review the formation of these

“movements, institutes, and businesses”: In Kenya, the women’s Greenbelt Movement which has planted over seven millions trees to reverse human desertification and for the conservation of soil and water; in Zimbabwe the Greenbelt Movement and the Pan-African Women’s Trade Union; in Nicaragua women fighting against pesticides (DDT in particular) and its effect on their breast milk; in Chili, The Third World Women’s Project; in Brazil, Friends of the Earth; in Malaysia “Friends of the Earth”. (Merchant, 1995, pp. 18 -24). The situation is similar throughout Europe and the Americas with such groups as the most well know Love Canal Homeowners Association in Love Canal New York and Women of All Red Nations (WARN), Native American women organizing to protest high radiation levels from uranium mining tailings on their reservations. (Merchant, 1995).


Thus, being aware of massive global involvement by women in environmental movements, I was frankly perplexed that in my research for this paper, I had found literally no commonly available information on the participation of women in the history of the environmental and conservation movements in our country. I found this particularly puzzling considering what I knew about the hundreds of politically active white middle class and upper class women spanning three generations in the last century in the Suffragette movement and as well as a multitude of other middle and upper class women’s clubs and organizations devoted to various political causes. Before the backlash against “the first wave” of extensive organized feminist activities in the nineteenth century women were allowed a certain degree of political latitude and a far greater freedom in their female to female intimacies than what was to evolve in the post Freud post WW1 era. So, then, where were the women in the American environmental movement?

I had already read numerous accounts of the history of various conservation movements in America in the 19th century – and not a mention of even a woman or two no less women en mass. I was left with the impression that perhaps women were all locked into their caged rooms with ugly yellow wallpaper for a period of 150 years when I happened upon Carolyn Merchant’s (1995) review of the participation of literally thousands of women throughout the past century in pivotal central positions in the progressive era’s conservation campaign to preserve the land.

What follows is a sketchy synopsis of some of this activity. (5)

The majority of women involved in the twentieth century progressive environmental movement were married middle and upper class white women with leisure time which gave women “…opportunities for botanizing, gardening, bird lore, and camping” (Merchant, 1995, p. 110) and were supported by their husbands and fathers. The bizarre irony in this fact relates significantly to my work in this paper for it contrasts the two very different worlds of men and women. It stands to be noted that while the husbands and fathers of these women were off engaging in industrial and environmental exploits of all kinds in the natural world – the mothers, grandmothers, wives, and daughters of these men were organizing to save the environment. This perhaps speaks to the separate worlds maintained between women and men in white middle class cultures in the Nineteenth century. I also think that for these middle and upper class women the freedom to come together at the turn of the century with a fierce and passionate interest and love of nature and the natural world and form communities of like minded individuals served as a profound healing salve which white middle-class women are not so freely allowed in today’s world. Today, women no longer live emotional and psychological lives institutionally legitimated separate from their men. It seems likely that some of the profound social, emotional, psychological and eco-isolation that contemporary white women experienced was circumvented in the last century when heterosexual women were not only allowed but encouraged to bond with other women. This was a time before the sexualized feminine woman was pitted against her sisters.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not conceptualized as a psychological experience until one quarter of the way into the twentieth century and not applied to trauma experienced by women until recent years (Herman, 1993). The idea then of psychological trauma derived from ones experiences of class, race, ethnicity, environmental, past generational family trauma (war, holocaust, emigration, etc.) in combination with one’s own personal psychological makeup and interpretation is still newer (Root, 1992; Brown; 1992). Nevertheless, the possibility exists that some of the psychological effects of eco-violence and violence against women on women’s psychologies (fear of the natural world, dissociation due to the experience of powerlessness, vicarious “post-traumatic transient manifestations” [Root, 1992]) which I will be discussing in greater depth later in this paper, were muted for some women of the nineteenth century by their collective experience. Women were not alone but organizing, working, fighting, screaming, crying and sharing together in the struggle to save the great Redwood trees, the great lakes, the massive river ways, stretches of valley and mountain lands from the axe, the birds from the hats, ad infinitum. (6)  

Working together in small and large environmentally oriented groups in America at the turn of the century these women were successful in

transforming the [conservation] crusade from an elite male

enterprise into a widely based movement. In so doing, they not

only brought hundreds of local natural areas under legal protection, but also promoted legislation aimed at halting pollution, reforesting watersheds, and preserving endangered species. (Merchant, 1995, p. 109)


In 1900 the California Federation of Women’s Clubs came together lead by Mrs. Lovell White and Mrs. Robert Burdette (out of their Suffrage work) to save the Sequoias (Redwood) forests of California including the then threatened Calaveras Grove of Big Trees in the Stanislau watershed of the western Sierra. The Sempervirens Club, later know as Save the Redwood’s League, was a group of both men and women lead by Mrs. White which lead eventually to the women of the California Club’s 1903 bill to establish a school of forestry at the University of Berkeley to oversee the saved forests. At the same time in Minnesota, Mrs. Lydia Phillips Williams of the Minnesota Federation of Women’s Clubs – a group of something to the effect of six thousand women – was trying to save the Chippewa Forest from loggers and to repeal the federal “Dead and Down Timber Act” (where loggers where purposely killing ancient trees so they could then cut them). The country wide General Federation of Women’s Clubs, founded in 1890, selected women in each state who were familiar with the principles of forestry to head the clubs’ forestry committees. These women planted “long avenues of shade trees…[and] worked toward the acquisition and preservation of wooded tracts of land” (Merchant, p. 115). The Massachusetts Foundation published a directory of historic trees and in 1904 in Massachusetts women conducted a campaign to exterminate the gypsy and brown-tail moths that attacked New England Trees (Merchant, p. 115). Mrs. John Wilkinson worked in Florida creating forest reserves and in Louisiana to save natural waterways and the Foundation formed a Waterway Committee to ensure pour water and beautiful waterways. Women lead water conservation projects in 39 states and 619 clubs (Merchant, p. 116). Women in Maine worked to save Mount Katahdin from the saw. In Pennsylvania, Mira Lloyd Dock became the first and only woman State Forest Commissioner. Women were so active in the environmental movement at the turn of the century in Pennsylvania that The Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women was created to further educate them in their efforts. In 1910 the Federation reorganized its forestry and waterways committees and under head Mrs. Emmons Crocker of Massachusetts added a bird life representative, Mrs. Francis B. Hornbrook. During the years of 1907-1912 women conservationists articles were published in the journal of the American Forestry Association, “Forestry and Irrigation”. In 1908 the Women’s National River and Harbors Congress was formed in Louisiana and within a year there were 20,000 members. In 1909 Mrs. Matthew T. Scott was elected as president of the 77,000 member strong Daughters of The American Revolution which worked on aiding in the passage of the Alaska coal bill, preserving the Appalachian watershed, the Palisades, Niagara Falls, and was responsible for land being put aside for conservation and protection across the country. (Merchant, 1995)


A short review of additional environmental movements:

John Muir, Deep Ecology in the Green Movement


John Muir had a charismatic lecturing personality and believed in the sacredness of the wilderness. In the 1800’s Muir traveled the United States lecturing persuasively to large audiences for the cause of nature and the animals and attempting to convince others of the spiritual depth and meaning inherent in nature, the animals, and the wilderness. Muir was a lover of nature who wrote extensively and worked politically to ensure legislation, reform, and the preservation of lands. In his unpublished writing Muir is quoted as saying that he would “rather open his door to a woodchuck than to a man…” and, that “if a war of races should occur between the wild beasts and Lord Man, I would be tempted to sympathize with the bears” (John Muir, 1916).

I recently heard sentiments which made me think of Muir’s, but far more radical, in a National Public Radio interview with the author of the recently published book (Peacock, 1996 ). I heard Doug Peacock saying to the interviewer: “If we can build dams, we can blow them up… if we can lay asphalt, we can remove it…. We can make nature corridors for the bears from the western US into Canada, we have the technology to do this if we chose to”. These words reflect the more radical wing of the current environmental movement referred to as “Earth First!”, founded by Dave Foreman. Earth First! activists engage in direct political action – such as chaining themselves to trees and intercepting whaling ships – in their attempt to halt such things as the clear cutting of old growth forests and the killing of whales. Ecologist and writer Edward Abbey, in a forward to Eco-Defense: A field guide to monkey-wrenching (1985, 1989) says “…we are defending the wilderness as we would our homes, by whatever means necessary” (Payne, 1996, p. 162). (7)

Other more radical environmental groups, such as folks perchance but but necessarily directly connected to the Oregon based Liberation Collective and PETA (People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals) engage in direct action – “monkey wrenching” such as the 1997 release of animals and fire of two Oregon facilities used to corral and slaughter wild horses and the release in the same year of 310 mink from Wisconsin fur farms. Other activists go out into the woods during firearms hunting and try to intercede for the animals. (Although it is illegal to in any way interfere of disturb hunters so this is tricky business.) (8)

More academic, another branch of the green movement are the Radical Deep Ecologists. Taking the idea that humans live in relation to the natural world “greens then divide on whether humanity can use its technological ingenuity to overcome and adapt to those bounding conditions (light green or shallow ecology) or whether it is necessary for humanity fundamentally to rethink its relationship to the natural world (dark green or deep ecology)” [Mellor, 1997].

Either way Deep Ecologists hold a ecocentric (nature-centered) approach which is similar to that of some ecopsychologists. They claim that the natural world has its own ontology. “Non-human nature is not a dead nature that transcendent humans can manipulate at will and without consequence. It is an alive nature that enfolds human beings” (Mallor, 1997, pp. 184-185). As we will see, ecofeminists argue the same principles. However the equation becomes more complex due to the fact that ecofeminists are both feminists and ecologically situated. As Marti Kheel (1995) points out


…for [Aldo] Leopold, not only is the “beauty, integrity and

stability of nature” not marred by the killing of animals; it is

actually enhanced by it. Although Leopold argued for the

development of a “fellow feeling for all life” based on an

awareness of belonging to common ecological community, his

land ethic was never intended to extend to “fellow” individual

  1. Thus, when Leopold admonishes us to “think like a

mountain,” since only the mountain has lived long enough to

listen objectively to the howl of the wolf,” he is calling for a

long-term, species-based, objective ethic… (Kheel, p. 96, 1995)


Deep Ecologists include such men as Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (who first coined the term Deep Ecology in the 1980’s), Bill Devall, George Sessions, Thomas Berry, Gary Snyder and others. Attempting to discard the anthropocentric perspective which see’s nature, animals, and the natural world as a means to human well being; Deep Ecologists go further than resource conservation and liberal environmentalism to examine the deeper philosophical, psychological, and sociopolitical underpinning of our Eurocentric relationship to nature. Deep Ecologists claim to have a non-hierarchical nonanthropocentric egalitarian relationalism with stresses coexistence and cooperation with the natural world. However, in their conceptualization of non-hierarchal cooperation; Deep Ecologists, have been criticized by ecofeminist for their lack of analysis of the unique position of women in society. Deep Ecologists have been critiqued by ecofeminist’s as falling into the category of “…the largely mental politic of postmoderist deconstruction in its academic and literary form, or the inward mysticism of metaphysicians such as Heidegger…” (Warren, 1996, p. 7). (9)


Many well known male Deep Ecologists – George Sessions, Bill Devall, Gary Snyder, – environmental philosophers and writers – Paul Shepard, Aldo Leopold, Richard Nelson, Baird Callicott, – have also been criticized by feminists for glorifying, mystifying and romanticizing the killing of animals by being Darwinian in their pro-hunting stance and ignoring the inherent Cartesian philosophic connections and philosophies of killing animals (Kheel, 1995). “Thus, along with sunbathing, bicycling, skiing, and meditation, Bill Devall and George Sessions cite hunting as one of the activities that helps to promote a mature sense of Self” ( Kheel, p. 101, 1995).



Ecofeminism, introduction

Ecofeminists tend to come from various feminist camps with different historical legacies to contend with – liberal, cultural, socialist, Marxist, radical, and academic to name a few. Liberal feminists, from Mary Wollestonecraft in the eighteenth century to Simon de Beauvoir in ours, have argued that the connection between women and nature has only been harmful for women. These feminists believe that liberation can only be achieved by women abdicating nature and men giving women equal access and involvement to the realms of “culture” which men have created and established but from which they have excluded women. The quintessential goal of liberal feminists have been to allow women equality in male institutions. Give women equal access to the world of men – economic, political, social, religious- and they are on their way to true liberation.

The idea of opening ones arms to embrace a soul-felt connection to the earth and the natural world is an antagonistic regression in the minds of many liberal feminists. Because historically women, the earth, and animals have been seen as soulless wholly material “to be used and exploited for the use of man”; it is not at all difficult to understand why this might throw any feminist’s thinking into an intellectual tailspin. How can modern American women embrace a primary relational intimacy with the natural world when culturally they, women, and nature are equally derided?


Within ecofeminism there is a debate about which came first. The old chicken or the egg question. Affinity and cultural ecofeminists believe that patriarchy, patrilineal social structure and the oppression of women came first and that the oppression of nature, animals, people of color, children, elders, etc., emerged along side male domination of women. Socialist ecofeminists look to capitalism as the first inequity. Socialist feminist believe that should we abolish the capitalist economic system and the current relationship to labor – this would radically change – liberate – the position of women in society.

Over the decades some feminists have believed that liberation for women rests in renouncing the limitations of our bodies, our immanence, to join men in their world of transcendence. Many original first and second wave feminists renounced childbirth – a realm where they believed men had enslaved women to their biologies as a form of social, political, physical, and psychological control. It is not hard to see that it is a bit of an oxymoron at once rejecting a maternal and nurturing role and picking up an abandoned baby raccoon by the side of the road and feeding it with a bottle through the night. Unintentionally, for some women, liberal feminism has not served to encourage spontaneity and a readiness to see what nature might have to offer. Once again, in its most abstract sense, nature is associated with affliction, a burden, a troublesome matter.


Although radical feminists would certainly agree that patriarchy has ensured that women would be enslaved by their biology; the whole picture is framed quite differently for radical feminists who do not believe women’s liberation can be derived by doling out equal access to male privileges. Radical feminists do not see nature as the enemy. It is not nature per say that has contains and constricts girls and women. Nor is unequal access to men’s various economic, social and political domains the problem. For radical feminists the source of womens subjugation is the political intent on the part of men in a patriarchal social structure to dominate and control women and the earth and the resources of both. Thus, understanding their alliance and allying themselves with nature and the animals – the exploited and hunted – many radical feminists have come to love the earth and the animals and want to protect these things as fiercely as if they were sisters. [See poem number eight, “Bird Watching”, by Susan Gesmer]. It is my contention that for the more radically feminist woman, nature, the animals, and the relative wilderness remaining on our planet has been more of a friend from the start than for many other groups of people, including liberal feminists. (I think that this would be a fascinating topic to examine from the “which came first perspective: Does a biophilic love of animals and nature in a girl’s childhood or adolescent developmental years funnel her already relationally socialized self toward one feminist position or another or does a feminist posture determine one’s feelings toward nature?)


Ecofeminism, its herstory, streams and tributaries

There have been ongoing debates within ecofeminism since French feminist Francoise d’Eaubonne first coined the term ‘ecofeminisme’ in 1974. Ecofeminism is a continually developing field with various streams and tributaries ranging from affinity ecofeminist (Mellor, 1997), cultural ecofeminists, spiritual ecofeminism, on one end of the continue to socialist materialism, social ecologists, and ecosocialism on the other.

However, there seems to be an essential rudimentary agreement among ecofeminists about the position of women in society. In the early years Susan Griffin(1978) began writing on the radical feminist end of the continuum and Charlene Spretnak (1982) on the cultural/spiritual one (writing about the lost goddess of ancient Greece and the politics of women’s spirituality). Feminist Native American writer and poet Paula Gunn Allen (1986) focuses on women within native traditions. Writing from a radical feminist socialist mix ,Vandana Shiva analyzes the inherent violence and exploitation of third world women and the natural world within capitalist patriarchy (1993; 1986). Although there is a wide range of analyses within ecofeminist writings (I have mentioned but a handful of many dozen ecofeminists and their works), all agree that in a patriarchal world view, women, the earth, and animals are there together at the bottom of the hierarchy. No matter where they are coming from – the academy, the grass roots spirituality movement, American, India, Germany, or Iran; Ecofeminists agree that women, the animals, and the earth are suppressed and repressed by moralistic and dualistic patriarchal philosophy and religion. The analyses and methods for combating the position of women, the animals, and nature greatly varies depending on the philosophical perspective of the author. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that there are conservative, liberal, and radical branches of the ecofeminist movement as well as those materially, economically, or spiritually oriented. Ecofeminists come from many parts of the globe and many schools and traditions.


Ecopsychology, introduction

The psychological theories that frame our late-twentieth-century grasp of the human condition were evolved… in urban settings by urban theorists. In Freudian and post-Freudian formulations, the child’s world is limited to the people who live within the walls of her house; indeed, animals… are stripped of their power and perceived as symbols of inter- and intrapsychic dynamics.

(Barrows in Roszak, Gomes, and Kanner, 1995, p. 102)


Ecopsychology orients itself from a social, political, economic, historic and psychological vantage point. Ecopsychologists try to understand how our relationship with the natural world and our psychologies interact. The tendency of ecopsychologists is to bring already formulated psychological theories with them in hand as their tools. Ecopsychology has also hypothesized and formulated some of its own new and convincing theory of human psychology. Thus ecopsychologists have postulated various theories to help explain our human relationship with the natural world as well as examining the effects on our psychologies of these formulations.

In an urgent ecohistoric time, ecopsychology combines ecological and psychological perspectives in its attempt to create new philosophic, theoretical, and practical models. Thus, although many ecopsychologist thinkers and practitioners come to their work trained and experienced in various psychological perspectives; ecopsychology also utilizes ideas of ecologists, greens, deep ecologists, ecofeminism, biologists, sociologists, the relationship between biology and culture, various native American traditions, environmentalists, naturalists, wilderness scholars, naturalists, western scientific paradigms, eastern spirituality, psychological developmental theories, various schools of religious and spiritual thought, feminist, humanist, liberal, post modernist, and social Constructionism. All ecopsychogists make a break with the western philosophic thinking of the French rationalist psychology of men like Rene Descartes who believed and taught that animals feel no pain, Frances Bacon’s idea that nature should serve man, Malebranche, Kant, and others who believed nature and animals to be soulless and dead.

There have been many ground breaking and influential ideas postulated in the arena of ecopsychology over the last century. In speaking about the idea of an “ecological self in childhood” and shedding brighter light on the feminist psychological idea of relationalism, Anita Barrows (1995) takes British object-relations theorist D. W. Winnicott to new ground. She examines Winnicott’s idea of the infants me nor or not-me and points out


…That this world [of objective phenomenon] is known as the

“outside”, the “not-me”, is a phenomenon of Western dualistic

thought; as Thomas Berry, Theodore Roszak, Joanna Macy, and

others have pointed out, is only by construct of the Western mind that we believe ourselves living in an “inside” bounded by our own skin, with everything else on the outside. The place where transitional phenomena occur, then (to use Winnicott as a sort of bridge to a new formulation), might be understood, in this new paradigm of the self, to be permeable membrane that suggests or

delineates but does not divide us from the medium in which we exist. (Barrows, p. 106, 1995)


Originating from well know object relations theory this idea brings a great deal of ecological significance to the relationship between human beings and their environments in its implicit suggestion that perhaps the human psyche is something equally akin to an eco being as a human being.

After witnessing the horror of World War One, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud wrote his essay Civilization and it’s Discontents (1929). Speaking to this, ecological psychologist Paul Shepard says –


The idea of a sick society is not new. Bernard Frank, Karl

Menninger, and Eric Fromm are among those who have

addressed it. Sigmund Freud asks, “If the development of

civilization has such far- reaching similarity to the development of the individual and if it employs the same methods, may we not be justified in reaching the diagnosis that, under the influence of cultural urges, some civilizations – or epochs of civilization – possibly the whole of mankind – have become neurotic? Australian anthropologist Derek Freeman observes that the doctrine of cultural relativism, which has dominated modern thought, may have blinded us to the deviate behavior of whole societies by denying normative standards for mental health (Shepard, p. 4. 1982)


When it was published in 1929, Freud’s essay was widely read but it was not until recently that the ideas he spoke about were applied not only to “man’s destruction of other men” in wars and other such directed mass cultural violence – but also mans desecration of nature and the natural world.


In 1980 ecologist and psychologist Paul Shepard wrote Nature and madness, making the argument that human beings in contemporary life suffer arrested physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological development due to their false sense of separation from nature and the wilderness which began with the advent of agriculture and the cessation of the hunting and gathering way of life. [Footnote 3]. In 1984, Harvard Zoologist, Edward Wilson. who had spent his life studying ants wrote the ground breaking book Biophilia: The human bond with other species ; a brilliant and pivotal study claiming that the human bond with nature, animals, and the natural world is biologically, genetically, and evolutionarily inherent in each human being and humankind as a whole. Wilson defines biophilia as “the innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes” (Kellert and Wilson, 1993, p. 4) and goes on to make the hypothesis that the human relationship with nature and the nature of human being involves a necessary relationship with natural world which extends far further than the physical domain and into the intellectual, spiritual, psychological, and aesthetic realms. In 1988, the famous scientist Gregory Bateson wrote the book Mind and nature: A necessary unity.

In the past fifteen years there has been an extraordinary amount of writing generated in the field of ecopsychology and more and more practitioners have joined the fold. In the introduction to Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (Roszak, Gomes, and Kanner, 1995), ecopsychologist James Hillman says the following, which gets to the crux of the ecopsychological paradigm beautifully:

For most of it’s history, psychology took for granted an intentional

subject: the biographical “me” that was the agent and the sufferer of all “doings”. For most of its history, psychology located this

“me” within human persons defined by their physical skin and their immediate behavior. The subject was simply “me in my body and my relations with other subjects”. The familiar term that covered this entire philosophical system was “ego,” and what the ego registered were called “experiences”. Over the past twenty years all this has been scrutinized, dismantled, and even junked. Postmodernism has deconstructed            continuity, self, intention, identity, centrality, gender, individuality. The integrity of memory for establishing biographical continuity has been challenged. The unity of the self has fallen before the onslaught of multiple personalities. Moments called “projective identification” can attach distant objects to the “me” so fiercely

that I believe I cannot live without them; conversely, parts of

my physical body can become so dissociated that my fragmented body image regards them as autonomous and without sensory feeling, as if quite “other”. How far away is the “other”?… Since the cut between self and natural world is arbitrary, we can make it at the skin or we can take it as far out as you would like – to the deep oceans and distant stars. But the cut is far less important than the recognition of uncertainly about making the cut at all. (Roszak, Gomes, & Kanner, 1995, p.xvii & xix)


Roszak, then goes on to say

Like all forms of psychology, ecopsychology concerns itself with

the foundations of human nature and behavior. Unlike other

mainstream schools of psychology that limit themselves to

the intrapsychic mechanisms or to a narrow social range

that may not look beyond the family, ecopsychology

proceeds from the assumption that at it’s deepest level the

psyche remains sympathetically bonded to the Earth that

mothered us into existence. Ecopsychology suggests that

we can read our transactions with the natural environment –

the way we use or abuse our planet – as projections of

unconscious needs and desires, in much the same way we

can read dreams and hallucinations to learn about our deep

motivations, fears, hatreds. In fact, our wishful, willful imprint

upon the natural environment may reveal our collective state

of soul more tellingly than the dreams we wake from and shake off, knowing them to be unreal… the planet has become like the blank psychiatric screen on which the neurotic unconscious projects its fantasies. Toxic wastes, the depletion of resources, the annihilation of our fellow [sic] species; all these speak to us, if we would hear, of our deep self. (Roszak, Gomes, & Kanner, 1995, P. 5)



Biophilia and biophobia and continuing to build the

Ecopsychology argument


The flip side of the coin of biophilia is biophobia; hatred and/or fear of nature and the natural world. This includes what ecopsychologists have come to define as possibly inherently human genetic adaptive evolutionary fear/avoidance of such natural things as snakes, spiders, mice, rats, and other such creepy crawly things, as well as heights, closed spaces, blood, and a fear of the dark and impending dusk. (For more on this topic see Ulrich, in Kellert and Wilson, 1995). For example, ecopsychologists point out that “darkness has always been frightening for most people [since] the human visual system is adapted to daylight activities… and many of the primary human predators… are nocturnal species.” ( Heerwagen & Orians, 1995, p. 146). There is also the hypothesis that the modern manifestation of the “sport” of hunting (Kellert, 1997) and the phenomenon of children killing and torturing small animals is misplaced biophilia. (Although I would argue that it is more about objectification and gender role socialization. See kellert and Wilson, 1993; Collard and Contrucci, 1989; Adams, 1989; Adams, 1994; Adams & Donovan, 1995; Kheel, 1995 for in depth discussions of this topic from progressive and radical feminist animal rights perspectives.) Biophilia explains the common tendency for children to be “drawn to living things” – such as insects, birds, fish, and animals. When children deal with these creatures in a violent form, they are simply misplacing their natural drive for connection with aggression. Violence action toward the natural world would then become a sociopsychological behavior which is learned social activity. (Adams, 1995; Katcher and Wilkins, 1995).

Taken a step further, could it be said that the rampant historic destruction of animals and women comes from this same misplaced biophilia? An innate drive to connect with the natural world distorted in an industrial consumer society and combined with the weight of biophobic patriarchal mandates and male gender expectations? As Adam say’s, “’Real men’ don’t eat quiche, ‘real men’ hunt’” (p. 4, 1995).

How much does gender socialization account for the prevalence of men who act and challenge themselves physically and psychologically in the nature world – involving themselves in Outward Bound (originally designed in England for training sailors), rock climbing, rappelling, exploring in places far away from civilization, mountain climbing, white water kayaking, scuba diving, wilderness treks and other physically challenging goal oriented nature pursuits. When women act in the natural world, historically their tendency has been to do it in more feminized (although not any less difficult or challenging) and socially acceptable forms – camping, horseback riding, running, swimming, etc. The statistics on hunting are somewhat revealing. Based on a 1991 national survey published by the U.S. Department of Interior, Marti Kheel points out that “only 1% of females in the U.S. population of those sixteen and older “’enjoyed hunting’”. Of the 14.1 million people who hunted in 1991, 92 percent (13 million) were men and 8 percent (1.1 million) were women” (Kheel, p 113, 1995).

Often women seem content to just be in the natural world. The following explanation in the introduction to Wilderness therapy for women: The power of adventure (Cole, Erdman, & Rothblum, 1994), begins to explain this phenomena.

For too long, women have been isolated from nature. Whether

because of social norms that do not reward women for

adventure pursuits, or because of fear of the wilds, women

have been “at home” in the outdoors…Women are not

socialized to be alone, to leave the safety of their home

environment, and to take risks. (Cole, Erdman & Rothblum,

  1. 1, 1994)

There is mutual consensus among ecopsychologists in general about the detrimental developmental consequence of a infancy and childhood spent in separation from nature and the natural world. In The Geography of childhood:Why children need wild places ( 1994) Gary Nabhan and Steve Trimble speak directly to this, as does Robert Cole, in his well known text, The spiritual life of children (1990).

In The geography of childhood: Why children need wild places (Nabhan & Trimble, 1994), the authors bridge ecological, psychological, and naturalist paradigms from a sociopolitical and ecopsychological perspective. Nabhan and Trimble point out that globally, by the year 2000, almost one half of the children living in the world will be living in cities of more than a million or more people. Yet, their research shows that without a question of a doubt it is essential to allow children the freedom to explore the natural environment. This youthful exploration cultivates, feeds, and nurtures an essential human sensibility and sustains the type of psychological development essential to a whole and psychologically healthy adult self. Unbelievably, in our modern world, even rural farm children and children hundreds of miles from the nearest cities learn about the land and the animals from the television (Nabhan & Trimble, p. 88, 1994).

The authors of this book are convincing in their examination of why children need wild places. Simply put, wild places feed the body and soul of the developing child in a relationship so significant that none other can replace it. Speaking of formal education, Nabhan says “biology is one of many exercises in logos, reasoning, but has very little to do with bios, life” (Nabhan & Trimble,1994, p. 39). As Nabhan remembers from his own childhood in his essay aptly titled “Going Truant: The initiation of young naturalists” ( pp. 35 – 51), how many millions of adults who grew up in rural or suburban environments can remember times as children that they left the world of school or family for the explorations of the natural environment? With only animals behind bars in zoo’s or animals on the television screen to relate to (Nabhan, pp. 85 – 89), the authors argue that todays children are suffering from life which is not grounded in their own “visceral experiences”. Author Barbara Smith, quoted in this text says, “’when you find something in a museum, or even on T.V., you can see it all right, but you’re really only looking at a shell” (Nabhan & Trimble, 1994, p. 93). In speaking of children growing up on a ranch, Stephen Trimble says “Ranch children learn in a similar fashion about careful observation and nuance of behavior by taking care of horse and pets and stock… Death may move them, but it does not shock them, their intimacy with animals is an intimacy with life” (1994, p. 126).

I believe these thoughts to be convincing and germane ecopsychological refrains. Our separation from the earth has not only severed us from the soil, plants, animals, cycles of the seasons; but it has removed us from the realities of death and numerous other natural life cycles that occur in all of nature, our own natures not withstanding. Much in the same train of thought as the Anita Barrows me and not me refrain (1995) who I cited earlier, in Nature and Madness, (1980) ecopsychologist Paul Shepard describes the following:

For the infant as person to be, the shape of all otherness grows

out of the maternal relationship. Yet, the setting of that

relationship was, in the evolution of humankind, a surround

of living plants, rich in texture, smell, and motion. The unfiltered, unpolluted air, the flicker of wild birds, real sunshine and rain, mud to be tasted and tree bark to grasp, the sound of wind and water, the calls of animals and insects as well as human voices – all these are not vague and pleasant amenities for the infant, but the stuff out of which its second grounding, even while in its mother’s arms, has begun. The outdoors is also in some sense another inside, a kind of enlivenment of that fetal landscape which is not so constant as once supposed. The surrounding are also that-which-will-be-swallowed, internalized, incorporated as the self (Shepard,1980).


In The power of place (1993), Winifred Gallagher questions what effect it has on people, after millions of years of evolutionary time living in intimate relationship to the natural cycles of the planet, that as a species we are suddenly threatened with the demise of this crucial relationship? What does it mean for the development of personality, for the psychological and physical health and well beings of human beings to be confined to an urban landscape? Speaking of how the industrial revolution pulled people inside and away from the natural world, Gallagher says,

Only a hundred years ago, the overwhelming majority of

American’s lived in the country, while today, most cluster in

metropolitan areas. Like other living things, however, our

species has evolved over millions of years to respond to the

cycles of the earth and sun with predictable biochemical changes. Environmentally minded scientists have begun to question the tradeoffs we unwittingly make in order to live sealed up inside an artificially heated, cooled, and lighted world that is structured around economic rather than biological concerns… The fact that most of us are no longer wakened by the dawn… and lulled to sleep by darkness helps explain why up to a third of us suffer from sleep or mood problems, or both. (1993, p. 13 – 14)


There is an implicit truism in the work of Gallagher and many other ecopsychological theorist that one can not separate the body and the mind. Gallagher and many others believe that our psychological and physical states of being are reflections not only of our social identities and relationships but that, one could say,we are where we live. We are more than our experiences combined with some innate psychological predilection. Environmentally speaking, we are not only where we live but we are what we see, what we breathe, what we smell, etc. and these factors are frequently filtered through cultural lens (Gallagher, p. 46) In an interesting example, Gallagher talks about the environmental origins of meditation.

It is not just a coincident that ancient religions in the world’s highest mountains have made an art of breathing. Eastern meditative practices designed to achieve a natural high cultivate the outer edge of not breathing enough, which focusing the practitioner’s attention by subjecting a usually automatic process to conscious control. (Gallagher, 1993, p. 75)

Like ecopsychologists and ecophilosophers who are frequently interdisciplinary in their approach; Gallagher relies on hundreds of global studies in the field of developmental psychology, the Chinese study of Feng Shui, biology, physics, genetics, chemistry, physiology, geomagnetic research, and evolutionary theory. She looks at research which compares Eskimos and white people living in Alaska, life in American cities, China, the Pyrenees, the Scottish Highlands, Mediterranean climates, Africa, and numerous other global places.

In chapter after chapter Gallagher (1993) weaves a convincing argument documenting how contemporary psychological troubles and problems are based on the consequences of modern people’s alienation from their biological, environmental and ecological nature. One essential premise of her book is that if we better understand these connections, we would better understand the psychological disturbances of modern times. I quote the following in length because this ecopsychological interpretation is unquestionably, a compelling nonpathological take on anorexia nervosa and schizophrenia.

Anorexia nervosa, which causes mostly girls and women, many

of the high achievers, to starve themselves or come close to it

would seem to be one of the least productive ways to maximize

the species, but Paul MacLean thinks anorexia may be a kind of

adaptive behavior gone haywire: “Some researchers have observe that these women are very tough individuals – the type that could walk on forever with very little to sustain them. Migration means

leaving home, and you have to be tough to do that.” Because the call of the wild can ring loudest in the ears of the solitary, tough, territorial, and even paranoid, schizophrenia too may have been a useful “way back in time when one genetic strategy was being a successful loner,” …. “Too much schizophrenia and you’re ineffective, but just a little bit means you don’t need anyone else. (Gallagher, 1993, p. 78)


What relevance does all of this have to this paper?

What happens when children are immensely sensitive to the earth? What happens to children who have profound psychic and/or spiritual experiences with animals and nature and are living in a contemporary world where this is not just discouraged but frequently frowned upon? What happens to girls who are abused or suffering from post traumatic stress disorder cramped in a urban cityscape as opposed to comparable girls who have the companionship of a pet dog, rabbit, or horse? Robert Coles touches on childhood developmental issues beautifully in The spiritual life of children (1990) providing us with many moving stories on this theme.


Cellis Glendinning in her book titled My name is Cellis & I’m in recovery from Western Civilization (1994) uses the psychological concepts of post-traumatic stress and psychological dissociation to describe what she sees happening to the psyches of people in modern domesticated societies who are cut off from our “primal matrix” (p. 6) and who, deeply alienated from their relationship to the wilderness, must then bear heartbreaking witness to the massive destruction of our global world environment.

Along with other ecopsychologists, Glendinning (1994) looks to nature based peoples, non-ordinary states of consciousness, transpersonal and psychic experiences with nature and the wilderness for an understanding of what it means to be inherently human. For nature based peoples, our spiritual selves are intimately bound to the natural world. In the largest sense possible, nature is our home both as individuals and as a culture. Alienated from our “genetic imperative” to live in relationship with nature, whether we know it or not, conscious or unconscious, we are all like the movie character ET, gazing up at the stars and longing to “go home”.

For sensitive biophilic oriented children and adults the necessity to numb out to the pain of what we observe occurring to the earth around us is tantamount to the horrors of war, rape, sexual abuses and other intense traumata. Like survivors of violence, the psychological consequences of bearing witness to violence against the earth can manifest in a sort of profound hopelessness, psychic numbing, amnesia, and denial syndrome as well as varying states of dissociation and post-traumatic stress (Glendinning, p. 109, p. 126, p. 131). Perhaps it is most psychologically difficult for those children who had profound spiritual and embodied experiences in nature as children but who, as they grew into adulthood, were forced to leave these awareness behind. What is the personal loss and detriment for child or adult in the act of repressing, suppressing, or subjugating this wisdom or awareness? Describing forces of domestication in modern life, Glendinning points out the following

A sense of powerlessness over one’s destiny, a sense of

            futurelessness, and surrender patterns. These signal the

triumph of victimization in the survivor’s psyche – the belief,

rooted in the reality of the original experience, that nothing

can be done to stop the flood, explosion, war, rapist, bombing,

  1. .. As Kai Erickson puts it, “Against all that force and animus, the person has no defense other than to make himself [sic] small, to draw the curtain over his sensory organs, to take his inner self out of the field of combat so that there is less of him to be wounded and less of him to be implicated in the insanity of what is happening” (Glendinning,1994, p. 92).


In another excellent example, psychologist Thomas Wear recounts the following:

A while back a 26 year old medical student came to me with

complaints of lethargy, an inability to focus on her studies, and a preoccupation with what she called “gloomy thoughts”… She had no previous history of depression and no family predisposition to

depression… Remarkably she was able to recall a specific incident [precipitating her depression]… the George Banks fishing area off the east coast was nearly depleted of its harvests… She described how the thoughts about the extinction of some fish species led to thoughts about how the resources of the Earth were being stretched beyond capacity to support the human species. She then began to associate to the problem of over-population, ozone depletion, the greenhouse effect, air and water pollution, etc. …The psychodynamics in this case were quite straightforward; the depression had acted as a shutdown valve on the feelings of anxiety and agitation that had been generated by her “big realization”. In this sense, her depression functioned as a defense against levels of anxiety that threatened to overwhelm her personality organization…(Wear,1996, p. 1).


To varying degrees, in each of my interviewers, women experienced a sense of powerlessness, psychic numbing, depression and denial operative and sometimes a necessary means of coping with the constrictions, contradiction and pain of living in the world.


Feminist psychology

I often tell people I work with that their symptoms will begin to disappear when they stop seeing them as symptoms. They will be cured when they realize that there is no disease. They will stop suffering when they let go of this idea of their symptoms and realize that these are merely aspects of themselves that arose for very good reasons (usually as a way of protecting themselves from harm) but which they no longer need. Within every symptom there is a seed of strength which lies dormant. This seed can grow and flourish, given the proper conditions (Greenspan, 1993, p. 265).

First and foremost I must point out that the feminist psychological ideas I survey below have been formulated by white western women. Not surprisingly, these are the writings coming out of academic settings. These theories are useful against all too common anti-women philosophies within the field of psychology; but the influence of women of color, poor and working class women, immigrant women and other minorities is of course lacking in academic environs.

I am also impacted in my understanding of “women’s psychologies” by the fact that I am not educated in feminist psychological theories coming from non-western countries. It limits me that I do not speak any languages other than erocentric English. For transliteration of thought coming from other cultures and societies, I am wholly dependent on what is translated and published by western presses. Should I have greater access to the stories, thought and writings of non western situated women on the subject of women’s psychologies then my and all of our understandings of psychology would be immeasurably enriched and expanded. Although non-western views, particularly Shamanic and Buddhist, are seeping into the ecopsychological paradigm and are definitely a voice within ecofeminism – a virtual global movement! – to my current knowledge the voices of non- western women, the majority of women in the world, are glaringly lacking within the western feminist psychological paradigm. I am not the first to make the critique that white middle class women dominate feminism nor shall I be the last. And, to the credit of this group of feminist theorists and practitioners, I must point out that attempts at cultural diversity are made far more frequently within feminist psychology than in the larger psychological arena.


A partial synopsis of feminist psychological theories –

Although there were, of course, numerous articles and papers written on the subject of women’s psychologies in the 1970’s, Toward a new psychology of women (Miller, 1976), was the first book widely read in the field of feminist psychology and larger academic and nonacademic communities. However, Miller’s (1976) text was not the first comprehensive examination of female psychology in the second half of the twentieth century from a womanist or feminist persepective. One of the first treatise in the emerging field of feminist psychology was Phyllis Chesler’s Women and Madness (1972). Chesler’s analysis took a quantum leap from any widely available writing by women which had come before. Dr. Chesler wrote an exlosive, exploring, revealing, disturbing, passionate and brilliant expose on the psychology of women and their treatment at the hands of the field of psychology.

Researching and writing about women’s individual and collective experiences within the field of psychology, Chesler (1972) examined the history of women’s institutionalized in asylums over the past 300 years. Chesler (1972) went on to analyze female embodiment and the inauspicious devastating psychological outcome on girls and women of the objectification of the female body . She wrote about the enormous prevalence of rape and sexual abuse of women patients. Chesler examined why and how women seem to fall/are seduced/are ready to jump so easily – due to their feminized socialization – into “careers” of being “mental patients”. Chesler wrote about how for women – schizophrenia, psychosis, suicide, depression, and women’s profound psychological unhappiness was a direct result of the socialization of girls and women and their precarious difficult position in patriarchal christian societies.

I think it is safe to say that a great deal of feminist explorations, critiques and analyses of female psychology to follow which has been generated in the west, to one degree or another, followed in (or diverted from) the pioneering footsteps that Chesler (1972) paved.


Miller’s (1976) central thesis was more pragmatic and promising, probably one of the reasons it was picked up so readily by the larger society. Coming to her subject from a widely accepted psychoanalytic model, Miller hypothesized that women as a group harbor and accommodate aspects of the inherent human psychological experience which men have been unwilling and unable to face. She believed that “In western society men are encouraged to dread, abhor, or deny feeling weak or helpless, whereas women are encouraged to cultivate this state of being” (p. 29) and that “Women, then, become the ‘carriers’ for society of certain aspects of the total human experience – those aspects which remain unsolved. (This is one reason women must be so mistreated and degraded.)” (p. 23)

Miller believed that women hold and keep alive many of the essential vulnerabilities and frailties of the fundamental human condition which men have pushed away from themselves and that this situation is damaging to both sexes and society as a whole. Women in western society have been socialized to carry the disparate onus of such psychological traits as emotional sensitivity, significant care-taking roles (husband, children, aging relatives, teacher, nurse, and social service workers, to name a handful), living for others in a profound relational fashion, the compulsion for attachment and having an identity which is built on connection, functioning wholly from emotion, and being otherwise physically and psychologically fragile, vulnerable, receptive, and responsive. Although Miller believes this constitution gives women certain strengths, she see’s it as the root cause of an enormous degree of suffering in women’s lives and the cause of various psychological pathologies. Miller says

Male society, by depriving women of the right of its major “’bounty’” – that is, development, according to the male model – overlooks the fact that women’s development is proceeding, but on another basis. One central feature is that women stay with, build on, and develop in a context of connections with others… Eventually, for many women the threat of disruption of connection is perceived not just as a loss of relationship, but as something closer to a total loss of self…Such psychic structuring can lay the groundwork for many problems. (Miller, 1976, p. 83) [Italics mine]


In her 1976 text, Miller addressed how women are socialized to be relational. (An idea that Carol Gilligan’s work later took into mainstream social thought.) In this model of relationalism, Miller sees the following as a common female experience:

Alone, her being and her doing do not have their full meaning;

she becomes dry, empty, devoid of good feeling… Unless there is another person present, the entire event – the thought, the feeling, the accomplishment, or whatever it may be – lacks pleasure and significance… It is like being no person at all – at least no person that matters (Miller, 1976, p. 90).


Through case studies, Miller describes various social and psychological consequences for women of the female disposition: Depression, hopelessness, the inability to be intimate with other women, the incapacity to be their true selves in intimate relationships with men, fear of ones own anger, not being authentic in their lives, fear of having power, the continual struggle to be female in a male world. Miller says “…If we do not allow a person the basic right to be a fully valued member of society, we limit the flow of her psychological expression in a million ways, large and small” (p. 76)

Speaking of ego development, Miller says –

Returning briefly to the psychoanalytic theory of ego development, we note that women have been said to have more “permeable ego structures” or “less rigid ego boundaries” than men… In theory, the ego and the super-ego develop in relation to reality (that is, reality as it is defined by one’s culture) and the demands it places upon the individual. Reality makes these demands because each person is presumably to be groomed to be a living representative of his culture and standards” (Miller, 1976, p. 73).


Yet, to her credit, within all of this struggle, Miller sees enormous potential for women to heal, grow and change. Turning it all around she says “… even so called neuroses can, and most often do, contain within them the starting points, the searching for a more advanced form of existence” (1976, p. 89) On the flip side of the detrimental characteristics women are socialized to take on are qualities such as a drive toward authenticity, creativity, cooperation, self-determination, and attention to self which are out of reach to most traditionally socialized men. Within these tendencies then lie the potential for women to be significant harbingers in turning around the muddled, abstracted, disengaged, socially, politically and psychologically detrimental models of male society.


Carol Gilligan’s In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development (1982), was published on the heels of Miller’s work. Gilligan’s research focused on female socialization and the psychology of sex differences. She examined the different moral reasoning, cognitive development, and psychological development of women and girls throughout girlhood, adolescence and the mid-adult life cycle. Her research began where many of her contemporary male theorists in the field left off. She critiqued psychological development theories of Kolberg, Erickson, Willimans and Piaget for either completely ignoring socialization, educational and experiential differences between boys and girls, and women and men, or feebly attempting as something akin to an afterthought to fit girls and women into their systems of psychological and moral development. Most often these theorist focused their research on boys and men and then simply generalized their findings to women.

In one study Gilligan (1982) and her colleagues found that where men use a rational and strictly logical approach to reasoning (when attempting to resolve the moral dilemma in the “Heinz” situation), women’s moral reasoning revolved around a “… contextual judgment bound to the particulars of time and place… “ (p. 59). Simply put, women saw moral dilemmas in terms of conflicting responsibility. Gilligan’s research showed that when decision making becomes become too complex for women they avoid making a decision. “The image of drifting along or riding it out recurs throughout the interviews to denote the experience of women caught in opposition between selfishness and responsibility. Gilligan describes a woman’s life as a life lived in response (p. 143). For women, Gilligan concludes, “In the end, morality is a matter of care” (p. 147) and, “There seems at present to be only partial agreement between men and women about the adulthood they commonly share”( p. 172).


In Women’s ways of knowing: The development of self, voice, and mind (Belenky, M.F., Clinchy, B.M., Goldberger, N.R. & Tarule, J.m., 1986) the authors interviewed 135 women asking questions about how women learn. They presented a conceptual psychological developmental framework unique to women – of self, voice, and

mind for five types of knowledge, or ways which women learn – silence, received knowledge, subjective knowledge, procedural knowledge, and constructed knowledge.

Belenky, M.F., Clinchy, B.M., Goldberger, N.R. & Tarule, J.M., (1986) research showed that an important factor or developmental determinant in a girl’s life was a significant other. Did a child have an significant other to encourage and support girlhood growth and understandings of herself and the world? Importantly,their research showed that a significant entity in a girl’s life was not restricted to human but could also be a companion animal. One woman interviewed said “when I was feeling really cast off I had my dog and me. That was my world. Then I started riding horses. That became my world. It was completely detached from my family. I didn’t want anything from them. I just wanted my pony. I wanted to ride.” (p. 161). Predating ideas of ecopsychologists by some years, the authors go on to say “Her animals and the woods surrounding the family’s vacation house offered her solace and escape. Her animals helped her develop capacities that are cultivated only in loving relationships… Like a good teacher, her horse gave her confidence in herself and in her ability to learn” (p. 161). In contrast to this, the “silent” women in the study were without a significant other, human or animal. They were unable to learn from experience. The authors state that “We believe these individuals grow up to see themselves as ‘deaf and dumb’ when they are raised in profound isolation under the most demeaning circumstances, not because of genetic endowment” (p.34). The gift of a relationship to an animal was seen as a boost in psychological development for the girl in this study.

The authors of this book are unequivocal in the perspective that intelligence is not something with which people are inherently born; rather intelligence and sense of self is a function of social events and whether or not an individual is encouraged or discouraged from developing these qualities. They believe that the educational system clearly does not work for girls and women. It was not developed by women or with women students in mind and is disadvantageous to women in a multitude of ways and too often serves to alienate and discourage girl and women learners. They see women’s psychological development having very little to do with educational experiences and mostly about girls and women being taught, valued, and encouraged in their lives. It is through connection, not abstraction, not rote memorization, not vague external demands to perform for authority that women learn. In ways vastly different than results of studies by their academic predecessors and a decade before the popular topic of people having different kinds of intelligence hit the mainstream presses, the authors of this study cast a whole new light on the intelligences of girls and women. Opening up a whole new world of acceptance and understanding for girls and women and the practitioners who worked with them, researchers of Women’s ways of knowing: The development of self, voice, and mind (Belenky, M.F., Clinchy, B.M., Goldberger, N.R. & Tarule, J.M., 1986), wrote about how girls and women learn most significantly about themselves, their relationships, and the world around them.

“[Girls and women learn] by making the unconscious conscious, by consulting and listening to the self, by voicing the unsaid, by listening to others and staying alert to all the undercurrents of life about them, by imagining themselves inside the new poem or person or idea that they want to come to know and understand. Constructivists become passionate knowers, knowers who enter into a union with that which is to be known” (p. 141). Connected knowledge, the highest stage of knowledge in this schema, “…arises out of the experience of relationships; it requires intimacy and equality between self and object, not distance and impersonality; its goal is understanding not proof” (Belenky, M.F., Clinchy, B.M., Goldberger, N.R. & Tarule, J.M., 1986, p. 183).


In Women’s madness; misogyny or mental illness, (Ussher, 1991), the author writes about the murder of 9 million human beings, a majority women deemed to be witches consorting with the devil, during a period of 300 years between the publication and mass distribution of the Malleus maleficarum by the clergy in 1487 and the mid 1700’s. This systematic slaughter of millions of women throughout Europe, comparable in it’s thorough meticulousness (although not its documentation) to the inquisition and the Nazi regime, was intended to propagate and secure the unequivocably existence of the new empirical positivistic scientific paradigm. In her text, Ussher illustrates a progression of patriarchal thinking and action from the social control of women in the middle ages consummated through mass murder (p. 42), to the reigning in, corralling, and social control of women performed by the newly emerging field of psychology (p. 69), and the horrors of the oppressions of women historically reviewing such manifestations of this as Indian suttee (p. 23), Chinese footbinding (p.25), female circumcision (p.27), rape, pornography, incest and childhood sexual abuse (p.33), the persecution of women as witches, murder of the women healers and worshipers of the Goddess religions (p.58), the effecting (social construction) of the “Victorian madwoman” (p.63), and the psychologization and medicalization of women (p.75).

Ussher (1991) is a psychologist who has spent years researching the horrific history of the oppression and social control of women and its exemplary historic alliance within the domain of psychology. It is impossible to turn the last page of this text without having been enormously educated and having achieved a radically altered understanding of inherent dangers – historically and in today’s contemporary world – for girls and women, of simply being themselves.

What does it mean for women to live in a masculinist culture? What toll does it take on their bodies, minds, and psychological lives? These are a few of the questions addressed in The feminist legacy of Karen horney, (Westkott, 1986). (10) Neither the relational theories which originated with Gilligan (1982), the French feminists (Irigaray, 1986; Cixous,1986; Kristeva,1986), or the psychoanalytic feminists such as Dorothy Dinnerstein (1976) or Nancy Chodorow (1978) seem as close to the truth of women’s psychological lives to me as Westkott’s feminist sociological interpretation of the mid century work of psychoanalyst Karen Horney. Within Horney’s conceptualization of “the feminized woman” is a model for a gender who must create ways to exist within an oppressive environment and come to bond with the people who keep them captive.

…Horney’s concept of neurosis as inner conflict, especially between self-hatred and an idealized self-image [is] informed by cultural

stereotypes and values. The cause of neurosis is not the failure of the individual but the dehumanizing conditions that she encounters in the social world. Devalued by masculine civilization and expected to comply cheerfully with this condition, she adopts dependent characteristics as a strategy of safety. Her dependence may be an individual solution, but it reflects the misogynistic values that engendered it; her inner conflict may create psychological pain, but the fact that it emanates from cultural patterns give it social meaning (Westkott,1986, p.18).

Horney was interested in healing the depths of shame, self-hatred and depreciation, internalized conflict, and psychological pain she was witness to in her women patients. She came to find that contemporary Sigmund Freud’s theories simply did not serve this end. These theories did not apply to the hundreds of women who she saw in her practice. Furthermore, Horney saw little hope for psychological healing in Freud’s theories. She believed that by ascribing human psychology to motive wholly with the framework of biological determinism, Freud’s theories left little room for hope, change, personal autonomy, or psychological freedom. Freud reasoned that human psychologies are a battle of id, ego, and superego in which the superego must win out for society to be maintained in a semblance of order and equilibrium. (Thus, chaos and war would be the manifest raging uncontained Id.)

Horney did not conceive of humans born as predestined brutes seeking constant physical and sexual fulfillment to the exclusion of all else with human psychological life a battle ground of biological drives. Contrary to this deterministic (and I must day, terribly bleak outlook), Horney hypothesized human beings were born capable of free choice and with an inherent desire to love and be loved (Westcott, 1986).

The revolutionary implication of Horney’s theories was to understand “neurosis” as something not inherent to the individual but socially created and socially perpetrated. Horney saw that for women, rather than biologically based pathology, “neurosis” (as they called it back then), was a reflection of inner conflict due to the difficulty of girls and women’s lives within patriarchy. Horney saw through her hundreds of patients over a lifetime of work that the experience of girls and women in society was one of being treated in a deeply sexualized and objectifying manner. Girls and women were continually devalued as human beings. Consequently and with little ultimate choice available – because ultimately most women were economically if not relationally tied into men – Horney believed that consciously and unconsciously, women choose to be dependent on men for their survival. Due to their experience of being demeaned, sexually, emotionally, and economically exploited, separated from themselves, and kept apart from other women in the conservative backlash years of mid century – the psychological life of most adult women was a morass of shame, self-hatred, competitiveness toward other women, detachment, dissociation, repressed anger (of which Horney believed many women were completely unaware), and the creation of a false “idealized self”.

But, the ultimate manifestation of female personality in a masculinist society, was Horney’s “feminine women”. This was a woman who was simply playing the role she had been taught to a tee. The “feminine woman” was a profoundly unhappy woman cut off both from herself and others, attempting in the only ways that she knew how, to be loved and accepted. Each category Horney created within her genus of “feminine women” reflected a different way of reacting and coping.

Horney believed that true freedom and happiness for women was only possible by stripping away all the contradictions in women’s lives, becoming responsible to oneself and becoming one’s “real self”. Horney believed that the nature of patriarchal life for women suffocated their spirits, bodies, hearts and minds.


Engendered lives: A new psychology of women’s experience (Kaschak, 1992) offered a new visceral way of understanding the psychology of women. Without a doubt, Kaschak has a strong grasp of the horrors of women’s lives within patriarchy. Kaschak believes that women are gendered, objectified, and psychologically confined and controlled from their first breath as small babies. Gender is the basic organizing principle in the patriarchal family. Gender is not biologically based but socially created. Kaschak discards a positivistic medical model of human beings which understands both human life, and all life, as deterministic, fragmented, or independent of a whole. Instead she looks to collectively structured non-western cultures and the emerging field of psychoneuroimmunology to show that the mind and body do not exist in duality but are unified and intertwined. Memory is stored everywhere in the body. Experience is embedded in the cells of the body as well as the mind. The mind is not confined to the brain. Our identities are literally embodied. Kaschak believes that the idea of a separate self, the self made into an “I”, is an artificial western construct. She does not think that humans have one central organizing self rather that their selves, and sense of self, constantly changes based on circumstance. People exist as “Self-in-context” (Kaschak, p.154). For women this has many implications.

To give an example from the research interviews I conducted for this paper of how these realities can play out; when she was a small child Lettie use to “lay in bed at night and hear the earth crying”. Obviously, this is the kind of experience which in the western hemisphere, if shared with the wrong person, could end up with a child pathologically classified within the confines of the DSM and all of the consequences. It is more-or-less commonly known in our society that children can be extremely sensitive, psychic and imaginative but Lettie chose to keep this and other similar experiences to herself. How much energy does it take for a child or adult to keep these this a secret? My research shows that women carry these awarenesses into their adult lives with much adverse psychic, psychological, and social consequence.

From this base Kaschak (1992) goes on to build her theory of women’s psychology. She argues that “Men’s identity develops from the inside out, women’s from the outside in” ( p. 104). Contrary to this, as many women will attest, from early girlhood women are judged, defined, threatened, objectified, separated, and fragmented from their own bodies, minds, and hearts. It is not difficult to see that if girls and women suffer under the weight of a commonplace onslaught against their integrity and their identities are simultaneously developing based on external factors, we have a huge problem. Like Horney, Miller (1976), Ussher (1991), and numerous other feminist psychologists before her, Kaschak discerns that this double bind for girls and women in patriarchal societies creates psychological disease, pathology and coping mechanisms and responses socially created and specifically unique to girls and women.

Kaschak (1992) explains how from early girlhood onward women are taught that the pith of their identity and self-worth comes from looking a certain way in the eyes of the male onlooker. Girls and women are continually instructed to mask their true physical and psychological selves. They must hide and cover their body fat, body hair, skin, appetite for food and sex, and psychological fears, angers, insecurities, uncertainties and self-doubts behind a facade of physical/sexual attractiveness and psychological calm. Girls and women are taught to care for others and ignore their own needs, desires, and aspirations. Girls and women are taught to compete with each other for the attention of men.

One of the consequences of this repression of psychological self, Kaschak (1992) believes – and one that we will see portrayed painfully in the life of my interviewees with Rose and Zelda – is that women live in a split reality: theirs, what they are really feeling and experiencing, and other , what is required of them by the larger masculinist society. These factors determine who and what girls and women show of themselves, of their deepest selves, to the world and the people around with whom they share their lives. Adolescence, a particularly critical period of psychosocial and psychosexual development, is a time when boys are taught to open up to their experiences in the world and girls are taught to shut down (Kaschak, p. 91).

Kaschak (1992) and Horney (Westkott, 1986) speak of relationality as a way for women to deaden, detach, dissociate from themselves – taking the feminist theory of relationality to a new level of perspicaciousness. Focusing so much of one’s energy on others is a way for girls and women to deny the realities of their difficult lives and the many limitations imposed on their physical, sexual, and psychological freedom within a patriarchal social structure. By putting a great deal of their energy into being relational, girls and women are more easily able to deny awareness of the terrible loss of what is not possible in life, as a female.

Added to a divided and ambivalent sense of self is the injunction not to be aware of the very existence of the context or the profound psychological conflict it engenders. Women, as a result, have a strong            tendency to a particular sort of disconnection from their own bodies and their own cognitive/affective/physical experience…Women are at the same time defined by and alienated from their physical self and, as a result, the self in general. (Kaschak, p. 112,1992)

By anesthetizing oneself from one’s deepest hungers, needs and desires – so many of which are simply not socially appropriate for women to express or exhibit to the world – women are able to avoid the psychological despair and depression that comes to those women who do not turn away from these social realities.(11)

Kaschak (1992) gives great weight to the psychological experience of shame. Shame is a potent psychological mechanism and force of social control. Kaschak says “A person who is ridiculed feels a sense of shame or humiliation… a sense of being… so flawed as to experience annihilation of the self, the desire not to exist” (Kaschak, 1992, p. 41). Kaschak also believes that fear is such a common experience for women that most of the time they consciously forget it, deny it, block it out. However, Kaschak reasons that even if a woman is capable of repressing her fear of violence from men, this overwhelming emotion becomes embedded in the physical and psychological beings of women. Kaschak believes, as her clinical psychotherapy practice has demonstrated, that fear denied goes on and vents itself in panic attacks, phobias, dissociative identity disorder, and depression.


Kaschak understands feminist therapy to be a search for the invisible, for what lies on the margin of any client’s story. It is a quest for what is embedded in the heart, mind, body and soul. For Kaschak, feminist “psychotherapy involves naming not just the unnamed but the unnameable, speaking not just the unspoken, but the unspeakable” (Kaschak, 1992, p. 225).


In A new approach to women and therapy (Greenspan, 1983) there is a foreshadowing of future ecopsychological ideas included in her introduction to the 2nd edition of this book ten years later (Greenspan, 1993). Greenspan’s thinking follows a progression, continuing to blossom and grow, from her earlier analysis of the social construction of women’s psychology, to the inseparable connection between all of us and our physical environment. She says

There is no running away from this problem. In the last century, doctors called it housewife neurasthenia and recommended lots of bed rest. Sheila Rowbotham has called it the problem of being “oppressed by an overwhelming sense of not being there.” Betty Friedan saw it in the tired, empty women of the Feminine Mystique – and called it “the problem that has no name”… whatever one calls this problem… it is the stuff of which female symptomatology, nervous breakdowns, and madness are made. (Greenspan, 1993, p. 181)

And she goes on,

We are all suffering not from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but from Present Traumatic Stress Disorder and Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatized by living on a dying planet… Our “inner child” must face its own truths and sing its sad, angry songs out loud. So too must our adult citizen-self be strong – to imagine itself as more than a skin-encapsulated ego alternatively flexing its own delusionary muscles of individual control and collapsing in a heap of powerlessness… The connections between feminism, ecology, and psychology are vital. Liberating women, healing the wounds of patriarchy, and saving the planet are actually one and the same process. (Greenspan, 1993, p. xiv)


A seasoned practitioner of psychotherapy with women, theorist Greenspan (1993) speak masterfully to the theme of embodiment. She discuss many of the implication of what it means for women to be embodied, to live their lives from within and confined to a physical, engendered, self.

Amy’s twitch was the indirect physical expression of Woman as

Body’s anger at being in a social double bind: a situation in which being seen as a woman is both mandatory and dangerous. Her symptom was not the manifestation of an underlying character pathology. It was an adaptation to the unhealthy psycho political predicament of being Woman as Body, of being dominated by a group upon which she was also dependent; of being ruled by men

and yet socialized to repress anger against that rule; of having no socially permissible outlet for that rage. (Greenspan,1993, p. 180)


Both Greenspan (1993) and Kaschak (1992) speak a great deal about the subject of “Women as Body”. Women live in a world where in thousands of ways they are reduced to physical beings and yet simultaneously they are objectified, minds and bodies are despised, and they are separated from “ourselves” for the profit and benefit of men.

In an uncommon twist for a psychological perspective not grounded in cognitive or cognitive behavioral models (Corsini and Wedding, 1995), Greenspan (1993), points out that women are also often very stubborn in changing their way of thinking. She believes that the psychological well being or women is as much dependent on the freedom of our hearts as the social and political freedom of our minds. Grounded in the daily lives of women, Greenspan gives the following example of the kinds of destructive reactionary and anti-feminist thinking that women are being taught to engage in, thinking which is devoid of political reality and harmful to women.

Andrea’s pre-rape sense of her own freedom was what many

therapists would consider the final goal of therapy… The inadequacy of a strictly psychological definition of what freedom or liberation means for women is blatantly obvious in the case of Andrea. For it was precisely Andrea’s pre-rape conception of her own freedom that had most betrayed her. It was itself an irrational refusal to acknowledge the real oppression of women, a denial of the danger that women risk… (Greenspan, 1993, p. 276 – 277)


With a radical critique of the patriarchal “mental health system’s” diversionary and destructive tactics toward women, Burstow, in Radical Feminist therapy (1992), places the accountability of blame for women’s psychological struggles directly where blame is due. Rather than pathologize women, the responsibility for women’s psychological despair and struggle and the multitude of burdens and violence women face growing up and living in this world is placed squarely on the shoulders of the capitalist patriarchal social structure.

Burstow (1992) undertakes a radical feminist and anti-psychiatry analysis which she applies to the daily work of dealing with women suffering in calamitous and formidable situations (such as incest, battering and prostitution). Coming from a social work model reminiscent of the first years of modern social work and settlement movements in Britain, Holland and America (soon spreading to Germany, Japan, South America and elsewhere) in the late 1800’s – Burstow believes helping women in their material, social, and psychological worlds are all necessary and inseparable. Psychotherapy does not just happen in an office somewhere. Burstow (1992) would as soon suggest the necessity of safe houses for women attempting to escape prostitution, legal education for women to protect them from psychiatric institutionalization and shelters for women attempting to withdraw from psychotropic drugs, as advocate “talk therapy”.



For girls and women biophilia – the love of nature – and biophobia – the fear of nature – are indubitably social and feminist issues. As such, biophobia makes positive and intimate relationships with nature wanting in the lives of many girls and women. No matter how at ease or what degree of connection or disconnection they may experience in the the natural world, with the exception of Adrienne and Lettie, each of my research participants blamed themselves for their fears of or in nature. For example, a woman might say to me “I’m terrified of snakes, or being in the woods as dusk approaches and consider her feelings a pathology or at the very least, her own character defect. On the whole – aside from issues of violence against women, which all my interviewees understood as a very real and frightening social problem – women were commonly unversed in setting particular biophobic fears in a social or cultural context, one which reflected their engendered sex. Whether it was fear of the dark, fear of camping or walking in the woods or the immensely common female fear of insects – the onus of blame was the individual woman. In my work here, the subject of women and their fears of nature emerged strongly as an ecopsychological, ecofeminist, feminist theme calling out for closer examination.


Chapter 3 – Methodology

My interview questions

   My interview questions were formulated in an intuitive and systematically well thought out fashion. The questions I created were informed by materials I read during my graduate studies on the psychologies of women and my own experiences and interpretations of what constitutes “psychology” and our psychological lives. My questions were equally informed by what I have learned by cultural osmosis, as a white middle class woman living in the west at the end of the twentieth century. In my mind’s eye, the study of “psychology” has always been, most definitively, “the study of the soul”. Our psychological lives are nothing less. Thus, in my intent to study the soul of women in relation to nature and the natural world, my questions were necessarily oriented toward both the individual and the society in which she lives. Culture and politic. Individual and context. Personality development and misogyny.

My questions were formulated with a clear intent to dive far deeper during my interviews than what is normative in social conversation. Instead, I hoped that the time I spent talking with each woman would reveal essential core experiences, beliefs, fears, hopes and dreams. Questions like “what is important for you in your life for your psychological, social, spiritual and political well-being?” and “how does your relationship to nature and the natural world harm or facilitate that well-being?” were only the tip of the iceberg. I also wanted to ask some hard questions which would elicit information that went far deeper than superficial or surface responses. I wanted to know “what is really your experience?” “What do you really feel and think about that subject?”, “Why do you think that is the case?” “Tell me more…”. I knew that in order to make women comfortable in answering my long list of in depth interview questions I would need to conduct informally structured interviews involving some degree of give and take. On the one hand I wanted my interviewees to feel as they were sitting with a trusted friend comfortably talking about their lives. On the other, I did not want my interviews to just be conversations. I would share relevant feelings and thoughts about myself as they might come up naturally but I did not want the focus on me. My plan was to look at many facets of my interviewees lives – experiences with psychotherapy and the mental health system, work, friendship, play, religion, and politic – but to look with greatest depth at childhood and adult experiences with parents and siblings, school and education, friends and partners, nature and animals, dreams and aspirations, issues related to being girls and women, and my interviewees spiritual and psychological soul lives.

Writings on the relationship between children and nature by Coles (1990) and Nabhan and Trimble (1994) significantly informed my questions about childhood.



   I would like to have been able to have interviewed more in the range of 60 girls and women and to examine the subject across race, history, culture, language, and across the globe.

There were times during the interviews when I was not at my intuitive and intellectual best. Pain caused by my suffering from a chronic illness was present for me during all of the interviews.


Research biases

   As should be quite clear by now I hold an abiding love of nature, the natural world, all the animals – both domesticated and wild – and the remaining “relative wilderness”. In my own childhood rapport, familiarity, and relating intimately to the natural world was as intrinsic as breathing. Connecting with nature and the natural world was like slipping into a second skin for me. I grew up in an suburban area where I could ride my bicycle down the streets with the wind blowing in my hair – an exhilarating sense of freedom, sled down the roads in the snow, and spend essential childhood time in the then still undeveloped patches of land, a handful of acres here or there, that were scattered in my neighborhood. I found enormous solace outside of my suburban family home. As I got older this relationship surreptitiously persisted. But, like my research participant Adrienne; although I strongly connected with the natural world intuitively as a child, it was not until I reached adulthood that my feelings about nature began to be a fierce passion and an enormous force in my continued psychological wellbeing. It was not until I was in my 30’s that my love of nature came out of the closet. And quite a deep dark encompassing closet it was. Full of old clothes and excess baggage never belonging to me personally to begin with.


Although many of us are far removed, humans need the natural world. We need the natural world as much as we need food and shelter on a material plain; love, family and community on an emotional plain; and a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves on a spiritual one. In fact, the idea that human beings live somehow separate from the natural world is quite absurd. Human beings are intrinsically dependent on the natural world for food, medicine, water, heating sources, homes and waste disposal systems not to mention the fact that the chemistry and physics that form the crux of a million other aspects of our daily lives.

In a letter Jeremy Hayward (1997) writes to his daughter

It seems that in medieval times people were able to access a

quality of consciousness that is unknown to scientists and to

our general culture today. Some writers call it “participating

consciousness” meaning real knowledge of an object that

occurs through the union of the subject (the “I”) and the object… Amongst most native peoples around the world, we find there is a universal theme: the world is alive, permeated with living energy, responsive, feeling, and awareness. And everything we see, and hear and touch in our world, partakes in that responsive living energy-awareness. (Hayward, 1997)

Nature and the animals do not exist for us. I believe that the natural world has its own internal locus of orientation which lives in every insect, bird, fish, animal, tree, rock, bush, waterway, and patch of undisturbed land. (This is an animistic perspective which has it’s origins in the philosophies and religions of shamanic and aboriginal peoples worldwide [Abram, 1996]). Nature thinks locally but exists as a part of a huge and fragile web of interconnectedness. If we learn to listen closely, like small children typically experience before it is socialized out of them (Nabhan and Trimble, 1994), we can begin to tune into the amazing qualities and various energies of the living creatures with whom we share this planet. Sometimes it is as easy as putting up a bird feeder and then standing underneath, still and patient, until the song birds come whizzing and fluttering past our heads.


We are born into this world from a profoundly connected fashion – having spent nine months floating in embryonic fluid and gaining our sustenance entirely from something outside of our own tiny bodies. A process not entirely different than the birth experience of most mammals. Soon after birth, human mammals (supposedly) begin the process of physical and psychological differentiation and separation. Freud’s object relations theory has helped make this belief paramount in the ideas of modern psychology and society.

“…definition and conceptualization of the term object , have been and are the central core of psychoanalytic thinking and treatment… Object relations in the Freudian sense include relationships between people, between individuals and things, between individuals and goals. These relationships develop in order to serve sexual and aggressive needs…For object relation theorists…, objects are defined as other people, both external and internal, both real and imagined. The term object relations refers, in general, to the relationship between an individual’s internal and external object (person) worlds (Okun, 1992, p.21).


Although object relation theories “represented a first step away from the notion that personality develops solely from innate biological drives” (Okun, 1992, p. 24), there remains in this theory an intrinsic culturally established dualism in the psychoanalytic conception of self and object. It has been argued in philosophic, anthropological and psychosocial literature that not only is this quest for differentiation a modern understanding, but it is gender based. In her introduction to the second edition of Toward a new psychology of women (1986) psychologist Jean Baker Miller says

My work…centers on trying to understand more about the

nature of “relational contexts”… which foster psychological development…Psychologists use terms such as “merger,”

“fusion,” “attachment,” or dependency to characterize the

child’s early relationship with its mother and terms such as

“separation,” “independence,” and autonomy in speaking of

maturity or the end point of development. None of these

terms focuses on the nature of interaction at each age. Indeed,

the words do not bespeak interaction. A term such as “fusion”

conveys no interaction; nor does a term such as “independence.” Likewise, the criteria for maturity do not

include the ability to engage in interactions which empower

others and, simultaneously, oneself. The implication is that

the “mature, independent person” will also make “good

relationships” because “he” will have built a strong inner

psychological structure, but we know there are few such

strong independent persons and if we do see one, many other

persons are usually helping him to survive and function

(Miller, p.xx-xxi, 1986).


Miller (1986) concludes by saying “I believe that this notion stems from an illusion, a fiction which men, but not women, are encouraged to pursue” (p. xxi).

I agree with theorists who claim human beings develop as “self in relation”. However, as an feminist ecopsychologist, I differ in the meanings I apply to the terms “self” and “relation”. Alongside mother, father, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, extended non-biological families, community, and culture; I believe our physical and psychological lives exist as self in connection to an ecological whole which encompasses nature, animals and the totality of our environment.

In this light, it does seem logical to ascertain causality for detached forms of madness such as psychosis and schizophrenia reflect what R.D. Laing (1960; 1964) pointed out so many years ago. Psychosis or schizophrenia act as the far end of a continuum for a person stuck in the minuteness of familial relations, daily interactions and experience (Greenwald, 1992). And, there they rest. Cut off. At the far end of this expanse. Separated so far from the whole that they can’t, it is too painful, they have no desire, they never knew, or they have lost their way “home”.


In Conclusion –

A congenial relationship with this ecological whole, nature, the wilderness, the earth world, does not insure freedom from cultural exploitation and dominance. Nature hardly assuages the crimes and rampages of humankind. Life can be equally miserable no matter where one is on our planet – in a glorious green natural setting or completely cement urban one.

However, given the right social conditions the natural world has the potential to be an immensely healing force in the lives of human beings. On the contrary, a glaring absence of connection to nature and the natural world reduces and limits our full human capacity and potentiality. I hope I will begin to make this apparent in the pages to come.




Interviewee profiles

Ellen –

Articulate, intelligent, thoughtful, warm, giving, talented, and someone whose interested in many different things and enjoys the company of other people, Ellen is in her mid 40’s. She grew up in a close-knit working class community in an urban area. For the past five years Ellen has lived in an affluent east coast community surrounded by what Lettie aptly defines as “suburban-rural sprawl”. Before moving east, Ellen lived for many years in another small progressive town out west. Ellen’s partner of many years, an artist, lives a simple quiet life in the countryside where Ellen spends a great deal of her leisure time. Ellen devotes the majority of her time and energy to work, her relationship, friends, and political involvement in the local women’s community. She is a creative professional working in what is still primarily a male field. Ellen loves her work, which brings her in touch with many people, places and environments. Sometimes suffering with fatigue and exhaustion. Ellen clearly has the courage and stamina to succeed and meet the many challenges of her demanding career.


Lettie –

Lettie, tall, thin, with strikingly lovely eyes and short cropped brown hair is in her mid 30’s. Lettie is a radical feminist, passionate about her politics, has lots of ideas, a Buddhist Vipassana meditator, a vegetarian since her teenage years, a teacher and educator and lover of the earth, birds and animals. Lettie is extemely intelligent but her intelligence and knowledge are tempered with compassion, sensitivity, inquisitiveness, political and historic understandings, and loving kindness. Lettie lives in a small Northeastern city. She is poor class because a sever physical infirmity which makes it very difficult for her to work in any traditonal in the world job. She owns no vehicle. Should she pack up her small apartment to move, which she has had to do many times in the past fifteen years, she would be packing many books, her computer, and the items of her trade as a seamstress, writer and political activist. Lettie tries not to kill anything, wears no leather products, and has been known to catch mosquitoes in a plastic container and transport them outside. With a phenomenal green thumb and a passion for gardening she has created numerous vegetable and flower gardens in various locations in her community. Lettie has published two books and is currently looking for a publisher for her third. She grew up in a single (mom) parent working class family on the edge of a large city with one brother and two sisters.


Zelda –

Somewhat eremitic, Zelda is a 55 years old working class woman living alone in a small town in western New York state. Zelda is a archivist, genealogist, historian, librarian, computer web site designer and writer. Zelda is a hard working, thoughtful, creative, intelligent, deeply feeling, sensitive, idealistic, philosophical and humble woman with a large and generous heart. During the first years of the women’s movement Zelda was the founder of an influential women’s literary archive. She is widely published in periodicals, journals, anthologies and is the author of a 1970’s academic text still in print and utilized in classes in universities throughout the country. Zelda is one of three sisters and a brother. She was the daughter of a local democratic politician who was often traveling. Her father, grandparents and great grandparents before then ran the small town general store.

Zelda’s values have not wandered too far afield from her father’s. She works part time as a librarian to “provide me with money to procure the needs of life” but the more meaningful work in Zelda’s life is primarily unpaid and in the areas she loves. Zelda is someone who, if she puts her mind to the task, can take on mostly anything in life. Oftentimes her unpaid work takes her into the arena of helping other people or projects which benefit from her initiative and skill.


Rose –

Rose is a working class Jewish woman in her mid 30’s living in New York city. Rose grew up in a Jewish working class family in a residential area of Brooklyn. She is the daughter of a survivor of the Holocaust. Her mother immigrated to America soon before Rose was born. Rose left Brooklyn when she was 17 years old to travel internationally. After spending more than a decade traveling and living in Greece, Jerusalem, and finally Berlin, Rose recently returned to America with her partner where they settled into an apartment in Brooklyn in a family oriented neighborhood with private homes and tree-scaped streets.

Rose is an articulate women who strives to understand the whole of whatever is at hand and is adept at seeing all sides of an issue. She is a fantastic listener and a deeply perceptive, thoughtful and caring woman. She is light hearted, fun loving, serious, understanding, generous and laughs a lot! Rose stands out in her ability to intuit and understand the world – political, social, human, non-human, spiritual, psychic – through her mind and heart. From the time Rose was a small child she has been capable of communicating with birds and animals. Frequently paying close attention to her dreams and premonition, Rose is a profoundly sensitive and aware woman. Although she suffers with chronic back pain, Rose has a lot of physical stamina and is regularly busy from morning to late at night.

Rose is a published writer. She is currently studying eastern healing modalities and works teaching English as a second language, doing archival work and clowning with children.


Gila –

Gila is a 39 year old Israeli peace activist, socialist, leftist and kibbutznick. Gila grew up and continues to live on a kibbutz founded by her Hungarian refuge parents and their comrades shortly after the second world war. Gila grew up in “children’s houses” where the kibbutz children attended school, ate and slept together spending only four hours each day with their biological parents. In the 1990’s, Gila’s kibbutz would compare to a “middle class” community. There is ample food, growth, consumerism, commodity purchasing, clothing, entertainment, education, and travel. Gila is an intelligent, thoughtful, enormously self confident, articulate, self-loving, caring, compassionate, opinionated, socially and politically oriented woman with a sharp mind and a Buddha heart. Gila has a multitude of skills. She currently defines herself as a sociologist and, it seems, can accomplish anything in life she puts her mind to and regularly does just this. She has been given leadership roles of large responsibility in her Kibbutz community. In recent years she has gone off the kibbutz during the week days to travel to the university to get a higher degree. She has traveled through Europe and America extensively and returned more than once with her family to her ancestral Hungarian village.


Adrienne –

Adrienne has lived the last twenty years in the mountains of Vermont interupted by a handful of years in the women’s community in Israel in the 1980’s. Adrienne is is a middle class Jewish woman in her 50’s, an extraordinarily articulate woman with a sharp and probing mind and a gentle generous heart. She looks at the world through radically political eyes and has spent years attempting to build political bridges between Jews and non-Jews, and between classes, races, and species. Adrienne has a meditative practice and is very involved in AA. Adrienne travels throughout the country, taking frequent trips into wilderness settings such as her recent sojourns to the Everglades and Arizona desert. She also owns a small cabin with no phone, electricity, or running water deep in the woods where she spends a great deal of time. Adrienne is a social worker, psychotherapist, teacher, public speaker, writer, poet and mother of two grown daughters. Adrienne grew up in an upper middle class suburban community on the East Coast.


Research participants characteristics

Although I was not consciously aware of it at the time, four of my six interviewees are published authors. All of my interviewees are also highly educated women. The group scale also leaned toward working classes – three out of the six were working class, one woman poor class, and two middle class. Three of the interviewees were Jewish. The other three were born into Christian families but do not consider this their religious identification in their adult lives. One has thought of herself a pagan and a witch from childhood. The interviewees were between the ages of 32 and 55 years old. There were no women included in my interviews from African American, Hispanic, Southern Hemispheres, or far eastern countries. Five were American. One Israeli. Five of the six women I interviewed were lesbians. One was heterosexual. Five of my interviewees have had a great deal of contact with the lesbian-feminist and/or ecologically aware communities in America and internationally at various points in their lives. Four or five of the six women would identify themselves as feminists.


How I found my participants

Why did I pick these particular participants? My choice of interviewees did not originate from a random sample. It was based on convenience, timing, coincidence (one woman was visiting my community from far away at the right moment), and a sense that a particular woman might be interesting to interview. In all but one case I choose women who I knew had some type of important or unique relationship with nature and the natural world. This was particularly the case of Gila. The fact that she was a Kibbutznik was very intriguing to me. Adrienne became involved in this project at the tail end, months after I had finished my in person interviews. Stories of her love of nature had reached almost mythic proportions in the circles I travel and I was thrilled to have her express interest in participating in this project. I contacted each potential interviewee ahead of time either by email, telephone, or in person to see if they were interested in being a research participant.

Two of my interviewees were women with whom I have intimate and long term friendships – in one case seventeen years and in another thirteen – and who in the past had shared stories with me about the depth and importance of their relationship with the natural world. These two interviews, coincidentally, were done via writing and thus did not present the potential interpersonal challenges suggested by Kirby and McKenna (1989, p. 122) when one’s research participants are close friends (1989, p. 69).

All the of names of my research participants have been changed to assure confidentiality. (See consent form, appendix A)


Interview structure and how I conducted the interviews

All of the in-person interviews were semi-structured (Robson, 1993). They were either held at the home of the woman I was interviewing, or sitting in the living room in my own house. At each interview there was juice, tea, coffee, and/or food involved. If it was at my house, my dog and cat wandered in and out of the room as we talked and my partner moved more or less freely throughout the house in the background. We took breaks when needed. My long list of interview questions included many personal questions phrased in a open ended style which allowed the interviewees a great deal of freedom to go in whatever direction they felt comfortable. Whether or not we dove deeply into or touched casually on a specific topic was based on the following factors: The personality of the interviewee; my own curiosity and intuitiveness in asking relevant questions at a certain moment; whether or not my interviewees desired to talk about something; and how long we had been talking already. (In other words how tired my interviewee and/or I was feeling.) I encouraged lots of breaks in the longer interviews. In classic Israeli style, Gila did not want to break. We plowed through the long interview from beginning to end as we sat face to face in front of the glass doors in my livingroom, the forest our backdrop. In contrast, Ellen went into another room of her city apartment and came back with boxes filled with old childhood and family photographs which we slowly poured over together.


I found the relaxed and open ended format of my interview to be very rewarding. I believe that this helped make the interviews interesting for me and my interviewees. The open endedness of my questions gave each woman a great deal of choice about what to pursue and to what depth. Each interview provided an enormous amount of unexpected but relevant information which would not have been accumulated had interviews been more cut and dry. The breadth and depth of the interviews provided me with an extraordinarily rich and substantial collection of data which although certainly daunting in it’s bulk, aided enormously in my ultimate understandings and analyses.


It was extremely important to me while I worked on this paper to continue living my life in all its depths and variety. I tried to make the work as much a part of my daily life as my daily life was occupied with the work at hand. I decided not to retreat back to my office for an indefinite time of contemplation and consideration, as I had originally intended, but instead to keep on day after day actively talking with many different people about my thesis topic and rolling it over and over again in my mind and heart. I took to heart what I was writing about here. It wasn’t just my interviewee’s suffering from vicarious traumatization from living in a woman-hating earth-hating world, it was me too. It wasn’t just the wonderful dreams of my interviewees I rolled over in my heart and mind, but my own new and old nature dreams. It wasn’t just my interviewees who were trying to figure out the role and meaning the natural world played in their lives. It was me trying to figure out the role of the natural world in my own newly rural life. As my interviewees talked about past experiences of violence and violation I remembered my own. When they remembered the “Great Tree” (Gila), the huge silver maples with leaves that sparkled in the wind (Adrienne), running away from home into the woods to escape parents’ demands (Zelda), being terrified of an unfamiliar sound in the night (Ellen), having one’s childhood heart broken by the pollution and devastation they saw all around them but no one else seemed to understand (Lettie), or longing for a childhood donkey (Rose) – I too remembered my own experiences with these or similar events.


As I indicated earlier, the interviews covered a range of subjects from childhood dreams to parental and sibling relationships, From whether or not each women had been sexually or psychologically abused in her past to how she had learned to cope with this abuse. It purveyed current and past economic difficulties. It attempted to frame each women in her physicality in the material world. It asked questions about whether she suffered from physical infirmities and how she related to her current sexuality. It examined her experiences with gender and religion. Learning about all of this helped me place each woman’s relationship with nature and the natural world in context of the entirety of her life. Examining the specificity of the interviewees own personal lives in the context of familial history, sexual preference, religion, class, gender, and the larger culture was a crucial component in how I formulated my interview questions as well as how I conducted the interviews themselves.


In all but one of the seven interviews, I gave the interviewee a copy of the interview, a description of what I was trying to accomplish, and an essay which defined the meanings of some of the basic terms and ideas I was using before the interview. (See appendix). I did this because some of the concepts inherent to my interview have a great deal of cultural ambiguity and it was important to me that my interviewees and I were, more or less, speaking the same language. At the very least it seemed important to me that we had some basic consensual agreement on the meanings of words and terms used in the context of our interview. Even if an idea, concept, or word did not mean the same thing to us both – which happened frequently – women at least understood something of what I was asking and we could discuss the issue at hand. In more than one interview it became clear as the interview progressed that we were attributing different meanings to words being used. This was particularly the case with the concept of “spirituality” in my interview with Ellen (who was struggling to understand her own spirituality after the death of her mother), and the concept of “nature” for Gila (a socialist).

Because she reads English very slowly and did not want to take the time and effort to read all my pages; Gila was my only interviewee who did not read my interview or descriptive essay before the interview itself. Gila’s was my first interview which took place while I was still in the process of refining and expanding my interview questions. I had not yet added the very important questions about what women might fear in the natural world. Gila’s response to this inquiry would have been immeasurably interesting and shed a great deal of continuing light on my thesis question.

Cultural differences came into play most noticeably during my interview with Gila. Coming from extraordinarily different cultures, social histories, educational experiences, spoken languages, and psycho-social frameworks presented a distinct challenge to us both!


Three of the seven interviews were done in my physical absence. I gave or sent my interview packet to these women. Each took some weeks to respond to my questions. Two of these research participants responded in writing and one by audio tape. There was no back and forth or dialogue whatsoever in one of these interviews (Lettie). Zelda was one of my first interviews and Zelda and I were in frequent contact via email about my research topic. We had quite a few online and telephone discussions as I clarified my questions into their final form. The two women who sent me written answers to my interview questions simply did not go into anywhere near the depth of the in-person interviews.

The last interview, with Adrienne, took place one year after my initial interview with Gila. Adrienne makes her home a couple of hundred miles away from me and chose to audio record her responses. She had the tapes delivered to me along with a packet of poetry and fragments of articles on the topic of women and nature she had written over the years. In response to her in depth, articulate, and wonderful taped interview, I sent her a long letter addressing many of the topics she had raised. A month of so later we talked on the telephone for our final check-in and thank you’s.



The longest of my interview sessions, with Rose, lasted five and one half hours and took place over two days. This was an extraordinarily revealing session which transcribed into one hundred and eleven pages. Ellen’s interview also took place over two sessions. The first half at her kitchen table in the spring of 1997 and the second half at her same table, at the same time of day, almost ten months later.



Creating categories from the enormity of the interview data I had accumulated was not as difficult as I had expected. The fact that I never really learnt how to type and am a very slow typist served me well in my transcriptions. Very little went past me as I transcribed my interviews.

After all the sessions were transcribed, questions and responses that ended up being irrelevant or did not illuminate my thesis topic fell to the wayside. Numerous categories arose from my hundreds of pages of transcribed interviews and the connections I made while I lived with my interviews over many months. As some subjects faded in relevant, new unexpected, revealing and provocative categories emerged from the material. Analyzing the interviews was an extremely creative process but also an intensely analytical one. I had to look closely at what women had said but also past the specificities, underneath the obvious, to attempt connections between women’s personal experiences and larger social issues. Eventually a chart was created on a large piece of drawing paper in a chimera of rainbow colors which I pasted to my office door. [See appendix A.]


What is the relationship between women and nature? What do women’s dealings with nature and the natural world have to do with their psychological wellbeing, or lack therein? This was my original thesis inquiry and the axis upon which I hoped all else to revolve.

And with this inquiry in mind, I came to consider the following categories the most central. I have separated subjects based on the weight of interview results and to make my points intelligible to both myself and the reader. The demarcations between categories are somewhat arbitrary. In the largest sense possible, I understand all of the following elements to come together under an umbrella I call “A social-psychology of women and nature”. The word political might be in this title as well because – as I have thus far made clear in this paper – political realities are inseparable from the social and psychological relationship between women and nature.

Because it has been very important to me from the beginning of this project to let the voices of my interviewees speak for themselves, this is what I strive for in the next chapter where I present the women’s stories themselves. To one degree or another all of my themes in “A social psychology of women and nature” will be examined in the context of each interview. In the last chapter of this paper I will undertake the challenge of pulling together the legion of ideas I have introduced thus far to the reader.



A social psychology of women and nature,

an outline of salient points

A. Class

B. Race

C. Privilege

B. Gender

~ Sitting with nature

~ A longing to connect

~ The inability to connect

C. Childhood experiences with nature (shared and alone). Significant and formative developmental experiences

D. Influences of significant other(s). The ability to share with others and what did/does this mean?

E. Nature as refuge and solace: The healing benefits of a biophilic relationship with nature, animals and wildlife.

F. Nature, and animals, as teacher

I. Specifics in the psychology of women and nature

~ Emotional struggles and women’s psychologies: The

psychological and social lives of women

~ Dissociation from self and the natural world

~ Vicarious, direct, and insidious trauma

~ Denial, sorrow, anger, depression

~ Socialized to be relational: Seed of potential freedom from pain in solace and connection with nature and animals and

simultaneous source of dissociation, vicarious trauma, and


~ Political activism, ecoactivism, and education (learning and fighting back)

~ Hope

~ The human/nature split (human not nature)

~ Fear of nature

~ Fear of violence against women in nature, patriarchy &

J. Influences of feminism or the lack therein on relationship with nature

K. Influences on one’s relationship with nature

~ Environment

~ Class

~ Race

~ Capitalism and consumerism

~ Religion

~ Heterosexuality

~ History

~ Patriarchy

~ Politics

~ Culture

~ Political ideology

~ Education

~ Eco-education

~ Physical infirmity

L. Spiritual experiences with nature

M. Embodiment or lack therein and the physical material world

~ The erotic

~ Connection to the body

N. Nature as respite from “female perversions” or psychological pathologies; nature and animals as healing the wounds of misogyny

O. How do we heal?

P. Community

Q. Community and nature, the intersection of the two

















Chapter 4

Ellen’s Story


(Significant childhood experiences/ nature as refuge and solace/ nature and community/The psychology of women and nature; hope and socialized to be relational)

As a child Ellen had a strong relationship to nature. She was exposed to this via her parents – particularly her mother who herself had a abiding love of the natural world which. Ellen experienced the nature en mass with a slew of neighborhood kids. Nature also served the secondary benefit of providing Ellen an escape and refuge from her father. Early on in our interview Ellen said that the outdoors was “a kind of a safe place, a place where you could have imagination, really have fun, really be yourself, and you could explore, and it was away from my father’s control. I mean, he wasn’t there. He didn’t have a thing to say about it. And it was great. And it was a place where you go with your peers.”

(Influences of citification and one remaining patch of land)

As a very socially oriented child who regularly played with many of the other kids on her block, Ellen was exposed to the natural world in her childhood urban environment because the children in her neighborhood were blessed with a patch of undeveloped land down the block. These few acres, even though the urban landscape was devoid of large mammalian wildlife, provided enough diversity of habitat for Ellen and her friends to spend endless hours and days of enjoyment playing there, dreaming, imagining, and fantasizing they were off somewhere in the wilderness.

Talking about her experiences with Girl Scout camp, Ellen says:

E – It’s adventure…. That’s what the natural world meant to me. It was everything opposite from being in this restrictive oppressive family… Where you had to sit up straight and dress clean and get your feet down and go to bed…

S – This was your father, not your mother. Your mother wouldn’t have made you…

E- Father. No, but she’d follow his orders too. So it was… You could get dirty. You wore your shorts. You’d learn to be capable. You learn to survive out there!!! It was adventurous. I mean we were just little kids. And we’d cook with a stick over the fire and you get to carry a girl scout flashlight and a knife and you have to learn how to pee in the outhouse [laughter] you know, stuff like that.

Later in the interview she clarified her feelings about the outdoors as an escape from her father:

E – I don’t feel like I turned to nature because I was turning away from something else, being driven away. Except that it turned out to be a really really nice respite from my father. So it was a very good haven to get away from these family dynamics… I think once I had that; the field… or camp, and felt good there, I would try to choose it as often as I could but I don’t know if I would say I’ve gotta find something as an antidote to my father… I mean it turned out it was, but…

(Significant childhood experiences/ Influences of significant others/Class/Community)

Like Lettie who could hear the earth crying when she was a child, Ellen grew up in an urban environment, at the edge of a the city. If you looked one way from the front stoop of Ellen’s family’s row house down the street “you’d be looking into the city”. Behind the house were concrete ally’s where the trash was kept. In the other direction was “the field”, the acres of still yet undeveloped land which was so important to Ellen, her sisters, and all the neighborhood kids when they were children. When the wind blew in the right direction one could smell the chocolate from the Hershey’s Chocolate factory many miles away if you were sitting out on the front stoop; something Ellen’s family did often together after dinner and after dark.

Reminiscing Ellen says:

E – There was a break in the… Like right across the street there was a row of houses and there was a break across from our stoop. So you could kind a see through. We were on a hill so you see some other buildings and some hills and some lights in the distance so it was like this little slice of something down there and you could see sky. I mean I just remember we were aware about sky and clouds and wind and things like that from really early. And my mom, she wasn’t afraid of bugs and she would talk to us about bugs and… We had big giant Praying Mantises and we had lightening bugs. She would do whatever they did as kids I guess. She would talk to us about bugs and stuff. We’d play, I see something where you kind of look in the distance, I’d say “I see something salmon colored” you know and then we had to guess what it was. A lot of the things were about whatever was in the sky [laughter]. I don’t know, we were always kind of looking up there. Thunder storms would come in, the Hershey Chocolate factory was miles away but on a certain day when the wind changed you could smell the chocolate coming up our street. Something about wind and air and sky and clouds and whatever. And when I was in junior high… in girl scouts and in a science project, I was studying the weather. I had a weather station. I built weather instruments and I measured the wind speed and watched clouds, I learned about clouds and stuff like that. But it was just sort of natural. I just sort of loved that stuff. I don’t know why. Loved the weather. My father was really nervous about the weather too. So it was a topic always discussed [laughing]. But my mom kind of liked it; she had stories or lore and so I just… Stars, clouds….

(Childhood experiences/ Influences – mother and nuclear family)

Ellen’s mother came up quite frequently in our interview. Ellen’s mother had a great love of nature and the natural world and she exposed her children to the outside world during Ellen’s formative developmental years. Even though they lived in an urban environment; from the time she was around three years old Ellen’s mother swaddled her children in appropriate clothing and brought them outside. With a passion for rose bushes and a green thumb Ellen’s mother had created in that tiny urban space a beautiful garden with numerous types of bushes and flowers. Ellen’s mother taught her about the stars, constellations and the night sky. Ellen says that early in her life she developed a love and fascination with the wind and the weather; the insects and the birds. Ellen’s mother became a girl scout leader and brought her three girls with her to camp.

Describing her childhood at home, Ellen said –

E – It was a very urban environment. Brick row houses for miles and miles. But we did have a little back yard! A little postage stamp. It was about as big as a bedroom. Maybe smaller… But my mom… I know we were out there since we were absolutely the youngest of age. I was probably three when we moved there and then she put all the babies out for sun baths, you know, outside in their bassinets… We spent most of our summers in that little postage stamp thing. My mom started planting shrubs all around it. And she had a little strip garden where she grew tomatoes and money plant, she had a rose bush that climbed up all over, and we had grass! Not all of it was sunny so she didn’t have…. And she had some flowers, so…. And that where we hung the clothes out to dry – we didn’t have a dryer – and that was where we played in every season and we also put the blanket out there and lay outside. My mom would come with us. We would have picnics out there. We would play games. It was really neat! And you could kind of lay there and look out through the bushes and you know, it was…. So, we had that. That fronted on an ally so it was hard. Everything was concrete, asphalt, the garbage cans, the houses, the streets, and whatever. But there were these little backyards everybody had; there were fences or whatever.

(Class and significant childhood experiences)

Ellen’s family did not own a vehicle and it was not until her teenage years that her family got a car and could drive out to the countryside.

Nevertheless, she says

E -… my mom would take us on picnics, to parks, to established parks. We had two places that we could walk to within less than an hours time. We didn’t have a car in our family. In fact some of the other kids were jealous cause their mom’s didn’t take them on picnics so they’d come with us once in a while. She’d pack up a picnic basket with food. Eventually she got a baseball bat or something – some kind of activity thing – we would just kind of walk down, hike up into this big grassy hill and…. just be up there like looking at the view…. Walking around…. We’d swing on the swings and that stuff too…. But it was much more…. We always were playing camping out. We always would play that camping out thing. The being the Indians. You know, we’d collect wood, build a little fire, I mean they were only this big, laying it up or organizing rocks into this little village….

Due to the strong influence of her mother and her love of the natural world, “the field”, her postage stamp size backyard filled with beautiful plants, Girl Scout day camp and regular sojourns to city parks with her sisters and mother; Ellen’s urban childhood life was as immersed in nature and the natural world as Gila who grew up on the kibbutz surrounded by fruit trees and farm animals or Zelda who just had to step outside her back door to run into the woods and valley’s to escape from piano lessons. About the field Ellen say’s the following:

E – Oh it was many acres, many many acres worth. Later they built three or four rows of apartment buildings, a catholic school, two department stores, shopping, grocery stores and that kind of thing, on it. And still had some to spare.

S – You played there!

(And Community added to soup)

E – Yeah. So did all the kids in the neighborhood…. It was right at the bottom of the street…It was not a forest but there were some trees, mostly Sumac and some scrubby trees and they had started excavating one part of it, so there was the big, we called it “the cliff”, you know it was, it was kind of a cliff of shale they had dug away. Well this became almost like a western landscape, Monument Valley in our minds. We would go down there and play, you know, dig for fossils and play the archeologists, play like we were Indian tribes and cook out on these…. I mean it was all pretend. We didn’t really build fires. But we did, we’d set up whole camps and kids built forts down there with trees and hid out and there were… And there were animals! And there were pheasants there and rabbits and mice… and there was quite a bit of variety in the environment. You know it was this rocky cliff thing and there was high and low and there was this ravine and there was a lot of grasses scrubby briar bushes and there was trees and ferny things. It was a junk lot, more or less. Acreage and it was definitely in an urban all around but it was a pocket of…. So we were always going to “the field”.

S – The pheasants and the rabbits lived there?

E – Oh yeah! Until this day I’ve wondered – how in the world did they do this – it keep getting encroached on bit by bit. But yeah, they lived there for sure. So those where my two… And they were always a place where my father was not. they were always a place of imagination. And safety. And just incredible…. um, fun and interested in that…

(Class/ Community/ Influences of work)

In her adult life Ellen settled in a geographic area which would provide access to professional jobs and be amiable to her country loving partner. This meant living in an area where Ellen could find work and her partner could live rurally. Ellen ended up in a small city in the northeast with a 30 minute drive to her partner in the countryside. Economics and work factors determined the specific place Ellen currently lives. When Ellen and her partner first moved east Ellen lived in the countryside. However, due to the continual capriciousness of landlords (houses she rented kept being sold), she ended up in town where rentals are less changeable.

(Community/ The psychology of women – disconnection)

Ellen is a social woman who is relatively present in her body, her friendships and relationships with others, and her life. She would rather work with others than alone.

On the subject of connection and disconnection in her life she says –

E – I think I’m really connected and I feel like…. I watch the weather, the daylight, the sounds, the barometer effects me and that goes up and down, the molds, the pollens, I don’t know, those kind of more inanimate things… I don’t remember a time when I was disconnected. I think that I did not like my family at certain times but I was definitely either vigilant or angry or something – I mean there was always some kind of connection – to family, friends, people , people at work. I don’t like to work alone. I like to have alone time but I don’t like to work alone. I would much rather work in a group situation.

(Spiritual experiences with nature/ Religion)

Now in her mid forties, after her mother’s recent death, Ellen is turning her attention to questions of spirituality. Speaking on the subject of her spirituality and it’s relationship to her past and nature, we had the following exchange.

S – When you were a child did you have any specific experiences with nature on a psychic….

E – No. I can’t think of anything….

S – Did you have spiritual experiences in church?

E – No.

S – when you prayed?

E – Oh God no. No no no…

S – Do you have them in your life now?

E – No…[laughter] Well, I don’t think so. And I remember… I had a hard time with this whole praying thing anyway cause I didn’t know what it was suppose to do and I never felt spiritual and I never… I even got saved and born again…. I did everything. I went through all the steps…. But I didn’t feel it! And I never understood like what is the ecstasy here? I don’t get it. And I never really believed I was talking to anybody…

S – Do you feel connected to a spiritual world when you sing? When you play music? I mean is there a way in your life that you feel that connection to something bigger than yourself?

(Community/ Embodiment and the material world)

E- Well if the something bigger than yourself is community, yes. Frequently. And if it is to biology or physical processes, yeah… But I don’t know if I could say it was to something spiritual.

S – Talk more about what you mean by biology?

E – Well like, I know that I am a biological thing, you know, that I’m an animal. I feel like I have something in common with other animals. I know that there’s some kind of life process; that I’m a living thing like other living things, I feel like that.

(Influences – religion)

Ellen grew up in a social milieu that was “a mix of basic protestant with heavy Catholic influences…. and a really good dose of Fundamentalism”. From around age six or seven until she was in her early teens, Ellen, along with “a whole pack of kids” in her neighborhood were involved in a Christian group called “The Good News Club”, lead by a dynamic “missionary type person”, a local woman who engaged the children in religious learning and play and to which Ellen and her friends voluntarily attended. When I asked her what her parents felt about this Ellen said, “ they thought it was good and the woman doing it was a very sweet person too. Very trustworthy. I think all the parents on the block thought this was good training that maybe they couldn’t provide but the

kids should get it anyway. It seemed right with the culture in general”.

Although involvement in this was fun and interesting to Ellen as a child and reflected her link in her local community, she didn’t receive “spiritual” solace from her involvement with organized religion.


Questions of spirituality are important to Ellen and by the second half of our interview, almost one year later, Ellen told me that this has become a far more conscious pursuit for her albeit still somewhat “on the back burner”. In the past year since her mother died Ellen has begun to spend more time reading and talking with other women about spirituality. When I asked her what part the natural world plays in her sense of the spiritual, we had the following exchange:

E -I think I’ll know when I find something because it will provide deep comfort and nothing that I have read or heard or experienced or was taught about has done that yet. It doesn’t mean it’s not there…

S – Do you feel that in connection to nature? The potential for that?

E – Comfort? Yeah I think there’s potential there. I don’t know where else it would come from. Yes I do.

(Influences of organized religion/ Consumerism and capitalism)

S – Well there’s organized religion and there’s the church and there’s meditation and Buddhism….

E – No. It will never come from an organized religion. Not any of the top three or five organized religions.

Later when I ask her if there is anything which has distracted her from nature and the natural world she talks about work and organized religion –

E -I think organized religion does. It totally distracts us and I think patriarchy does. Just have this dichotomy. This capitalistic way of being. You’re suppose to go somewhere; you’re suppose to work; you’re suppose to disconnect and then you go home and… I don’t know what you’re suppose to do at home!

S – Watch television.

E – Watch TV!! There you go… Buy more products, exactly. It always astounded me how somebody could think buying a snow mobile or what are those, jet ski, could be a good thing?! Cause of the noise…

S- Do you think that Christian religions purposefully do this separation from nature?

E – Yes!!

S – I mean why would an organized religion be so disconnected from the earthly world around it?

E – Because they want to control it, and to control you have to do something against nature, I think, I don’t know. Why would they do that? I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it very much. It’s a good question… The biggest split is that everything about Christianity is about the next life, or after death, or the future as well as the moral piece. What is the point of being this human in the body people?! I saw a bumper sticker just the other day that said “I’m a spiritual being having a human experience”, or something like that and I thought it was kind of interesting. I don’t think Christianity has any acknowledgement …. they do I guess especially cause they try to regulate it. Especially around sexuality and procreation.

(Spiritual experiences with nature)

As it did in her youth, nature provides solace, refuge, imagination, adventure, excitement, connection, meaning and a definite degree of responsibility for Ellen in her adult life.

E- I guess I feel I’m just a part of an intersection in some complex web that is the universe and…. There’s this really neat image. It’s a sculpture from the North West Coast Native American tribes; it’s a canoe…. It’s their world view kind of sculpture, whatever… It’s a canoe with humans, plants, birds, otters, it’s got everything in there, the whole eco system, food, and whatever, baskets, and their culture and the whole bit. And the point is we’re all in this together. We’re all in the same boat together! That really resonates with me. I think that’s how I feel. I feel like I have a lot of power over nature in certain ways. Like I could clear cut trees or whatever, I have a lot of power over it. But in the long term, with those particular species I might have immediate power over, in the long term I think they have [laughter] more power over us as humans. And then there’s other phenomenon where nature’s just absolutely more powerful than I would ever be. You know like earthquakes or lightening or whatever. So it almost some mutual respect although I don’t think the rest of the species are conscious about it. But… it’s there. I don’t know, metaphorically I guess at least. I think we are, sort of, not responsible. I feel responsibility or… we take care of each other I guess. The plants. Whatever it is. you know. Spiritual and physical. Or we need, we’re so symbiotically connected with everything, whatever.

S – Do you walk around in your daily life feeling this connection? Are you very aware of it? I mean do you take it to work with you and take it to bed with you at night. Is it a constant.

E- It’s a constant but I’m not aware of it very often. I just am not in a fluorescently lit computerized office doing drafting. I mean I don’t think about that too much. Off and on. Or as soon as I walk outside the door. Or if i am…. sick. Or if I feel pain. I mean it comes up but it’s just not an ever present thing… I know it’s there. It’s a belief. It’s some core belief or something like that. But it’s just not always at the top of the conscious list.

(Nature and animals as teachers/ Nature as healing and solace/ The ability to share with others/ Spiritual experiences)

Later in the interview, Ellen tells me about a wonderful dream she’d had recently which shed a great deal of light on her relationship to community, her wonder and awe of the natural world and the connections between the two .

E – It was a family reunion… and we were outside at a park and the park was like on sort of an Island and anyway there was this river that ran around three sides, sort of like the Oxbow here where I live; and anyway they were all there in a pavilion and I remember the relatives all being there in this pavilion and me and my sister and a couple of cousins were standing by the river and there was this very scary sound – like a thrumming, a really deep thrum, some kind of terrible noise resonating. And we looked out and the water had all of these choppy waves, choppy waves. And we’re saying “there’s where it is, there’s where it is…. It’s under the surface, it’s right there it’s right there it’s under the surface!!!!” . And it was some kind of a creature living in that water that river that was really stirring up the waves….It was the sound and the waves. The next thing I know my sister and I are flying [laugh] over the whole scene. We’re like this [shows me] and we’re looking down on the whole scene. We’re just floating and we’re looking at the park and all the cousins and how the river goes, like a map, we’re that high, and it was in the daylight and then suddenly it was night and there were these helicopters flying around and they shone this beam of light down into the water and was some kind of special light because it illuminated creatures in the water and we got to see them!!! And what they were… They were these extinct creatures under the water that were half dolphin with the head of an elephant. And my sister – I have two sisters, only the second one was with me at the time, cause we grew up together – just had my wrist, you know in fear and she just sucked in her breathe and went [shows me….] you know this kind of things and said “there us”, “that’s us”, and I said “well even if they are us….” somehow we had some kind of direct connection that we were also extinct. Or if they were us and we were extinct or if they were our family and we were descendants – they were our ancestors somehow – elephant/dolphin were our ancestors – we were looking at them at this family reunion and Peggy was scared because if they were our ancestors or we were them then that means that we’re extinct too. Somehow that was the connection. She was afraid that we were going to die or we are dead or we are extinct. And I said “well not necessarily because here we are… We’re flying over here and we’re breathing and talking. It’s okay.” They were incredibly wonderful creatures and it was so exciting to see them because we saw these rare extinct things and there were still some alive down there! And there were like two adults and one or two or three, a few babies, you know younger ones. There was this school. A family of them.

(Influences of feminism and ecofeminism/ Education/ Gender and bugs/ Nature and community)

Nature is as natural to Ellen as community and she seems to achieve a balance of both in her life. Her life is comprised of involvement with her work, her partner and her friendships. She has a wide breadth of knowledge of political and social environmental factors and was strongly influenced by the eco-awareness in the lesbian-feminist communities in the 1980’s in the states.

Talking about lesbian-feminism, Ellen says:

E – I don’t kill things, bugs, for instance, as thoughtlessly as I would have as a kid. I think I appreciated things as a kid but I think somehow it’s become more important: natural beings and plants and things seem more important to the whole picture and to me personally now. Not just something in the background, something that’s nice or neutral or whatever. It feels a bit more of a moral question and also an ecosystem philosophy. And I think a lot about being a feminist to me is understanding the disproportionate power relationships in general and I guess I want to change the power relationships of humans and the earth since then. I think my eco sense and my feminism came at the same time; you know real similar times. I was much more of a… you know… against pollution or eco activist or eco concerned before I think I was… I don’t know…It was simultaneous with feminism I think but maybe it preceded it. Because it was harder to be a feminist and stay in my family or my home town or whatever – it was a lot scarier. So I think the eco outrage or whatever came first. But they were so close on the heels of each other that it’s hard to separate it. What was the point… feminism…. Yeah and I think it’s probably a goal or something to try to change that current system in the power set up so so much of the earth is not destroyed. That’s a job. A responsibility or something, to take care of that, be a steward, or whatever it is, how you frame it. Of the beings or the plants or whatever that we can so easily destroy.

S – So that came before feminism for you….

E – I guess I had an understanding of ecological disasters, potential for disasters, pollution, things like that, but still felt powerless about it. I mean I could see that it was happening, be angry about it, complain about it but I guess about the feminist part, you can work to change the system and you can understand… You can maybe flip over the power that creates the problems. It’s not just something that has it’s own course and goes…Makes tons of sense, right?

S – It will. So, does that give you hope in your life?

(The psychology of women/ Hope, from feminism)

E – Yeah, I think so, sometimes. It gives me hope that there are answers and there are better ways of being. It doesn’t give me a hell of a lot hope about the people that are flying down the wrong path. That’s very disturbing. When Susan’s Griffin’s Women and Nature came out…. Are you kidding, that like effected me for years. And I still want to give it out to people. I think it’s still true, very true. It just blew me away.

(The psychology of women and nature: Dissociation, vicarious trauma, denial, sorrow, anger, political activism)

Ellen deals with her awareness of difficult stuff happening to the planet mostly by disconnection from the emotional realities of particular horrors. On this topic she says:

E – … I don’t want to know about it cause it gets to be too much. I guess I am immobilized somewhat. I… took various courses since I left high school, that related to environmental things and… I’d always get to a point where it was just so outrageous that I can’t hear any more about this. I can’t believe we do this to our rivers. Where in the hell did that ever come from? You know? Use it as a sewer… How does that make sense? And we still do. I don’t understand most of the choices…

S – Do you have nightmares about stuff? Do you cry? Do you call your lover and bemoan that you can’t bare what’s happening…?

E – No. I don’t talk about it very much. It’s just a deep sadness or a sickening or a call to action or a disgusting and angry I guess…. Aaaa…. I don’t think I’ve ever cried about stuff. It’s more….I’ve gotten more angry I guess.

S – So it hasn’t immobilized political actions in your life?

E – Somewhat… I rant and rave, about it. And don’t know what to do, about it. Seems kind of overwhelming.

(Childhood/ Community and nature: The intersection/ How do we heal?)

Talking about the richness of her urban childhood social environment and comparing it to where her parents moved soon after she graduated from high school – a suburbian environ where her younger sister grew up – Ellen says:

E -Yeah. So she grew up in a suburban…

S – So the move to suburbia was not a good one?

… You said you’d never bring a kid up in suburbia. Do you think that that it’s a lot more alienating?

E – Yeah. Just because of what I’m describing: [in the city] there were always kids right there, there were a lot of different kind of kids, you know, if you didn’t get along with one there was somebody else.

S – So, in a suburban environment you’d have a lot of…

E – Land.

S – But you’d have less community.

E – Yeah. Yeah. I think to kids…. I mean that [the field] was a big piece of ground to me. I didn’t need any more than that!

(Childhood experiences/ Nature as solace/ Embodiment, the physical world/ Community and nature)

Ellen’s involvement with the natural world has always been experiential, empirical, practical, concrete, imaginative and creative. At the beginning of our interview, I asked Ellen “what does being in nature invoke for you”. Indicating a lifelong relationship to nature and the world of humans, family, friendship and community , Ellen said the following:

E- Peace, pleasure, relaxation of something, and a kind of a check-in, everything in the universe is running all right or something. I don’t know how to describe it except… I remember when I was a kid, when we were kids, out playing for hours and hours in the summer or something all day…We would run in every once in a while and “mom….”, “yeah?”…. “ok, just checking see if you were here?”… And we’d go back out. And so it feels like that happens in me. You know I just sort of, there’s some like, just checking in. Or, it gives me the message: The earth is still revolving. The plants are growing. The physical laws are still happening. We are chugging along here. It’s ok, you can count on that or something…. So a part of a calming down thing or a peacefulness or something like that. Sometimes it can be very invigorating too. But it usually is mostly a calming down.

(Nature as teacher)

E… I remember in that back old postage stamp size backyard that everything we did was kind of like this close-up kind of thing, you know. We would watch bugs in the grass….In both of these places, the backyard and the field, what did we do?… I don’t know. I remember a lot of pretending… I don’t remember animals….. You said animals here. I hardly have any relationship to animals, it seems like it’s much more to plants… We didn’t have pets in our house and it was more about bird and insects. That was what was in my environment. I had a much more information, knowledge and relationship with [them]… Ants, I remember ants. I remember watching them and having them… Cause there would always be colonies coming out of the concrete steps or over by the trash cans. And we would just observe them a lot. And maybe have them walk up a stick. What would happen if you brushed them aside. And watched them carrying this piece of food around and in the backyard…

S – That is so interesting Ellen because I just read this interesting book on children’s relationship with the natural world and the authors talk all about how when you’re a kid – and they talk about their children – how adults like huge vista’s and ocean scenes – but kids, they get down there and… [Ellen is totally cracking up laughing as I am telling her this story!]

E – One square foot!!… We could spend hours doing that.

S – It’s so important.

E – We could just spend hours doing that! And we had various bushes that would bear berries, have little red berries, you couldn’t eat um or whatever, I remember those!! We would collect them and we would pretend this was our food. We spent a lot of time pretending we were like tribes. Of Indians or something. That we lived in that more subsistence hunting gathering kind of way. I don’t remember any hunting parts but [laugher]…

S – If you hadn’t had the field or the camp… Do you think that some part of your spiritual being might have searched out some land sort of area to put yourself into?

E – Probably. I don’t know. I think I would have kept looking for something. Even if…… I remember as a kid it was all concrete except for this little section of bushes but we looked at ants and watched the ants or watched buds or something. It was very sort of shrunken into this sort of mini macrocosm little thing. So I probably always would have had something like that. I can’t imagine not finding something somehow. There were birds that came by. You keep eliminating everything, I don’t know… And there was always the weather itself, which I’m really connected to. So even if I had limited supply of animals and plants, you still had clouds, wind, stars, temperature, the planets, and snow, sun, rain, sleet… You know, which we loved and used and played with and looked out for and remembered and everything else was a lot about weather, the atmosphere. I told you that I did a science project with a weather station?

(Influences – environment, culture/ The psychology of women – nature and fear)

The last, but not least, significant theme in Ellen’s interview was her fear of the natural world. Ellen started our discussion on this topic with the following thoughts.

E – What’s safe to me? – a kid growing up in the city – is, a place that has street lights, that has houses all around, people out on the streets, and lights right behind doors with phones and people for help. And, that I can see… from one end of the street to the other…. And, that there are vehicles available and there’s places to run. There are of course little bushes and trees where people can hide or around buildings or something; but, they make me nervous too. But for the most part a typical street. In the mountains or forest or farm there are no lights… You go outside. It is scary… I can’t see whose out there. If I’m camping out there; I will not just sleep out in a canvas tent anymore. I have to be locked up in something sturdy [laughter]. A van. A vehicle.

She goes on,

(Fear of violence against women)

E – But the main thing about the woods is mostly… I can’t see. I feel much more vulnerable to men out there, hiding behind the darkness [behind] the trees, with guns. I don’t know why… Cause they’re hunters, I suppose. If you’re out there. Or whatever. And they can see me and I can’t see them. And there’s a lot of noises out in the woods at night, that I’m not familiar with… and it spooks me. I have to be aware and guarding myself or whatever. And there’s nothing to lock. there’s nothing to wrap around you [laughter]. I don’t feel safe there. It’s mostly cause I think it will cloak dangerous humans.

If not for her fear of violence in the woods, Ellen says –

E – I’d certainly be camping out a lot more! I would have done it a lot during my life, yeah. I think that does keep me out of the woods for sure. It keeps me out of going anywhere alone. There’s a really nice walking trail by my old office by a reservoir and I’ve wanted to go there at lunch many times but it’s just too isolated. I couldn’t do it. So I had to breath the car fumes instead when I was walking around [during lunch]. Yeah, I think that is the main thing that does keep me away from being out in a wild place. I am a little worried about bears and bees and snakes and things but I think I could take care of that by where I slept… Deer running over the tent – it does scare me a little bit. But I think that’s been the main thing; sort of the fear of being out there with men and getting in trouble. And the Appalachian Trail where I hiked and I back packed, the sections of it that I did as a teenager, with my friends and girl scout leaders and stuff, with my sister, that section is where those two dykes were murdered. (12) I can’t go anywhere near there now. And I won’t go to our own [section] of the Appalachian Trail up here either. It’s too spooky. Maybe some day I should do that. I should just take that back.


                                           Lettie’s Story

(Childhood experiences with nature/ The inability to share with significant others/ The psychology of women and nature (sorrow, anger, depression, Vicarious Traumatization)

Lettie grew up “in a very dense, suburban area… I had almost no experience of nature besides the small flower garden that my grandparents tended. There was a park nearby, but it only made me sadder because it was so completely surrounded by asphalt and houses”. As a child Lettie had exceptional social and political insight and this astute seeing caused Lettie great suffering. About her youth and growing up years Lettie says

L – I wanted nature to be everywhere. I wanted there to be forests and wild animals and silence. I would day-dream about forests and rivers and green, wild places but reality was so far from that. I hated cars, I hated cement, I hated the ugly houses that had destroyed the wild. I don’t know where all this awareness came from. I don’t know how I was able to think it could be different. I couldn’t bear it that the Europeans had come and killed everything and chopped down all the trees. I was terrified all the time about the collapse of the biosphere – though of course I wouldn’t have used those words at six years old. Pollution, I would have said. I was always aware of how technology was trashing the earth. We would drive over Walt Whitman bridge in Philadelphia, which is very much like the section of the New Jersey Turnpike as you’re headed into New York City. It’s oil refineries and huge concrete and steel horrors and it’s all belching fumes and it’s like Dante’s inferno. And I would be overwhelmed, just over-whelmed at what people were doing, at how much we were destroying and what for? So we could live in ugly houses and drive smelly, dangerous cars and eat frozen food and never see animals? I would lie awake night after night and I would hear the earth crying. And I couldn’t figure out why everybody didn’t hear it. How could everybody just go on like everything was fine when the earth was crying? When we were destroying everything…

Lettie did not have other people in her childhood life with whom she could talk about her many complex thoughts and feelings. Reflecting on her short lived camaraderie with her brother, Lettie says:

L- I remember sitting with my brother in a tree at the park, and we were talking about how we wished we had a whole mountain to ourselves, where no people could come, just the squirrels and birds and no one could hurt them. Squirrels were the only wild animals we knew. I remember I once saw a bunny in the backyard. It was the most thrilling experience you could imagine. A real live rabbit! Like I lived in the country! I think he had similar experiences, but he closed off to them very early. He had to get tough fast to survive as a boy.

(Childhood experiences with nature, Influence of mother and nuclear family/ Education)

There was nothing in Lettie’s school curriculum about nature and the natural world. When I asked her who taught her about nature in her childhood Lettie reflected on her mother. However, I was left with the distinct impression that neither social milieu nor family were particularly influential in Lettie’s deep and abiding love and connection to nature and the natural world. Lettie said the following about her harried single mom attempting to raise four children on and go to graduate school in the 1970’s

L – …mother would take us to some of the big parks in our area. she liked the outdoors. I think it calmed her and gave her some solace. So we would go to Valley Forge, and also to Brandywine park. She liked to collect leaves and branches. She would call them “specimens”. She’d arrange them in vases with dried flowers… I remember [my mother] pointing things out that were about nature. She didn’t know very much, it wasn’t like she knew the names of plants or trees, but just that she thought they were pretty and should be appreciated.

(Class/ Privilege)

One central theme which became ever clearer to me over the months I worked on this paper was that Money buys access in our world not only to food, housing, medical care and consumer goods but also to the natural world.   Class, gender, race and culture determine whether we are enslaved to the earth or whether it is a source of solace and healing and beauty. For the research participants in this study, living in a western first world country, this might translate into terms as simple as whether or not they have monies to purchase bird seed, or, a vehicle in which to get away from it all for a few days.

(Class/ Privilege/ Childhood experiences/ The psychology of women and nature/ Influences on women and nature/ Spiritual experiences/ How do women heal?/ Community and nature)

Lettie adores nature and the natural world. Her psychological well being rests on the opportunity for her to be more than an observer of the natural world. Lettie longs to live her live in a more primal and intimate conjunction with the rhythms of the earth and stars, the days, seasons, growing and harvesting – but class background and current economic struggles are the unequivocal deciding factors which have placed Lettie where she is now.

Economic issues came up for Ellen who use to live in the country but was repetitively uprooted by the houses she rented going up for sale. Likewise, being severely constricted by lack of money was a considerable component in Lettie’s story.

Some of Lettie’s first words to me about her relationship to nature were,

L… I am overwhelmed by how much I want and can’t have. I’m very poor and I’m stuck living in this cruddy apartment in the suburbs [when] what I want is total immersion in the biosphere, not the technosphere… I am not happy where I live. I live on the busiest street in town, with constant traffic and noise, and ugly cement and billboards and a used car lot across the street. I want to live on a thousand acres of land…I live in poverty because of my disability and class origin. If I had money to buy some land, I would be blissfully living among the trees and the animals and the rain and the stars. I would derive tremendous benefits from being able to live in a more natural way, more in tune with the cycles of life. If I could live on the land in the country, grow my own food, have light when the sun shone and dark when the sun set, make what I need from the land, I would probably be a different person. It’s the only thing I want.

(Influences of capitalist-patriarchy/ Nature as refuge, solace, teacher/ Influences of class, capital consumerism/ Respite from female perversions/ How do women heal?)

When I ask Lettie what nature means for her, she said,

L – Being in nature invokes wonder and stillness and the deep, quiet heart of the universe. Being in nature is coming home to where we really belong. Just a tiny part of the vast cycles of birth, death and rebirth. My relationship to nature and the natural world consists of trying to remain connected to it in the face of a technological society based on complete disconnection. I garden and I pray. Those are the two things that I do that have any relevance to the natural world. Everything else is bullshit. I feel such reverence for the web of life, and such incredible sadness about how separated I am from it, and then I’m overwhelmed by how much I want and how much I can’t have. I’m very poor, and I’m stuck living in this cruddy apartment in the suburbs. What I want is total immersion in the biosphere, not the technosphere.

(The psychology of women and nature, hope)

Lettie sees environmental horrors and has suffered the psychological consequences of this knowing yet somehow she has mustered the enormous courage – many times entirely in isolation without the support of family or community – not to totally turn away. Without economic resources to significantly change the material circumstances of her personal life, no less larger global problems, she has never stopped having hope that things can change for the better. About the rich spiritual and political life that has facilitated Lettie’s perspective, she says

(The psychology of women and nature, seeds of potential freedom from female perversions, hope/ Spiritual experiences with nature/ How do women heal?)

L – …We can take solace from the fact, as a friend of mine who is part Cherokee says, “Mother Earth bats last.” The cycle of life – whether or not you anthropomorphize this or see it as sentient – will take care of everything. Our planet is now running a fever, and we’re just an infection that’s about to be cleared up. Sure, it may take time, maybe thousands of years, but the planet will reassert balance. There may not be redwoods left or bluebirds, but there will be other life forms that arise to fill those niches in the bio-system, and this devastation will just be a bad dream. Just a bad dream. That’s a very Native American perspective, and you can’t really argue with it. If you take the long perspective, the Earth wins. Take that, white boys!

It has not been an easy sojourn for Lettie to get to a place of some acceptance and understanding in her life. She has arrived here, now in her thirties, after enormous pain and struggle. Her continued love of nature and the natural world, her meditation practice, feminism, being a witch, and a small community of like minded women with which to share her thoughts have been her sustenance.

(Influence of significant others, the inability to share/Gender and nature, a longing to connect/ The psychology of women and nature – denial, sorrow, anger, depression)

However, the childhood psychological consequences on Lettie’s psyche of being unable to share her thoughts, feelings, and experiences about nature took a significance toll. Her isolation was compounded by the abuses she suffered growing up female in a misogynist world.

When I asked Lettie whether or not she though her being female had anything to do with her relationship to nature and the natural world she said “…I think more women have empathy for the plight of animals and other creatures because in general women have more compassion and connection.”

   When asked whether or not Lettie thought her childhood isolation created any problems for her emotionally, socially, or spiritually she reflected on this.

L – Nobody [in my childhood] mentioned how our way of life was completely at odds with the natural world. I think this awareness caused me an incredible amount of pain. First the burden of knowing what was going on, that the earth was being destroyed. But second, the isolation that the knowledge caused. Nobody else seemed to know or care.

She goes on to recount the following,

L- I remember one time when [in my early teens] we were down at the shore, and there were these family friends with us. The mother’s name was Amy and the daughter’s name was Florence. Florence and Amy were walking ahead of me on the sidewalk, as we were walking back from the beach. And I was almost in tears about “pollution”, as I named the problem back then.When we went to the beach I would always walk up and down the shoreline and pick up trash. But it seemed to just go on and on. It was so vast, the length of the shoreline, which of course meant the amount of pollution. And there were so many people. And I knew each one of them was making huge amounts of waste and they were all driving cars and polluting the air, and it was so overwhelming, and the earth was crying. So there’s Florence and Amy walking ahead of me and they were laughing and talking. Actually they were talking about Nixon, I remember. And I didn’t know how they could continue. Why didn’t they know what I knew? Why didn’t they see what I saw? Why didn’t it bother them? Why was I the only one hurt by it?

   At some point in her later childhood, Lettie made a conscious decision to distance herself, stepping back from her awareness and knowledge in order to continue to survive sanely. She says,

L -So I decided to try to be like them. To pretend everything was fine. To not listen to the earth crying. I remember very consciously turning my attention away from those thoughts and feelings… every time they arose. It helped. It was possible to not be overwhelmed. Bit by bit I learned to live with all of it on a less acute level. I don’t know how I would have survived otherwise.

(The psychology of women and nature, vicarious Traumatization and PTSD)

Even though Lettie made a conscious decision to step back from the immediacy and intensity of her childhood environmental awarenesses, she remained cognizant of the compromising effect this had on her heart and psyche. Lettie says,

L – I can’t stress strongly enough that I think all of us – men and women – are living in a state of trauma because of what we are doing to our planet. On some level we all feel it, and that means that most of us are surviving by constantly numbing ourselves to this reality. As eco- catastrophe looms, it is only going to get worse. But we need to be connected to the web of life, to our place in the circle – and most people don’t even realize what they’re missing, what’s been taken away from us… Of course if you are awake to it, that means that you have to live with the knowledge of the destruction that’s happening all around us, with pretty much every action we take – “we” being citizens of an industrialized nation… I think that the separation from and destruction of the natural world has caused all of us tremendous damage. I think we’re all walking around in a state of post-traumatic stress and severe denial because the destruction is still happening, in fact it’s only increasing. I think that the socialization process necessitated by industrial society is basically a series of traumas designed to numb us and break us. My disconnection from the natural world, and the amount that I have to participate in the destruction of the natural world, are both tremendous sources of pain and despair for me.

(Embodiment or lack therein, connection to the physical world)

An extraordinarily intelligent, articulate woman, an educator and a writer, it is clear that Lettie feels a strong affinity to the political world and the world of ideas. When I ask her about her connection to her body, Lettie said,

L – I feel connected to the physical world. How? I’m not sure what you mean by that. To my mind you’re either connected or not. What are the options? I feel connected to my body. This is so because I live here. My meditation practice is very body-centered. The whole technique is a process of feeling sensations on the body, so that has definitely made a difference in the amount of dissociation I have experienced.

(Influences of feminism/ Influences, education, politic)

   As a teenager in high school in the 70’s living on the outskirt of Boston, Lettie discovered early radical feminist and ecofeminist writings and soon the Boston lesbian-feminist community. Lettie’s feminist involvements became central to her life and sanity as a young politically radical feminist woman. On the topic of feminism and nature, Lettie says,

L – Being a feminist has most definitely helped me to connect with nature/animals/the natural world. As I read books like “Women and Nature” [Griffin], “Gyn/Ecology” [Daly], etc….,the ways that patriarchal technology separates us from the natural world and from our own true natures became clearer and clearer. I wanted to be at one with the world, not separated from it. I have always wanted this. But by becoming a feminist, I found other women who felt the same way and could help me articulate my longing to have a home in the natural world – our only true home. Being a feminist also helped me make the leap that here we women were being treated like we weren’t sentient, like we didn’t feel pain or have needs and desires and a will of our own, like we didn’t have a prior right to be, and that is exactly how animals and trees and rivers and oceans and the whole planet is treated as well. So I was able to make connections, which I had always felt, but I could articulate it and then resist it.

(The psychology of women and nature, hope/ Nature as refuge and solace/ Gender and nature/ The seeds of potential freedom)

Unable to afford a motor vehicle, Lettie relates to her bicycle as her “friendly Steed”. The connection to horses is clear and intentional.

(Fear of violence against women)

   On the subject of fear Lettie says,

L – My feelings of fear of men in the wilderness… It’s hard to be outside in any isolated place without constantly worrying. THE moment I see a man I wonder. Is he going to attack me? Will I be able to fight him off? A friend of mine stopped at a nice spot on the way home from work for a short walk in the woods. And 2 men pulled up in a car, got out and started chasing after her. Luckily, she saw them coming, and she knows how to survive in the woods. So she ran and hid. She got away. But it can happen any time, any where, and it makes me furious that I can’t even go for a fucking walk without worrying for my life. What is wrong with men anyway? Why do they want to rape? In some countries women aren’t

allowed to leave the house. In this country, we can but not to far and best not alone.


Zelda’s Story

(Childhood experiences/ Nature as refuge and solace/ Gender and nature)

As a strong minded child Zelda frequently retreated outside to the natural world. Zelda and her sister would frequently get into fights which oftentimes end in physical punishment from her mother. Zelda’s childhood was laced with fierce fights with her older sister, beatings from her mother, a deep sense of difference or separation from the other children in her rural village, and growing self-doubt and self-negation. Zelda was an insightful, emotional, and passionate child with four siblings, busy parents, and no elders to take her little hand to understand her complex feelings, soothe her wounded child self and show her gentle unconditional love.

Talking about her strong childhood affinity with nature, Zelda pointed out that all the children of her rural village played outside in the natural world. She says,

Z – Woods…ponds, small lakes, creeks, marshes and swamps, and humanly altered areas like pastures, meadows, and farmers fields where crops were grown, especially corn. As children (and even when older) we frequented these habitats…. “The Pond”, “The School Pond”, “The Creek”… “Pleasant Island, a wooded area of giant tall trees… surrounded by water and marsh on at least three sides. Also, “Indian Knoll”, a conspicuous mound on the creek flats, called this name by at least several generations. “The Hill” or “The Sluice” was a hill that dropped to a deep ravine, cut by a brook flowing from the hills to the flats. Deep snow accumulated there, so we often played there jumping from the hill into the deep snows in the ravine. All the towns children did this, not just me… Being outside in engagement with the natural world was just a normal and regular part of our lives.

From the time she was just a few years old, nature and the natural world began to provided Zelda with much of what she did not get in her family and community life and served as her primary childhood place of refuge and solace. As a child, the natural world was “just a step outside her back door”.

Z – Yes, the natural world was a place of refuge for me, to escape the difficult circumstances of the human world. As a child and as an adult it was “a place away” where I could go for refuge, escape, safety, and place where I could truly be me and could express myself and my greatest longings. It was a place where I was beautiful, rather than an ugly little naughty child. It was also a place of freedom. If my family was trying to force me to do something I absolutely loathed, I would run off to the woods to escape from having to do it. I did not want to learn to play the

piano, it was suffering to me, but I did love to roam the woods,

seeing and hearing there all that was to be seen and heard. So, when piano lesson time came, I would already be up in the hills in the woods, where I could hear my mother calling to me, to come down and go to my lesson. I just kept heading deeper into the woods.

(Childhood experiences with nature/ The psychology of women and nature/ Nature as teacher/ Nature as a respite from Female perversions)

Living on the edge of a small rural village, as a child with no consistently attentive adult role models, nature naturally became an increasingly meaningful place for her to learn about herself and the world! About the connection between nature and her psychological life, Zelda says,

Z – For a long time I had no sense of self-identity and an inability to believe in myself. I had a great fear of rejection and failure along with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. I have never been able to relate well or engage in the world and relationships with other people.

But, Zelda goes on to say,

Z – Being in nature somehow allows me the power and clarity to envision myself in the human world. It allows me to connect to the power within myself to deal…

(Childhood experiences/ Emotional struggles and women’s psychology/ Embodiment or lack therein/ Nature as refuge and solace/ Nature as respite from female perversions)

Zelda is not in psychotherapy nor does she read materials from the field of psychology. Yet her description of her distancing and separation from her body during beatings from her mother, and fights with her sister, are the same survival and coping mechanism described in the writings of Herman (1992), Burstow (1992), Greenspan (1993), Kaschak (1992) and others who have studied the consequences of sexual and physical abuse and torture on the human psyche.

Zelda says,

Z – Perhaps in the past I escaped from present bodily pain by becoming detached from the body of the present, maybe when my mother beat me or my sister physically attacked me. Perhaps my escape into the natural world where I do feel more connected with my real self is also part of this… Perhaps I fear being connected with my body in the present since in the past that connection has brought pain, discomfort, humiliation, anger, strong feelings that I do not want to connect with.

Zelda spoke about difficulties she has had throughout her life being connected to her body. She has a difficult time visualizing herself in her body and say’s she exists mostly in the world of thoughts, ideas, feelings, and emotions. She believes this is one of the reasons that she is a writer – because she feels uncomfortable relating to people in her body and is very much at ease with the written word. Zelda attributes her relationship to her body to the “physical punishment” she received as a child, a poor self-image because she was plump growing up, and teasing and difficulties she withstood from the other children due to a minor “physical deformity” which set her apart from them. As an adult, Zelda rarely looks in the mirror.

However, Zelda goes on and talks movingly about how being in nature and the natural world makes her feel beautiful.

(Nature as refuge and solace/ human not nature/nature as teacher)

Z – As a child and as an adult [the natural world] was “a place away” where I could go for refuge, escape, safety, a place where I could truly be me and could express myself and my greatest longings. It was a place where I was beautiful, rather than the ugly little naughty child…. Going to nature helps me to find my true self that can only be found in nature. It is the true self that is constantly denied and destroyed in the humanly made world. I was closer to nature as a child but it was still a world apart, a place to go to escape the confines of the human world. It was a place of joy and discovery, of small sweet wild strawberries growing in a ravine that I could pick and sample. It was marvel, finding a bird’s skull after the winter snows had melted. It was rushing, gushing, brook racing in a torrent in early spring. It was the wonder of an encounter with a wild fox, we just stood there a few feet from each other an gazed steadily into each other’s eyes…. I can see the fox now and myself there in the sun-dappled shadowy woods… I learned to love nature in all its modes, all seasons, all weather. I still love it all. To me it is a place of purity and innocence. As a child, and now, it was a place of incredible delight.


As a young adult Zelda went through an enormously difficult time emotionally. It took her most of a decade to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

As someone who has always lived alone, Zelda prefers to be alone rather than in the company of other human beings. There is a great deal that she does not agree with the institution of heterosexuality and our modern capital consumer oriented society. Zelda feels her heart, soul and her values lie elsewhere.

About this Zelda says,

(Influence one one’s relationship with nature, heterosexuality, capitalism)

Z – My disconnection is from human cultural values generally. I do not connect about the dominant male-female relationships held by the world, their institution of marriage, family, child-bearing… Nor do I connect with the tenants and practices of the capitalist economic materialism. It is not an arena I wish to willingly embrace and participate in because of many

things – inequality, injustice, corruption, how it imprisons us in a materialistic treadmill where life becomes the getting and spending of money and the management of our worldly possessions. Where value and worthiness is based on ones wealth. To me this can not be what our lives were meant to be and it is not the life I am able to be a part of. Thus I am not able to embrace a world that is not the ways described above because it does not exist anywhere, therefore I am in a limbo area just outside the world looking in and having to participate in that world so that I might somehow continue to survive. Perhaps it is as someone living under apartheid – you have your own contained world on the edge of white civilization but you pass back and forth between the two because in the white world you must go to work and make money. Yet your real existence is your own contained would on the periphery.


Because Zelda has not found a community that embodies the values important to her, she remains alone, on the fringes of community and family. Although Zelda regularly spends time with her family, she does not search out a great deal of human contact past what is necessary in her daily life.

(Religion/ Spiritual experiences with nature)

Zelda was brought up Protestant but when asked about her religious or spiritual orientation, Zelda reply sheds light on the connection – or lack therein – between Zelda’s experiences with organized religion and the natural world.

Z – My spiritual self is solitary and in and with nature… I believe that “spiritual” and “nature” or “natural world” are the same. That is why I can not recognize something called “spiritual life”. When I am in nature and my natural self is engaged then my spiritual self is also engaged. This state is always with me, but it is not called forth or evoked in the humanly made and dominated world. I believe this spirit-nature union is a very ancient state that perhaps my genetic memory does still recall and seek out.

Zelda goes on,

The Baptist church I attended brought me in no way to nature.

But I do recall a childhood memory that I savor and find inspiring for its beauty and peace. It is a Sunday morning, perhaps in summer, the catydids are in chorus, the sky is impeccable azure, not a fragment of cloud anywhere, the sun is burning bright and warm, I am a child walking down a country road, on way to Sunday School. As I go my mind (and perhaps my voice) sings a hymn to nature “This is my Father’s world and to my listening ear all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres…” While my current views do not include a god as a father who created the world, this experience brought me into a spiritual connection or feeling to nature, my inner self was thrilled by this nature and I sang with the only hymn that I had at that time, a Christian hymn. Even today I sometimes sing that hymn when I view a particularly inspiring event or place. But it was nature that made me sing, not a connection to god or religion of birth….


Zelda has never felt she fits into society, or community, and this has caused her an enormous degree of pain in her life. About how thins plays into her relationship with nature, Zelda say’s

Z – Nature and the natural world experienced alone and in a solitary way is necessary for my survival… It is impossible to actually share my nature experiences together with another person… No,this does not create a problem. It is not something that need be shared with anyone. It is for me alone and I like it that way.

(Nature as refuge and solace/ The psychology of women/ The Human-nature split/ Nature as respite from Female Perversions)

Zelda goes on to talk in more depth about her adult relationship to nature,

Z – [Nature] is a special place/sphere to be in [but]I am a visitor there. Because I am a human caught in the human world I can never be of the natural domain, only if I reject/renounce my humanness and embrace a natural/animal nature that does exist inside me. So I am only able to visit. But when I am there I am exhilarated and buoyed. There is no other place like it.. The natural world for me is the only other realm of being

and existing other than the humanly made existence that I feel trapped in. Humanly made existence “civilization” is a burden to me, I do not like its values or what it defines as “life”. I am sure that “life” must be something other than what humans have defined it as. I feel that the natural world offers one place where I might possibly find out what “life” is, because there human influence is at a minimum…. It is a place where humans

can reconnect to other possibilities beyond the overly materialistic money-based civilization. I cannot possibly be upon this earth merely to get and spend money, acquire possessions, and spend my life managing and maintaining material things. I feel that nature holds the key to my existence, [but] because I must survive in the human world, I am kept from developing myself as part of nature.

About this very painful dichotomy, Zelda says:

Z – It is this way because human civilization has become separated from nature, because our world is made up of man-made material things. We spend our time within the human construction of existence, often finding little time to even look up at the skies as we scurry thru the streets and pathways. Our eyes instead are in front of us ready to encounter what comes at us from the human world. Once while walking in the city of Cambridge, I was walking with my eyes upward on the sky watching geese and reveling in them. I nearly collided with another pedestrian. She said, “My, no one ever walks around with their eyes looking upward!” And this in essence is what it means to be imprisoned in the world of human construction — We become fastened to the things of this world and cannot see the other worlds even though they move closely and intimately around us.

(Gender and nature)

Although certainly there have been times in her life when Zelda organized planned activities for herself in nature – such as hiking the Cape Cod National Seashore from beginning to end and hiking up various mountains – Zelda primarily goes into nature to be with nature and the natural world and not to act on it.

Interestingly, about being a woman in nature Zelda says

Z – As a woman I certainly do not feel I must dominate or control nature, or reshape it as I think men often have to do… [but] I often don’t see myself as a “’woman in nature’” but more “a being or creature in nature”… I think my connection to nature comes more from “’the child in me’” not from the “’woman.’”


   Although Zelda talked some about the bodies of women who are, periodically, discovered at the bottom of a local ravine, she did not elaborate on potential violence against women at first in response to my question about fear. Instead she said,

Z – Sometimes I am afraid of the great power of nature which rages destructively, from a human vantage point… Yet, the natural power seems destructive to us because we so value our material possessions, which it threatens to destroy. If the tornado rages through a forest and uproots trees, the trees will decay back into the earth and fresh new treelets will sprout up and renew the area. Same with a forest fire started by a lightening strike. This “destructive-regenerative force” is nature itself. But we humans fear it because of our removal from a natural world to a humanly constructed existence. This part of nature becomes our enemy and something to fear. I also fear being attacked by a wild animal in nature, such as a mountain lion or bear.

(Fear of violence against women)

   Later in the interview, on the subject of violence against girls and women, Zelda goes on,

Z – Sometimes I get afraid when alone in the woods or on a trail, not always, sometimes. Especially if I should meet a lone man or several men or boys. I immediately wonder “are these decent people or not”. Or I feel concerned if there has been something in the media recently concerning violence against a woman or women in the outdoors… But mostly when I am in the outdoors I do not feel afraid. If I did, I would no longer be able to be out there. I like going out with my sister, her husband and the two kids AT NIGHT on the trails they have made through their woods and fields. I do not feel afraid at all even though it is night. Probably would not go alone though!


Rose’s Story


(Childhood experiences with nature/ The influence of significant others/ Class)

When Rose was a child she often left the city to travel with her parents, friends parents, and her extended family into the countryside. Her parents loved the natural world and although they lived in the city, made regular trips to the countryside.

One summer when Rose was a little girl and her father taught summer classes in the university, her family lived in a pup tent in a campground near Boulder Colorado. When Rose was growing up her family took lots of hiking and several cross country trips. One summer Rose traveled cross country with her cousins who were moving from Lexington Massachusetts to Seattle Washington. Many times her family piled into their station wagon and left the city for Bear Mountain, the Catskill Mountains, or her cousins farm in Northeastern Connecticut. When she was around ten years old she went to 4-H camp in Connecticut.

(Childhood experiences/ Nature as a respite from female perversions/ Nature as refuge and solace, nature and animals healing the wounds)

Once when Rose was a little girl on one of their trips traveling with her family she met two Donkeys, Judy and Susie, which started a life long love affair with Donkeys.

Rose tells me “I always wanted to marry a Donkey…”

(Childhood developmental experiences with nature/ The psychology of women and nature, bicycle as seed of freedom/ Nature as respite from female perversions)

Rose talked with me during her interview about her childhood experiences with the trees on her street, the parks nearby and her much used bicycle. At various times during Rose’s childhood riding her bicycle provided a deep and meaningful sense of freedom and exhilaration. When she was in junior high school she would rise extra early in the morning to be able to ride to a very far park and go around the track a few times before school began.

Riding her bicycle and the sense of freedom it represents to her is something Rose is still able to sustain in her adult life, even in lieu of criticisms from people in her life who accused her of running from her problems.

Rose says “Bicycling was something that was really important for me. That’s where I could say I really feel high, connected, alive, doing something good for myself”. She talked about her junior high school riding as a way to experience the early morning hours, feel the exhilaration of riding, and as “a way of burning calories as well.”

Rose says,

R – It always felt like a great freedom. I mean things would hurt afterwards. I have this carpal tunnel stuff that would be aggravated. But I didn’t care. Because knowing that my body was doing this and without trying to get my body stronger or feel my body more, it was just happening. And some friends would accuse me, as if it was almost something fake: Like, “Rose, you think you’re doing so good and all this”. Like as if I’m using that to hide my other problems! Like my other psychological things….

(What is nature?/ Childhood experiences/ Spirituality and nature/ Nature as refuge and solace/ Nature as respite from female perversions/Influences, culture)

Rose loves the darkness and the night. When Rose had hard times as a child, she would “fantasize going away into the country”, or enclose herself in the darkness of her closet, or under her bed sheets.

Discussing the difficult emotional time she went through in Germany when she was suffering from insomnia, Rose says “I wasn’t forcing myself to be awake in the dark, I really enjoyed it and didn’t want to lose those night hours….For me [the night] was a kind of spirituality and it was very private”

Rose goes on and talks about her experience with this therapist,

R – I had insomnia a lot and she was trying to convince me that something must have happened where I have this fear of the night, or insomnia. It’s just connected with this thing of being afraid to sleep or afraid of the darkness. I think it was much different… I wasn’t forcing myself to stay awake in the dark, I really enjoyed it and didn’t want to lose those night hours… I’m not afraid of the dark… I love the dark.

In her city life, the night was, and continues, to connect Rose to a deep, meaningful, solitary and private psychic life, a sort of peace and expansiveness “of me getting to the core “’’me’” whatever that would be at various ages”.

(What is nature?)

Rose said that because of the frequent exposure in her childhood to the countryside and wild places far from the cities, she came to associate nature with a world which existed outside of the city.

When I asked her about her relationship with nature in the city, we had the following exchange,

S – So, in your childhood did you have a relationship with nature in the city? Around your home; like where’d you play, what’d you do after school?

R – No. I don’t think I looked at it like that. Like we could define nature – like trees on a city block, yeah? But I guess the concept for me of nature meant “out of the city”.

S – Yeah, I hear you saying that very clearly.

R – Right. There was a park in Brooklyn, a big park and it’s really quite nice and [can’t make out]. That was “going to the park”, which we did. But it wasn’t this concept. I suppose if I had never left the city and had grown up only in the city the park would have been only this incredible world …the concept of nature meant out of the city…There was a park in Brooklyn, a big park and it’s really quite nice… But it wasn’t this concept. I suppose if I had never left the city and had grown up in the city the park would have been this incredible world…The first house we lived in was above a fruit store so we didn’t have a backyard and when we moved now we had like the call of the jungle. It’s a little square plot but.. a heck of a lot of things grow there. Yeah, it’s nature… Grapes and Raspberries, you name it… My father’s into it… My mother’s not touched much but sometimes planted a few flowers around.

Rose feels like her time in the public school system as a child

R – was a big shock and I always felt like from that time I lost myself to myself… I was taught to be a robot.

During her childhood years Rose spent a lot of time daydreaming and gazing out the classroom windows. Rose’s childhood play life in the city was predominately spent playing indoor games with the other kids in the neighborhood.

Rose has fond childhood memories of going to the South Street Seaport with her father to outdoor folks music concerts where the “big sailing ships came in”. She remembers this place as “my special place in New York”, albeit not frequently visited.

As an adult Rose continues to discovers places in cities where she can go which provide her with solace in the natural world. She talked about her “outside offices” with great affections – one in Berlin where she would go with the co-author of her book to work, one on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and one in New York City – a long commute from her house but, she points out, “worth the sojourn”.

(What is nature?/ Influences of patriarchy/ Religion/ Spiritual experiences with nature)           

Although Rose make a distinction between nature in the city and nature outside of the city, she talked about how the moon, trees, changing seasons, the weather, the wind, the night, and animals have always been very important to her, no matter her physical proximity.

Going on to talk about her understanding of her psychic and spiritual life, Rose says,

R – I guess I often think of nature as something really separate from more psychic crap like when you’re thinking… of somebody and the next second the phone rings and it’s them. I’ll think of that more like psychic connection with somebody going through time and space, across nature. But I don’t often think of it as something that’s part of nature. Where I feel part of nature, is where it crosses, like in the dreams. Where I get these strong animal symbols and then I’ll see the animal. Then that, to me, says that I’m in touch with the psychic and the nature. So, the psychic stuff in itself is I guess partly a separate realm.

(Influences of religion/ Spiritual experiences with nature/ Embodiment/ Nature as healing the wounds)

Making bridges between her love of the natural world, her psychic experiences and her religion of birth does not come easy to Rose. Rose mostly experiences her spirituality at odds with her Judaism, her Judaism at odds with her psychic life, and both somewhat distinct from her relationship with the natural world.

She says,

R – It’s not really that I get my spirituality from Judaism. I get the sense of some kind of deep connection from it. That’s where I came from. That’s a search in me already. Cause it’s part of me and who I am so why not search for my depth through that. And then it unites me with X amount of people…. But my sense of spirituality comes from nature… to me the sense of spirituality, it’s very real and it something again I get through the night or also through nature. I can’t say I’ve necessarily reached it through Judaism. I can feel the beauty of the words, this incredible thing people for centuries have repeated these words – does that make them holy in themselves just cause they’ve kept up a length of time? Then you have to go into debates if it’s just male… or how to look at that shit. Where the connection with spirituality I feel through nature I don’t have to look at through these man made line of words, I can just feel it very much in my body. [Italics mine]

(Influence of significant others/Spiritual experiences with nature/Nature as healing the wounds)

Talking about how her spirituality was expressed as a child in an atheist family where the idea of spirituality was frowned upon, Rose says

R – I’ve had other psychic experiences but that wouldn’t necessarily happen at night. But I almost feel this energy of the night is what fueled these other things to happen. Like when I was a kid out west like my parents use to ask me or the family “ OK Rose, what animals will we see today?” And I’d say “we’ll see a bear, and then after we turn two curves we’re gonna see a deer, and later we’re gonna see a fawn and then we’re going to see a black hawk or whatever”. And it would happen!!!! That wasn’t night time stuff but still… Later there was the feeling that the potential for that kind of stuff to happen was coming in the night… There’s a part of me, like last night, or when I’m out in nature, when part of my skin feels like its gone away. Like where I feel like I am becoming one with some part of that…solace, with whatever, nature, with whatever environment around me.

(Influence of significant others – the ability/inability to share with others)

About her inability to share her deepest feelings about her relationship with nature in her childhood, Rose goes on to say,

maybe that’s why my connection with nature felt like this very secret ‘me world’ that felt above and beyond the family as opposed to my other rich heritage [child of holocaust survivors].

(Childhood relationship/ Influences on relationship with nature, family and religious obligation)

Talking about how in her childhood her family wanted to move out of the city, Rose says that they eventually decided against acting on this and the reasons why.

R – We were always going to move to the country, I always wanted to, I was dying to move to the country as a child and would encourage my father to only apply for jobs in the country, wherever that might be, but out of New York City. But I learned later that one of the reasons I think it really wasn’t pursued so much was because his, I guess aging mother was in NY and wasn’t about to leave New York and her family and her sister and her sister’s husband. So I think that really kept us tied to that area.

(Influences on relationship with nature – adolescence)

When Rose was a child she fantasized about moving to the country. When she grew up she wanted to move to Colorado and be a veterinarian. However, by the time she was in her adolescence these were no longer her feelings. She had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her brother and a neighborhood man, was unable to share this with her parents, and came to rely on the city as an escape from the constrictions of her emotional life within her family. She say’s that during this time when she was fighting with her mother a lot, the independence, resources, and freedom of city life became very important to her.

(Influences on relationship with nature, physical pain, culture)

Rose suffers from chronic back pain in her adult life which serves to at least partially define her relationship to the natural world. As much as Rose might want to canoe, hike, or engage in significant outdoor physical activities in her adult life, her back pain frequently prevents this from being a consideration.

Nevertheless, Rose says that she prefers to be in nature as opposed to necessarily acting on nature. Although she climbed mount Olympus in Greece alone and found this to be one of the spiritual high points of her life, Rose told me that enjoys the process of being in nature as much or more than any externally defined achievement goal or product.

(Nature as hope/ Spiritual experiences with nature/ Nature as respite)

Many of the animals Rose might encounter in a relative wilderness environment continue to comprise her dream and fantasy life in the cities. Rose frequently dreams about animals having had significant dreams about elephants, buffalo, bears, fox, a red winged hawk – and the wind, which Rose loves.

(The psychologies and social lives of women/ The psychology of women – dissociation, anger, etc./ embodiment or lack therein)

Rose struggles to be in, and feel, her body. Her distance from her body is not something she is comfortable with in her life and causes her some pain and unhappiness. When Rose describes the various sexual assaults which have been perpetuated against her in her; it is clear that her skills at dissociation from her physical being allowed her to survive these encounters with her sanity intact. Talking about the attacks Rose says “I don’t know where I got that notion, but if you get tight or resist, then it’s gonna hurt more so just accept it or feel it or separate from your body. I didn’t say anything in the morning. I just pretended to be asleep…”

(The psychology of women and nature – disconnection, depression/ Influences on one’s relationship with nature/ Religion, disconnection as a Jew, class, infirmity)

Emotionally, Rose struggles to be connected with other people yet seems to perpetually feel she is on the outside looking in. One or another part of her keep her from being fully present or fully participating in whatever situation she is engaged. She feels outside America as the daughter of an immigrant. She feels outside of the non-Jewish community as a Jew and not fully accepted in the Jewish community as a lesbian. She struggles with the invisibilty of having a chronic back problem.

During our conversation about disconnection Rose says

R – It’s hard… I think I live with a certain amount of sorrow and pain in my life, and sadness, and sometimes I befriend it as something positive, as something that’s a part of me – my essence. I befriend it. Other times I think wait, this is bullshit, I should transcend it and seek happiness or seek…. So sometimes this disconnection, there are levels of disconnectedness that are kind of scary.

The natural world is one place in her life where Rose is at times very much able to feel centered and grounded in her physical being. Intensely working with the kids in her clowning theatrical work with children is another arena of Roses life which she see’s as totally hers and that she loves and finds simultaneously liberating, magical and grounding.

(The psychology of women and nature – fear, learned disconnection, physical pain/ Capitalism/ Influences of significant others/ Influences of class/ gender and nature)

Rose has begun to feel that the older she gets, the more pressure and expectations she places on herself about her sojourns to the countryside. This disjuncture has begun to create some new stresses for Rose in her life.

Talking about trips to a friend’s cabin in the woods of Vermont Rose says –

R – the older I get, I kind of get disappointed, not the harder it is for me to be in nature, but the longer time it takes me to feel… Like I have these huge expectations. Like when I go to Vermont and I stay at Miriam’s cabin; I have these huge expectations that I’m going to feel great and one with nature and just love to walk and feel comfortable… But I guess I feel also, maybe from living again in cities so long, I don’t know what else, but I’ll start feeling my separateness from it, or it doesn’t embrace me as much or I can’t… Part of it again is cause of physical shit like taking a walk on a path and feeling great and free but I have a back problem. So that kind of nags on me. Or something like that. So it’s more chronic physical shit that kind of gets in the way. And I think the other thing is just the stress of the lives we lead. It’s not like doing great meditation and becoming free of everything else and just getting a sense of “to be”. It takes me a long time then just to be able to be in nature and usually by the time I get to be, is the time I have to take a bus or a car or whatever and go home again.

(Culture, The psychology of women and nature – human not nature)

Rose’s childhood dreams of living in the country begin to fade in viability as she grew into adulthood. Rose attributes this to becoming more and more acclimatized to city life, her lack of physical skills for country living, her ease with city life and the range of skills she’s acquired having lived in the cities for so long. In our conversation about fear of spiders, snakes, and other such creatures, Rose says

R – Sometimes it’s also this thing we were talking about dissociation; like that snake is there under that rock and it’s all part of nature, it’s in it’s natural environment. [but] I’m a city creature. Or human or something. Like I don’t really belong in this environment. I’m trespassing.

(Influences on relationship with nature- politics, race, religion)

During the years she spent living in Germany, Rose’s love of nature and the natural world was at odds with her political involvements and the ideologies of the social circles in which she traveled. In Germany, no matter how beautiful the natural world, it was impossible for Rose to appreciate this freely because of the history of Ecofascism and the war Germany has waged against the Jew’s for so many centuries. Any piece of land or water, no matter how small, may have once been the backdrop for immense violence aimed at human beings. Thus, it seems in some ways that Rose’s experiences living in Germany illuminated the complexities and sense of disjuncture, or separation, Rose already felt between the spirit, the body, and nature.

During our long conversation on this topic Rose spoke about how the political millieu she was involved with in Germany was

R – against any kind of [essentialism] women’s spirituality and movements happening in the states. It… effected me to almost sever any kind – really intellectually – connection of women and nature…. There was a whole movement of women who were very much into this women’s spirituality through nature and at the same time apolitical. And we were more a political group…the two weren’t joining.

She goes on,

R – When I first came back here and I was still in the head space of looking at everything in terms of movements and coming from a place where some of my friends were so against even an ecology movement cause they saw it very much in this German context of people are just interested in ecology but they don’t give a shit about certain political causes or people. Like it was like we have to go and save this tree but the hell that one thousand people are getting shot to death because of whatever political right terror. So it became again nature as a movement or the ecology movement – which is something I felt very much akin to before – as something conspiracy, inferior, not the real thing.


The natural world no longer holds the innocence it did for Rose in her childhood. “This fear of being connected to this movement which was also once connected with the Nazi movement” seems to have irrevocably altered Rose’s relationship to the natural world.

(The psychology of women and nature – Dissociation, fear/ Violence against women/ Spirituality)

As an adult Rose also began to have more experiences of fear in the natural world. Thinking about this she says

R – …Maybe Germany killed me. I don’t know, the idea of fear has gotten into me or maybe it’s just because I’ve lived so continuously in different cities. I lived in Berlin, I lived in Athens for awhile, in Jerusalem, so different kinds of cities but not in nature so much…It feels very natural to me in the city. Which is very comforting for me now.

Reflecting on the complexity of her relationship with cities and nature, Rose says

R – [I] always feels very whole or complete when I’m in nature. More older, I guess in a way. Unfortunately some kind of fears come out too. I’m sure than ten or twenty years ago I would have had no problems or thoughts if I slept in a tent and I knew it was bear country. When I thought I was in bear country, a couple of years ago, in the Pacific North West, I had a hard time getting to sleep at night (laughing). Or, if I just knew there were these animals out there even though I was with a partner, I didn’t feel that same sense of security. If I had to pee at night, I didn’t get up (laughing), where ten years ago or twenty years ago I would have felt much more at one, at peace with, I wouldn’t have had fear.

Rose talked about the influence on her relationship to nature of the two lesbians stalked and shot on the Appalachian Trail much in the same vein as Ellen. She knew one of these women and it shook her in a very deep place. She recounted one time when she and her partner were staying at a friend’s cottage deep in the Vermont woods.

R – There was one night when we heard noise outside and we thought there were guys outside. We jumped into the car. Took the tent out and we slept down the hill by a house. We got out of the cabin…. I’m sure cause of the Claudia story something stayed in me, this fear of men… When I’m in nature alone with my my partner, I get scared and sometimes that story creeps in.

(Childhood influences/ The social-psychology of women, emotional struggle/ Influence of significant others, the ability to share/Fear)

Rose went on to recall younger years when she she did not have fear of the countryside. She talked about hiking with her family and going ahead of the group while her father, brother and the rest of the family hiked together. She talked about her life before being raped in Greece when she hitched alone through Europe hiking and camping freely.

After being raped in Greece, Rose says

R – I stopped using my tent cause I felt like in my tent I was more visible… Or if I was in my tent I wouldn’t go out to pee cause I’d be nervous. I don’t know if I was more nervous of a man or animals at night – much as I love the night….

Women are so often taught to blame themselves and after explaining the details of her rape, it became apparent that Rose continues, years later, to struggle with some degree of guilt and self blame – ruminating in our interview that perhaps she was not careful enough as a woman traveling alone.

(The psychology of women and nature, the human nature split, dissociation/ Capitalist-patriarchy)

A smoker for around fifteen years, Rose quit smoking cigarettes six months after I interviewed her. However, during the time Rose was a research participant in my study she was a smoker. Rose had established a relationship with cigarettes and nature that I found fascinating and my knowledge of her feelings about this, was, originally, one of the reasons I had sought her out as a research participant.

For years Rose used cigarette smoking as a way to remove herself from the natural world. Smoking in nature was a metaphor of what Rose perceived as her inalienable human separation from nature and the natural world. In something I have think of as “The Frankenstein Syndrome”, Rose’s relationship to smoking and the natural world expresses the extent which Rose and Zelda both struggle with feeling intensely drawn but forever outside the natural world.

Rose explains,

R – …I started smoking in nature… as a way, or how I explained it, was to show… my separation from nature. That I wear these clothes that are made where-ever. That so many of my actions are against… nature…survival of the daily life… I buy clothes that maybe are made in the worse factory conditions in the world. Or, the factory makes the most pollution in the world. So this was a weird sick conscious way to say “hey, I’m part of this process. I’m not totally one with this nature. I am quote unquote man. I am quote unquote… This is my shield to say, as much as I’d love to be one with this, and have some kind of soul that feels part of it, I’m also a product of the civilization, and a civilization that like it or not perpetuates also this alienation of nature. And here’s my symbol of – I wouldn’t leave a cigarette butt in the valley – I’d walk out with it, I won’t want to add to that, if it’s a filter, add to that pollution…. Consciously sitting down lighting a cigarette in nature, what it’s doing, it’s my being very connected to nature at that moment by acknowledging the disconnectedness. By acknowledging that as much as I’d like to be, I am not “miss nature”.

S – Its more like your own human statement….

R – That there’s a veil around me…

S – Does it serve the same purpose in the city?

W – No. In the city it’s totally different…


Gila: A short explanation to frame Gila & Israel –

Gila, an Israeli kibbutznik, lives on a rural Kibbutz of approximately five hundred people “very close to the city” in what has in recently become a very populated area outside of Tel Aviv. Gila’s kibbutz supplies produce for the cities, provides services and is involved in industrial production.

Although infuenced by European and American cultures, Israel is an Eastern country and like its surrounding Muslim countries it is highly patriarchal in social structure and still misogynist in many of its laws and rules toward females. There is a great deal of institutionalized discrimination and violence against women, more and more citification and suburbanization, and in recent years Israel has swiftly risen to the same technological standards as America and other countries in the western world. Although a country the size of Delaware, Israel is strongly oriented in the industrial/capital/consumer/militarism matrix. On the other hand, Israel has had a woman prime minister; women enter the Army after high school alongside men; and the glass ceiling (for nonreligious Jewish women) is certainly in a differnt place for women in Israel than it is in America.

Gila lives in an environment where in numerous ways nature and community are interdependent – and yet, nature exists to serve people in a very direct and overt fashion. This became very apparent in Gila’s discussions with me during our interview. Gila’s experiences with nature were quite different than those of my other interviewees in many ways. For the majority of American children, education is something that tends to happen wholly within the walls of a classroom. In Israel the kids go out onto the earth and into the natural world to learn their ancient archeological history. Gila’s formative childhood experiences with nature were shared ones. This is normative for Israeli children but it was more so for Gila growing up in the kibbutz. Growing up on the kibbutz there is almost no way this could have been otherwise.There Gila learnt intimately about the earth, the land, the vegetation, the weather, the cycles of the seasons, life and death, and domesticated animals. Between extensive daily exposure, education in animal husbandry and farming, sojourns to the Galilee, The Dead Sea, the Negev, the mountains and the desert – nature and the natural world was an enormous childhood influence in Gila’s life. Gila learned as a child that nature is material and embodied. To survive as a kibbutznik and an Israeli she needed to understand this.


As I have already mentioned, my interview with Gila was unlike my other in-person interviews because of the vast difference in our social, political, cultural, geographical backgrounds; our life experiences; our language; and our understanding, interpretation and experience of the world. However, interviewing Gila shed a great deal of light on the importance of the relationship between nature and community.


As will become apparent in the interview to follow, Gila seems to have eschewed one common manifestation of American womanhood (Chesler; 1972; Kaschak, 1992;Greenspan, 1993) – I am not sure Gila knows what it means to be self-critical, self-doubting, self-hating, separated from ones “self”, or how to relate to other people and ones world except by bursting with self confidence, acceptance, and passionate interest.


As a socialist and the daughter of socialists living on a kibbutz founded by socialists it comes as no surprise that Gila believes human beings are products of their social learning and environment. Because every environment is different, Gila does not believe in psychological or social universals. She believes that whatever relationship humans have to nature and the natural world is a learnt one. Gila was very hesitant to answer my questions in a personal way and repetitively reframed my questions and her responses in a social context.

Gila’s Story

(The influences of significant others, kibbutz, society/ Influences on ones relationship with nature, country and ideology/ Embodiment and physical realities Themes of Community and nature)

   When I asked Gila what was important to her in her life she said,

G – My independence.The community that I live in (and it’s all kinds of community). The family, the kibbutz, the….country [Israel], the work, political community, Jewish community, there are many communities, what else?… I prefer to be in a place which is just. In a just-full society, a human society, that takes care of the weak and the infirm and the children, racism shouldn’t be in my society, and stuff like this. Actually I’m a socialist, so that’s why. I’ve tried for years to improve these things. I work to serve my community and I try to lead or position myself in a leading position in the community because every person needs a community and because you can’t shape your life outside of it, with no connection to the community you live in. So, if you try to influence the direction the community is going – you influence your own. If you don’t influence the community, other influence even more than you do.

Gila has had no experiences of sexual abuse, rape, or violence thus far in her life. She grew up in a relatively closed social network in a supportive social environment and with loving teachers, elders, and parents.

Talking about her up bringing, Gila says

G – We are raised together – not with the parents. We were together for 20 hours a day and only 4 hours with the parents. So…. My parents loved me, the rest of the children, some of them did, some of them didn’t, and when I grew up I did sense respect of people who were older than me. Who respected me….. That’s all. [long pause] And again, if you love yourself it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t really matter how many more people love you – as long as there are a few.

(Childhood experiences/ What is nature?/ Influences – of society/ The physical world)

When I asked Gila about her relationship to nature and the natural world she said, “I don’t have any special relationship with the natural world”. When I asked her what it was like growing up on the kibbutz she said that she could not answer that question because she “could not compare it to anything else” and that her belief was that “… ideologies make the difference. Not physical surroundings. Ideology and culture.”

Although not an undeveloped wilderness area comparable to where Zelda grew up in rural upstate New York, the natural world was a step outside Gila’s door and nature was an intricate part of her entire childhood life as well as structured curricular education.

Discussing her childhood experiences with nature on the kibbutz, Gila and I had the following exchange,

G – yes, its the flowers and the birds…. the trips to the certain points around, like the big tree… physical things, especially flowers, certain flowers, wildflowers, daffodil and tulips and many others….

S – Did you love them when you were a kid?

G – yeah

S – were there animals? Did you have any animals on the kibbutz?

G – Many… We had to take care of the chickens and the goats and ducks. There was a zoo, a kids zoo. I loved them, dogs and really loved cats…

S – Can you imagine what it would have been like for you to grow up without the animals around you or flowers or trees? I mean, do you think it would have been any different?

G – probably yes, although I don’t know how. again, your born into a society where grown ups stress this point… We do go outside at the kibbutz and look at the flowers. In other societies you don’t have that.

S – You go outside a lot … on trips…. Of course in Israel when you go outside your surrounded by lots of other people

G – Yes, but your also surrounded by other people anyway. Especially where I live, because it’s very populated. You go out to the field and you see the farm. You pick mushrooms and someone is picking mushrooms cause it’s the same field where mushrooms grow

S – Do you think your parents made an effort to have you be out there? To encourage you to be out there?

N – No, no, it’s not the parents. It’s the way it was, it was a part of the day in kindergarten. It still is part of the day. Every day there is a trip…. ah, yes, next to the houses are many fruit trees, so I like eating the peaches and the plums and the avocado and the lemon, nuts….

When I shared with Gila my own feelings of being cut off from nature in my suburban upbringing, she said she thought that perhaps it was because

G – Nature gives you, like an anchor. We were talking about the season before; it’s not only that it snows in the winter and doesn’t in the summer, and it’s not only % and the leaves on the trees – it’s also the fruit and vegetables…. It gives you like guiding light. And they say that people are very, are sad in the fall, happier in the spring. That’s what they say. And if you don’t know why, if your not connected to that, then… you lose, you lose…. you start drifting, you don’t have the anchor.

(The psychology of women, dissociation)

The concept of dissociation was not one familiar to Gila. When I asked her about whether or not she was connected to her body she has no idea what I was talking about nor how anyone could not be connected to oneself. She responded to this question with humor, commenting that maybe I could teach her how to dissociate from her work when she was not enjoying it. When I explained to her that this experience oftentimes happens as a result of trauma, she became somber and respectful.

(What is nature?/ Influences on one’s relationship with nature society, ideology/ Community and nature)

After I transcribed and sat with this interview for many months it slowly began to dawn on me why Gila and I struggled so to understand each other. It was, of course, right there in front of my eyes as clear as day. Nature and the natural world was so basic, so rudimentary to Gila that she did not, at first, understand that I was asking her to step back and talk about nature and the natural world as if it was something outside of herself. Although Gila has traveled the world extensively, her primary life experience has been waking up in the morning to the sound of song birds (to Gila’s chagrin, since she says thay wake her sometimes); the job of feeding and caring for all the kibbutz farm animals; milking of the cows and processing the milk; continual cycles of plantings and pickings of vegetables and fruit on the extensive acreage of farmland that belongs to Gila’s kibbutz; and the endless setting and rising sun.

(What is nature?Influences of culture, ideology, education/ Embodiment in the physical world)

Over and over Gila stressed the commonality, the ordinary nature of her relationship with the natural world.

G – It wasn’t a special thing. It was… That was it. That was childhood. It is not like it is a special thing to go out and pick mushrooms. You know that after it rains, and the sun shines, mushrooms grow! So, we go and pick them up, and eat them!

S – Very pragmatic.

G – Yes [laughter]

S – you go collect your mushrooms and that’s that…

N – Yes.

She goes on to clarify:

G – It’s acceptance… acceptance of the world as it is, without trying to name it. And by naming it you try to control it… For me nature is natural. It comes natural. You don’t have to think about. And I think that for Americans, or most Americans, they grew up in cities, since the 50’s and the 60’s…They have to learn nature. It’s something that their meeting. It’s something that they have to experience. They haven’t experienced it. Like for….like if you ask in 20 years from now, you’d ask… a 30 years old person or a 20 year old person, what their relation with computers is, they will not understand the question.And I didn’t understand the question: What is your relation with nature. Because now they’re growing up with it. It’s natural for them. And for me a computer is for what many Americans nature is. I don’t understand it.

Later in the interview she spoke about about her experiences with American’s on the kibbutz and how they related to nature and the animals,

S – Why do you think its natural for you. Your relationship with nature. We’re back to that same question.

G – Because I grew up with it. I grew up with it. With fruit tree’s around the house. With the scenery. With the trips to….

S – So, your experience of Americans, probably started when you were a kid, your experiences of Americans and nature?

G – Yeah. …. An American, she saw a bird on the lawn and she was excited! It was the most common bird. That was it’s place. It’s natural place. Why be excited about it? [laughter]

S – So, is that what Americans DO…? They come to the Kibbutz and there so into like …picking the fruit off the trees, and to climbing up the ladder, and the idea of the Scorpion…

G – Picking the fruit off the trees is the peak of their lives! They’re afraid of the insects. [laughter] Yea, they’ve never met it and they have to learn it, if they want.

Talking about the history of the Jewish people in exile, Gila goes on to speak about the connection between being Jewish and the land,

G – Jews were not allowed to own land in most of the world.

S – I knew they weren’t in Europe…

G – In most places in most of the world. That’s why they had to be merchants and teachers and bankers and everything else.

(Influences of Judaism)

S – This is not on my list of questions, but do you feel like being Jewish has anything to do with your relationship with the land?

G – Probably yes.

S – How?

G – Because of the ideology that brought the Jews to Israel, and my parents, is one who tried to go back to nature and to work the land and build the land from the bottom, from the soil. And also because we are not religious but we do celebrate the holidays. And they are [the holidays] very very important to our culture. To non-religious Israeli Jewish culture. And what we do, what we give, is to give them, give the holidays a new meaning, and the new meaning is agricultural. Agricultural and seasonal.

(Gender and nature/ Class/ privilege/ Influence – of society and ideology)

About gender and the natural world I asked Gila if she thought there was a gender difference in the relationship to the land on the kibbutz. She said,

G – No. I don’t see a difference….. [long pause] The experience is different, but not the interpretation.

S – Keep going…. [laugh]

G – Like a man would milk the cows and take care of the cows – actually women do that too – mostly men plow the fields and mostly it’s the women who take the children on trips and read… nature. So the experience is different but not the interpretation, not the meaning of the experience.

S – So, if the experience is different why isn’t the interpretation different?

G – Because it’s the same culture… it’s not different to…. The fact that you touch the soil, it doesn’t make the relation different from seeing and walking on it. I don’t see the difference. when I talk with men and women… There are differences between people, of course, but I don’t see difference between men and women.

(Spiritual experiences with nature/ Influences – of culture, political ideology, education/ What is nature?)

Talking about the idea of human beings having a spiritual relationship with nature, Gila says,

G – … Marx saw religion as another ideology. It was an ideology, it was a tool in the hands of the upper class, but like any other ideology, it was more, course it was more powerful, more structured, but it’s an ideology.

S – You rejected it didn’t you?

G – Yes, of course. It was a tool of the upper class to maintain control, social structure, to maintain, which he thought was going to change. He didn’t preach revolution. He was a sociologist, or as I see him, a great sociologist, and not an ideologist. Others took his sociological theory and made an ideology out of it. Which is like religion.

S -Yes, definitely…. O.K., I was just trying to get to…Like if I said to someone, like you were just saying, everyone has different definitions of spirituality and a lot of people will think of organized religion…

G – As something spiritual

S – hum hum

G – It probably is spiritual for them, it probably is.

S – So, what is it? What is the “it”, that’s what I’m trying to get to.

G – The “it” is the “you”. For me it’s an insight, like if I can remember any spiritual experience… it’s an insight, it’s an insight to something higher and bigger and has meaning about the world…. it’s an insight.

S – So, is it an insight that happens in your mind? In your heart, in your body?…..

G – In the mind. And you think, all right, it happens in the mind and you feel it in your heart that it’s an insight. It’s not just a regular thought, or a regular theory… It’s something that is more true than other thoughts.

S – O.K, now does that experience, have any connection to you, around nature, the trees, the farm land around you in the country?

G – No.

S – It’s something that is totally human?

G – Yes… about the human world…..

S – Because, for example, in Aboriginal philosophies, the kind of insight your talking about might connect in some way to the natural world.

G – they connected it to the natural world. They tried to explain the phenomena of the natural world and they did connect it. I’’m not. I’m not trying to explain to myself the natural world, I’m trying to explain to myself the social world. And that’s why it’s not connected… You can only find what you look for, otherwise you don’t recognize it…

(What is nature?/ Influences of significant others/ influences – of education, society / Embodiment in the physical world)

At the end of our interview I asked Gila “What do you really think about this, this, subject. Do you just think it’s absurd or does it make sense to you – what we’re talking about?”

G – What subject?

S – The connection between women and nature. What does this all mean to you?

G – It has no meaning to me. I don’t know what you’re thesis can be. I mean I can imagine what it can be, but I don’t know… If you’re going to find it, get findings.

S – So, even though you said, as an Israeli, as a person who grew up on the kibbutz, with nature, having seen that many Americans are more separate from it, you still don’t see?

G – It’s a cultural problem. It’s a cultural difference. When you say women and nature; as opposed to what? Men and nature? Woman and not nature? Woman as not nature? … I think that in different cultures you find different connections. Which is obvious. Cause this is what different cultures are. This is what defines different cultures. So you must find differences between cultures, otherwise they wouldn’t be different cultures

S – I follow you.

G – …if you’re doing it cross cultural, then there must be differences. And again, you only find what your looking for. Or not find it. But you will not find something that you are not looking for….. If you don’t ask about the seasons, you will not find out about differences in understanding seasons.

S – Of course….

N – If you will not ask about food, preferred food…. There’s a story [someone] told me about an Israeli woman. She’s probably around 60 years old so it’s not our generation. She came from Persia, from Iran, and two of her sons are here in the United States, she came over to see one of her sons and she stayed for quite a while… But she had a big problem, because she’s used from Iran and Israel, she’s use to having fresh food and preparing food from scratch, from the real ingredients. And for her, and partially for me too, American food is not real food. What you find in the supermarket is not real. Cause it’s half done. When you cook it’s different. So, if you don’t ask about food or preparation of food, about preferences and spices, you will not find it.

S – I’m also trying to make connections to our psychologies.

G – No. I don’t think it’s psychological I think it’s sociological.

… And that’s probably because I’m a sociologist…. But I really feel that personality is shaped by society. Of course there are traits that are psychological, but it’s shaped socially. We are social creatures…. I see differences between genders in the social sphere not in psychology… And even psychological differences have to do with socializing. The way you are accepted in the business world, the way you are accepted in the job market, the way you are influenced by the reactions of men and women in the job market in the business world, at the gas station…

S – So do you see any psychological basis for personality?

N – No.

S – no biological basis, no genetic basis?

N – Between men and women?

S – Between who we are and who we could be?

N – Oh yes, of course… we’re born with the tendency to think that way or to behave that way and if we get the right nurturing, then we develop that way. If not, we have a problem. We have a disease.


Adrienne’s Story

(The psychology of women and nature – Hope)

A – Another story I have to tell was… out of that loneliness as related to nature type of thing: When I was a little girl, first grade, and I was a lonely kid too, not because I didn’t have any friends and stuff. It was because my mother wasn’t that great at knowing how to emotionally nurture children, or herself. I wouldn’t say she was abusive. She was just somewhat ignorant and not into mothering a whole lot. Although it was hard for women to admit that in that era. So, she never cuddled me… She didn’t love raising kids. She did it cause she knew that was what she was suppose to do and she did an okay job. But anyway, when I was in the first grade the kid in front of me told me that if I took some Pussy willows and put them in a little box and put them in the cellar and left them there for two weeks – I would have kittens that would grow from those Pussy willows – and I did that!!! And nothing happened….But I remember thinking oh goody now I have can have little pussy’s for a friend!

Adrienne spends a lot of time outside in the natural world in her adult life. Adrienne life revolvd around nature more than any of my other research participants. Adrienne has an awareness of the importance of nature and the natural world to her wellbeing which she has acted on over and over again in the past thirty-five years. She has done this for her physical, psychological, spiritual and emotional survival. Adrienne, in her mid fifties, says she is more emotionally settled and centered in her self now than ever before.

The following combination of reasons have facilitated this for Adrienne: An intimate and central physical and spiritual relationship with nature and the relative wilderness; her involvement in AA and sobriety as a spiritual path in her life; living in a place she loves; a meaningful long term relationship; a strong political and social network; many close friends; a sophisticated Jewish and lesbian-feminist analysis of the world expressed proficiently through teaching, writing, public speaking, and extensive political work; a strong spiritual orientation with it’s basis in nature; a passionate relationship with lesbian-feminist identity and politic; the spiritual practice that surrounds her sobriety; work that she enjoys; not having to worry too much about money; almost complete physical health and well-being; and a regularly visited secluded cabin deep in the northeastern woods. All of these factors combine to make Adrienne and Gila the two most undoubtedly content women in my pool of interviewees.


Adrienne currently lives in a small city on an eight acre patch of city park lands beside a large lake with her lover and their animals. Every day she walks the park lands and swims or sits by the lake or in the woods. About her life, Adrienne says

A – I have to be by a patch of woods. I have to be within walking distance of a patch of woods. Or else I would not be happy. Definitely… Or at least a bike ride [to woods]. Being by the woods and a lake in my urban life is absolutely crucial to me.

(Childhood experiences with nature)

Growing up in an upper middle class suburb, Adrienne recalled her childhood relationship with trees and her appreciation of the “big huge Silver Maples – gigantic ones – in the front and back” of her parents house with leaves that shimmered silver in the wind. In our interview Adrienne spoke with fond memories of her childhood suburban enironment with the huge ancient trees she climbed, a greenhouse in the yard and a huge grape vine and rock garden where she played. In the summers her family made trips to the Connecticut shoreline. There she had access to boats which allowed her to be on the water in various forms (boating, water skiing, fishing) and thus become “fairly intimate with the salt water… I spent most of my summers feeling quite free and connected to salt water”.

(Childhood experiences/ Gender and nature – bugs!)

As a child Adrienne attended Girl Scout Camp. In reflecting on her experiences there she talked about having a lot of freedom at home and camp being too regimented. Adrienne also pointed out “there was this terrible fear of insects that I grew up with – so I would say that camping was not a really delicious experience for me.”

Adrienne had a great deal of exposure as a child to various aspects of the natural world. Reflecting on this, Adrienne says her experience of the natural world as a child was “with my body and therefore being aware of snow and water and grass and trees… didn’t mean much on a conscious level”.

(Nature as refuge and solace/ The psychology of women and nature – seed of potential freedom, ecoactivism, hope)

It was not until Adrienne was in her early twenties that she began to form a more conscious relationship with nature and the natural world. Adrienne found nature under undue duress. She says –

A – Basically when you say how [nature came] to mean so much to me; it is my mistrust of the dominant culture [which] has, I think, pushed me, to find something in this world I can trust and nature is a way of being that which ultimately I trust.

Accompanied by a new dog in her life and a meaningful relationship with a neighborhood woman friend; Adrienne began to seriously venture out into the “relative wilderness” of the natural world.

(Influence of significant others/ Nature and animals as teacher/Education/Influence of eco-education, hetero privilege/ spiritual experiences with nature)

Adrienne married at twenty and spent many unhappy years in a marriage to a man who did not meet her emotional needs. She eventually became the mother of two small children. She and her family spent years continually moving from place to place depending on where her husband, an Air Force Pilot, was stationed at the time. Adrienne had no consistency in her life and said that she did not stay in one place long enough to develop friends, a social network, or a steady job. This was very difficult for Adrienne.

On a deeper level, during these years with her husband Adrienne was aware that something was not right. She struggled with depression and felt lost in a heterosexual marriage which was not emotionally satisfying and a military environment she could not relate to. During this time there was something nagging at Adrienne she could not ignore. Talking about the synchronicity of her newly emerging relationship with nature and women and about this whole progression, Adrienne says,

A – I think that [because] I had an appreciation for the natural world on a body level and yet wasn’t able to necessarily articulate that or share it with others – for a long time I think I was lost. It was not until actually we got married and I started hiking with my husband….My husband and I really discovered nature. Before we had children, I remember we started taking hikes and started hanging out at Audubon Centers and identifying wild flowers… I was an Air force wife and so therefore I was schleped all over the country as a second class citizen. We ended up in places where I ordinarily wouldn’t want to go; like Dayton Ohio or Sumptor South Carolina or Gwin Michigan or…. Texas…. Who knew. We would just end up in places and I wouldn’t have any job and I virtually wouldn’t have any friends and I felt incredibly isolated and my husband would just go to work and be a pilot. So, the time when I hit a real low point around that was in Dayton Ohio and here I was once more in some sort of anonymous ticky tacky apartment… Again, no friends, no job, not a very emotionally satisfying connection with my husband – he was not very communicative – I was really a lost soul. And I went to the Audubon Center nearby. And I found a little field guide – a little paperback pamphlet really – identifying twigs in winter. How to identify trees by their twigs and their buds. I was never good in science so I didn’t have much confidence in my ability to learn anything scientific. But I just decided to have a little project and I took a legal pad – you know those yellow pads – and I went though the woods in the Audubon Center…. And I probably shouldn’t have done this but I sniped off little twig ends and I scotched tapes them to paper on the pad and I looked them up in the field guide and I labeled them. And that was like a little elementary school project. And that got it all started for me somehow. That little elementary school project…. and I felt like a kid, I felt very…. shaky about it, like, oh my goodness, I can’t do scientific projects. I don’t remember any of the names of things. you know I was considered… I use to read novel after novel after book after book. I was a reader but I just wasn’t a rememberer of facts or anything, laboratory experiments or anything like that. But that little project got me started and the ability to be able to name things out there in the woods. Getting a dog too… A couple of years earlier I got an Irish Setter… I was living in the upper peninsula of Michigan at the time, we were stationed there, and I got an Irish Setter that needed a lot of exercise. And there were miles and miles of woods and lakes and ponds right outside the air force base – it was really quite beautiful – and I would walk my dog every day for an hour or two in those woods to give her exercise. And that’s when the woods began becoming a part of me by osmosis. I didn’t know what I was looking at… And then I found a woman friend across the street who also took walks in the afternoon and the two of us took long walks in the afternoon together and that’s when I first started like falling in love with women as well. Without knowing that’s what was happening, but I craved her company and enjoyed the long talks about feelings and emotions and things that my husband and I had such a hard time talking about. So, the combination of having a woman companion and walking my dog in the woods really gave me a lot of spiritual solace. Even though at that time I didn’t even have the word spiritual in my vocabulary. And then when I moved to Ohio and I began identifying the wild flowers and the trees and the birds and…. really start putting names to things – that was an important piece of the process; I felt like I almost had a handle on it. That’s pretty much how I got introduced around being passionate toward nature.

(Education/ Gender – a longing to connect/ Nature as refuge and solace/ The psychology of women – nature as respite from female perversions/ How do we heal?)

This was the beginning of a passionate relationship between Adrienne and the natural world which would manifest itself in dozens of ways over the coming decades. Adrienne dove head first into an intensely inquisitive, curious, and thrilling connection with nature and the natural world on physical, intellectual, academic, poetic, literary, professional, spiritual, artistic, and emotional levels. By doing this she ended up building an entirely new foundation in her life and the realization that no matter what, nature would always be there for her, a constant in her life as long as she lived.

(Influences on one’s relationship with nature, eco-education)

In Adrienne’s pre-feminist days, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) was very influential for in her growing relationship with nature and the natural world. Adrienne spoke about carrying this book around with her in her pocket for something to the effect of ten years, reading and rereading.

Talking about Annie Dillard, Adrienne says

A – [Dillard] wrote that when she was twenty-six and won a Pulitzer price for it and just wrote it about her passionate attachment to the woods in back of her suburban home in Virginia, I think it was. I always thought it was a real wilderness that she was writing about but she wasn’t – patches of woods in you know the back. So anyway, that book awakened in me…. Struck a spiritual emotional passionate cord in me and helped to affirm my tendency to respond to nature in a totally erotic kind of sense. Where eroticism is not just in the genital area; although that too… But basically a whole body experience where I just can respond in my gut to a particular patch of scenery or woods. A sense of connection and well-being that floods over me or trust or love of the world – of the details of the world – of the details of nature…. I think that book was totally instrumental…. It was my bible for awhile.

Adrienne goes on to talk about what she learned from how Dillard conceptualized nature,

(Privilege/ Class/ Influences – ecoeducation, politics/ The psychology of women and nature – “put yourself there”, hope/ Spiritual experiences with nature/ Embodiment, erotic connection to nature)

A – One of the ethics that I learned from Annie Dillard’s book was ‘put yourself there’. In other words if you want to experience any beauty in life, you have to put yourself in beautiful places. And then of course open yourself up and hope that it will sweep over you. So put yourself there for her meant, ‘put yourself out doors’, and that is something that I’ve done pretty consistently in my life. And another one of her ethics is ‘notice the details because that’s where’…. I don’t use the word God, I use the word Shehenna…. I don’t know whether she used the word God but mighty close to it, ‘ … that’s what God’s face is, many faces appear outdoors in the details of nature’. And so for many years before I had a formal expression for my spirituality, I mainly got my spiritual sustenance by studying the details of nature. And I would find that incredibly comforting…. And I would get an erotic thrill from it as well as a deepening faith that life is beautiful despite the wars and the horror and the oppression…. You know the world around me has infinite possibilities for beauty. and I just remember times in my life – and I may be repeating myself now – where I was just so depressed, and the only thing I could do to comfort myself – and this was before and after coming out as a lesbian – the only thing I could do to comfort myself is take myself off to the woods. And, just be there.

(Privilege/ Class/ Education/ Influences of feminism/ Influences, of education/ Gender and bugs)

An emerging profundity, sensitivity and inquisitiveness to the nature world and the opportunity to have access to necessary machinery (stereoscopes) in her work teaching natural history to children, allowed Adrienne to look more closely at the insects she had always unquestioningly feared. These tools and a strongly emerging lesbian-feminist consciousness lead Adrienne to stop reacting to an old fear of these creatures and she began closely observing bugs. This lead Adrienne to into the fields of Vermont with a new focus and a period in her life of writing poetry and articles on the topic of women and bugs. She says

A – I remember when I was married in my twenties and there was a spider in the bathroom near the bathtub, and I would say “oh John, kill it kill it”… I was petrified of bugs. I had been stung a couple times when I was a kid, like most normal kids, and…. you know, it wasn’t anything inordinate, I just thought bugs were horrible creatures. So, all of a sudden, here was the eye of a bug with all the facets of the eyeball, you know, if you’ve ever seen an insects eye up close it has all these different facets to it. I could see all the facets and all the little details of it’s antenna and it’s feet and the scales, if it was a butterfly, on it’s wings and I just was horrified that it was blown up this big and at the same time totally fascinated and with that help of that machine – it was one of these serendipitous things – I developed a real interest in studying insects. You know just sort of reading about their natural histories and learning to identify them by noticing the details: How many claws on the tarsus, how many segments on the antenna, what the veins in the wing are patterned like – that’s how you identify insects. It’s like putting together pieces to a puzzle. And it was an incredible experience for me. And actually, learning five bugs, learning to identify five different bugs and name them – like plant hopper or click beetle or the difference between a bug and a beetle, a true bug they call um, and a beetle – the different families…. Just studying a little bit I realize that I’m practically a local expert because so few people know anything about bugs! So, I think that was probably one of the reasons why I got a job at that science center, because I knew the names of like five bugs, and they were impressed! “Oh, she must know a lot about the natural world!”.

(Education/Influences of lesbian-feminism)

Going on to discuss the causes for her shift of consciousness about bugs Adrienne speaks of how influential the “lesbian-feminist politic” was for her

A – I read lots of book about ants and bees and beetles and moths and butterflies and their natural histories like I said and I started to put this together with my politics. After I came out as a lesbian in the late 70’s… Because part of the lesbian-feminist politic was that this whole alienation from nature; the dominance submission patterns that are instilled in us from heterosexuality, carry over into the conquering of nature and so male domination pervades our attitude toward nature. And most entomology courses at universities are about controlling insect pests. You know, controlling them. and I figured that if women were going to develop a passion for nature, they had to come to terms with their fear – and most people are born with it – with an inordinate fear of insects.

Adrienne goes on to say –

A – I developed a real passion and sort of a affinity for insects. And that really was instrumental in allowing my passion for nature to broaden. And I started writing…. Man has become alienated and paranoid that nature is going to invade him, is going to take up his space. And there’s nothing more paranoid, there’s no state more paranoid, than an insect or a being that can actually invade your body. I mean that’s what paranoia is – fear of invasion – and an insect can get right into your body…. So that’s the ultimate in paranoia. So if we can kind of loosen up about this paranoia, then we can actually develop a politic and attitude that insects are our buddies!!!! So I wrote about this. I wrote about opportunities for women to learn to love the bugs.

(The psychology of women and nature – Dissociation, vicarious Traumatization, Denial, sorrow, anger, depression, socialized to be relational/Education)

Adrienne’s feelings and thoughts about violence against nature and the natural world emerged strongly in the interview and she talked about this subject more than once.

Adrienne has struggled over the years to not be overwhelmed by depression and despair because of global warming, the fact that acid rain is destroying certain kinds of forests in the Northeast of Vermont where Adrienne lives, water pollution in streams surrounding her cabin in the northeast woods and much more environmental damage.

She talked about these feelings in relation to a recent trip to the South –

A – Strip development… When I was in Florida just now, I get very despairing and depressed being in an environment where people have no consciousness of development whatsoever. It’ fucking freaky… You know every empty lot has a “for sale” sign on it, “for development” sign on it. The Everglades when I go camping there, I know their always in danger and billions of dollars are poured into it to try and keep it alive. You know I always hear stories where – when I see a flock of birds go over – a beautiful flock of birds; I never say “oh look at that beautiful flock of birds”. One is yes, look at the beautiful flock of birds and the other is boy, fifty or a hundred years ago I read stories where flocks of birds would obscure the sun there were so many of um and now there’s only a fraction of them left. And those thoughts are constantly on my mind. So, I would say that my imagination has definitely been polluted by the fragility of the environment. But I am not – at this point – emotionally immobilized. I can imagine that I may become that one day; but, oh my god…

Adrienne pays a great deal of attention to her dreams. Her dreams guide her in her waking life and provide insight and understanding to deal with situations and problems facing Adrienne in her life.

When Adrienne spoke about the question of nature, the natural world and animals as dream themes, she recounted the following significant dream and went on to explain.

A – I often dream of little creatures… Sick little distorted little creatures that are like dying… Well come to think of it it’s pretty significant. And you know that I’m in charge of taking care of. Unrecognizable little rodent kind of things or naked little birds or I don’t know…. Little monkeys…. They’re often in my charge and their often like dying and I don’t know how to take care of them well and I worry about them and am anxious and that might be…. I’ve never made this connection before… that may be a result of my anxiety about my inability or my helplessness around taking care of the natural world… Overwhelmed by the culture that is destroying our natural world… One thing, every semester at the community college, I teach a book called Ishmael (Quinn, 1991).It’s about the environment. About a Gorilla. It’s a philosophical book, a dialectic, about a Gorilla who talks to this guy and teaches him the mentality around the natural world is causing our destruction. And I teach this to the kids every semester. And every semester I get pretty depressed about it. Because it’s pretty telling that we have a major attitude problem toward the natural world about conquering it and… about heading in a crash course and not believing all the evidence that we are using up all our natural resources and polluting our planet beyond belief and that we are totally in denial about this and this book keeps that fresh for me. It’s hard. It’s a hard book to teach and it’s a hard book to keep being reminded cause I do feel… I can feel pretty helpless and overwhelmed. And I must admit that in my life despite my general optimism and faith; every once in a while I’ll go through a day or two, or sometimes a week, when the whole thing just overwhelms me and I do feel helpless and I do feel like nothing I’m gonna do is gonna matter and that we’re doomed and those feelings do paralyze me. But luckily I think because of the program, my partnership, my job, and my general well-being I don’t stay stuck in that for long at this point in my life. It’s usually just a day or two and sometimes it can hold on for a week. Rarely a month. But I use to stay stuck in stuff like that for months and months and months on end. So there are periods in my life, before I had a way to bounce back or tools to bounce back with; that I would become paralyzed with despair.

(Influences of feminism/ How do we heal?/ Nature as respite from female perversions/ The psychology of women, fear, seeds of freedom/ Nature as refuge and solace)

As someone with an active dream life, Adrienne says “I use to have repetitive dreams about men hurting me but no, not that nature would take me away”. Adrienne spoke about how, since she came out as a lesbian, these old dreams of being hurt by men transformed into dreams of overpowering or escaping her attackers. Nevertheless, meeting men outside in the woods remains one of Adrienne’s biggest fears of nature and the natural world.

On the subject of being afraid in the relative wilderness, Adrienne says,

A – I think, when I met the moose one time when I was swimming in a stream and the dog began barking and I came out of the stream – I was naked – I was way way up in the wilderness and there was a moose standing there, I can’t say that I wasn’t afraid! So when I meet a big animal… Although I tend not to panic. I tend just to stay still and admire it pretty much. You know…. I do take chances. I do put myself out by myself in relative wilderness areas. Unprotected… I take risks in the natural world. So I do have a certain healthy fear…. I’ve gotten lost once or twice; that’s put me in a panic. So getting lost in the woods is a fear. Meeting a big animal is a fear. But not enough to keep me from doing that. Meeting men in the woods is my biggest fear. But even that it doesn’t keep me from being alone in the cabin overnight by myself. None of my fears are inordinate in the natural world. Storms, floods, I think I have a healthy respect for the fact that the natural world, can do me in, but a lot of what I say to myself: I’d rather die by being in the natural world than I would be being imprisoned or at the hands of a mugger in the city.














Chapter 5


We are the bird’s eggs. Bird’s eggs, flowers, butterflies,                                                rabbits, cows, sheep; we are the caterpillars; we are leaves

of ivy and sprigs of wallflower. We are women. We rise from

the wave. We are gazelle and doe, elephant and whale,

lilies and rose and peach, we are air, we are flame, we

are oyster and pearl, we are girls. We are women and

  1. And he says he cannot hear us speak. But we hear.

– Susan Griffin, 1978


Environmentalists may argue the importance of looking at

the whole mountain, not at the individual trees. In response,

Karen Davis, founder of United Poultry Concerns, challenges,

“If I can’t relate to an individual, what good is it to relate to

the whole mountain? Before I can decide if I want to think

like a mountain, I need to know if this will enable me to

think like a chicken.”Domination happens against a group,

who are seen as less powerful than those with power. But

though domination occurs against groups, it is as individuals

that we experience the resulting oppression. No theory should

neglect this fact (Adams, 1998)


  1. Personal Reflections: Journey through a year’s seasons

It was very important for me in constructing this thesis not only to have the process be as important as the product but to understand my process and how it was influenced by various factors – from what I was reading and conversations with friends on the topic of women and nature, to what I was dreaming at night. I can’t possibly count the nights of sleep lost to this thesis as frequentlty I would wake with a start at two, three, four or five a.m. with thoughts or feelings that necessitated I rise from my comfortable bed and go to my desk to jot down an idea which I knew, if not recorded, would be forgotten by the morning.

In this way and others I have “sat” with this work since last spring, through almost one full yearly cycle of the earth turning. I have watched the delicate miraculous lush tender and very slow unfolding of spring in the country. Once thinking of fog only in the context of horror movies, I have slowly come to understand when, where, and why the heavy midst and fogs role onto the valleys and roadways and the absolute and magnificent beauty of its arrival. The fresh way the thick heavy moisture smells in the night air in the summertime when the Daddy Long Legs roam the ornamental grasses by the entrance way to our house. A smell similar to the scent of a newborn puppy or – I can imagine – that of a fawn resting in the soft brush of a dawn thicket. Here, in this new country abode, I have bore witness to millions of tender tiny minute unfoldings of spring burst into an unbelievable and literal jungle of plant and animal life in summer. Now that the windows are open I can hear the sounds of many bird voices in their daily refrain. The window directly behind my computer serves as a constant distraction to me in whatever work I undertake here at this desk. When I am sitting here I almost spend as much time looking out the windows as I do looking down at the pages of a given text or my computer keyboard. It is also a continual reminder to me of the cycles of life: the birth, growth, life, decline, and death that life is all about.

Early summer and at the moment there is green everywhere. I have waited and watched this green unfolding for months now. Never before in my life can I say that I have truly experienced the slow birth that is spring. After years of longing to live in the country this is my first cycling through the seasons with the land here. For the first months here I fought against everything that took me away from the beginning relationship I was forming with the land here: The birch, beech, and mountain ash tree’s demanded of me complete attention. Living in the country is entirely different than city living.

Summertime and keeping the lawns mowed here on this hill is an oxymoron. It has translated instead into watching thousands of “weeds” become a tangle of blackberry hedges and weeds become wildflowers with names like “Jewelweed, Thistle, Yarrow, clover, feverfew, foxglove, mullein, common st. johnswort, yellow wood-sorrel and trillium. I know these names of these healing plants to be on bottles of herbs and homeopathy in the health food stores and local coop. I have used Mullein for my lungs many times.

All summer my herbalist friend hoped to come and “wild craft” our medicinal plants, which, most naive Americans insist and continue to call “weeds” and spray liberally with chemicals toxic not only to these plants intruding on their manicured lawns but killing the birds, field mice, moles, screws, frogs, fish, and those of us who eat the flesh of contaminated animals. It breaks my heart thinking about all this death created, fabricated, in the wake of so much life, for chemical business profit. Why kill the multiplicity of plants to create the uniformity of suburban grass and lawn? What motivates such action? The madness of zoning laws which in some towns in America could result in jail for transgressions against the property standards. I suppose this is much of what it is about; the perception that we own the earth. When you live in the kind of country around my home here in the hills of Western Massachusetts, it does not take long to learn that it is meaningless to attempt to control the cycles of this landscape. It would be like the story of Sisyphus rolling his bolder up the hill and chasing it back down, again and again and again as nature descends. And it is harmful. For in the thicket of overgrown plant life, in hollows under fallen, rotting, dying trees, is the habitats that so many creatures depend on to survive. From winter bear dens to nesting sites for spring birds.

Summer here also meant I must deal with one of my biggest fears in life: spiders. In the country when people say there are a lot of spiders they are not kidding. There are something to the effect of 100 spiders every few hundred feet and the fact that I know these insects are crucial to the biosphere and the earth would die should the spider cease to exist – this does not soothe my common and primordial fear of these eight legged creature. So summertime meant Spiders – big spiders, little spiders, spiders of all shapes and colors, textures and habitats. By the end of the summer my eyesight was beginning to replicate that of an owl. I could see a spider in the dark on the house. I could count the dozens of spider eggs stuck in the rafters. And, I had searched out the local bookstores and found a book that was, ultimately, my avenue toward spider curiosity becoming at least as powerful in my psyche as my spider fear. Because I try to never kill any other living being, our wonderful wrap around porch with it’s high brown beams on this mountain house became strictly spider habitat. I only frequent the porches of my house in the winter months.

Ruby Throated Hummingbirds are one of the first to go, hearsay has it these wee birds leap onto the backs of Canadian Geese hitching a ride to survive the long trip south.

Entering fall of the year and still I am not actively working on my thesis. It is still gestating.

Outside my study windows the nights are warm for fall in the hills and the sky is a dozen shades of gray. The luminous waxing moon burns through the tops of the tallest fir trees in streaks of light and thousands of tiny night insects are moving in their slow pace through the forest floor, doing whatever insects do. All is mostly silent but for the infrequent call of a few foolhardy birds.

I am taking daily walks with my dog who forces me out of the house no matter what the weather or my state of health on any particular day and some days I talk to the trees, owls, deer, the dog and myself about nature and women’s psychology and other days, most days, are just an effort of will to move my ailing body along the roadside to please this companion animal I love so deeply.

Our first fall in the country and although I have taken numerous drives into the country from town or city over the past 42 years of my life; being here with it is as different as night and day. As different as looking at a photograph of a Barred Owl, a Turkey Vulture, a Ruby Throated Hummingbird, a Black Bear, Deer, Moose; or actually looking the animal in their soulful eyes sparkling with feeling and intense intelligence. As many naturalists have pointed out (Kellert, 1998), there is something absolutely exhilarating about chance encounters with wildlife. There is absolutely no other experience in life like this. It takes your breath away. Makes your heart skip a beat and then beat loud in your chest. It reminds us that we are alive in interaction with another being of another species. It is a gift like no other. It is the excuse used by recreational sport hunters [Kellert, 1997].

I liken this experience to how we tend to drive our cars. I believe that driving would be almost impossible were it not that when we drive our vehicles we snap into some instinctive sense mode. Very often as drivers we communicate via some non-verbal method to other drivers on the road. Watching a wild animal, bird, or landscape on television instead of in the flesh is sort a like driving without seeing. You are going through the necessary steps but something essential is missing. Experiencing fall for the first time in my life was like this. Each day each particular tree of the hundreds of trees around us here would be at a slightly different stage of color and leaf dropping. Laying out on a rock in the field at dusk with my dog sitting by my side, her looking out onto the vista of the setting sun, me on my back looking up at the trees like I have loved to do all of my life; when suddenly, in total silence, two geese fly two hundred feet overhead and all one hears is the beating of their wings. There is simply no other sound in the universe like the flap-flap-flap of the flight of a goose. As one of my research participants, Adrienne, pointed out to me; “One of the ethics that I learned from Annie Dillard’s book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) was ‘put yourself there’. In other words if you want to experience any beauty in life, you have to put yourself in beautiful places. And then of course open yourself up and hope that it will sweep over you. So put yourself there for her meant, ‘put yourself out doors’” (Adrienne p. 36)


Now I was able to begin to understand the writers I had been reading – particularly the work of Robert Coles (1990), Gary Nabhan (1994) and others who speak of the many ways that urban and suburban children learn sensitivity and morality from their relationship with domesticated animals. For me, a life long lover of trees, seeing the trees though their entire life cycle was as phenomenal as watching any mammal give birth and then nurturing that infant through its life span and into death. My love of trees teaches me to tread gently.

Wintertime, when the tree limbs are naked one can see the soft flowing curve of the Massachusetts hills stretching on for miles to the west and all is layered in a quilt of white. Here on the fields and hills the snows deepen and deepen and always remain the same brilliant white as the day they fell from the skies. All the leaves have fallen, the fruits and vegetables harvested, the birds migrated south and the face of the land once again returns to what has not been for 10 months. Is this small death not this reminder of annihilation – for this is a constant truth in nature and the natural world – in the midst of the most profound experience of being and beauty what nature is all about? I rejoice in the slow pace and unpredictability of winter! My experience so far of living in the hills of Western Massachusetts in the wintertime has been a time of retreat, reflection, observation and rest. I am convinced along with other ecopsychologists that the lack of recognition of our mammalian existence is why so many modern people suffer from “seasonal affective disorder” in the wintertime (Gallagher, 1993). When I used to live in the city, I would get intensely weary and reticent during the long New England winters. Whether I knew it or not my biological being was reflecting my environment. Wintertime in a rural setting allows me to pay more careful attention. In my very recent local history, New Englanders had little choice but to live in conjunction with the cycles of the earth. Today we could learn more from their old sparely windowed center chimney cape houses than just that they were built to last forever. Out here I am constantly reminded that I am a mammal who no matter the weather or season must be provided with food and warmth and a way to defecate. In the country it is not always just a matter of closing ones eyes and pulling the chain. During a conversation with neighbors with a very old and ailing dog, we discussed the fact that they were planning to dig a hole for her grave before the earth becomes too frozen. Should she die they will need a place to rest her body.

In the wintertime in the country many Spiders have laid their eggs and died. In the late fall, certain types of spiders begin the process which will insure the continuation of the species but end their own lives. Other spiders over-winter in houses or burrow down into the earth to wait out the winter months living as long as 15 years (Wolf Spiders); some spiders are indoor creatures and stay just where they are – under boards in cellars and other such safe habitats. Many outdoor spiders retreat into the deep crevices of trees. But some spiders build their nests, lay their eggs, weave themselves into this bundle, and die. In the spring when the babies are born, their mother’s body provides their first food.

The black bear go into their unique long winter sleep and small mammals dig into the earth or find a burrow for a true hibernation. The leaves fallen from the trees open up a vista to the western mountains. Immediately after the bears go to sleep we bring the bird feeders up from the basement and begin to prepare for many months of snowstorms, lost electricity, difficulty getting into the city to work, lots of shoveling, and many joyous months while hundreds of birds feed a few feet from our windows.


Early spring, here I am, spring unfolding as I once again begin writing on this work. When the dog wakes me at the crack of dawn to go out, I stand there overlooking the wood and marshlands just emerging into the light and consider taking a walk. Dawn is, after all, the best time to see free roaming animals. The hill of the ridge behind this house is an extraordinary venue in which to watch plump feeding Porcupines, the rare Fisher wandering along the old stone wall, the magnificent Pileated Woodpecker flinging itself across the sky to land on a nearby tree stump disrupting all the insects within, or the melting snows layering the weary branches of the dying oak tree that sits just below the rim of the ridge deeply in the shade. I am still attempting to get at the root of this thesis subject. I desperately want to learn something new. Make some new connection between women’s psychologies and men’s rapid domination and destruction of so much of the earth’s wildlife and habitat over the past three hundred years. This has been the overriding motivation for the past six month hiatus. I do not want to simply put together another piece of writing in a black cover to fill up the walls of the academy library. Whatever I create in these pages must reflect the essence of my voice, heart, mind, instinct, intuition, and being. Nothing less shall satisfy me. Through every season there is a smell in the countryside: The wet, moist, intoxicating dankness of spring; the rich and endless smells of plant, flower, insect, and animal life in summer; the rusty, musty, bitter, decaying smell of fall; and the sharpness of the almost scentless air of winter. So often scents bring us into an immediacy of present time, take us back into memory, or launch us into dreaming. One of the most striking observations I have made of my year living here in the country is the continual awareness that I have of the balance of the living and the dying. In urban and suburban areas where I grew up and lived most of my past life, this reality is almost entirely masked. When something dies it is removed. When a tree, bush, plant dies or even begins the dying process – their remains are almost immediately cut down, carried away, pulled up and thrown into the trash, or otherwise removed. Our suburban zoning laws often take this into foremost account and if this does not motivate the urban/suburban dweller to keep their “property” well preened, then neighborhood pressure no doubt will take over where the laws fail.

The degree of dead and dying plant life in the wild countryside took me more than awhile of getting use. It was a shock to my senses to live in this environment, the forest, where there are acres and acres of land between each homestead and, if not farmed or otherwise purposely cleared, most folks leave this land untouched. That translates into what appears to my novice naturalist eye as almost as many fallen, sick, dying, and otherwise wounded and broken trees as those that are healthy (by heavy winter snows, high winds, lightening, and other such natural causes). Lao Tzu said that “nature is not human-hearted” and as I contemplate the profound predator and prey relationship which exists among the animals and birds in the countryside around me here, and I bare witness to the enormity of death, I realize the truth of this statement. It is from this place that I once again propel myself into this work.


  1.             Setting the theoretical stage –

In this thesis I am referring to two well known works of literature written by women in the nineteenth century- Frankenstein (Shelly, 1818) and The Yellow Wallpaper (Gilman, 1892) – as well as a more obscure, but no less powerful, twentieth century feminist film, “Female Perversions” (Affirm & Streitfeld, 1996). All three works served as an allegory, or poignant metaphor to me, as I collected data for my research. As I set out to begin my interviews these stories were churning around in the back of my thoughts, waiting to fully emerge in relationship to my subject.

Webster’s defines allegory as “the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions or generalizations about human existence…a symbolic representation” (Webster, 1975, p. 30).

Georgia Douglas Johnson’s poem on the cover page of this paper, “The Heart of a Woman”, was written by an African American woman before the first world war. The meaning of this poem is evident and unmistakable. Similarly, although fictional, there is no doubt in my mind that Mary Shelley Wollestonecraft’s famous story Frankenstein, written in 1818, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The yellow wallpaper written in 1892, are as representational of the psychological lives of women in patriarchal societies and their relationship to nature today, as they were when they were first written.


Frankenstein: The experience of female embodiment

and alienation from nature. Or, Rose and Zelda’s

“human not nature”


It was during my interview with Zelda that the immense relevance of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1818), in relationship to my subject, dawned on me.

Although the vegetarian herbivorous creature depicted by Mary Shelley is biologically male in gender – and ultimately acts out a deep frustration and rage against the rejecting human world in a classically aggressive male fashion – it has been convincingly hypothesized that nineteen-year old Mary Shelley’s story of Frankenstein was very much about the place of women in society (Adams, 1991; Gilbert & Gubar, 1984; Levine and Knoepflmacher, 1979).

Envisioned as half-human, half-animal, the creature was formed from parts of dead people from the graveyard and dead animals from the slaughterhouse. The creature’s plight is a lifelong battle to find some sort of place and peace within the human society from whence it came and the natural world where it finds itself quite at home. The creature is devastated by the abandonment of its “father” because it is so different and perceived as very ungainly and ugly. This rejection is compounded by it being unable to fit wholly into the human world – because it is half animal – or the natural world – because it is half human.


Mary Shelley’s (1818) Frankenstein has been analyzed and interpreted to reflect the position of women in society. Like Shelley’s creature, women are forced to be socially and economically separate from the world of men. Father’s frequently do not know how to be close to their daughters. Women are seen as “other”, not accepted into the society of men, and institutionally confronted with misogyny and violence on a regular basis. Historically and philosophically in the west, women have been seen as part of the world of nature and thus inferior and distinct from men. Yet, because they live in a culture that disregards both nature and women, they are caught in a terrible psychological doublebind. As Carol Adams points out

The creature embodies both vegetarian and feminist meaning.While women in Frankenstein enact Mary Shelley’s subversion of sentimentalism by fulfilling feminine roles and dying as a result, and the men represent inflexible masculine roles, it is the New Being who represents the complete critique of the present order which Shelley attempted. The nameless Creature, who Gilbert and Gubar see as seeking for a maternal principle in the midst of the world of the fathers, resolutely condemns the food of the fathers as well as their mores; in this sense its vegetarianism carries feminist as well as pacifist overtones… (1990, p. 117)


Adams then goes on to say “The creature’s situation matches that of many women characters for whom tragedy “springs from the fact that consciousness must out pace the possibilities of action, that perception must pace within an iron cage” (1991, p. 118) As I was reading the chapter in The sexual politics of meat (Adams,1991) devoted to a brilliant analysis of Frankenstein (1818), parallels between stories told to me by my interviewee’s and the Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein monster continued to unfold.


Like Mary Shelley’s monster, women are at once apart of the world of men, yet separate. This has been a major theme in my thesis interviews. Economic poverty prevents my interviewee, Lettie, from her deep desire to “live on the land”. Rose smokes cigarettes in nature in order to make the statement to herself about her human separation from nature and her unavoidable participation in the exploitation of nature as a member of the human race in the twentieth century. Zelda frequently feels like a monster, except when she is alone and in nature. Yet, Zelda says “I love nature immensely but I know that as a human I can never be a part of nature. I am forever exiled to remain outside looking in…”.

Carol Adams discusses the meaning of the vegetarianism of the creature & the feminine nature of it’s dilemma – trying to be accepted by society but not being allowed in.

The creature includes animals within its moral codes, but is

thwarted and deeply frustrated when seeking to be included

within the moral codes of humanity. It learns that regardless of its own inclusive moral standards, the human circle is drawn in such a way that both it and the other animals are excluded from it. (Adams, 1991, p. 109)


Like Mary Shelley’s half human half animal creature women are similarly at once a part of the world of men, yet apart and separate. A part of the world of nature, yet apart and separated. When Shelly wrote the story of Frankenstein as an nineteen year old woman in 1818; as the daughter of famous feminist Mary Wollestonecraft (who died giving birth to Mary), author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) and philosopher William Godwin, radical-anarchist philosopher, she is said to have been acutely aware that women were not welcome in the institutional world of men (ironically, this is seen clearly in the fact that when Frankenstein was first published, it’s author was not indicated!)

This conflict between nature and culture and the quest to somehow cope with this dilemma was most poignantly reflected in the stories of Rose and Zelda. Rose smokes in nature to state her claim to humanity. Zelda feels she is different physically. She feels, in fact, “like a monster”. But, when Zelda is in nature all this hatred of herself for not matching culturally defined feminine standards fades away. The strife between nature and culture points out how many women in modern western societies have to make the chose between nature and culture. And yet, even after it is somehow resolved in our psyches, we balance somewhere between the worlds never quite belonging in one or the other.

Zelda says:

[Nature] is a special place/sphere to be in, I am a visitor there. Because I am a human caught in the human world I can never

be of the natural domain, only if I reject/renounce my humanness and embrace a natural/animal nature that does exist in side me. So I am only able to visit. But when I am there I am exhilarated and buoyed. There is no other place like it….(p.3)…I feel that nature holds the key to my existence, because I must survive in the human world, I am kept from developing myself as part of nature (Zelda, p. 15)


Zelda talked about the difficulty she has being connected to her body. She has a difficult time visualizing herself in her body and exists mostly in the world of thoughts, ideas, feelings, and emotions. She says that she rarely looks in the mirror. Zelda attributes her relationship to her body to poor self image due to some physical differences she has had since she was a child that set her apart from other children and the fact that she “received physical punishment” as a child. On this topic, in Engendered lives (1992) Ellyn Kaschak says

With all of these socially constructed imperatives, what woman

can accurately perceive herself in a mirror? Self-esteem becomes self-image, and women’s images are always found wanting. Some body part is inevitably too big, too small, or the wrong shape…[women] are, in a much more essential way, their bodies (Kaschak, 1992, p. 109)


Zelda goes on and talks movingly about how being in nature and the natural world makes her feel beautiful. She says,

As a child and as an adult [the natural world] was “a place away” where I could go for refuge, escape, safety, a place where I could truly be me and could express myself and my greatest longings. It was a place where I was beautiful, rather than the ugly little naughty child…. Going to nature helps me to find my true self that can only be found in nature. It is the true self that is constantly denied and destroyed in the humanly made world.

(Zelda, p. 11)

The Yellow Wallpaper: Caged away from nature

The yellow wallpaper (Gilman,1892) is a story which closely followed the actual life experience of its author. The unnamed heroine in the story is being treated in the manner prescribed by the infamous S. Weir Mitchell. Dr. Mitchell’s common “treatment” for mental disorders of women of the upper classes at that time was know as “the rest cure”.

Prevented from engaging in honest and free relationships with other people, society, her work as a writer, or the natural world, the heroine of The Yellow Wallpaper (1982) descends into “madness”. The narrator/heroine of the story is the young wife of a successful physician. John has taken his “blessed little goose” for a three month stay in a country manor. Both the narrator’s husband and her physician brother have diagnosed her as having “nervous depression” and have enforced rest, exercise, and no writing. (Of course the heroine is a writer.) The reader is informed that the heroine feels ill in ways in which her husband and brother will not acknowledge. She also disagrees with their plans for her “cure”. It is made known to the reader that the narrator is being treated for a disease she does not believe she has and with methods she disagrees. She is not allowed to express her true self. She is prevented from speaking about what is really bothering her.

On her husband’s insistence, they have taken as their bedroom an upstairs room, a room which has many windows, all of which are barred because the room was once a children’s nursery. On the walls is ugly patterned ripped yellow wallpaper. Instead of this upstairs room, the heroine wanted to stay in a downstairs room which was much “prettier” and opened onto a piazza. As the days and weeks pass, the narrator becomes more and more intrigued and obsessed with the yellow wallpaper. Its pattern has come to resemble the bars of a cage, and behind the bars she begins to imagine a woman/women who can’t get out. Suddenly life begins to become far more meaningful. The narrator spends most of the time her husband is out at work each day secretly contemplating the situation of the woman behind the yellow wallpaper. Eventually the heroine sees that the caged woman escapes each day, out the window to “…that long road under the trees, creeping alone…”

In the last pages of The Yellow Wallpaper (Gilman, 1892), the night before they are about to leave to return to city life, the husband returns home to find his wife “creeping madly” in circles around the bedroom. During her last day at the country manor, the narrator, in one great burst of hope and passion, tried to free the woman she saw creeping behind the wallpaper and down the country lanes outside the bedroom window. In the process of freeing the caged woman, she herself, or course, becomes the creeping woman. The heroine finally merges in the physical world with her twin, her facsimile – in the world of literature, her Doppelganger, her ghostly counterpart.

In The Divided Self (1960), R.D. Laing say’s the following:

Since the self, in maintaining its isolation and detachment does

not commit itself to a creative relationship with the other…             Whatever failures or successes come the way of the false system, the self is able to remain uncommitted and undefined. In fantasy, the self can be anyone, anywhere, do anything, have everything (Laing, 1960, p. 84).


Quite obviously, the bars on the windows of the bedroom with the yellow wallpaper in Gilman’s tale served the function of keeping the heroine inside a human made structure. But what is she being kept away from? The heroine of The Yellow Wallpaper (Gilman, 1892) is forcibly taken away from her writing, her friends, her passionate interests, her entire life as she has created it. She is brought to the country against her will.

Is this Gilman’s comment at the time of writing this book on the implied patriarchal connection between women and nature? As if, a woman dumped in a lovely natural setting yet still imprisoned behind physical, social or psychological walls would be miraculously and suddenly well and happy?

The heroine of The yellow wallpaper (1892) is told not to write and given nothing to write with. She is locked in an upstairs room away from the body of the earth. She can only look. She can not escape. She is bound. She is, quite literally, physical imprisoned. The only thing left which she trusts, which is entirely hers, are her thoughts and the beating of her own heart. The heroine in this story was not allowed to go outside into the natural world or thrive professionally or creatively in the economic world of men – except in her imagination, or by subterfuge.

The heroine of The Yellow Wallpaper is locked inside the cage of patriarchy. Differently but perhaps no less so than black American poet Georgia Douglas Johnson’s heart of a woman who”… enters some alien cage in its plight/ And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars/ While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars. (1917)….. Or, Mary TallMountain’s (See poem number nine) Woman sitting alone in an empty bedroom in a stark and echoing lifeless cityscape in The Last Wolf (1984); Paula Gunn Allen’s (10) “Women of daylight; of clocks and steel/ foundries, of drugstores and streetlights/ of superhighways that/ slice our days in two” (1984); Kateri Damm (11) who along with the Sturgeon “dangles on a hook” (1997); Lenore Keeshig-Tobias (12) duped owl (1987); Louise Erdrich’s (13) hunted doe (1987); Adrienne Rich’s (1984) poem (14) “Yom Kipper, 1984” about a young Jewish woman murdered in New Hampshire on her way to a women’s gathering with which I introduced this paper; Irena Klepfisz’s (15) first segment of her masterful series of poems “…of female monkeys born and raised in a zoo” (1982); or Audre Lorde (16) writing about racism faced by black women traveling in a car along route 91 through the Vermont countryside.

Reflections of the experience of the heroine in The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) rebound off Rose’s therapists’ pathologizing her love of the darkness and the night; Ellen’s need to be in an enclosure for “protection” to feel safe from animals and men when out of the city; Zelda’s experience of being locked in a mental hospital in America in the 1960’s because she was a lesbian and a deeply feeling sensitive woman who her family did not understand; and Lettie being confined in a cityscape she hates due to poverty.


Although the poets listed above are Native, African America, and Jewish and come from various class backgrounds, it is necessary for me to remind the reader that The Yellow Wallpaper (Gilman, 1892), was written by a middle class white woman and speaks to the particularities of this class based female engendered experience. As all our stories and lives, Gilman’s text – wonderful and far reaching allegory that it is – is rooted in her own class and race. Nonetheless, The yellow wallpaper (1892) makes a powerful statement about the place of women in male culture and the effects on women’s psyches of the culturally enforced separation of women from both society, nature and themselves. When Gilman wrote the following paragraph, laced with simile and analogy, I believe she was writing about how women, being kept from developing a meaningful manifest relationships with nature, themselves, and “the world” of men are forced to somehow survive clandestinely.

I think that woman out in the daytime! And I’ll tell you why – privately – I’ve seen her! I can see her out of every one of my windows! It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by day-light. I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping around the garden. I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage comes she hides under the blackberry vines. I don’t blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight ! I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. (Gilman, 1892, pp. 30-31)


How much this segment from Gilman (1892) reminds me of Rose riding her bicycle through the streets of Brooklyn and Berlin as her friends looked on shaking their heads.

We find freedom where we can.



Engendered female socialization: “Female Perversions”                                     and the drive to connect


If you have been born a woman and have been taught that

nurturing is your role…I think that without throwing the baby

out with the bath water, you can use that conditioning to help

you develop a closer relationship with nature. But at the same

time you have to learn assertiveness, probably you have to

spend more time learning assertiveness because otherwise

you will succumb to male domination too easily. You know, it’s

like balancing it means probably for a while swinging the

pendulum toward…aggressiveness…And I certainly did that in

my life. I sort of backed myself up into a corner with it. (Adrienne, pp. 40-41)

“Female Perversions” (Affrime & Streitfeld,1996) is one of the most powerful and moving feminist films I have seen since Marleen Gorris’s Dutch film, “Question of Silence” (1983). “Female Perversions” portrays magnificently what it means to be female in a male dominated world. That all too frequently, no matter what a girl or woman does to elude her engenderment in patriarchal society, escape is almost impossible and commonly inconceivable. She is contained by the simple fact that she is embodied in a female body. Within this tight and constricted place where true freedom evades her, women take on a multitude of behaviors which are, in fact, perversions of what would otherwise be. We are kept in a cage, walking a tightrope, via the overriding feminized gender socialization to which we are all exposed – the control and violence against girls and women which we must battle daily. “Female Perversions”, based on a text written from a psychoanalytic perspective (Kaplan, 1991), transliterated from book to screen, strongly reflects gender embodiment theories of psychoanalyst Karen Horney, feminist psychologist Ellen Kaschak (1992) and the radical feminist cutting edge concepts of Bonnie Burstow (1992).

In the opening scene of “Female Perversions” (Affrime & Streitfeld, 1996) there is an image of a bound woman. Each time she moves the bonds that constrict her become tighter and tighter, squeezing against her flesh. Simultaneously, a woman is walking a tightrope, intently focused in her attempt to balance.

Not surprisingly, this scene has been misinterpreted in many reviews of “Female Perversions” (Affrime & Streitfeld, 1996), I have read. It is not intended as erotic image, but as a metaphor for the position of women in patriarchy. The character in the film to whom we later come to attribute this scene is haunted by continual flashbacks and images of verbal and psychological degradations at the hands of men and women. Eve, a heterosexual lawyer striving to be appointed judge by the governor is portrayed as brilliant, beautiful, and partially conscious of the choices she had made in her life to succeed in the professional world. In her imagination throughout the film, men (and a woman in one scene), appear behind Eve in assault fashion and, manipulating her body with their hands, whisper into her ear words of hatred and degradation. They tell Eve she is fat, stupid, lascivious, lewd, lustful, disgusting, a cunt, a ball breaker, a hag, a siren, a woman who thinks she’s a man. The image of bondage in the film’s opening is used throughout the film as a metaphor in a far larger sense to indicate that no matter which way a female might turn in her life we only tighten our bonds. The tightrope is the tight rope on which we all must most carefully proceed to survive.


In “Female Perversions” (Affrime & Streitfeld, 1996), 13 year old Edwina struggles with her embodiment – with being engendered in a female body as she bares witness to the behavior of the three adult women in her life. Her mother, Emma, a bridal seamstress, is in submission and continual emotional prostration at the feet of her current boyfriend who is separated but married to another woman. Emma’s entire life revolves around pleasing this man and hoping that he will ask her to marry him. Frequently in tears, Emma has no identity or reason for living without the hope that this man will propose. Edwina’s aunt, Annuciata, is a stripper. Her understanding of women’s bodies as commodity and currency are direct and to the point. She holds no illusions or fantasies about what it means to be a woman. Annuciata sees it as it is. These two women are the central role models in Edwina’s life teaching her what it means to be female. “Ed” struggles to reject what these two women represent. Instead Ed is fascinated by Madelyn’s, Eve sister’s room, full of pagan and Goddess images. Ed regularly sneaks into Madelyn’s room, turns on the computer, and reads Madelyn’s dissertation on a Mexican matrilineal society. Rejecting social constrictions, Edwina is tormented by the void she faces. At thirteen she knows what she sees is not what she wants but has no idea that there are any options.

Her mother asks her why she cut her long hair. She has absolutely no understanding of her daughter’s struggle over becoming a woman. Her aunt brings her pieces of lingerie, which Edwina wears over her baggy black shorts and t-shirts. How does this child deal with growing into her emerging sexual body? She does pagan rituals in the desert with earth and fire. Edwina spends as much time outside as inside the house. There she goes, walking with lantern, into the desert, down a long path away from her mother’s house.

Edwina literally fills this desert landscape with the discarded disembodied, truncated, headless, armless and legless bodies of plastic female models on which her mother sews wedding gowns. When she begins to menstruate, Edwina cuts out the crotch of her bloody shorts and shoves it down the garbage disposal. She buries her blood pads ceremonially in the desert. Rocks mark the spot where, with each of the six menstrual cycles she has thus far experienced, Edwina believes she has buried a baby who has died.


The realism, anguish, and struggle of the women in this film moved me enormously. Thirteen year old Edwina represented the struggle of so many modern girls and women who have within them the lovely, genderless, self-defeated adolescent girl who simply does not fit into any of the roles of feminized woman and who scour minds, hearts and bodies for a way out of cognitive dissonance. To one degree or another, the reality of life necessitates the need for most women to takes on various psychological and psychosocial coping mechanisms. Methods of survival. “Self medicating” taken into realm of female personality development. Edwina saw only hatred against women but awareness of this hatred did not stop her for longing for a love that was not, at that moment, possible or even conceivable to her. Edwina longed for another way. All she saw around her was hatred against women. To then survive the constrictions of her gender and embodiment, Edwina self mutilated, carving the opposite word – love – a litany or reminder of what somewhere somehow she knew was possible – into her flesh.


Eve’s older sister, Madelyn, can not stop herself from stealing. She lives in a house in the desert. She wears cowboy boots and jeans, has short hair, no makeup. We watch as she goes into a lingerie store, stuffs frilly feminized underwear into her pockets, walks out of the store to the trash basket, and empties her pockets. Later, Eve discovers Madelyn’s bedroom drawers filled with unworn stolen clothing. We get the sense that Madelyn has never sold out. Madelyn has never forgotten.

Just a few days before she must defend her doctoral dissertation at UCLA, Madelyn has been caught and put in jail for shop lifting and charged with grand larceny. Eve has come to the small town in the desert from LA to get her estranged sister out of jail. While Madelyn is in jail for the weekend, Eve stays in her sister’s room in the house with Edwina, her mother Emma, and aunt Annuciata.

Late the evening before Eve’s meeting with the governor and Madelyn dissertation defense, uninvited, Madelyn comes to spend the night with her estranged sister Eve. Nightmares invade Eve’s sleep. Early in the morning Madelyn steals her sister’s special suit to wear to defend her dissertation. When Eve awakes to find her suit missing she is in a complete dither, perturbed and agitated. She is enraged with Madelyn. For her meeting with the governor, Eve is forced to wear another suit within which she is uncomfortable and distracted. She is not herself. She fiddles with a loose thread throughout the meeting. She is unprepared for the the governors question about her state of matrimony. Sitting in her car after the meeting she bemoans the fact that she was so “stupid” and did not lie – pretend she was married to a man. A happy wife and successful lawyer. The ideal [modern, feminine] woman (Westcott, 1986). Eve believes she blew the meeting with the Governor because she said she was unmarried. In a fury Eve drives her sports car into the desert to Madelyn, Edwina, and Emma’s house and awaits Madelyn’s return.

Madelyn has argued her dissertation successfully and comes home drunk, still wearing Eve’s suit. The two sisters confront each other and later that night, as they sleep in Madelyn’s bed together, the repressed memories from Eve’s childhood relationship with her father finally rise into her consciousness. It is a lovely scene, Madelyn holding her sister Eve as she sobs remembering the past.

The film ends on a beautiful and positive note. The two sister’s have learnt and grown from each other, each woman taking on some of the other’s positive ways of coping, each discarding what is ugly and worthless. Each woman keeps what will help her in her fight for freedom. “The suit” gets ripped off and stomped on by the bathtub before the sister’s bathe. Eve has found solace in the arms of her pagan sister. Her sister who steals so “that she will not kill herself, or anyone else”.

Youthful Edwina, hardly facsimile, Doppelganger , or ghostly counterpart but entirely embodied flesh (she self mutilates her flesh) and blood (buries her menstrual blood) female being, finally rests her deeply wounded emerging 13 year old body into Eve arms. Eve has run into the desert after Edwina as she makes her way, in ritualistic fashion in the misty dawn light, lantern guiding the way, down the path away from her mother’s house.

Edwina is, quite clearly, a youthful incarnation of Eve herself. Edwina runs from Eve. Edwina can not run any further. Eve reaches Edwina atop an enormous rock outcropping. At the highest point of the cliff, balancing but this time on the earth and not thin rope, Eve cradles Edwina in her arms, strokes her hair, and together atop ancient earth they rock. [Footnote 11]


Female Perversions and my hypothesis

How does the concept of female perversion relate to my hypothesis in this paper?

Ecopsychologist Laura Seawall (1995) sheds some light on vicarious traumatization in our kinship with the earth,

Our “collective myopia” is one manifestation of psychic numbing – a psychological defense against witnessing the world’s pain. It is a form of denial that shields us from fully experiencing the latest reports on ozone depletion, increasing pollution, toxicity, poverty, illness, and the death of species. Full awareness hurts. In response we build defenses, twist ourselves into something we collectively label as variations on the themes of madness or depression, or we choose between a variety of convenient distractions… In a culture with the luxury to do so, we turn down the volume. (Seawall,1995, p. 202)


When she was a girl, walking alone the shoreline, picking up garbage, behind her mother’s oblivious friend and animated daughter, Lettie did exactly this. Little Lettie made a choice to turn down the volume, knowing, that if she kept on hearing what she had been hearing she would be in big trouble. Ellen is terrified of darkness in the countryside outside of the artificially lit cities and suburban street lights. Lettie and Rose are living truncated lives without the economic, political, physical and social freedom to relate to the natural world as they wish. (It is worth pointing out that both Lettie and Rose have sever back problems.)To survive in their lives each woman has taken on certain psychological adaptations. Adrienne risks the ultimate, her life itself, for the centrality of her relationship with the natural world. With money to go more or less where she wants; a strong and healthy body; an understanding of violence against women; and a rudimentary knowledge of what to do if she is confronted by a wild animal, Adrienne sheds the constrictions which bind my other research participants to well lit streets and more relatively limited adventures in the natural world. Adrienne “takes back the woods”, behaving in ways that others might consider recklessness. Other women marvel at the fact that Adrienne “has got what it takes”. Both Adrienne and Zelda recognize their fears, acknowledge the risk, but not let these things stop them. Why?

How do Ellen, Rose, and Cecile’s fears control the relationship they have with the natural world? Each a lover of nature and the animals, one gets the distinct impression talking with each woman that “something” holds them back in the full expression of their relationship with nature. What is this something? What part does fear play in keeping these women confined and constricted?

Could it be also that as sensitive women we are on overwhelm? Overwhelmed by violence and its potential? Overwhelmed by not knowing how to act in face of daily global and environmental atrocities – terrible social and political problems around the world being played out and “handled” by the world of men of which women are only partially accepted and have only token and cursory power? Overwhelmed by the evening news? Inundated by stories of violence against girls and women, people of color, poor peoples?


What would it give to each of my research participants to know that she is not alone in her feelings and fears?What are the psychological and emotional consequences for the women who think that they are alone? How tighter then are the constrictions that frame our lives?

It is a common experience for girls to intensely struggle with issues of isolation and aloneness growing up in nuclear families within patriarchal societies. Growing up in children’s houses on the kibbutz, this was not Gila’s experience. She has always had many close friends of both sexes. She and her brother are good friends and their lives are woven together in ways uncommon in America. In a patriarchal and individualistic society our institutions strive to separate girls and women, sisters and brothers, children and parents, the generations. In this isolation, as children, as adolescents, as adults, and then in the final years of our lives, as old people; we must each create and recreate a means and methods to survive.

In “Female Perversions” (Affrime & Streitfeld, 1996), each girl and woman struggles alone with the demons of female socialization. Each character tries to escape the numerous social and personal confinements which keep her enslaved to her gender. In “Female Perversions” healing begins when women break away and connect with each other in a world away from “man” made edifices, symbols and meanings.

In cultures in which women are allowed little true “control” over their destinies and who frequently fight tooth and nail for autonomy and happiness, what female, at some point in her life, has not at the experience of being totally out of control? Who of us, at some point, has not looked around herself, and been utterly alone? What woman has not searched for something that might bring relief and chosen to act on this no matter the consequences or how destructive her actions might be? Are these feelings, fears, actions and impulses “pathology” – to be psychologized, medicated with psychotropic drugs, reason for institutionalization – or dam ingenious ways we each somehow manage to figure out to survive?

As we saw in my review of Westcott’s (1986) wonderful feminist analysis of the theories Karen Horney, women’s psychological struggles were a result of the very real difficulty of their lives within patriarchy. A morass of shame, self-hatred, competitiveness toward other women, detachment, dissociation, depression and repressed anger were some of the psychological consequences of being objectified, sexualized, devalued as human beings, sexually and emotionally exploited, separated from other women, and separated from oneself.

Horney believed that liberation and self acceptance for women was only possible by eradicating the contradictions in women’s lives and becoming one’s “real self”. Patriarchy indubitably suffocated their spirits, bodies, hearts and minds of women. In Horney’s own words “If a tree, because of storms, too little sun, or too poor soil, becomes warped and crooked, you would not call this its essential nature” (Horney, 1952, p. 200).

As the ideal woman, the feminine type is the stepdaughter of

masculine civilization, living the consequences of the cultural

practices of sexualization and devaluation. Her estrangement from her real self is accommodation to a culture from which she is alienated… The real self, is the existential consciousness of oneself as an intentional, acting subject, rather than an object

who merges with established ‘shoulds’… the human being has the capacity to change. Indeed, it is her responsibility. For Horney, the imperative for this change is both personal and social (Westcott,1986, pp.199 – 201.)


Oftentimes the “warped and crooked” behaviors women take on facilitate their survival. Sometimes this is the only path available for a woman. Other times it is the best direction to take and one which will ultimately be the most physically or psychologically safe.

Susan Streitfeld (1996), director and co-writer of the film, “Female Perversions” says

…the thing about aberrant behavior or female perversion, if it’s delicate cutting, or if it’s kleptomania, anorexia or anemia, those are very distinctly female problems… It is feeling that you have no control whatsoever, you are powerless, and your extreme behavior makes you feel in control and makes you feel powerful, even if it’s only for two minutes (Streitfeld, 1996).


Sounding quite similar in her essential meaning as Horney (Westcott, 1986), Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1986), Brown (1992), Burstow (1992) Miller (1986), Kaschak (1992) and other feminist psychologists and women writing about the material basis for women’s oppression – Louise Kaplan, often conservative in her approach, frequently psychoanalytical and author of the scholarly text from which Streitfeld’s and Affrime’s (1996) film was based, says,

Whenever she is too frightened to reveal her treasures to the

world or even admit to herself the extent of her powers to

know and understand [she] uses the social conventions of her

day to curtain the bars of her prison windows… In this painful

examination of the corruptions of our spirit it is also necessary

to scrutinize the Faustian bargains we have made with the social world in which we live. Along the way toward growing into normal and socially accepted womanhood we leave many of our possible lives by the wayside. But they are still there, haunting the life we choose to lead… Sometimes… We will imagine that our real life is the life we didn’t lead. We sense nameless feeling coursing through our breast and wonder what they could be… We imagine that once we might have played so many parts in the human comedy, that once we were true to ourselves and our powers. For a woman now… to explore the fullness of her sexuality, her ambitions, her emotional and intellectual capacities, her social duties, her tender virtues, would entail who knows what risks and who knows what truly revolutionary alterations of the social conditions that demean and constrain her. Or she may go on trying to fit herself into the order of the world and thereby consign herself forever to the bondage of some stereotype of normal femininity – a perversion, if you will (Kaplan, 1991, p. 528).


[See poem number 17, “1. Helen, at 9 am, at noon, at 5:15”, by Judy Grahn, poem 18, “IV. Carol in the park, chewing on straws”, by Judy Grahn, and poem 19, “Margaret, seen through a picture window” by Judy Grahn]


As I wrote above, in the final unforgettable scene in the film “Female Perversions” (Affrime & Streitfeld,1996), girl-child and woman come together. This coming together is far more positive than when the heroine of The yellow wallpaper (1892) is finally united with her other self. In “Female Perversions” the women are not in a cage. And there are no men anywhere to be seen, probably for miles.

My final and important point in this discussion is that it is no coincidence that the director of “Female Perversions” (Affrime & Streitfeld, 1996) sets the last scene in the dawn midst on top of an enormous rock in a desert wilderness domain. Nor is it a coincidence that Eve has finally discarded her tight and confining pressed suits, heals, and carefully applied lipstick. In the last scene Eve is wearing her suit jacket (symbolic of her still being enmeshed in the outside world), jeans and hiking shoes. Her change of clothing indicates the potential women have to dress more freely in nature and suggests a potential embodiment, for women, in the natural world. No doubt, Eve could not climb up a cliff after Edwina in a suit and heals. Climbing through the dawn mist up the cliff-face, Eve has shed the “idealized false self” which Karen Horney postulated keeps women chained to the wishes of others. In pursuit of Edwina, Eve reunite with her “real self” (Westkott, 1986). The wounded suffering isolated girl child both outside and inside. Perched securely on top of an enormous boulder in the desert in the misty dawn light; Eve wraps her arms around her younger self, herself, her sister, all women, and holds on for dear life.

It is a magnificent ending filled with enormous hope.


Psychological histories

I will not identify my research participants even by their pseudonyms in the following section of this paper (with exception of Zelda whose psychiatric herstory I have discussed earlier). In light of this information the lines between metaphoric tales written by women – such as Frankenstein (Shelly, 1818), The yellow wallpaper (Gilman, 1892) and characters from “Female Perversions” (Affrime & Streitfeld, 1996) begin to blur. The reader might be aware that a few more pieces of the theoretical puzzle I am attempting to create in this paper are falling into place.

I want to remind readers that I did open-ended, in-depth interviews with seven women which touched on many more subjects than the natural world. These topics included women’s experiences with class, race, religion; childhood and current families; experiences of childhood/adult violence; experiences of psychological struggle; daydreams and nightmares and more.

Of the seven women I interviewed one woman identified herself as having been diagnosed as having “…a dissociative disorder, social phobia, agoraphobia, and chronic depression”. This woman was sexually and psychologically abused as a child. A second interviewee suffers from an eating disorder, problems of self esteem, difficulties in intimate relationships and was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital for a number of years as a younger woman where she was subjected to shock and drug “treatment”. This woman was physically beaten as a child. A third research participant has spent twenty years of her adult life in a relationship with a married man. A forth woman was addicted to drugs for many years and is a recovered drug addict. A fifth interviewee has been in an abusive lover relationship for many years which she has been incapable of leaving. Her emotional life is heavily ladened by a relationship where she is regularly begging for love from a withdrawn partner. She has significant problems with self esteem. She has been raped and was sexually abused as a child. Research participant number six had a major psychological break with normative reality when she was in her early 30’s which lasted many years and resulted in experimentation with psychotropic drugs and many years of psychotherapy.

These women are average women.



  1.          Violence and nature



Trauma and Vicarious trauma

Trauma permanently changes one’s personal construction of

  1. .. people appear to be less benevolent, events less random, and living more encumbered. The attempt to prevent subsequent trauma may result in a labored and sometimes tortuous existence. Fears combine with apprehension… turning life’s hassles and stresses into potentially threatening events. A lack of joy and hope compromises the experience of being alive… (Root, 1992, p. 229)


It is difficult to be alive and not be aware of the enormity and multitude of violence perpetrated on a daily basis against human beings, animals and the earth. Stories of violence are so normative they are passe in the minds of many. People are numbed out to the daily news. Other’s don’t want to know what is happening in the world and make it a point not to listen to the news or read newspapers. The degree of violence is so massive and global it is totally incomprehensible. Stories of this or that war atrocity; accounts of rape, mayhem and murder; statistics on how many acres of rain forest and how many birds/animals/insects/types of flowers and precious plant species holding the potential future key to cures for human disease are being destroyed or become extinct every day are regularly cited in the media. Thus, it is no surprise that the subject of vicarious traumatization came up in my interviews.


As I have thus far pointed out in this paper, girls and women suffer enormously from experiences of violence and oppression. Any experience of violence, depending on its severity, can become quite psychologically and socially devastating and debilitating to a woman. One manifestation of traumata is post traumatic stress disorder (Herman, 1992; Root, 1992; Greenspan, 1993; Brown and Ballou, 1992). A woman might experience PTSD from one, a few, a dozen, or continual incidences of violence.

For relationally oriented females, dealing with trauma in ones interpersonal relationships and trauma in relation to the larger social and political world is not an easy combination. It provides fertile ground for symptomologies related to experiences of direct, indirect, and insidious trauma (Root, 1992).

I am going to take a leap here, along with Greenspan (1993), Root (1992), and others, to suggest that often our highly relationally socialized female psychologies are also subject to being deeply wounded by violence wielded against the body of the earth. I believe it can make it difficult (or even impossible) for women (and sensitive men) to heal from their own personal experiences of trauma whilst dealing with continual ongoing social and ecological violence. How can women be whole when they are exposed to a regular personal/social/political/and/or, ecological onslaught of violence ?

As Root (1992) points out,

Trauma is qualitatively different from stress… Traumas represent destruction of basic organizing principles by which we come to know self, others, and the environment; traumas wound deeply in a way that challenges the meaning of life. Healing from the wounds of such an experience requires a restitution of order and meaning in one’s life. (Root, 1992 p. 229) [Italics mine]


Where does this order come from for women – women who are stuck in the muck of a difficult past, an unhappy present, an uncertain personal and political future?


As more and more books on this subject hit the bookshelves – biophilia is becoming a familiar word to many people. Ecologists, ecopsychologists, ecophilosophers, ecofeminists and others have made it clear that our human interactions and relationship with the relative wilderness is essential to our psychological development and well being as well as our collective global future. But if when I go without my dog into the marshlands behind my house, I’m thrown into memories of my own experiences of violence in the natural world and the endless stories which I, and many women, have heard of violence against other women in the woods – why would I or any rational woman ever want to go walking deep into the woods alone without a horde of friends by her side?

As I have already discussed in this paper, the fear of violence and the psychological states it can generate is a well suited tool of social control in women’s lives. But what else does it do to the female psyche to live in a state of environmental terror?


What I am hoping to get across about vicarious traumatization or secondary traumatic stress disorder is that the combination of surviving battering or rape; child abuse; witnessing the abuse of our mothers, sisters, and friends; experiences of racism, anti-Semitism, classism, homophobia; and patriarchal control of the natural world become profound and significant “obstacles to [women’s] healing” (Root, 1992).

Yet, the sum and substance of my thesis in this paper is that engendered female relational socialization and experiences of vicarious traumatization make the need to connect with the natural world a pressing psychological concern for women.



Taking off from Carl Anthony

There has been a great deal of research which indicates the sensitivities of children to the natural world and the many social, psychological, developmental and social benefits of an intimate positive relationship for kids with nature (Barrows, 1995; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; Coles, 1990; Gallagher, 1993; Goodall, 1995; Hayward, 1997; Kellert, 1997; Nabhan & Trimble, 1994; Nabhan, 1994; Shepard, 1982; Turner, 1989).

The New York Botanical Garden’s new 12 acre Everett Children’s Adventure Garden in the Bronx and many other smaller projects under way in urban areas across the country give inner city kids access to the natural world they would not have otherwise. Research also indicates that television, photographs, zoos, and controlled city and suburban parks – although great because they are at least exposing urban people to the out of doors – just don’t compare to the real thing ((Kellert, 1997). In light of this, the following question becomes most pertinent to me: If peoples of color and girls and women are only relatively safe in controlled natural environments, how then can peoples of color and can girls and women experience the many physical and psychological benefits of being in relatively wild natural environments? Is the door to the natural world only half open to women and people of color? Another way to put it would be “who owns nature and what can we do to change this?”


In “Ecopsychology and the Deconstruction of Whiteness” (Anthony, 1995), activist Carl Anthony who runs the Urban Habitat Program in San Francisco talks with ecopsychologist Theodore Roszak about the relationship between class, race and nature. The connection between women and nature is only vaguely suggested in this article. However, I believe that the similarities and correlation between class, race, gender and nature are difficult to ignore.

Anthony’s central focus is on people of color in America, class issues, and the cities as a barometer of our larger relationship with nature. Fifty percent of the world’s people and 70% of the American population live in cities (Anthony 1995, p. 275). Anthony believes that the cities reflect our environmental crisis and that “if we really want to solve our environmental problems, instead of running from the city we have to rebuild it.” (p. 276). He points out the fact that it’s not a coincidence that an environmental crisis has come out of class stratified societies where working the land and getting your hands dirty has been low status. (p. 271) “It’s not an accident…that the environmental justice movement is focused on both toxic waste and race. If you throw people away and you throw material away, it is no accident that they are not separated: you just throw them away together.” (Anthony p.271) Speaking of the predominance of people of color in our cities, Anthony also points out that the millions of people living in cities are

displaced people. They do not own their land, nor are they

flourishing in this desolate urban habitat. In many ways, the

young men remind us of the terrible fact that cities the world

over are filled with refugees. Glitter, glitz and steel-enforced

concrete structures cannot refute the fact that urban populations by definition are peoples who cannot feed themselves (Anthony & Soule, 1997, p. 4.)


On the same subject, black feminist writer Alice Walker (1988) says,

Most people I knew as farmers left there farms (they did not own the land and were unable to make a living working for the white people who did) to rent small apartments in the towns and cities. They ceased to have gardens, and when they did manage to grow a few things they used fertilizer from boxes and bottles, sometimes in improbable colors and consistencies, which they rightly expected, but had no choice but to use. Gone were their chickens, cows, and pigs. Gone their organic manure…To their credit they questioned all that happened to them.Why must we leave the land? Why must we live in boxes with hardly enough space to breathe? (Of course, indoor plumbing seduced many a one.) Why must we buy all our food from the store? Why is the price of food so high – and so tasteless? The collard greens bought in the supermarket, they said, “tasted like water.” The United States should have closed down and examined its every intention, institution, and law on the very first day a black woman observed that collard greens tasted like water.

Or when the first person of any color observed that store-bought tomatoes tasted more like unripened avocados than tomatoes. The flavor of food is one of the clearest messages the United States ever sends to human beings; and we have by now eaten poisoned warnings by the ton. (Walker,1988)

Anthony challenges the deep ecology movement – which he understands as an important link to ecopsychology – to deal with multiculturalism.

He points out that the chances of white privileged societies hearing “the voice of the earth” is dam slim without these folks doing a lot better at learning how to listen to the voice of oppressed peoples of color. Anthony thinks that white people need to try to understand the experiences of people of color in relationship to the land and how white perpetrated ecophilosophies serve to further deny or oppress people of color. Anthony points out that there is as much codependence and interdependence in a city scape between the various people and work involved in running a city as there is diversity in a endangered wetland or alpine meadow and in this inner city codependence there is enormous substance and significance (Anthony and Soule, 1997, p. 5).

Anthony talks about “…the sense of loss suffered by many people who live in the city, who are traumatized by the fact that they don’t have a functional relationship with nature.” (Roszak, Gomes, & Kanner, 1995, p. 264). But here Anthony is not just talking about how nature might serve as a beautiful place to visit or nature as a place of solace or refuge: He is talking about the realities of various peoples of color, native American peoples, African Americans, Jewish peoples, and races of peoples who historically and in modern times were or are being driven off and away from the land and a historic relationship to the earth forcibly and against their will.


Rose in Germany: The trees of the oppressor, are they the                  oppressor themselves?


Being driven off the land was very much the experience of Rose during the years she spent living in the lesbian feminist community in Berlin. Rose’s mother escaped Germany at the beginning of the war. Rose lost many people from her extended family in the Holocaust. As a child Rose was witness to her grandfather’s slow mental deterioration due to his experiences in a concentration camp in Germany.

The years Rose spent living in Germany had a great deal of personal meaning for her. Nevertheless, Rose had a very difficult time emotionally in Germany for reasons having to do with coming to terms with political history as well as ghosts from her personal past.

Rose had a abiding and innocent love of nature and the natural world during her childhood and youth in America. But, living in Berlin, Rose experienced a great deal of cognitive dissonance due to how the radicalized women in her community perceived nature and anything related to nature. In Rose’s politicized milieu, nature was associated with the Nazi movement and the long history of ecofascism in Germany [Footnote 12]. A beautiful place in the countryside was a place where a concentration camp once stood. A lovely lake was a place where thousands of Jews were murdered. Underneath the apparent tranquil scene, an old meadow held mass graves. On this topic Rose say’s

…some of my friends were so against even an ecology movement cause they saw it very much in this German context of people are just interested in ecology but they don’t give a shit about certain political causes. Like it was like we have to go and save this tree but the hell that one thousand people are getting shot to death because of whatever political right terror. (Rose, p. 111-112)


When I asked Rose if she could imagine her psychological or emotional life without your connection to the natural world, she said,

R – No. I really can’t. Sometimes I feel in a weird way, I experience it, in short spurts, ways in Germany, when lived in Berlin… Coming there as an adult. I didn’t grow up with hate for Germany that I know other Jews here have. But again, then I’d say lots for my relationship: [my German Jewish partner] looked at any of the German environment – like around us, the trees whatever – with disgust – with “this isn’t real nature, this is disgusting”. Because her positive association with nature was somewhere else, was in Austria… And I guess this is German, German soil, just represent, did constantly, the horrors. I took this on. Although my first job I had there was at a golf course and partly why I took it was it was out of the city limit, well in the city limits but out of the city, by a lake, and everything like that, somewhere in nature. But it wasn’t like being nurtured anymore cause I was gullible to it [?]; also this hatred for these trees, like these trees almost aren’t real trees, everything around me is Germany, disgusting and hateful and [?]. So I felt very disconnected… from nature. I remember being curious there once about the nature society; but OK, maybe the nature movement there was very connected also in ways with Hitler and it was pro-German and pro-nature so nothing was clean anymore. Like I remember when I first got to Germany thinking “oh, I’ll do a volunteer project , working in some park, like taking care of trees” – and I remember how that disgusted, the thought [to my partner]. So, I more took on her ideas there….Although sometimes we took walks in the woods with friends but it still was the hostile thing….I was confronted what I did with it with my mom’s teachers – [from England]. I was in contact with them and I became friends with them, two women who had lived together for over fifty years, and they were visiting Berlin once and I must have made just a stupid comment about “the nature” there, “sorry about these woods, or how disgusting”, like you know, a comment like [her partner] would make coming out of my mouth. And they were shocked because to them, this was beautiful, this is what their childhood – which was taken away from them because of the war and Hitler – they didn’t develop a hate to but remembered as this positive childhood nature natural environment…. And so there I felt like nature was robbed from me… we were confronted with this horrible past, in a very real way. Things happened or came out of that soil… (Rose p. 62)


Talking about a political action she was involved in to stop a mall from being built on the site of a concentration camp outside of Berlin, Rose goes on to say,

R – And it jars you. It just was such a jarring thing with nature. It’s like Dam it “because of this war, because of this control, because of this dictatorship; spots of beauty are also spots of horror. What you were also saying. And it made me feel so distanced from nature. So cut off.

S – Yes, how then do you relate to these trees growing in this earth.

W – um, hum. The trees of the oppressor. Are they the oppressor themselves?


[See poem 20, by Ntozake Shange, 1979]


Even thought Anthony (1995) does not speak to the experience of women in his interview with Roszak, the similarities between the experience of those who are “other” and gender are endless.

Rose, Ellen, Lettie, Zelda, and Adrienne all spoke to fear of male violence as a significant reason to remain separated from nature or particular nature areas. When Anthony and Roszak (1995) were discussing the experience of people and cultures who have been forcible removed from the land: African peoples taken from their homelands enslaved and brought to America to work southern plantations; Native Americans whose lands have been stolen; and Jews who for generations were unable to own land, ghettoized, and kept away from the land – I thought of women and the stories of the women I interviewed. Anthony says “… violence can blight our experience” (1995, p,.266). I found this very much the case for five out of six of my research participants.

[There’s an] assumption that is frequently made: that we have lost our sense of place in the modern world almost voluntarily, because of career opportunities of the general footloose character of industrial society… This overlooks the fact that some people have lost their place in the world for much more obvious and brutal reasons. (Roszak, 1995, pp. 266-267)



Some thought on my own experience of fear in the woods

I spent a good deal of time camping and hiking and traveling the countryside with men friends in my teenage years. When I left Boston and began to disentangle myself from men, in my early twenties – from that point on, until my late thirties I was terrified of being in the woods alone, with another woman, and without a man. It is a constant source of amazement to me that I now live in a house on a ridge surrounded by hundreds of acres with only one visible neighbor in sight.


For many of those first years living in Vermont and New Hampshire, my terror of the deep woods was unnamed. I did not know what I was so afraid of or why. I had not yet put two and two together and thought about violence against women in the wilderness and violence against women was certainly not something that was openly discussed in the 1970’s. (Although I was, as most women, very familiar with sexualized violence in my city life.) My fear when I was in the woods was completely visceral. Completely in my body, embodied. My entire body would become filled with dread, anxiety, a sense of foreboding, weakness, nausea on the walk up the mountain road to my friend’s cabin at the top of Putney Mountain when I was twenty. No matter how I might have attempted to rationalize my mind out of it, when I was alone in isolated country settings my body took over. I never even considered overnight hiking and camping alone as many of my women friends seemed to do without a second thought. I was shocked at an acquaintance who hiked the Appalachian Trail from beginning to end by herself   in the late 70’s. Like Rose and Ellen, because I had no words to explain my fears, I came to question whether something was wrong with me because I was afraid of the woods and the wilderness.

In 1979 when I was in my mid twenties, living in New Hampshire in the last year of college, I remember traveling with a good friend to one of the very first meetings of “Women Outdoors” in central New Hampshire. A few days after the gathering word came back to us that a (Jewish) woman on route to the gathering had been pulled off the road in her car – raped – and a swastika had been carved into her flesh. (I do not know if she survived this attack. Adrienne Rich writes about this assault in a poem which I’ve cited on the second page of this paper.) This incident, one of many pieces of news about the danger of the woods for women, filtered back to us in Keene from time to time and certainly served to crystallize my suburban-city girl terror of being a woman alone in the woods. Violent crimes against women on the roads and byways were frequent in those days in New Hampshire and it seemed apparent that a anti-feminist backlash occurred in conservative New Hampshire in the 1970’s as more and more women ventured out into the woods.

In 1984 living then in Massachusetts I decided to go to a friend’s cabin in the Berkshires for a week with my typewriter. When Adrienne spoke in her interview about the fears she battled the first years alone in her cabin deep in the Northern Vermont woods, I could totally relate. Being alone deep in the woods for those days was a terrifying experience.

It was not for another half dozen years when I befriended a woman with a large ferocious looking dog, that I began to test myself and attempt to comfortably make my way with my friend and her dog into the New England woods. One day we were walking along a path in an isolated river gorge in Western Massachusetts and a man approached us with hostility. The dog lunged. (She did not bite him.) The man kicked Nika with a thud. She felt to the side of the path squealing in pain and indignation. My friend, with fury, faced this man off screaming in rage “How dare you kick my dog!!!!???” We were lucky and the man then cowered away embarrassed.

The very important lesson here was that I learnt we can find ways to protect ourselves so that we feel safer in the woods. Far more courageous than many women, including myself, Adrienne spoke in our interview about the need to “Take Back the Woods”.

I use to just go and pitch my tent… it was not a designated camping ground, and just me and a dog and the Bedouin would come by sometime – the Arab men – and check out. Sit by my campfire. And I’d be pretty scared. I couldn’t speak Arabic and it was very dangerous I suppose but…. I just refused to… It’s kind like a lot of women do ‘take back the night’, I do… Take back the countryside, take back the woods, take back the forest, take back the desert. I refuse at this point in my life until something terrible happens to give into my fears around it. I probably wouldn’t do that now in Israel, but then I did. (Adrienne. p. 45)

(Adrienne was years ahead of the times. [footnote 10] A national initiative called “Take Back The Trails” was held in various locations throughout the country on Memorial Day weekend 1997 in response to the June 1996 murders of two women camping at a back country campsite in the Virginia Shenandoah National Forest.)


Zelda told me that she thinks about violence in nature, particularly when she is walking in the woods and happens upon a group of men or boys, or, when she reads in the newspaper that a woman’s body was found at the foot of the great gorge in the forest area where she walks. She says that on a daily basis she puts it out of her mind. If she thought about it too much she would not be able to go to isolated wilderness places alone. I think Zelda’s fear does not stop her from going deep into the woods alone, as an adult, because early childhood exposure to the natural world was so positive and strong that nothing short of direct negative experience as an adult could change this.


Waiting for and expecting violence. This is what it means to be a woman in a misogynist society where violence against women is so normative. All but one woman I interviewed for this paper (except Gila who I never had the opportunity to ask) spoke of fear and how much it has effected their relationship with nature and the natural world.

My research findings in this paper verifies that of Australian researcher Elizabeth Bragg, who in her interviews in Far North Queensland, Australia, found that contrary to the traditional view of the easy affiliation between women and nature “women were not portrayed as associated with nature, but as being afraid of it.” (Bragg, 1997)


Women and nature?


Violence against women is central to our existence as women

and as such is an issue that we can no longer afford to marginalize (Burstow, 1992, p. xiv).


Like wolves, polar bears, and other wild animals, women have been captured, raped, tortured, set loose naked and hunted down in the wilderness from helicopters by men with machine guns (Douglas & Olshaker, 1998). Women have been compared to nature and both women and nature deemed expendable. The pornography of women and animals and women – set in natural setting – is horrific and telling (Adams, 1990; Dworkin, 1974; Dworkin, 1989). As a class, women live in the ghetto of gender. Girls and women fear venturing out into the countryside alone. All too often, like Ellen, women they fear leaving their homes and apartments after dark unless the way is well lighted and inhabited with other people. In cities, suburbs, rural environments and deep in the woods and high on the mountains – no matter where in the world they might be – women are prey to the systematic violence of men. Women fear this. [Footnote 12] This fear functions as a cogent and authoritative form of social control. Fear effectively closes the locks the handle on the doorway into wilderness realms for the majority of lone women. In order to overcome this fear each woman must fight an arduous battle. Writing about the healing power of nature for women, Irene Powch (1994) in Wilderness Therapy for Women says,

Lost in my own experience, and the experience of of other

wilderness women, I took it for granted that wilderness is the

safest place on earth – until a friend pointed out that she and

most women she knows think of wilderness as a terrifying

  1. Do women experience the wilderness as a “safe place”?

A woman’s answer to this question may be the single most

important factor that will affect the quality of her wilderness

experience, or whether she ventures out into the wilderness

or a wilderness therapy program at all. Countless women are

probably denied the healing benefits of wilderness because of

the fear of rape behind every bush, around every corner – a

fear that every woman in this culture has been taught along

with the Little Red Riding Hood and the big, bad wolf…

(Powch, p. 23)



As much as female relational socialization instills in women a desire for connection to other human beings, animals and the natural world – fear frequently serves to keep women from loosing ourselves in the natural world and violence against women prevents us from having positive experiences with the nature. Women are socialized to act and behave in a fashion that will minimize the possibility of being victims of rape, assault and murder.

For women of color in a white society, as illustrated in Native lesbian Joy Harjo’s poem “Crossing the boarder into Canada” (1983) being with men provides no safety – for in our intensely racist societies, men of color are reduced to the status of women and equal prey to the discrimination and hatreds of white men.

[See poem 21, “Crossing The Border into Canada” by Joy Harjo]

It is also terribly important when looking at the position of women in society not to forget women’s history: Like Jews throughout Europe for a centuries and African slaves worldwide, women from many cultures over millennium have been unable to own land. Women have only recently become more able to directly influence political process in their communities and countries. And although women finally won the right to vote in the last century, when people say that feminist causes are passe and that women have won the battle – it is important to remember than in America – land of the free – the equal rights amendment for women was never signed into law. The law of brute force still reigns for girls and women, as it does for many other minority groups in America. To compound the travesty for native women; women from tribes which were matrilineal before conquest had a great deal of ease, power and influence in their relationship to nature and the natural world which, of course, along with their lives, land, lives and way of life – was stripped away in forced assimilation under white western influence.



  1.                            Conclusion

But, is nature more than a social construction?                                     Nature, instinct, solace and psyche


It has been a premise in this paper that our human lives in post industrial patriarchal societies are substantially more separated from the natural world than ever before in the history of human kind (Glendinning, 1994; Mander, 1991). This is a basic social historic fact. Over the past 200 years western societies have achieved great feats of industrial and technological growth and alongside this growth has been the necessary and continual colonization and exploitation of the earth peoples, flora and fauna, lakes, rivers, oceans, skies and galaxies above.

In chapter two, I purveyed theories of feminist psychology. Some of these theories included the premise, for better or worse, that females are socialized to be relational. In a world where there is little opportunity for girls and women to express relationalism in a satisfying way, I believe that girls and women are oftentimes left with a relational quandary “what to do… I am lonely…In whose company can I be my real self?”

Quite often the answer to this ends up being a non-human entity, whether a domesticated animal like a dog, cat, bird, or bunny rabbit, or, nature in a broader sense. As Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1986) indicated in their research, women learn, grow, and change with the help of significant others. Whether these beings have two or four legs is not important.


At the beginning of her interview, Zelda stated one of the most salient points of my hypothesis in her own eloquent words, “Nature is a “’place away’”, a refuge, safety, beauty, full of wisdom, truths and insights that are revealed no where else. I go there to nature to find the “real world” and my “real self” that is also one with and in nature” (Zelda p.8).

Feminist psychologist Bonnie Burstow says “women are violently reduced to bodies that are for-men, and those bodies are then further violated” (Burstow, 1992, p. xv). Thus, it is not hard to understand why feminist philosophers like De Beauvoir (1952) might have rejected the idea that western women have any sane reason to aggrandize their admittedly socialized alliance with nature. De Beauvoir and others believe(d) that women’s liberation comes in equality in the male institutional world in separation from any alliance with nature. Women’s patriarchal imposed alliance with nature could only continue to hurt women and keep them in a position of inequity.

However, referring to De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex , Carol Christ (1980) point out that because women are perceived as nature and excluded from culture this in fact gives them a unique affinity with the natural world . When in the depths of despair and loneliness many women are rescued by sensing their grounding with nature (Christ, 1980).


There has been endless debate on this question within different branches of the feminist and ecofeminism movement for years. Of course, the entire debate is framed within the context of social construction and the morass of woman/body/earth/animal/nature and man/mind/culture/spirit split. Nevertheless, in debating this issue we need to remember that human of both sexes and classes and in all societies live in our bodies and on the earth world. At times this earth world is utterly magnificent – the “Gods” cathedral of John Muir; the Shehenna of Adrienne; the refuge and wildness which so many people need to heal from the debauching of the human made world to which Zelda and Rose feel irreversibly tied.

The madness of the heroine is The Yellow Wallpaper ( Gilman 1892) is what happens to women when we are at once so close, yet so far away, from being granted the rights of economic privilege and freedom from fear of violence – of being let out of the gilded cage – to form a satisfying biophilic relationship to the relative wilderness.

Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Shelly, 1818) and the never named (nameless) heroine/narrator of The yellow wallpaper (Gilman, 1892) – for centuries western women have struggled to find a place in the world of culture and the world of nature. Some reject one in favor of the other. Some find solace and self wholly in nature. Others in culture. Neither is an easy task because each is only half of a whole. Maintaining this spit, the dualism and necessity to choose sides between the two and the difficulties women face in both the world of “culture” and that of “nature” oftentimes have painful psychological consequences.


I do believe the centrality of the question of women and nature to be about power. But, I attribute the strivings of women and men to form some sort of satisfying relationship with the natural world to be based on the fact that as human beings we are animals. We are animals with an instinctual pull to connect with the planet. And, we are social animals. We are social animals who derive a great deal of meaning in our relationship with other human animals. Whether these influences turn individuals into hermits, Buddhists, philanthropists or una bombers is another story altogether. As babies, as children, as adolescents, as adults, and as elders – as all stages of the life cycle – external relationships with other human beings, internalized psychological conceptualizations of these relationships (such as in object relations theory), memories, fears, love and desire toward the external people who form our families, communities, countries and our world have varying degrees of influence on our lives. This is the stuff that psyche is made from.

I agree with philosopher David Abram, who when writing about phenomenologist Edmund Husserl’s concept of “intersubjectivity”, and “associative empathy” refers to Husserl’s belief that there is an inescapable affinity between other “bodies” or fields of existence and our own (Abram, 1996, p. 37). Masson (1995) says

In The Expression of the Emotions of Man and Animals, Darwin

made a systematic study of how animals look when they are

  1. In both humans and animals, he found, some or all of

the following may occur: the eyes and mouth open, the eyes

roll, the heart beats rapidly, hairs stand on end, muscles tremble, teeth chatter, and the sphincter loosens. The frightened creature may freeze in it’s place or cower. These rules hold true across a remarkable array of species. Somehow it is surprising to learn that when dolphins are terrified, their teeth chatter and the whites of their eyes show, or that a frightened gorilla’s legs shake. Such familiar behavior in a wild animal is a reminder of our ultimate kinship. Melvin Konner has written, “We are – not metaphorically, but precisely, biologically – like the doe nibbling moist grass in the predawn misty light; chewing, nuzzling a dewy fawn, breathing the foggy air, feeling so much at peace; and suddenly, for no reason, looking about wildly.” (Masson, 1995, p. 49)

Although our sexual rituals and behaviors can not be compared to any specific animal; the denial that human beings have so much in common with animals, mammals per see, mammals in essence, that we are, in fact, congenitally and biologically mammals, has enormous and far reaching consequences. This fact, that we are animals, is the one thing that all humanity shares and shares with all sentient beings. The flight from this simple truth has caused mankind (sic) to colonize and exploit women, people of color, animals and the earth in manifold ways. It has been a justification for divide and conquer. The drive to separate everything into transcendence and imminence, into mind and body, spirit and material, human and other, and into sentient and non-sentient. This modern jettison is the root of the juncture between aboriginal, native, and pre-agricultural societies and industrial and post industrial society and was essential to the development of capitalist patriarchy and the technocratic world state (Glendinning, 1994).

Yet, following the thread begun by Miller (1976), I am not so sure that “mankind” cast our remembered connections to the earth and animals too far afield. As Jean Baker Miller hypothesized almost a quarter of century ago now, the suffering and unhappiness of women cast adrift in a foreign land unmet by promises of relational socialization is the “…psychic starting point [which] contains the possibilities for an entirely different (and more advanced) approach to living and functioning – very different, that is, from the approach fostered by the dominant culture. In it, affiliation is valued as highly as, or more highly, than self-enchantment” (Miller, 1976, p. 83)

It is my belief that when we scratch the surface, dig a little bit past the social constructions of gender, past current specificities of female socializations, past our western modern lives of industry, capital accumulation and consumer goods, we will discover something very important about human psychology. What will be revealed is that nature is as natural as birth, hunger, the need for shelter from the darkness and the cold, illness, aging and death. These are things which all mammals require to survive. What will be revealed is that nature – the moon and wind and weather, the lives of free roaming animals and the befriending of domestic ones, the longing for the sea and the mountains, the beauty, stillness, quiet, peace, challenge, fear, and unknowingness of nature that have the capacity to engage all of our senses and provide a symbolic reflection of “out there” back into the heart of our mortal lives has never been too far away from those who are socialized to see what is around them as well as what is inside and thus not too far afield from any of us. As some of the newest scientific research indicates, the quest to conquered nature and removed ourselves from the power of the natural world has failed. As Rachel Carson eloquently made clear her many books about the land on which we live and the sea around us; we live on a planet of symbiosis, interconnectedness, interdependence and relationality. Over the past thirty years the ecological movements have illuminated the fact that we all exist in relation to the whole. The feminist movement has made clear that “the personal is political”. The political then becomes quite personal. It is hard to find a life unaffected by political realities. Ecopsychologists are battling with the consequences on our psyches of environment exploitation escalated to a state of war against the earth and animals. All of this does not paint a pretty picture.


Biophilia, female perversions and seeds of healing

As Edward Wilson put forth in his 1984 theory of biophilia, human beings have an inherent biological drive to connect with the natural world. Ellen expressed her biophilic feelings as much in her wonderful metaphorically rich dream of flying above the lake with her sister while extinct animals emerged from the waters below, as much as she does being frightened of hearing a deer cough in the night woods while camping. Lettie longs to live on the land in an intimate exchange and Zelda regularly drives the five miles to walk along the edge of an ancient gorge with an abundance of wildlife. In the city Rose dreams about wild birds and animals; finds little niches of natural settings to make into her “outside offices” and tries to get to the countryside whenever possible. Both Gila and Adrienne live in rural settings. Adrienne has oriented her life around her love of nature and the relative wilderness even going as far as requiring her work environment to take her out of doors in into the hinder lands of northern Vermont.

Simply put, I believe that a profound and personal relationship with nature and the natural world is one of the most healthy alternatives to “female perversions” women have going for them in the twentieth century.

Talking about biophilia, ecologist Stephen Kellert says,


For most of us, the benefits of emotional attachment to the

nonhuman world outweigh the burdens. Bonding and companion- ship constitute highly cherished qualities of the human experience, welcomed whether the source of these affections be human or nonhuman. As highly social animals,we crave intimacy and affiliation. With rare exceptions we hunger for connection and kinship. The companionship of other creatures and even landscapes offers an invaluable source of friendship, relationship, and a means for expressing and sometimes receiving affection. The companion animals and natural features can provide an antidote to isolation and aloneness (Kellert, 1998, pp. 106 – 107).


For many women an intimate and meaningful relationship with nature – portrayed by Edwina and Eve’ struggles in “Female Perversions” (Affrime & Streitfeld, 1996) – is a way to sustain oneself in the misogynist onslaught women face in their daily lives and thus to circumvent taking on some of the more self destructive escapes so common for girls and women. For some women, it is the difference between survival and spiritual or psychological death. A positive relationship with nature and the natural world, wild or domesticated animals, can be the road toward liberation, toward freeing one from the constrictions of rigid gender socialization.


For example, Adrienne, married when she was only twenty and a mother of two a decade later, spent her thirties attempting to find herself. Nature and her relationship to the natural world served as this vehicle. In our interview Adrienne wrote “…when you ask how does it come to mean so much to me; it’s my mistrust of the dominant culture [which] has, I think, pushed me to find something in this world I can trust and nature is a way of being that ultimately I trust.” (p.8) “…A woman companion and walking my dog in the woods really gave me a lot of spiritual solace. Even though at that time in my life I didn’t even have the word spiritual in my vocabulary” (p.11). She goes on to talk about this in some detail

A- I was not that cut out to be a parent and waiting for my husband to get killed at any minute. I think that was some of the loneliest most stressful time in my life and it was the desert that kept me going and I developed a passionate relationship with the desert back then… I think the lowest times in my life is when I turned to nature for comfort. Another very very low point in my life was when we were… I was still married to him, still in the air force, and it was just before I learned about feminism. Well actually no. I learned the word feminism and the concept when I was in Arizona. But then we were stationed in Dayton Ohio and it was just before I joined a consciousness raising group. And I was really lost. Here we were in Dayton Ohio, a place I would not have chosen to been if I were not an air force wife, had the young baby, didn’t have a job, wasn’t able to keep jobs for any length of time cause we kept getting stationed at different places…. Totally lost. This was the time when I finally ended up taking that course at Antioch…. I was really terribly depressed and taking a walk at the local Audubon Center and then again, I think I did mention this before, that’s when I realized for the first time that I could do a little junior high school project and learn the names of trees and twigs. But I think – I don’t know if I emphasized this or not – it was a total spiritual awakening for me because I recognized that I could develop a relationship with nature that could last for the rest of my life. It was one of those things that I realized I could rely on for my entire life…. Because I was lonely….I was lonely. My marriage was lonely, my relationships with my kids was lonely, I never was able to develop a friendship system because we moved around so much, I didn’t know who I was anyway…. I didn’t have a community. I could never fit into the air force community. Instinctively I knew that wasn’t who I was. So out of the depth of this loneliness is where I, turned to nature for comfort. And it kind of reminds me of that Sally Carringer book, Home to the Wilderness, where she talks about coming to terms with the abuse, the terrible abuse she received in her childhood from her mother, and finally realizing she couldn’t really form adult relationships – she was just so fucked up – and instead turned to nature for her moments of solace and became a nature writer… It’s not as extreme of course but it’s definitely on that continuum. [Italics mine] (Adrienne, pp. 54-55)



Women and their (domesticated & wild) animal loves


I always had a cat and a dog. And dog has always been a companion to me on my walks. I just like to watch the dog sniff and hear things and sort of be a sentinel to warn me against intruders…My animals have been very important to me (Adrienne).


Domesticated animals are one safe and easy way for women to have a daily and intimate connection to nature and the natural world free of fear of male violence, potentially feared free roaming animals or insects, and being engulfed by experiences of vicarious trauma. It is easy to get happily lost in one’s love for a domestic animal and while doing this to learn a great deal about oneself and the world from this relationship. Through our domesticated animals humans are also unavoidably connected to the world of nature.

Zelda longs for a Welch Corgi. She regularly falls in love with friends and family cats. Sadly, Zelda does not have the money to share her home with an animal nor can she have companion animals where she lives. At 33 years old, Lettie mourned for months over having fallen totally head over heels in love with a rabbit who died prematurely. Rose has a “thing” for donkey’s. (The story goes that one day during her years in Israel she went to East Jerusalem on donkey market Thursday and purchased a donkey. As she was wandering back home the incongruity of this donkey and her city dwelling Jerusalem apartment life dawned on Rose and the donkey went back to the market.) Dogs have been central in Adrienne’s relationship with nature. It was with dogs and women by her side that she began to build her life long intimacy with free roaming animals and the relative wilderness.

I live in an infallible adoration of the dog who participates in my household. We share an immense daily – 24 hour a day, day and night physical and emotional intimacy. This domesticated ancestor of the wolf has immeasurably healed and soothed my own psyche. In more ways than I ever thought possible, having this dog in my life has renewed a once flailing faith in the potential goodness of human nature. It is impossible to walk with this stunning animal without her drawing people like magnets. Baring witness to the hearts of frowning strangers winging open in admiration of this animals beauty and the numerous conversations which have ensued, has opened my heart to a new found trust in humanity. For, if the grumbling stranger caught in the mundane can find reason to blossom in the wake of beauty, there is hope yet to be had.


I am including below a short review of Caroline Knapp’s Pack of two: The intricate bond between people and animals (1998). Although there have been an out pouring of popular books about our relationship with dogs in recent years, Knapp’s account of her relationship with her dog Lucille is most relevant to this paper. As a reported she brings massive amounts of data to her text. As a woman she speaks to many of the issues implicit in my paper. I believe that this dog story can be extrapolated to apply to many different animal we take into our hearts and lives – free roaming or domesticated.

Throughout Pack of two , Knapp (1998) battles the voices of social constraints in her head which tell her what is appropriate and inappropriate intimacy. She wars with the possibility that maybe there is something terribly wrong with her because she is so in-love with her dog Lucille. The author grew up in a family where she felt invisible, lost her parents at a relatively young age, and finds intimacy with men unsatisfying. She cringes at the idea of children or even sharing a house together in her long term relationship. She pushes and pulls her partner and can’t decide what she wants in her relationship with him. One day she happens upon a puppy at a shelter. This event changes her life. Eventually she leaves her boyfriend and her full time indoor writing job. She begins to build a new life which centers around Lucille and the many women and men who enter her life via their dogs. More and more she chooses to stay “home” with Lucille rather than go out with friends to places her dog can not accompany her. She becomes very happy . She begins to come to terms with her childhood, makes many very good friends, and creates a niche for herself in the world of dogs and people. Although in the last pages of this book, Knapp continues to battle the voices of society which tell her “there is something wrong with you that you are choosing a dog over a man”, the author builds a very convincing argument for the immense healing biophilic benefits of our relationship with dogs. (See also Animals as teachers and healers by Susan Chernak McElroy [1996] for another popular book on this topic.)


Women often go to the ends of the earth in their love for the animals that come into their lives. In her intensely moving, uplifting memoir The wolf, the woman, the wilderness: A true story of returning home, (1997) author Teresa tsimmu Martino risks her life to return, “McKenzie”, a rescued grey wolf she raises from a pup, to the wilderness where she knows McKenzie belongs.

However, I must not end the simple and heartfelt section of this paper without pointing out the connections between women and their abiding love for the animals in their lives and the subject of woman-battering. All of what I address below has been drawn from “Woman battering and harm to animals” (Adams, pp. 55 – 84. 1995). (Carol Adams has written about this subject in great depth in numerous articles.)

[A batterer] executes a pet to isolate her [his partner] from a

                        network of support and relationship. Her relationship with a

pet may have been the last meaningful relationship she had

been allowed to have…Murdering an animal…destroys a

woman’s sense of self, which was validated through that

relationship (Adams, p. 72, 1995).



Batterers frequently control the women they abuse vis-a-vis their children and their animals. Battering men often force their partners to have sex with their animals, threaten, torture, abuse, and kill women’s cats, dogs, horses, birds, and other animals as a form of instilling terror – this is what is going to happen to you – a warning to their women partners. This is, of course, intensely devastating and traumatic for a woman. A battered woman might decide to take her cat or dog to the pound to save it from her partner. Batterers know what these animals mean to the women they are abusing. They utilize this knowledge to perpetuate terror, demonstrate and confirm their power, teach submission, and maintain control. (Adams, p. 71-73, 1995). Many women have refused to leave their homes/batterers and enter a shelter because the shelter would not take their animals (Adams, 1995). Battered women’s domesticated animals have been violently killed by their partners as a prelude to their own murder.

Adams (1995) says,

Harming animals forces denial upon women and children in

many ways. She has to protect everybody – animals, children,

  1. So, if a child approaches her and says “Mom, Sparky

has a cut on his head,” she may sit there and say, “No he

doesn’t.” She does this because the batterer is also sitting there.

She has to cut her feelings off for the animal. Strategically, she

                        learns denial as a survival mechanism (Adams, p. 77, 1995,

                        Italics mine).


Adams (1995) continues,


Purposefully denying that it matters to protect the cat, she

must betray the cat. She has to demonstrate to the batterer

that it does not matter, because she has learned that he hurts

only the things she cares about, so she will pretend not to care

about the animal… The degree to which she or the children                                    

                        have an intense, respectful relationship with an animal is the                                    

                        extend to which he can harm her by harming the animal

(Adams, p. 77, 1995).



Ecopsychology and “The Black Mulberry Tree”

Although my research sample was small and homogeneous, I hope I have made evident through extensive supporting materials, the importance for the practitioner of psychotherapy to incorporate a client’s relationship to, and experiences with, nature into her or his therapeutic contextual framework. For the therapeutic practitioner, it is as important to have a thorough understanding of a clients race, class, sexual preference, ethnicity, gender, age, medical conditions, psychological herstory, family history, immediate family and friendship network as it is not to overlook her (or his) past and current relationship with nature, the wind and water, the sky and the night, the wild birds and animals, the family pet.

My story of Rose’s experience with her psychotherapist in Germany is a telling example. Rose loves the darkness and the night. The darkness awakens some deep primordial place in Rose which gives a great deal to her life. Rose’s psychotherapist assumed her insomnia to have wholly traumatic pathological origins and went on to psychologize her client’s love of the night. The darkness embracing, safe, illuminating and wonderful to Rose.

Another experience which happened to me personally a few years ago will help further illustrate this point: For years I was stuck living in an apartment on a very busy downtown street. I could not find a house in the country which my partner and I could afford to rent on a long term basis and was too sick to move and then move again in a cheaper more temporary situation. This was during a time when I was dreaming regularly about wild animals – particularly bears and wolves – and had the dream about the black bear pleading with me to provide a sort of wildlife underground railroad; hiding her in our attic until it was safe to drive her to the state forest twenty miles up the road.

My bedroom in this house was in the front of the house above the roadway. I hated sleeping in such a noisy spot but the apartment and the bedroom had been livable to me for five years because there was a tall maple tree which protected and enclosed the front of the house not ten feet from the front bedroom windows. One day, unexpectedly, the landlord came with machinery and men and they cut down this tree. This devastated me.

I remembered a few years earlier a similar experience had happened to a close friend. I recalled her telling me how she could no longer stay where she had been living for many years because her landlord had come and cut down a beautiful berry bearing tree which attracted flocks of bright flame-orange and yellow Baltimore Orioles flying north each spring on their migration routes. My friends house was a stone’s throw away from the Smith College Campus next to property still owned by the school and surely planted in the Nineteenth Century. This old rare Black Mulberry tree stood flush against my friends house and rose higher than her third floor bathroom windows. She relished her baths each spring while the colorful birds gathered in the tree.

Although maybe hard for a non-nature lover to understand, this was no ordinary tree outside her bathroom window. This was a life form she needed. My friend suffered from a chronic illness which profoundly affected her mobility. She had suffered years of incest in her preverbal babyhood and than again later in her childhood. She had survived two rapes and more than one assault in her adult life. She suffered from sever Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a slew of other emotional problems. She struggled day to day to get together enough money to buy food for her cats. She did not have an easy life. She needed that tree as much as she needed a good friend. As much as she needed her therapist. Perhaps more. Oftentimes when her body went unfed there was the comfort of that bathtub with the tree elbowing the window. That tree was food for her heart and her soul. Although it was a grueling move, my friend moved into another apartment four years later and losing that tree was the catalyst. Now, almost ten years later, when I call her to have the details of my memory refreshed, talking into my answering machine her voice cracks. The loss of that tree and the birds who lifted her spirit seems no less painful now than it was all those years ago.

What it was, was a Mulberry tree. And what use to come to the

window – I’d sit there in the bathtub and right pressed against

the window would be these beautiful beautiful Baltimore Orioles …And of course they were just inches from my face. And I can only imagine that this was on their trip, for, you know, forever. That they would just come every spring and that they knew to come there to that tree. And the year after, it was gone, I saw a couple come, and just, they like lit in trees in the parking lot            and then went away… Never to be seen again. Ah, it makes me so sad just to think about it. (K.T., Personal communication, September 9, 1998)


For me, it was two plus years from the day my landlord cut down my loved tree until we were able to finally move. During that time I felt like I was in a cage there in that front room over the street. For my friend and I, losing our beloved trees which sheltered and protected us both in our lives felt like an assault against us as well as the old doomed trees. Our lives were devoid of something of great value, something irreplaceable, something important which had nurtured us and given us meaning and this something was a tree.

Considering how the grief of losing a beloved companion animal is oftentimes still frowned upon by a great many people; it is not difficult to imagine what many psychotherapy practitioners untrained or uneducated in ecopsychology and ecological concerns would say to a client who was in the midst of grieving a lost tree. However these are the issues which are of looming significance to practitioners of ecopsychologists.


Therapy and therapism

The so-called “mental health system” [serves] the interest of

the patriarchy; that is, it pathologizes the socially created problems that women face and reinforce[s] the sex roles that the patriarchy prescribes…women are in double jeopardy: Women are institutionalized both for veering from their socially prescribed roles and for overly conforming (Burstow, 1992, p ix)


And, Miriam Greenspan (1993) reminds us that

In consciousness raising, women broke through some unspoken

codes of conventional psychological thinking: first, the notion that women’s problems and dilemmas are strictly personal, having to do with individual flaws and inadequacies; and second, the            cherished, professional idea that to really understand who we are we must ourselves to an expert who knows us better than we do. We broke through the pervasive male bias of our culture that            defines women’s experience through a masculine lens masquerading as “objective science”. We found that the truth about the oppression of women in our society could be searched for and know subjectively – and that this truth had the power to transform not only individual women, but society as a whole. Consciousness- raising was the best kind of therapy – the kind that changes self and world together (Greenspan,1993, p. xx.).


Over the past decade more professionals in the mental health field have begun to address data indicating that not only is psychotherapy not helpful but it is frequently harmful. Feminist analyses of the numerous harmful effects of the institution of psychology as well as the use of psychotherapy as a form of social control has filled many books [Greenspan,(1993); Masson (1994); Burstow (1992); Caplan (1995); Breggin, 1991]. I want to touch on this topic here just to point to a few important connections between the subject of psychotherapy, girls, women and nature.

In all of my interviews with the exception of Gila’s (conducted before I had finalized my interview questions), I asked women to tell me about their experiences with the mental health system. Women’s various comments address issues of privilege, class, consumerism, gender, trauma, dissociation, depression, sorrow, anger, relationalism, the inability to connect, isolation, community, nature, psychological healing and are recounted below.

Ellen said

I don’t feel like I’m in therapy… I see a counselor and I’ve been for maybe the last six months… I don’t think I’ve had any experience with “the mental health system” other than reading about it… It wasn’t an option for a working class family and I’ve only chosen it carefully for myself. It’s a tool. I don’t get relegated or trapped in it (Ellen).

Lettie has tried feminist therapy and did not find it helpful. Zelda tried seeing different feminist therapist during her early years in Boston and felt like none of the feminist therapists understood her nor could they work well with her. About her early years in the mental health system, Zelda says

As a young adult I was in three different psychiatric institutions, public and private; on numerous drugs, mostly anti-depressants; also shock treatments. I was in and out of institutions over a two and a half year period. It was a horrible episode in my life and I was very messed up from it for years. The drugs, especially Ritalin, messed me up badly and I lost a job because of it… It took nearly a decade to begin getting away from all the effects (Zelda, p. 7)


Although Adrienne is a social worker and therapist herself and has seen various psychotherapists through the past twenty years, she has come to feel most passionately about AA. She finds being involved in AA and all the people she meets through the program to be infinitely inspiring and that it connects her to a larger sense of community essential for her psychological well being. Adrienne said the following about therapy,

Well I certainly did therapy. On and off for… 1979 to…. Oh ten twelve years on and off I did therapy. Yeah, I would say ten years on and off. I think the longest I ever stayed in therapy was probably two years or something, two or three years. Mostly I did my therapy in stages. I think it helped! I think my first couple of therapists did pick up that I was a drug addict. Two or three of them didn’t pick up on that. Cause I kept switching therapists anyway. I would go on and off drugs. When I got depressed and my life felt pretty unmanageable I would go off… But then when I started feeling better again and no longer depressed, I would go on it again. And that pattern went up and down and therapists at that time weren’t particularly savvy. Nobody confronted me on this and nobody said “you know, you need help, you’re a drug addict”. I kind of had to come to that myself… Most of the time I think my therapists did help affirm me as a lesbian, as a feminist, they helped me detach from my parents, some of my therapists helped me get through fears of being touched, some group therapy I had early on helped me negotiate being single or being a single parent… Helped me negotiate depressions… So I would say that therapy was on the whole useful for me. I don’t think I was damaged by the system. Although I don’t tend to think that I – except for couples therapy which I think that every once and awhile I think I’m going to need – I can’t picture myself being majorly helped by therapy anymore. I think that mostly my help will come through the program, my sponsor, my friends, or other self help support groups… I’m not sure that I would do individual therapy as a way to help me anymore. Although I can’t say that categorically and also I am a therapist and I do have clients here and there and so I can’t really say that I totally don’t believe in the system… I do think it privatizes our communities; it pathologizes the normal ups and downs of everyday life… Politically I think that it helps prevent identifying problems – identifying oppression – and mostly advocates for an individualized solutions to problems, etc etc. So I have a lot of political quarrels (Adrienne).

Talking about being connected to a world larger than herself, Adrienne says

Yes. I do feel connected. I can’t say that I felt connected before I got into the program. I mean I did feel connected to the natural world when I got into the program but I was never able to sustain trusting relationships. It was after the program that I began getting more trusting connection to the civilized world. So I feel connected to other people; to my job actually because my job has a lot of spiritual sustenance. My partner I certainly feel connected to for the most part… I think the connection is the result of having a certain amount of spiritual trust. Having a certain amount of trust … I feel like the way the program works with the meetings and the people that you see and people that you get to say hi to just walking down the street that are part of the program and speak a similar language… I feel like I can’t remain isolated for too long. If people notice that I’m starting to go crazy or looking bad or feeling a lot of grief or isolating then people are gonna mention it to me. And I’ve learned enough about taking direction from other people, and advice from other people, in the program, recognizing that I don’t have all the answers… To know that when I’m really off the beam, people are going to point that out to me and help me get back on the beam. And the beam that comes through the program – even though it is couched in some patriarchal language – really had as it’s basic principles, love of self, love of health, love of others, and emotional balance and sort of gratitude, appreciation, and not attaching to money… Anything that’s related to money, power, or prestige into an inordinate degree knowing that’s not where you’re going to find spiritual sustenance. But basically listening… Listening to story after story about people who get pretty lost in their lives and then begin to rely on others to help pull them back up and bring them back to life. and I’ve heard some very low…. People that have reached very low bottoms – prison and murders and you know….. bowery bums and hunger and disease and I mean… Terrible, terrible circumstances and people just, you know, learn to cope in really beautiful and spiritual ways and I need those examples in my life. So I would say that’s what helps keep me connected. And the more connected I feel the easier it is for me to know what I want out of my life and to make those healthy choices for myself. And to make my choices relatively simple and available and not to keep longing for what I don’t have (Adrienne).


Rather than a passageway through and out the other side, the mental health system is too often a web in which for women to get caught. More or less successively, Cecile had worked with three psychotherapists in her 47 years, beginning when she was in her early 30’s and continuing on until the present time. Only one of these relationships, with Martha, was significantly healing and meaningful to Cecile and this was with a feminist psychotherapist on the cutting edge. The other two experiences ended badly. Now, stronger and happier than she’s ever been in years, twice a month Cecile talks to Martha long distance on the telephone. Rose talked a great deal about her experiences with therapy. An intelligent and thoughtful woman, couching her thoughts and feelings in Jewish and women’s history and politic, my conversation with Rose on this subject is worth recounting in some depth.

R – As a teenager I think that I felt sometimes that I’m crazy and something will happen to me; and then later I learned that my grandfather was always in psychiatric institutions. I think that’s why they had to come to this country because he had been inside [a Nazi] concentration camp for a short time but he was able to get out to Cuba and then he came to this country. He relatives brought him here….I don’t know if experiments… I’m trying to find out now if anything was done to him. But my mother say’s that when he was released and came home she didn’t recognize him he was so thin. He went through traumatic stuff and he lost his wife… I mean in a concentration camp, and then uprooted… he did die at 86 of colon cancer, but I didn’t know at the time he was in the hospital that he was in psychiatric places. And I was really mad – I don’t know if I expressed it – when I finally found out – cause there were times in my young teens where I thought I was going crazy or nutty or have whatever suicidal thoughts – which were private – no one knew about them – But it would have helped me, for some reason, to put things in context. Like, my grandfather also was. Even if it wasn’t related.


S – You felt totally isolated with it?


R – Yeah.

S – Nobody in your family knew you were having a hard time?

R – Well I guess, my mother say’s “Rose” sometime recently “why were you so angry at that age?” I use to shout at her and curse at her. But it wasn’t like I could be reached… And I think I hated my mother for a long time. So, when I became more aware of this, that he [her grandfather] was in psychiatric [institutions], I’ve still some image from those days, I was like never gonna let on that I needed any kind of help cause I was scared shitless of psychiatric institutions. The image I had was this place where they kill you basically…


S – Where’d you get that image?

R – I don’t know… If it was from films, if it was from reading – I didn’t see too many films but, um… Or maybe somewhere I did know about my grandfather? I don’t know but it was definitely like… the idea of counseling was always a threat in my family… It was very secretive. Later on also, when I was in my late teens, I found out my father had been in counseling for a long time. I think he was denied [entrance] in the army because of psychological testing reasons… My mother was a child educator so obviously she had the training of the day and experiences but the idea of counseling or therapy… it was always seen as a threat, like “Rose, if you keep that up we’re going to send you to…” It wasn’t like maybe this will help you. Although we did have family counseling at one point, which I had mentioned before with my sister and I. I don’t know how long it was. I didn’t always go. I would stay on the train and wouldn’t get off. And I just remember I was blamed for everything there. I tried to talk with my brother about that recently; what he remembers or why we went, what the problem was, to see what he’d come up with. I was the problem, that’s what he use to say. And I forget what he said this time, it wasn’t that. So it was like this negative, for me, and also for society; we we’re a hip family and maybe in hip families all the kids went to therapy for all I know…


S – When was that, in the…?

R – Seventies. So it was still a threat to me then. When I was in Israel, the first time I sought out counseling for myself , my quote unquote Israeli mother was dying of cancer… So I thought I wanted to deal with that. I was in that therapy setting for a couple of years but it wasn’t, I don’t remember anything that came out of it, except that I remember the therapist saying I should go to Berlin and I don’t know what content. I don’t remember really talking about my past. I don’t think she helped me deal with a lot of stuff… But, it was also a way to get to work late… There was a nice bakery so it was a regular treat in my life to get something good to eat.


S – So why did you go if it wasn’t helping you?


R – Cause I was trying to. I thought I needed help and I wanted to start this process. But I wasn’t right for it maybe, maybe the woman wasn’t good for me. I also compared myself to two of my friends in Jerusalem and also one had a session right before me and one after me and I compared them to myself: Am I interesting enough, thought I had nothing to give, da-da-da-da. So, I kind of set the situation to mess up for myself. And I was always in search. I don’t know if this has to do with spirituality thing but always in search of something deaf to myself that I just felt so detached from in my daily life… I was trying to get a hold of this lost part of myself. I think ever since I started public school, I feel I’ve lost a big part of myself, it’s been taken away and I’ve had to fight my whole life to get in touch with my essence again.


S – So like four years old?


R – Well I started public school when I was about seven. Before that I was in this kindergarten in this program at this local college where my mother was teaching in this early childhood program. So I didn’t really have a first grade, so to say, until second grade… It was a part of like a university training program or something. My mother was teaching there so we went there.


S – And then you went on to public schools…


R – And that was a big shock and I always feel like from that time, I lost myself so to say. Or, I was taught how to be a robot. And I was scared so I was a good robot. And I was good in producing what was asked for once I understood the system. First it was very frustrating cause I didn’t understand the system. So I think from that time on I was always in search of…. I was in a peer group, you know, and I would try and imitate, or be part of, or whatever; but I always felt this incredible distance, the older I got there’s more of a distance from myself. That’s the thing in terms of nature; the country, that’s where I feel “ah” closer to myself.


S – Do you feel like you’re still growing further away from that essence or do you feel like there’s a way back to it?


R – I’m struggling now.. I want a way back to it but it’s not like I live it now…. There’s other things that happened where I don’t stay true to myself or I’ve gotten swayed [pause] by my partner or other people… You know, there’s moments where it’s there and when it’s there it’s something like that performance sense when you just feel at one with yourself and able to give and get – a very expansive feeling.


S – So, it’s a rare experience for you…


R – Yeah… So I had that therapy process and then I stayed away from it and I didn’t want it. And then in Berlin I remember I was involved with this woman and she was an analysis process twice a week and the last thing I wanted   was to be in therapy because I felt very threatened by her process, feeling God, there’s no time for me, imagine if I’m also in the process – like we’re never gonna meet at all. Plus, by that point my social group was some Jewish women – my lover and this other woman I worked on the book with – who quite labeled everything German as bad and I guess that’s a natural mistrust in me, but that concept of mistrust was heightened and the idea of have therapy in Germany with a German person was like no way ! The mistrust was so high, that it really didn’t cross my mind to do it… I didn’t want that! I was there [in Germany] for my own confrontations and to work out some stuff for myself. And I remember my lover once confronting me about her therapist and not understanding why I’m not in therapy myself, and I thought “God, that’s so ignorant when the message I’m getting from this woman and everyone around me is don’t trust, don’t trust, don’t trust”. But then after my lover left… and I stayed in Germany a year. There was a point where I started realizing, I always get in these relationships not partnership in terms of lovership but with a woman in my life who has all this control over me… and so I started therapy in Berlin. I went twice a week.


S – How did you find her?


R – How did I find her? I could have gone through this, it was a whole feminist network, but it felt too incestuous cause I had too much to do with the feminist movement and I didn’t want a bump into that… What I did was I called my lover’s psychoanalyst and I asked her if she knew of a therapist . She gave me the name of someone who basically was just pulled out by, who was local in my area, by registry. But I didn’t feel like going around hunting, shopping, so I just went to her. And it was eerie, cause I remember she was above a, a fourth floor walk-up above a funeral parlor and I always saw like this oven when I …These images were just too intense.


S – Oh my G-o-d… So, was she Jewish?


W – No, no, she wasn’t Jewish… To this day, I don’t know what I got out of it, unless I just needed to do this process in Germany with a German woman. Some confrontation within myself… But it didn’t resolve a lot of things… I don’t remember important work happening there. It was power tripping. I think she enjoyed having this Jewish client and learning stuff from me… Oh, and she was the one who was trying to do this, always bringing back, cause I had insomnia, this stuff with night, what is it trying to get me [?] and I think she was trying to put a lot of words in my mouth, or maybe because of this holocaust, how terrible. And it’s like, when I was in Germany, sure that stuff predominated. It was also a very bad time in Germany – nationalism coming up. I lived with a sense of paranoia. A lot of friends, we debated if it was actually paranoia, cause so much real shit was happening. On the other hand I have to remember if I wake up I look in the mirror, I’m white. I could always fall back on that. I’m an American. Although… I was feeling this identity of this Jew. And this past connecting cause my mother was born in Berlin and there’s contact there.


S – So that was that therapy scene there, and then what happened?


R – Got to the states…Things just really got hard with us and [my lover] was demanding that I go into therapy, and couples therapy. And I did not want it.. I wanted to first get some kind of feet on my ground. Go into myself or see what would evolve. Not starting getting dependency shit on a therapeutic process.

S – Was this right after you got here? In the first six months? Was she in therapy at that point?


R – Yeah, by the third month. No, but apparently… she wasn’t doing it because of me? saying I wanted it at some point, cause all these issues were coming up for her? It was a big mess and I guess I have this fear of [my lover] in therapy cause the whole time in Berlin she was in psychoanalysis and it was always a number one priority for her. And I felt like issues would get thrown at me depending on what was coming – my interpretation – out of her therapy process. Which meant that was her time and if it got thrown at me, if I didn’t deal with it then the relationship got really rocking cause that was her pressing pressing issue. So I felt very dominated or controlled by this frigid therapy process….So, what happened? We were hunting for therapists. We actually found this really wonderful woman, I thought. Who really could take us both in and give us both space! But, this great feminist therapist wanted $90.00 a session. Now, I was was working already then, but believe me that was more than a day’s wage, I think. That’s a great sliding scale! She goes down to $90.00! And I liked it cause it was in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan. And I could get there by bicycle or by bus or just not the normal subway deal. But we didn’t go there. We found this couples therapist which brought up really hard stuff for me cause first, the location of it was the same location, like a block away, from where my family would drive me to family therapy, twenty years earlier or whatever.


S – Weird coincidence!


R – But then we went hunting and like one of the people we found was saying “are you looking for couples therapy or individual or do you both want individual”? So it dawned on me again the idea of individual therapy which I wasn’t really looking for; but what happened – should I call it “the trap” – this one woman we saw, I felt like there was some kind of connection – and I was drawn to her – and it was scary cause of the money but she had also said, if you want…. We went to all these trial sessions – with all these different therapists – and then, which was actually a very good experience cause then I got to see how different people work. And I saw [my lover] was just willing to like take anybody. And I thought wow that’s weird someone who resists the system so much is just so… Like gullible. OK, this person has this label and has this training and so they must be good or something??? And I was much more checking them out. Thinking they were homophobic. Asking them questions.


S – Are you still seeing the couples therapist?


R – Yeah…. I was real resistant to that and…


S – And are you in individual therapy also?


R – Yeah. Which is weird. And [my lover] also started individual therapy…She’s met my individual therapist because she is someone we interviewed when we were looking for a couples therapist. And I don’t care about that and I kind of thought that my therapist knows who [she] is. But, I still am very critical of therapy. I’m very critical of the whole process. I think it’s a big mind-fuck in a way. I don’t know, all these women that I was seeing they want to be eternal mothers or there’s a dependency that’s fostered. Not for everybody. I think if you have a very specific problem your trying to work through – very specific – then you kind of get the tools and work through, but otherwise… one of the problems of the scope where you’re like such immense or, I think, I know I have a dependency now, I’m not going to deny it, toward my therapist. On the one hand I’m glad cause maybe she’s held me up while I’m going through relationship crisis – all this time… I don’t know… I don’t trust therapy even though I’m in it, I don’t trust it.



Nature, politic, consciousness raising and community


Clients struggling with the purpose and meaning of their lives are often doing so in obsessive isolation from the movement of life around them. (O’Connor,1995)

After coming to understand how my research participants had each created a significant relationship with the natural world in their childhood and adult lives and after pondering descriptions of the meaning and solace they each derived from this affiliation; I was still searching for specifics on ways that women heal in this kinship. Was there another important piece of the puzzle alongside childhood exposure; education; class; privilege; culture; coincidence and psychological coping mechanisms women had taken on in order to deal with the environmental and engendered violence they has experienced? Was there something staring me in the face which I had overlooked?

This was how my last theme emerged. The “ah” of community. Community was the missing link. Thinking about the absence of community in Zelda’s life and, at times, for Lettie, and the adverse psychological (and social) consequences of this for these two women and then the enormous importance of community Ellen, Adrienne, and Gila’s lives pulled it together for me in a dramatic way.

The interrelation between nature, consciousness raising, community and education had a significant in my research findings. Once alerted to this idea, clear patterns, which I have discussed thoughtout this paper, emerged from my 600 pages of transcribed interview material and the massive accumulation of books and articles I had read for this paper.


In spite of various barriers they faced, all of my seven research participants had managed to build a meaningful and significant relationship with nature and the natural world in their lives that was both a continuation of the seed of an early childhood relationship and provided solace and meaning for them in their adult lives. To one degree or another, each of those relationships involved compromise, a fitting of the individual and her luggage of personal experiences into the patriarchal given.


The comment with which I begun this paper, that “the spirit can’t be killed”, was an idea intended to inspire and infuse a social movement with hope. It is well known in Shamanic traditions that yes, in fact, the spirit can be suffocated and killed, even as the body continues on. An entire field of Shamanic healing exists in response to this and is called “soul retrieval”. The honest raw truth is that in situations of intense trauma, all too often, people can experience the death of psyche. (See Herman, 1993; Morris, 1982; McNaron & Morgan, 1982; Russell, 1986; Peacock, 1990; R.D. Laing, 1960; R.D. Laing, 1964; Breggin, 1991; Gilbert and Gunbar 1979; Chesler, 1972, and Gilman, 1892; and Barry, Bunch, and Castley, 1984 for a start.)

Women retreat to nature for many reasons: When they want to be somewhere beautiful, peaceful, quiet, slow; when they want a change of scenery; because it is a place where they are most themselves; because it is a place where they can let down their defenses; when they are hurting; when they are feeling alone and adrift in a foreign land; when they are disappointed by promises of love; when they are longing for connection; because they love the sea/mountains/forests/deserts/savannas/islands; when they are pushed to the brink and have no choice but to discard the trappings of civilization; because it is so terribly fascinating; for a challenge; to get exercise; to reclaim their psyches; to have one place in their lives where they can be their “true selves”, be beautiful, be one with the universe, be without the trappings of the human made world. Women retreat to nature for sanity. Women retreat to nature so that they will not be lonely, because, as Paula Gunn Allen reminds us,

alone is not a natural state; you have to go to great effort to get aloneness. And in the world we live in, aloneness requires great resources. A great deal of money is what it requires… If we were to relax and notice ourselves… we would know that alone is an absurdity. We don’t have to work to be connected… all reality all around… is continually telling you, over and over, that the last thing you are is alone. You are always with, alwayswith…. What we must understand is that balance means equilibration of a huge number of diverse particles/wavicles of energy, stuff, folks of all the orders of the beastly kingdoms, all the orders of the non-physical kingdoms. The interplay of all of these enables us to be, and if that interplay is messed up with, is halted, is organized, we die. And everything around us dies. (1986)


Yet, another leap in psychological and psychosocial healing happens when human beings have intimate relationships with the natural world which then brings them back full circle to community. In Home to the Wilderness (1973), Sally Carrighar, deeply wounded by a childhood filled with abuse and disappointment and unable to find an answer in psychotherapy, finally retreats to the wilderness. In the wilderness Carrighar finally finds personal meaning, psychological healing and economic freedom in her relationship to the natural world. She becomes a nature writer! And it was only by bringing her love of nature and the animals back to the human world by her enormous success as a nature writer, that Carringhar blossomed to her fullest.

Doug Peacock, in Grizzly Years (1990), is a Vietnam veteran suffering from sever post traumatic stress disorder upon returning home. Finally, he goes in search of himself in the Grizzly bears of Yellowstone. The bears give him something it was impossible for him to find in the human world. Eventually, Peacock becoming a spokesperson and crusader for the survival of these threatened bears.

Numerous contemporary authors have written prolifically about the interconnectedness of their relationship between nature and community. A few of these artists (gathered from an enormous and endless vat) are May Sarton, Susan Griffin, Marge Piercy, Audre Lorde, Doris Grumbach, Leslie Maromon Silko, Paula Gunn Allen, Terry Tempest Williams, Alice Walker, Louise Erdrich, Adrienne Rich, and Annie Dillard. All of these women developed an intimate relationship to the natural world. But, and it is the but which is important here – something akin to equal importance was or is given to nature and the relationship these women had with human entanglements – love, work, community, family (how ever one wants to define “family”). For at least some of us, I am not sure we can be happy or whole without bridging the world of nature and society.


Gilman’s autobiographical heroine in The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) is caged away in nature and descends into an unforgiving solitary madness. It is not until women are living on the land together many million strong in a world of women in Gilman’s feminist utopian novel Herland (1915), that they find freedom and liberation. As unhappy and tormented as he was, Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), could have continued to live indefinitely, half animal and half human, never fitting into nature or culture. But the no matter how unhappy he could not live without the cooperation and acceptance of the community, in his case the local villagers, with whom he shared the world. This fact, not his existing between both worlds, is what led to Frankenstein’s ultimate destruction. He was rejected by humanity.


The situation for women in nature is mercurial: Healing and forgiving at best, frightening and horrific at worse. Yet, still I hold forth in my conviction that the natural world holds enormous potential for a world away from patriarchal constriction, female perversions, and false idealized selves. There are no easy answers. No simple solutions. One thing seems to be true however and that is that nature is safe, and, nature is not safe, for women.


There are many threads I have left unexamined in this paper on the relationship of women, nature and psychological well-being or the lack therein.

Buddhist teacher and practitioner Joseph Goldstein, founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, sounding a great deal like many of the academics, philosophers, psychologists, and ecologists I have thus far cited in this paper, says

…We can see compassion arising out of an experience of non-

  1. As long as there remains a sense of self, the very

notion of self predicates other. With the self, there’s other

than self. And other than self is everyone else and everything

else! And so the notion of self carries within it, implicitly, the

notion of separation. From the perspective of absence of self..

it’s just the interplay, the dance of elements, experience,

phenomena; there’s a dance of all this – interconnectedness,

  1. .. (Goldstein, p. 5, 1998)

An analysis of Buddhist philosophies and the practice of meditation would have a place in this thesis. Buddhism is an ancient religious tradition oriented around peacefulness, compassion, cultivating faith and wisdom, selflessness, mindfulness, respect for all living things, the power of Sangha – or community -, and the quest to eradicate ego greed, hatred, and ignorance within oneself. Buddhist do not eat dead animals. They do not cause needless suffering in creatures with whom they share the world. Buddhists do not kill any other living creature with intent. Buddhist practitioners, in order to go deeply into the practice of awakening, in order to create a mind, heart, and body in balance, are encouraged to retreat from “worldly lifestyles”. Historically, this has translated into monks and nuns going off for extended lengths of time alone into the depths of wilderness. An entire religious system where its first spiritual leader, the Buddha, achieved enlightenment at the base of a very old tree in the wilderness, must certainly have something meaningful to teach twentieth and twenty-first century women about connecting with the earth and letting go of things which cause women to suffer.

Nor, in this paper have I significantly pursued the issue of flesh eating and vegetarianism. A society which breeds and murders cows, baby calves, sheep, lambs, pigs, ducks, turkeys, and chickens, which is overfishing the oceans with nets the size of baseball fields, reflects the extremes of androcentric, anthropocentric, Cartesian objectivism, dissociation, violence, and murder. The exploitation of animal lives for profit and consumption is inseparable from the exploitation of women for profit and consumption and patriarchal violence against , girls and women.

In conclusion: Animals and women may have nothing more in common than the fact that they are both on the run – creeping furtively down public avenues hiding among grape arbors and under blackberry vines, standing absolutely still and invisible when they must avoid danger, and, wandering around most comfortably and free of inhibition in the depths of the night, along the seashore, or in the far away forest.





1 The history of the European ecological movement is not one to be proud of for those of us who work for freedom against racism and race hatred. Ernst Haeckel who first coined the concept “ecology” was a fierce anti-Semite as well as a chief spokesman for Social Darwinism. The ecology movement and virulent anti-Semitism were tied together in Germany in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Many other influential German ecologists of the nineteenth and twentieth century – men such as Martin Heidegger and Raoul France – also had political connections to the far right. [Biehl and Staudenmaier, 1995]


2 These statistics come from a variety of place: some are FBI statistics which are public knowledge; some come from Ms. special issue on women and violence, Vol.V, #2, September/October 1994. The statistic about women in Puerto Rico are from Angela Davis (19 83). Remaining statistic come from Massachusetts chapter of the National Child Rights Alliance; the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office; National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; National Center on Women and Family Law.



The work of feminist theoreticians in psychology has also tended to naturalize psychological characteristics associated with gender differences. Most feminist psychological theory assumes that the psychological characteristics exhibited by white, middle-class women (e.g. connectedness, empathy, nurturance, affiliative orientation, emphasis on the value of human interaction) are            core to the psychologies of all women… This essentialist assumption is made with little consideration that these characteristics, in fact, may be the consequence of defense mechanisms developed by women to deal with oppression (Epstein & Gawelek, 1992, p. 89).

Although some of my ideas in this paper rest on a theoretical foundation of relationalism, when thinking about theories of female relationalism and connectedness, it is important for readers to understand I believe these qualities to be engendered, socialized, not genetic nor biological. They are not inborn not do they apply across the board to all women or cultures.

When this theory was first postulated (Miller, 1976), it was couched from within white middle class heterosexual (feminist) academia and limited in perspective. Because these theories excluded an in depth examination of the lives of women of color and women from other cultures and classes, theories of female relationalism have been the brunt of feminist critiques of exclusionism and universality (Epstein & Gawelek, 1992).

Missing from theories of relationalism in the early years were the lives of lesbian women and those who resist the mandates of feminized socialization. For example, there is a classification in Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule (1986 ) which describes women who have been almost completely psychologically destroyed by their experiences within violent oppressive patriarchal systems, but no mention of women who have risen above this victimization. It is important not to frame all women’s suffering within realms of victimhood and pathology. Social oppression sometimes breeds psychologies of enormous brilliance and creativity.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s things went from bad to worse. Ideas about female relationalism were being picked up, unfortunately, by misogynists, antifeminists, backlashers and right wingers. Concepts by Miller (1976), Gilligan (1982) and colleagues began to be used as justification for reactionary and conservative ideologies toward woman. (See Faludi, 1991, for an informative synopsis of this process.)

Over the years, we have come to see, how sensitive theories of human behavior and psychology have the potential, if misunderstood or misapplied, to be wrought with problems in generality, application and deterministic views. As with the longstanding ecology movement in Germany, in the wrong hands the most honorable motives can become too easily misrepresented.





Americans spend $1.9 billion a year on chemical fertilizers pesticides for the home and garden. Pesticide contamination has been found as far away as the South American rain forests and the polar caps. “They can make you and your pets and the wildlife S -I-C-K. Nausea, vomiting, skin rashes, leukemia and other cancers, weakened immune systems… They can also potentially make us infertile as a species… They leach into the ground water and pollute our drinking water…. Pesticides kill bad bugs and good bugs and birds…[and] bees….” These chemicals contain heavy metals such as lead, dioxin, and arsenic. Chemical herbicides were developed by the Pentagon as defoliants in the Vietnam War. (See Rodale, M. 1998)

Something to the effect of 136 active ingredients in pesticides

cause cancer in humans or animals. “The United States is one of the world’s largest users of pesticides and the world’s top exporter. Sales in the U.S. total close to $8 billion… annual overseas sales of $2.4 billion….U.S. companies export more than 25 tons of pesticides every hour… Of 136 known carcinogenic chemical pesticides, 79 are still being used on U.S. food crops (Honey, 1995). For an excellent article on current pesticide use and their harm, I strongly encourage anyone interested to seek out Martha Honey’s (1995) informative article in Ms. Magazine. I would be happy to send a copy to anyone interested.


The following citation sheds some relevant philosophical light on this whole question.


I think we have difficulty in accepting the idea of a plant-positive rather than a pest-negative approach because we have made nature in our own image. We see natural processes as if they are projection of our own warlike actions and revenge-dominated thought patterns; thus we see malevolence in the relationship of one organism to another and in nature’s relationship to us. We don’t notice the beneficial balances between predator and prey that are maintained throughout the natural world. We miss the obvious logic of tipping the balance in our favor by creating optimum growing conditions for the plants. All we can see are the temporary agents (the pests) as threatening forces to be battled and defeated. We need to look again. (Eliot Coleman, 1993)




See Merchant for an in depth discussion of the involvement of women in the progressive environmental movement as well as a comprehensive review of women’s current ecofeminist movements worldwide in Merchant, C. (1995). Earthcare: Women and the environment. New York: Routledge.



I do not want to suggest that most middle and upper class women’s lives were free of male constraints as this was hardly the case. In some cases some women were lucky enough to be able to engage in “Boston Marriages” (intense and intimate primary relationships with other women) and work intimately for things they believed in. However, this freedom for some women then does not disregard the simultaneous use of mental hospitals as a form of sever female social control and imprisonment as during the eighteenth and nineteenth century women were threatened by incarceration by of husbands, brothers, and father’s. Men had the legal right without question to commit “their women” to mental hospitals for weeks or decades for the slightest infraction – not doing the cleaning properly, a husband’s affair with another woman, something a woman did or said which irked a significant man in her life. [Geller & Harris, 1994])



It is worth noting that as I wrap up the last writing for this paper in September of 1998, young and passionate Earth First activists – remaining in tree’s as they are felled – continue fighting what looks like a losing battle (with their bodies) to stop Pacific Lumber Co. loggers from chopping down 6,000 acres of California Redwood forests. Knowing environmentalists have been attempting to save these forests for over one hundred and fifty years and that many of the tree’s are as old as the Egyptian pyramids makes the loss ever more poignant and heartbreaking. How can any amount of money be worth the loss of something so sacred, ancient, beautiful and ecologically necessary for the earth?



Feminists for Animal Rights (FAR) is a national educational organization dedicated to ending all forms of abuse against women and animals and has published articles about doing direct action against hunters. Feminists for Animal Rights publishes a semiannual newsletter, has an online website and national and regional chapters in close to a dozen cities across the United States and Canada. FAR has organized a foster care, veterinary care program, for the companion animals of women in battered womens shelters called Companion Animal Rescue Effort (CARE). FAR Cofounder Marti Kheel has created a slide show called “Animal Liberation through an Ecofeminist Lens” which is available for presentation. To more information about Feminist for Animal Rights contact FAR, P.O. Box 16425, Chapel Hill, NC 27516.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) started as a group of men and women educating about and fighting animal abuses but unfortuately, has become increasingly sexist over the years – derisive to women in the name of liberating animals. For example, PETA and Playboy organized at least one event together in the summer of 1994 (Adams, p. 7,1995).



Deep Ecologists have been severely critiqued as anti-feminist. See Cheney “Ecofeminism and deep ecology”, in Environmental Ethics, Vol. 9, No. 2, summer 1987; Warwick Fox “The deep ecology-ecofeminism debate and its parallels” in Environmental Ethics, Vol. 11, No.1, Spring 1989; Ariel Salleh “The ecofeminism/deep ecology debate: A reply to patriarchal reason, in Environmental Ethics, Vol. 14, No. 3, Fall 1992; Warren, 1987, 1990, 1996; Mellor, 1997; and Marti Kheel (1995) “License to kill: An ecofeminist critique of hunter’s discourse”, in Adams & Donovan.



My review of the theories of Karen Horney are simplified and limited. I am not a Horney expert. My knowledge is almost wholly based on my reading and the interpretations of sociologist Westcott, 1986.



This is not to suggest that there are no other options of psychological survival for girls and women or that by any means all women end up caught in these psychological quagmires. In fact, millions of women succeed in expressing their “true selves” with all the passions, depths and complexity involved in being human.

The popularity of mass books are frequently a good gauge for social and cultural patterns and Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes work has been quite popular in the 1990’s. Author of numerous books, her bestseller Women who run with the wolves: Myths and stories of the wild woman archetype (1992) has shown many women that another way of being is possible. How many women are capable of manifesting this sort of psychological freedom against all the odds is, however, another question altogether.

I will point out to the reader that the majority of both therapy and mental hospital patients are women (Caplan, 1995; Luepnitz, 1988; Ussher, 1991; Hassibi,1995; Masson1994; and Chesler, 1997).The use of psychotropic drugs among women (Hassibi, 1995; Chesler,1998; Breggin, 1991), and statistics on women and depression would indicate that being free of psychological difficulties – or having been convinced that one is suffering from them – is not as easy as it might look. For example, according to studies by the National Institutes of Mental Health, 9.2 million Americans suffer from major depression and more than two-third of these 19 million people are women and an enormous seventy percent of all psychotropic drugs are taken by women (Hassibi, 1995).





Because both Ellen and Rose mentioned the murder of Rebecca Wight and the shooting of her lover, Claudia Brenner, on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, in May of 1988 and its effect on their relationship to the natural world it is necessary for me to fill in the reader on this horrific event. [See poem number 22, Battle Dirge, Lierre Keith, 1988. This song was written for Claudia and Rebecca]

Claudia Brenner and Rebecca Wight, two lesbians on a three day camping trip, were stalked and shot by a lone man, Stephen Roy Carr. He killed Rebecca Wight – although I believe that she was still alive when her partner, Claudia Brenner, seriously wounded with five gun shot wounds, left her against a tree and somehow made her way for help. Seven years later Claudia Brenner with the contribution of Laura Ashley wrote a book about this hate crime and the aftermath called, Eight Bullets: One Woman’s Story Of Surviving Anti-Gay Violence, (1995).

I was aware of this crime knowing people that knew Claudia and Rebecca and because it has been highly publicized in the aftermath. But when I attempted to remind myself of details of this “domestic terrorism” by doing a web search on Claudia Brenner, I was shocked to happen upon information about two more women murdered hiking near the Appalachian Trail in Virginia on Memorial Day weekend in 1996. A national initiative called “Take Back The Trails” event had been organized in response to these murders by The Women’s Professional Group of the Association for Experiential Education and was held in various locations throughout the country on Memorial Day weekend, May 24 through 26 1997. In early June of 1996 Julie Williams (from Burlington Vermont) and Lollie Winans (from Unity Maine) were murdered at a back country campsite in the Virginia Shenandoah National Forest. These two women and their Golden Retriever Taj were on a hiking trip together on Memorial day weekend in 1996. The information on the murders of these two young women which I found said the following: “sadly, it has been reported that there were signs of captivity at the crime scene” and goes on to report that “…these two women were outdoor group leaders for a group called Woodswomen, Inc. in Minneapolis, at least one was trained in self-defense… Few details about this slaying are being released, however, this case marks the fifth double slaying on park land in Virginia since 1986….” (from page 1 of 4 http://members.aol.com/femnet/ unsolved.htm). In response to these murders “…In another interview, one mother of a group of kids who went camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains after the murders said” “’I’m really concerned and frightened; I made it a point to pitch my tent near the men and that gives me a lot of comfort.” (from page 3 of 4 http://www.Carleton.edu/campus/TBTT/index.html)


An important text which addresses sexualized serial murders of women by men and which I would highly recommend is Jane Caputi’s The age of sex crimes (1987).


It is important for me to note that the concept of pervert or perversion (used in the original 1991 Kaplan text), although interpreted through a psychoanalytic lens, is not being used in any way as a slur or denigration of lesbians, gay men, ad infinitum. Rather Louise Kaplan, author of Female Perversions; The temptations of Emma Bovary (1991, New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday) is attempting to totally reframe this concept. Kaplan and then Streitfeld take the concept of “perversion” far out of the sexual and erotic arena. Acting out perversion through the manifestations of sex and sexuality belongs far more to the arena of men than women..In her analysis, a person who is a pervert and the actions of perversion have little to do with sex, sexuality, or the erotic. Kaplan believes that for either sex a “perversion” is a “perverse mental strategy” (p.9) of coping which reflects unconscious motives and is very much about methods people utilize for surviving difficulty and trauma. She believes that pornography, rape, battering, sex murdering have nothing to do with sex or love, but rather are very much about “making hate” (Kaplan p.40). This is true for any sexual behavior acted out by men with a certain intent.

Kaplan believes that “Sexual behaviors per se, kinky or otherwise, are not the key to female perversions… since females use other sorts of behaviors, one could say other sorts of deception, to appease their demons…Perversion is a psychological strategy…designed to help a person survive.” (p.10) “…insofar as they derive much of their emotional force from social gender stereotypes [perversions] are as much pathologies of gender role identity as they are pathologies of sexuality” (Kaplan, p. 14)



For an in depth history of this connection see Biehl, J. & Staudenmaier, P. (1995). Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience . Scotland and San Francisco, CA: AK Press. Because of the importance of this discussion to the social construction of nature, a short review of this text follows.

Biehl, J. & Staudenmaier, P. text is about the connections between anti-Semitism and far right ultra conservative politics and the ecological movement in Germany. The authors talk about the roots of the German ecology movement and how from the beginning years, the ecology movement was tied into far right and highly nationalistic dogma. This was done through “nineteenth century cultural prejudices, Romantic obsessions with purity, and anti-Enlightenment sentiment…(p.7) as well as anti-industrialism, a rejection of urban citification in Germany, pseudo-scientific racism (following the “natural order” and way of things biologically), the understanding of nature and the natural world as on par with the human world (animals, vegetables, and humans deserving of the same rights and equal in worth), and a mystical profoundly spiritual cosmic connection to nature and the natural world. This combined with a biological interpretation for all social phenomenon….(social Darwinism and ecology went hand in glove in Germany).

The ecology movement and fierce anti-Semitism was bound together in in Germany. In fact, the man who first coined the concept “ecology” was a fierce anti-Semite (Ernst Haeckel in 1867, a chief spokesman for Darwinism) as was many other influential ecologists of the nineteenth and twentieth century in Germany (men such as Martin Heidegger and Raoul France).The Wandervogel, or German youth movement was easily coopted by the Nazis, the authors think, because the youth movement stood for wholly personal solutions and did not see Germany’s problems in a political and systematic light.

Large scale Nazi party support of organic farming, a love and adoration of the earth and peasant farmers, opposition of wetland drainage, vegetarianism, being against vivisection and animal experimentation, believing that people, the land, and animals were equal and man was no better, a dislike of the cities which took people away from nature, wind and solar power, environmentally sensitive land use, laws safeguarding flora and fauna and natural sites in Germany and ordinances designed for the protection of wildlife habitat,homeopathy, restricting commercial access to remaining wilderness areas, and a belief in a biological natural order or natural law and purity was combined with a deeply held far right hatred of Jews, Slavs, poles, and anyone not of German blood. National Socialism blamed the Jews for the social disconnection from nature.

As one of the authors of this text states:“’Ecology’ alone does not prescribe a politics; it must be interpreted, mediated through some theory of society in order to acquire political meaning. Failure to heed this mediated interrelationship between the social and ecological is the hallmark of reactionary ecology (Biehl & Staudenmaier, 1995, p.25)”



Although I think it is all pervasive and central to women’s experience, I hope I have made it clear that I am not indicating that fear is the only social and psychological method of social control, or, that women are the only one’s being controlled. Almost no matter where you look at the end of the twentieth century – in cities, suburbs, or in the country – there is always the shadow and the potential of indiscriminate racist, religious, ethnic, misogynist, homophobic, and class violence lurking.

However, to further illuminate my point about how men reduce women to nature/animal and the connections between pornography. nature and serial sex murders which I spoke about in the first pages if this paper, I want to share the following long citation from longtime anti-pornography activist Andrea Dworkin (1989).


The photograph is captioned “BEAVER HUNTERS”, two white men dressed as hunters, sit in a black Jeep. The Jeep occupies almost the whole frame of the picture. The two men carry rifles. The rifles extend above the frame of the photograph into the white space surrounding it. The men and the Jeep face into the camera. Tied onto the hood of the black Jeep is a white woman. She is tied with thick rope. She is spread-eagle. Her public hair and crotch are the dead center of the car hood and the photograph. Her head is turned to one side, tied down by rope that is pulled taut across her neck, extended to and wrapped several times around her wrists, tied around the rearview mirror of the Jeep, brought back around her arms, crisscrossed under her breasts and over her thighs, drawn down and wrapped around the bumper of the Jeep, tied around her            ankles.

Between her feet on the car bumper, in orange with black paint, is a sticker that reads: I brake for Billy Carter. The text under the photograph reads: “Western sportsmen report beaver hunting was particularly good throughout the Rocky Mountain region during the past season. These two hunters easily bagged their limit in the high country. They told HUSTLER that they stuffed and mounted their trophy as soon as they got her home.”


















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Result Chart, Appendix A


> Privilege

~ My own privilege in writing this paper in a beautiful country setting.

~ Life choices open to Adrienne and Gila and closed

to Lettie, Zelda, Ellen, and Rose.

. No money to travel

. No vehicle in which to travel to countryside

~ Economic inequities keep women in cruddy apartments in

cities and suburbia.


Living environment

> Influence on happiness of interviewees

. Ellen might be living in the country had houses all not been sold from underneath her.

. Lettie very unhappy in apartment in the center of small city

. Adrienne and Gila happy


> Frankenstein

. Zelda and Rose

> The Yellow Wallpaper

. Rose, Lettie, Zelda

> Female Perversions

. As a psychological method of coping with hatred of earth/women & multitude of gender constrictions

> Control of women and earth

. Views of Liberal Ecofeminism, Socialist ecofeminism, Radical


> Women and nature engendered

> Women=Other and animals/earth & people of color = Other

> Is there a gender difference in relating to nature?

~ Do men control and women steward?

. Hunting and outdoor sport activities

. Naturalists and hikers

. All my interviewees

~ Socialized to be relational

Gender socialization

> Connection to earth and animals based on socialization    to be relational

~ All

~ How can/do women use relational gender socialization

to gain sustenance and strength from nature and


~ How does gender relationalism hurt women in relationship

to nature?

> Fear in nature and the natural world

~ Of violence against women (rape, murder)

~ Of men hunting animals (and women)

~ Of animals and insects

~ Of the unknown (aliens- Ellen and the Owl story)

> Psychological consequences

~ Vicarious traumatization

~ Direct and insidious trauma (P.P Root, 1992)

~ A war against women and a war against the earth/animals for those sensitive and aware

enough to see

. Depression

. Sorrow and anger

. Dissociation, denial, disconnection . Political activism, education ~ Disconnection from self and nature:

. Frankenstein. Mary Shelly’s monster &   . Zelda’s “human not nature” . Rose smoking in nature to state  difference

~ Gender based alienation and forced

separation from nature: Having to

choose between society and nature.

~ A longing to connect

~ If men hate nature and western paradigms

view women as nature, what does this do to

girlhood psychological development and the adult female psyches?

~What are consequences on our female relational psyches of feeling overwhelmed and unable to stop or control stuff happening around us to the earth and animal?

. Karen Horney’s Feminized woman

. Susan Streifeld’s Female Perversions

. Ellyn Kaschak, Bonnie Burstow, Judith        Herman, Miriam Greenspan, Laura Brown,    Maria Root and other feminist psychological


. Illness

. Lettie and Rose


Northern/European Patriarchy

> Foreground and background

> Rejection of animism

> Oppression and silencing of women

> Silencing of nature

> Fascination and love of death and hatred of the body

> Religious dualism


>Lack of heterosexual privilege

. In being without males in the woods & thus prey to violence

. All but Gila

. Economic

. Lettie and Zelda



~ Absence of interviewee’s of color in my data


~Adrienne and Gila work took them to the countryside & this was

important both women’s satisfaction with work and mental health



>Lettie, Ellen, Adrienne

. Opened their eyes/minds/hearts


Essentialism and Ecofascism in Germany

>Rose’s relationship with the earth in Germany

. The social construction of nature



> Foreground and background

~ Television and photography (it’s just not the same as the real                                     experience, ecopsychological studies)

> Industrialization and technology

>Environmentally caused dis-eases

> Citification and suburbanization

~Class and race

~ Placement of nuclear waste sites

~ Toxic dumps on native lands

> Deforestation, destruction of natural resources, economic

growth and development at all costs, pollution, acid rain,

. Cancer and illness

> Connections between the use of the earth and of women

< Rape and prostitution


~ Selling nature to middle class northern peoples


> The lands we live on

. Stolen lands

. Jews in Germany

> Southern women (Shiva)

. Northern women in denial

> Reproductive technologies, “The last frontier”


> Keeps women bound to family and men

> Lesbianism, class, and lack of heterosexual privilege

Women’s ecoactivism

~ Actions, voices, perceptions silenced and disregarded

~ In US green movement

~ World eco-politics

The influences of lesbian-feminism and ecofeminism

~ On my interviewees

~ On the understanding of nature and how we relate to

nature and animals

~ Bugs from a feminist perspective

~ A chance at embodiment in the material world

~ The importance of being social

. Nineteenth Century Feminist activists

Women’s perceptions of what kept them from nature

> “Imprisoned in the world of human construction” (Zelda and Rose)

~ The Yellow Wallpaper

~ Firmly lodged in the patriarchal construction of reality

which excludes nature

> Class and poverty

> Being involved/embodied in material, economic, and                                                   family Lives and responsibilities

> Philosophy of industrial and global development

> Christianity

. Ellen

> Israel

. Why Adrienne returned to Northern woods

> Gender roles and caste stratification

~ The woods belong to men

. Hunting and violence against women in nature


> Early experiences with animals

~ Teaching moral and ethical values, compassion, etc

> Nature as a refuge, escape from childhood family                                                              difficulties

> Spiritual or psychic experiences and solace of nature

> Fascination and interest

> Significant and formative developmental experiences

> The ability to share with others and what did this mean?

> Influences

~ Family

~ School

~ religious (Judaism, Christianity, and Paganism)

~ Girl Scouts

Nature as solace and nature as healing psychological wounds

> Based on class, race, heterosexual constraints

> Facilitating hope and wonder

> The oftentimes immensely healing gift of living with the

wild to soothe psychological difficulties

> Israeli Kibbutz life

. Gila whose life is entirely intertwined with the natural

world (albeit in a farming and technological fashion).

> How do we heal?

> Nature healing wounds of society

~ Zelda, Adrienne, Rose, Lettie, Rose

> feminism and ecofeminism

~ Ecofeminist theory and it’s huge influence on

how some women relate to the earth

~ Women outdoor’s program

~ Confronting fear

~ Learning to see animals and insects as living beings and    humans as part of the web of life (gives enormous


Nature and Community

~ The enormous importance of both in women’s psychological

~ Intertwined facets in healing

~ Like wolves, human beings are social creatures who

need the pack


>How Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and pagan religions

influenced women’s relationship with healing aspects of










Appendix B:

Consent Form

This document is intended to inform you, as participant or “co-researcher” in this project of various specifics involved in the development of the Master’s Thesis of myself, the primary researcher, Susan Gesmer, current Master’s student at Goddard College.

All information which you share with me during our interview and afterward in relation to your involvement as co-researcher in this project is completely voluntary and strictly confidential. It exists wholly between the two of us. I will not use your real name in the final paper unless you specifically request that I do this. Instead you will be given a pseudonym.

It is important to me that you are comfortable and interested during this interview, and in the various subjects we will be discussing here. I want us both to be engaged. My hope is that in talking or writing about these subjects, you will gain insight and/or understanding about various aspects of the topic at hand – or others that are more personal to you and do not necessarily have to do with your involvement in this project. My hope is that your involvement in this project will provide you with some form of sustenance: insightful or provocative food for the heart, mind, and/or soul.That not only will you be helping me as primary researcher and thesis writer to understand the various complexities for you in the issues we discuss, but that it will also be a growing experience.

As you have probably gathered, my goal is to have the interview process be as painless as possible. But, because we will intentionally be touching on many sensitive and deep subjects, I expect that there could be times during the interview which are intellectually and emotionally challenging for us both.

If you find that during this interview you are uncomfortable with any of the questions I have asked please indicate this to me.You are free to not answer a question; tell me that you want to answer the question differently; tell me that you want to answer another question which seems more relevant or important to you; or stop the interview for a pause, or indefinitely.

I use the term “co-researcher” to indicate that I could not do any of this without you. Your involvement forms the foundation for the thesis which I will write on the relationship between women and the natural world.


After I have finished all of my interviews I will be retreating back to my office for some indefinite hermetic time. During these weeks I will be attempting to make new connections, derive new meanings and significance, synthesize themes, and create new bridges, between what each of you as co-researchers have said to me, and the intensive readings I have done on the subject of women’s relationship to the earth. (How what you have said may or may not then relates to various academic, intellectual, spiritual, and psychotherapeutic schools of thought.)

In my final completed work I hope to offer the following: An unique interpretation of women’s relationship to the natural world, through my own historic Ecofeminist theoretical and contextual analysis and understanding, of the lives of women in a patriarchal culture, our relationship to the natural world, and it’s relationship to our psychological and spiritual lives.

If at any time in the next four months you realize that you are uncomfortable with something you have shared with me or you have further clarification or more about the topic that you want to share, I encourage you to either call me at (413) 268-9020 or email me at SuTeva5@aol.com.

After I have analyzed all “the data” and written my first draft of this paper, before I present my research findings in final form to the Goddard College community, I want to give you an opportunity to read and comment on my work. At this point you can again discuss with me anything which you believe I have misunderstood or taken out of it’s proper context. This will then allow me the possibility of going back to my paper and modifying what I have written. As well, throughout the coming months after this interview, I invite and encourage any further thoughts or feedback you have on subjects we have discussed and your participation in this project as co-researcher. Please indicate below whether you want me to send you a first draft of my work.


The undersigned agree with the ideas as stated above and will abide by those ideas unless an addendum is signed by the primary researcher and co-researcher.


Primary Researcher: _____________________ Date:__________


Co-researcher: _________________________ Date: ___________


Academic institution from which Primary Researcher is derived:


Goddard College

Plainfield, Vermont 05667


First Reader to this thesis project:

Terrence Keeney

(802) 223-3424


Second Reader to this thesis project:

Shoshana Simons

(802) 860-3690


Nature, n.

~ The material world and its phenomena.

~ The forces and processes that produce and control all the phenomena of the material world.

~ The world of living things and the outdoors.

~ A primitive state of existence, untouched and uninfluenced by civilization or artificiality.

– The American Heritage Dictionary


Natural, adj.

~ Present in or produced by nature.

~ Of, relating to, or concerning nature.

~ Conforming to the usual or ordinary course of nature.

~ a. Not acquired; inherent. b. Having a particular character by nature. c. Biology. Not produced or changed artificially; not conditioned.

~ Characterized by spontaneity and freedom from artificiality, affectation, or inhibitions.

~ Not altered, treated, or disguised.

~ Being in a state regarded as primitive, uncivilized, or unregenerate.

– The American Heritage Dictionary



World, n.

~ The earth.

~ The universe.

~ The earth with its inhabitants.

~ Secular life and its concerns.

– The American Heritage Dictionary


   Spirit, n.

~ The vital principle or animating force within living beings.

~ A being inhabiting or embodying a particular place, object, or natural phenomenon.

~ An inclination or a tendency of a specified kind.

~ A causative, activating, or essential principle.

~ The actual though unstated sense or significance of something.

– The American Heritage Dictionary


Spirit, n.

~ To infuse with spirit: animate

~ An animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms

~ The immaterial intelligent or sentient part…

~ The activating or essential principle

– Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

Spiritual, n.

~ Of relating or consisting of spirit

~ Of or relating to sacred matters

~ Of or relating to supernatural beings or phenomena

                        – Websters New Collegiate Dictionary


Please note –

When I use the term “natural world” in this interview it is important for you to know that my meaning is quite different than what is implied in dominant western Europocentric cultural ideology and thus reflected in standard text book definitions. I am referring to the material corporeal tangible earth world. But I do not align myself with Cartesian philosophies which assume a division between the physical world, the world of the mind, and the God world. When I use the term”natural world” I also mean ethereal spiritual domains which I believe exist within the terrain of the earth world. I am speaking of metaphysical, bodiless, sometimes quite disembodied, incorporeal, spiritual, nonmaterial, and intangible realms of experience. Therefore, instead of current scientific ideologies dominant in the western world today, my definition of “world” encompasses that of Non-Western, Eastern, Native, Shamanic, Aboriginal, and ancient cultures as well as a perspective and vision current within western based Ecofeminist and Ecopsychological analyses.

Nature and the natural world defined

   When we talk about nature and the natural world in this interview it’s important that we are both talking about the same thing. So to clarify, I mean this term to include the following. Please be sure to tell me any different assumptions, definitions, understandings, approaches, or meanings that you may have for the terms we discuss here today: This will only serve to enrich the content and context of the project of which you are participating as co-researcher.


Nature defined

Nature and the natural world is that which exists outside of the walls of our homes, office buildings, factories, schools, churches, synagogues, shopping centers, malls, cafes, mosques, therapy sessions, automobiles, airplanes, and other such man made structures, institutions, and devices.

When I use the interchangeable terms “nature” and “the natural world” I am thinking of everything which is untamed or wild. That which is not under the control, the tools, the technologies, or the hands of man. That which has not been domesticated. I am also thinking of things which have in fact been altered by humankind yet still retain a distinct sense of otherness. That in nature, which although we have tried, we are not able to completely place under our human control. This would include both wild and/or altered Parks and Forests; man-made lakes, reservoirs, dams, and rivers; ocean barriers; scenic and historic trails; and recreational areas preserved or created for the enjoyment of human being.

Over the past few hundred years industrialization and technology have shaped, formed, reformed and marked the earth’s environment in a multitude of way. Therefore, when I use the terms “nature and the natural world” I am not just thinking of the wild and undomesticated and I am not simply contemplating worldwide parks and reserves. By reality and necessity I am also thinking of such things as inner city arboretums, cleared and cultivated farmland, as well as various farm and domesticated animals such as dogs, cats, horses, pigs, cows, lima’s, sheep, goats, chickens, etc. I hold the belief that many domesticated animals still contain traces of the wilderness.

Thus, when I use the terms “nature and the natural world”: I envision the oceans, seas, mountains, tundra, savannas, deserts, and forest and all of the mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and insects that live in these places. But, I also envision the few old maples, or row of carob trees, left on the suburban or city block. I envision the relationship’s that we have with our dogs, cats, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, hamsters, mice, snakes, ferrets, pet tarantulas and caged birds. I envision the feel of the wind in our childhood hair as we ran, rode our bicycles – or our horses – through streets and paths of grass, dirt, pavement, cobblestone, or brick. I envision the stars at night, the waxing, waning, and full moon, the rare visiting comet, winter snowstorms and rains, spring thunder and lightening, summer heat, droughts, hurricanes, the shinning sun or cloudy skies, Copperhead snakes, Brown Recluse spiders and Scorpions. I am thinking of the earth under our feet, the sand at the beach, the grass under our toes, the soil under the grass, the rocks, the earth worms, the rich earthen clay, the rising river, the hot molten larva, the heat of the fire.

















Appendix C

                                                Interview Questions

Initial questions:

* What kind of work do you do in your daily life?

* What is your religious, or spiritual, orientation?

* What is your ethnic or racial identity?

* Where do you live? (Is it rural, urban, suburban?)

* Are you happy living there?

* Why happy, or why, unhappy?

* Where do you want to live (if unhappy )

*   Tell me anything significant that pops out at you, about the relationship or lack of relationship between your professional and personal or home life?

* Are you a person who remembers her dreams? (We will get back to this theme later in interview)

* Is there anything else you want to tell me about your identity that is important to you? (For example, do you suffer from a physical or emotional handicap? Are you dealing with a situation of poverty or other such social oppression? Are you currently dealing with male violence in your life?)

* Tell me about what is important to you in your life?

Initial questions about nature:

* What does being in nature invoke for you?

* What is your relationship to nature/ the natural world/ animals? Tell me something about this.

*   How do you feel that it has come to mean this?


Questions about childhood:

* What did nature/the natural world mean to you in your childhood and/or youth?

* Were you able to share this with your friends, family, or the people around you?

* Tell me…

* If your thoughts, feelings, or experiences with the natural world were something you were unable to share with others, do you think that this create any problems for you emotionally/socially/spiritually?

* Tell me…

* When you were a child, did you have any specific experiences with nature, animals, the natural, psychic, or spiritual world that were particularly significant to you either at that time or in retrospect?

* Tell me these stories…

* How do you believe that you first came to learn about nature/ the natural world outside of the four walls of your home?

* Where there any particular influences in your childhood or early life that cultivated this awareness? ( For example: Was it a parent introducing you to something outside of your home environment? An experience at school? An experience with friends? A solitary experience? Based on where you lived?)

* When you were in elementary school did you have any curricular activities that took place in nature?

* Did you have an active dream life as a child?

* Do you recall any repetitive dreams you had as a child that might have had something to do with the nature or the natural world? [for example, I dreamt/daydreamed about being rescued by horses taking my away from the painful unhappy suburban life in which I lived. ]


Questions about psychological life:

* Where you sexually, physically, or psychologically abused as a child or adult?

* Do you feel like or believe that you are an emotionally or psychologically “healthy” person?

* If yes, how..

* If no, how…

* On what perspective do you base this determination of yourself: What other people have told you? Or, what you believe to be true inside yourself?

* Have any experiences with the “mental health system”? If you have been in psychotherapy, for how long? If you have been on psychotropic drugs, for how long and what effect? If you were locked up in a psychiatric prison for how long and what effect?)

* Are you aware of ways that your relationship to the natural world has positively effected your emotional or psychological well-being in your life? Both in your childhood and adulthood –

* Please tell me about this…

* Are you aware of ways that your relationship to nature or the natural world has created a lack of emotional or psychological well-being in your life? (For example, some women are so pained by knowledge of the environmental damage being done to the earth and her animals that they are emotionally immobilized by this.)

* Tell me…

* Do you think there are any physical restorative or health-related benefits that you get from either your corporeal physical, or spiritual/soul relationship to nature/the natural world?

* Is there anything in nature, or about being in nature, that you are afraid of? Tell me about any fears you may have of nature and the natural world.


Questions about disconnection:

when I use the term “disconnection” I mean that a person has a sense of separation of self from self, or a disconnection of one’s body from one’s mind, or a disconnection of oneself from the world “happening” around them, etc.

* Do you generally feel connected to things outside of yourself in life: Other people, your family, your partner, the physical world, the political world?

* If yes, how do you feel connected?

* If you feel disconnected from any of these things, or others I have not mentioned, please tell me what are they and what this experience feels like for you?

* Do you feel connected to your body?

* Why do you think this is so?

* If you feel connected to your body in your current life, was there ever a time when you didn’t feel this way, and if so, can you tell me about it?

* Are you aware of what life experiences brought you back into yourself? Can you tell me something about this?

* Do you feel physically grounded in you current life?

* What facilitates this for you? (Like music, art, film, singing, walking, religion, friendship, writing, meditation, chanting, work, love, sex, nature….?)

* If you do experience a sense of dissociation or disconnection, is this difficult for you in your life?

* What coping mechanisms have you learnt to deal with it?

* Did you ever have a deep experience of disconnection that was difficult for you in your past – childhood, adolescence, young adulthood?


Questions about Dreams:

* Are there is any overriding themes or subjects about which you dream at night?

* Can you tell me some about what they are?

* Has the nature, the natural world, animals, ever been a theme in your dreams?

* Tell me…

* How about your waking fantasies? (In both childhood & adulthood)

* Tell me…


Questions about spirituality

* I would be really interested in hearing some about your spiritual life. What is your spiritual life about for you, what does it mean to you?

* How do you express your spiritual self in your life?

* Do you see any relationships between your connection to the natural world and your spiritual interests or experiences?

* Tell me…

* Are there ways that the natural world or your relationship to nature comes into play in any part of the professional or personal creative work you do in life?

* Tell me….

Questions about gender:

* Do you think that being a woman has influenced your connection with nature/animals/the natural world? In other words do you see any relationship between the two? Tell me….

* If you are a feminist, do you think that this has helped you to connect up with nature/animals/the natural world? Tell me…


For Israeli women, or women who have spent many years living in foreign countries :

*How do you think your relationship with nature/the natural world is different from that of Americans (or Europeans)?

* What have your experiences been with this, why do you think this? (only for Nili on Kibbutz who has worked with numerous American’s coming to kibbutz for short time)

* To what do you attribute this difference? (only for Nili)

* In what ways do you think living in (Israel, Germany ,where-ever ) effected your connection or lack therein with nature/ the natural earth world? (this question is just for Americans who lived elsewhere)

* How do you think that you relationship with the earth, animals, the natural world is different because of your living in an non-American country?



* If nature and your relationship with the natural world is important to you in your life; do you think that this happened in opposition to something else? (like “religion”, political involvements, or some other significant focus or direction your life might have followed otherwise?)

* On the other hand, do you think that something else in your life of pressing importance has distracted you from a meaningful relationship to nature or the natural world?

* How about socially or politically: Do you think there were/are cultural or political factors which have distracted or kept you from having a more meaningful, active, or deeper relationship with the natural world?

* Tell me about any connection you are aware of, or experience, between your religion of birth, or the religious practices of your childhood (at church or synagogue etc.), and your current connection to the world of nature?

* Is there any story that you still want to share with me? A story either on any of the topics we have discussed that is important to you, or on another topic? Tell me…

* In your own relationship, or for women as a social class, are there any other questions, or topics which come to mind on the subject of women’s relationship to the natural world – and women’s mental/emotional/psychological well-being or lack therein in this relationship to the natural world – that you think I have missed in this interview? Can you speak to this?


















Appendix D. Who am I?

Catch me, wings beating, hovering over a fuchsia blossom, or in the glare of a passing headlight – for I am a constantly changing creature and it is important to remember I am only what you see the moment you see her – and you will bare witness to a furless two legged female mammal of the human species – although I could as easily happen to shape shift into a bird, black bear, white tailed deer, or porcupine. You see a human woman around the middle years of normative human life spans in the twentieth century in the first world; middle height; middle weight; dark brown eyes; dark brown graying hair; having the blood, history, and passed down ways of Russian Jews pulsing through her veins, heart, and soul. Born flesh into a working class nuclear family who eventually rose into the middle classes; economically disadvantaged for most of her independent life; suffering with a 25 year debilitating chronic physical illness; in heart and spirit a JUBU (Jewish Buddhist); feminist; pagan; witch; who loves the earth and the animals more than anything and would soon as die to save the life of a dog or deer, owl or raccoon, whale or pelican, old growth tree or expanse of threatened land – as the life of a poet, potter, or the common womon. She was born forty three years ago from her beloved mother’s womb screaming against injustice toward women, people of color, the poor – whatever oppressed group that happened before her youthful eyes – and with an inborn critique of the horrors of consumption capitalism from her first breathe. She believes in the spirit as much as the mind and body so should you kill her body she shall not cease to be a force in the universe. Although it took forty three years to get there; at the current time in her life she makes her home on top of a hill in the woods of Western Massachusetts with her bicultural female lover (Israeli/American); her beloved Alaskan Malamute with chestnut eyes you could die for; two furry felines of increasing age; and an endless expanse of swamp land, vista’s, wild animals, howling winds, the waxing and waning moon and endless stars. Should she be close to death she will go into the forest and hope for a visitation from one of the ghostly mountain lions said to roam these woods. Folk rumor has it they have never left even these Eastern woodlands though man has indubitably short of murdered them into extinction.











Appendix E, The Poetry

[*SU: Fix all citations]




for Michaele Uccella


where they built the bombs

(little boy for hiroshima

fat man for nagasaki)

was picked for its beauty

purple hills

aching sky


in a glass case in the museum at los alamos

is a tiny pile of sand from a card that says

sand from an island that

no longer exists


they explain.

before they made

fat man or little

  1. before they dropped them on

island of little girls, big boys, women

of all sizes


they tested –

like men who rape their neighbor before

heading across town –

spitting fire across their

own deserts, their own

people blind and cancerous

they blew up one of their

own islands     and said

it was good


in the courtyard of the museum at los alamos

are no statues of melting eyes, no

nagasaki cancer, no seared hiroshima

bodies of any size


just models

of little boy

and fat man

painted white

for good

to take pink hills from not-white

people of all sizes.   good

to blow up

islands of not-white people

of all sizes


here are no accidents

no mistakes.     they like

to stick their pins in maps

they like to pay for women

of certain sizes. or take

and not pay.

they like to decide. they

like to decide


and when people of all sizes, fat

girls, slight men, women

with broad shoulders pile

out of cattle cars

(some of course already dead)

to be stripped and searched and shaved

and tattooed blue numbers for a name

and murdered

or used



here are men

of certain sizes

who like to click their heels

and point

you to the right

you to the left

you turn around and let me

look at you.

-Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, 1989.



(2)            Hidden Creek at Northspur Junction

Exhausted watcher of

Mad circuses of he cities,

In search of calm

I reverse the years

To a certain creek

Hidden in a sequoia grove –

Redwoods older than the Sphinx,

Who gazed upon the fabled flood.

That tiny creek should quench

A long thirst;

Muffle a weary muttering.


Stepping softly in the quiet,

Listening for bird calls,

Afraid my boot would kick a stone

Against another one with a clash

In the midst of some secret rite

Unheard, unseen except

By gods of time and place,

I was suddenly sure that this

Was the same forest

Of my green thoughts while

Trekking long sandbars of time.


Trembling ivy looped a mother bole,

Cerise veins fading to mauve.

It would crush its last leaf against

Her dark crusty skin in the

Small violence of its love.

A naked tree leaned down, its

Chalkwhite skeleton jaunty,

Flaunting crimson blossoms smaller

Than a baby’s toenail,

Saying its life

Was stronger than death.


A scent of water held in my nostrils.

I almost turned. Was the creek

As I remembered? How long!

It has been twenty years, I thought.

Of course must be greatly changed.

Breathless I stopped –

Saw the green mirror curving,

Patchwork of deeps and shallows,

Subtle with altering textures,

None repeating any other.


I nearly missed the doe.

she melted silent down the hill,

Leaped the creek, stood toward me,

Gazing with bright intensity,

Set delicate hooves in

Undulating grey fur of old stones,

Looked for measureless moments longer,

and leisurely bent to drink. I,

Crouching in the tall grass like

Some fascinated mountain lioness,

Heard her liquid lapping.


Sun sifted through the larches,

There came a whisper of wind,

a light stir of brush,

The light stir of her passage.

Nothing was disturbed,

No voice had sounded,

Yet something – some word, was it?

Had been spoken.

(Mary TallMountain, pp. 58 -59, 1990)


(3) The Raccoon

Slowly she wobbled

on unsteady feet

from the thicket of spring wood

the trillium about to flower

through the fallen winter trees and laden branches

covering the forest floor

toward the house

on the ridge.

When we woke

she was sitting on the chestnut chair

three feet from the door

a ghostly visitor, eyes sparkling and

head hangin low.


There then she came

quilled face to snarling snout

before it dawned on us

there was a wild animal

at first glance, a porcupine

up on the chair

as if it was a perfectly natural thing

she should be there

softly rocking, head swaying,

in her forlorn four pawed anguish

awaiting her fate.

Many hours later

the raccoon lay in a cage

anesthetic numbing her pain

after the removal of seventy-five porcupine quills

from the tender tissues of her tongue

and inquisitive face.


When we finally released her into the moonless night

she had awakened enough from the sedative

to pull the towel off the cage

and begin to gnaw and claw

at her enclosure with teeth that bite through bone

forefeet bearish and flat-footed

dexterous long fingers

and the sharpness of mind

that can untie knots,

open doors,

and release latches.


I do not know when

at last she wandered

away, L’Chaya, into the night wood

for after freed, she circled for hours

round and round like the hawk she was not.


Eventually I could no longer watch

her slow coming round

past the blackberry bushes, lilacs and daffodils

ambling over the tender crocuses

swinging in her gaited way by the rhododendron

under the black walnut and yellow birch

by the two vehicles in the drive, the wood pile, the mint patch

the porch where her empty metal enclosure still sat

so afraid I was for her


unsure if my attending was causing

her erratic behavior

I shut the light.

My spirit leaps at the still empty chair when

every morning now

passing by I stare

half expect to see the coon sitting there

head hanging low and slight body swaying,

the tell tale sign of

quills embedded every which way. But

no longer really awaiting

the aging brown-toothed female coon,

I anticipate the feathered or fury face

of an red fox, longtail weasel, bobcat,

beaver having dragged herself up from the pond below,

a ruffed grouse, barred owl, marsh hawk

a little brown bat sitting there on that chair

or even a bear

~ Susan Gesmer, 1998



(4) with no immediate cause


every 3 minutes a woman is beaten

every five minutes a

woman is raped/ every ten minutes

a lil girl is molested

yet i rode the subway today

i sat next to an old man who

may have beaten his wife

3 minutes ago or 3 days ago/ 30 years ago

he might have sodomized his

daughter but i sat there

cuz the young men on the train

might beat some young women

later in the day or tomorrow

i might not shut my door fast

enuf/ push hard enuf

every 3 minutes it happens

some woman’s innocence

rushes to her cheeks/ pours from her mouth

like the betsy wetsy dolls have been torn

apart/ their mouths

mensis red & split/ every

three minutes a shoulder

is jammed through plaster & the oven door/

chairs push thru the rib cage/ hot water or

boiling sperm decorate her body

i rode the subway today

& bought a paper from a

man who might

have held his old lady onto

a hot pressing iron/ i don’t know

maybe he catches lil girls in the

park & rips open their behinds

with steel rods/ i cdnt decide

what he might have done i only

know every 3 minutes

every 5 minutes every 10 minutes/ so

i bought the paper

looking for the announcement

of the women’s bodies found

yesterday/ the missing little girl

i sat in a restaurant with my

paper looking for the announcement

a yng man served me coffee

i wonder did he pour the boiling

coffee/ on the woman cuz she was stupid/

did he put the infant girl/ in

the coffee pot/ with the boiling coffee/ cuz she cried

too much

what exactly did he do with hot coffee

i looked for the announcement

the discovery/ of the dismembered

woman’s body/ the

victims have not all been

identified/ today they are

naked and dead/ refuse to

testify/ one girl out of 10’s not

coherent/ i took the coffee

& spit it up. i found an

announcement/ not the woman’s

bloated body in the river/ floating

not the child bleeding in the

59th street corridor/ not the baby

broken on the floor/

“there is some concern

that alleged battered women

might start to murder their

husbands & lovers with no

immediate cause”

i spit up                i vomit               i am screaming


we all have immediate cause

every 3 minutes

every 5 minutes

every 10 minutes

every day

women’s bodies are found

in alleys & bedrooms/ at the top of stairs

before i ride the subway/ buy a paper/ drink

coffee/ i must know/

have you hurt a woman today

did you beat a woman today

throw a child across a room

are the lil girl’s panties

in yr pocket

did you hurt a woman today


i have to ask these obscene questions

the authorities require me to


immediate cause


every three minutes

every five minutes

every ten minutes

every day

– Shange, Ntozake (1979). Nappy Edges.

New York: Bantam, pp. 111-113




(5)            Taking Back My Night

There are nights when the fear

drifts like fog when there is no one

here no one but me. I dread

the walking in the dark

fantasize the shapes of men white

as death stalking me. I hold

my breath when I open the door and

lock it behind me to shut out

what was or what might be.


I stroke my quilt,

the quilt left abandoned in a stall

triangles of black, deep red, blue

given to me by women who loved each other,

made by some unknown woman

from necessity and flour sacks.


I wonder what child woke, afraid

under that quilt

and if a woman woke, afraid

beneath a man quick to anger.


I remember a child waking

hot with fever and pain

like a needle through the ear

with every heartbeat, huge, invisible:

I remember standing in the bed

screaming into the dark

where there was no help, no answer.


I learned familiar things

changes in the dark:

even the glass of milk by the bed

turned to poison over night.

Familiar face turned monster:

I woke afraid,

hearing the monster stumbling down the hall

to punish me.

I woke to run, to hide

under the bed, under the table,

if I were quick,

if I slept light,

if there were enough light

to see where to run.


I learned vampires wore black capes

and fled the dawn.

Evil witches wore black

and had dark hair.

Gentle Cinderella was blond,

like the good fairies.

I loved Snow White because her hair

was dark like mine.


In church I learned about

horns of light, shining souls,

the valley of the shadow,

seeing through a glass darkly,

cast into the outer darkness:

God, he

created light and found it good.

At school I learned about

bright ideas, bright students,

Dark ages, the dark night of the soul,

the Dark Continent.

Everywhere I learned

little white lies,

free white and twenty-one,

blackmail, blacklist,

blacken his reputation,

black sheep,

black as the grave,


My grandmother wanted me

to be a pale lady.

I tried; then I tried

to kill myself. I learned hell

is very bright.

I decided to live;

I decided to live;

  1. I decided not to be a lady;

I decided to live beyond the pale.


Here we walk holding hands

without light

we guide ourselves

by the feel of the path

by the darker

pattern of trees against the sky.

Sometimes I close my eyes

learning to trust myself to find the way

learning to trust my loves to guide me.


I have to trust the dark to garden.

I lay down the sheets of straw,

the old hay, the gathered leaves

between the plants. Beneath the mulch

the worms make earth rich

and all the sweetness of the world begins.

I feed the worms, and celebrate

as they multiply, and remember

I will feed them again, and better,


I have to trust the dark.

When we go to the garden

each morning we find

tomatoes ripened overnight.

The pear trees are heavy, breaking;

we pick fruit and carefully

wrap each one to sweeten

away from the sun.

At last on the kitchen shelves

the jars glow in shadowed peace

where light will not steel color.


When daylight fades

my tired body praises

the shorter day bringing rest.

Long winter nights are the goal,

the reward, the time to recover

from the bright hard times.


I sit reading by the fire:

the abolitionist writes

the dark races are more intuitive

gentle not good at math.

The philosopher declares

the dark side, the yin

is cold and feminine.

The rabbi contrasts

Shabbat white and pure with Lilith

dark and evil, who refused to be laid

down, Lilith made of earth

and kept beyond the outer wall.


I am thinking about women

wearing veils and wigs and rings

and words

hidden so men can stay

bright and pure.


The definition of what we are

is will they kill us for it?

have they ever not killed us for it?


Watching sparks rise

I remember the smell of sizzling hair

when my brother set

the match to mine.


I read that in a certain village

the pyres seared against the black

magic cat knowledge

til one woman left alone

watched the men for enlightenment.


I remember a picture from my father’s

state: a ring of white

space around a charred black body

whose first crime was being dark;

the white men stood with rope and torch

making proud offering

open to the camera.


Later in an eastern paper city

under a sudden August sun women

ran with flaming hair

to a river already boiling.


I watch the flames rise

remembering all the bright

final solutions.


Some nights we hear dogs

calling on the hills.

We know that men can change their mind

about their game.

My love dreams that they are hunting here;

she dreams they are hunting us.


Where we share common fate

and cause

there we may also choose a new

definition: in the darkness, she

rises strong and free

and finds it good.


Tonight I will walk in the darkness

feeling my way home

by the curve of the earth

feeling my way to sleep

by the curve of a woman.

If I wake in the night

she will soothe me.

If the men in white come

she will not desert me.


I have to trust the dark.

I have to trust myself.

I am learning to love myself.

I have not let them kill me;

I have not let myself die.

I am still learning to walk

where I am afraid.

– Catherine Risingflame Moirai

From Sinister Wisdom #17, 1981, reprinted in issue 43/44

1991, pp. 171 – 175



(6)            Sure You Can Ask Me A Personal Question


How do you do?

No, I am not Chinese.

No, not Spanish.

No, I am American Indi-uh, Native American.

No, not from India.

No, not Apache.

No, not Navajo.

No, not Sioux.

No, we are not extinct.

Yes, Indin.


So that’s where you got those high cheekbones.

Your great grandmother, huh?

An Indian Princess, huh?

Hair down to there?

Let me guess. Cherokee?

Oh, so you’ve had an Indian friend?

That close?

Oh, so you’ve had an Indian lover?

That tight?

Oh, so you’ve had an Indian servant?

That much?

Yeah, it was awful what you guys did to us.

It’s real decent of you to apologize.

No, I don’t know where you can get peyote.

No, I don’t know where you can get Navajo rugs real cheap.

No, I didn’t make this. I bought it at Bloomingdales.

Thank you. I like your hair too.

I don’t know if anyone knows whether or not Cher is really Indian.

No, I didn’t make it rain tonight.

  1. Uh-huh. Spirituality.

Uh-huh. Yeah. Spirituality. Uh-hah. Mother

  1. Yeah. Uh-huh. Uh-hah. Spirituality.

No, I didn’t major in archery.

Yeah, a lot of us drink too much.

Some of us can’t drink enough.

This ain’t no stoic look.

This is my face.

-Diane Burns, p.40, from Bruchac Ed. Song from the                                                             Turtle’s back



(7)            Desert Wash


Perched on the edge of a wash

I can peer at the sheer drop

into the sudden wadi that slices hidden

through these barren hills

Earlier I was honored

by what I first thought was merely rock

jutting from a sheer ridge

but simply because I taught myself over the years

to look hard and well

I spotted an Ibex spotting me

glorious curved horns

in stark relief against the morning blue.

Soon, not only one

but the whole tan hillside began to flow and leap

in moderate alarm

til I was lifted into precious solitude once again.


Now crucially alone I let the desert breeze

dry my sweat-soaked feet

snuggle in among the vast silence

the touch of spare green succulents

housing snail shells

secret blooms.


I’d be a fool if I didn’t admit

I’m frankly frightened

not of Ibex, snakes or lizards

but of men

no matter what side – Jew or Arab

both would see me as fair game

boldly hiking alone

as if I didn’t have a right to sneak away

from motherhood and stretch my legs

across the empty wilds.


But what good is fear

when caverns beckon?

Ubiquitous crows croak and circle

offering me a raspy welcome.

A strong winter sun

tenderly strokes my dark hair

sings to me of warmth

worth light years of doubt.

Some mythic creature honks twice

behind a crumbled bleached wall.

It doesn’t really matter if we never meet.

I’m just as content.


Now in the wadi itself

I sit beside a cozy cave

ready to scramble in like some shy Coney

if something human ambles my way.

A Wagtail flagged me down

dared me to settle myself

across smiling shelves of hardened sand

fluffy brush that clump among the stones.

Hey, there’s a blushing Chukar

boldly striped lower belly

strutting like she knows I’m here

but doesn’t even care

bless her chicken heart.


I think of Gail Rubin

shot to death while shooting birds

with merely a lens

on a beach just north of Tel Aviv

while passionately taking note of nature

handling me a legacy of focusing

on hosts of non-partisan flying critters

pecking away.

She too was courageously alone

needing to create images of wonder

between the sonic booms

just as I sit huddled here

pushing my pen through layers of tension

in order to reveal the unequivocal truth

of bird chirps.

– Carol Cohen, December 1987, Ein Fashka, Israel



(8) Bird Watching

Something you know well

you could tell about it a hundred different ways.

Holding tight in the night

absentminded unretained unremembered

she says no penises

piercing penetrating my little girl body

so it must not have happened.

You think for days

about her common elusive slipping away

something just isn’t right

almost parallel

leaves beginning

to change sea-water moss moving jade

into champagne maize, terra cotta, meadow lark

carnal amber of cool swaying elegance

dancing to the sound of full-bodied voices

calling down the spine to the root

spreading, I am drinking you in

the fine moisture of desire

howling quaking exhilarating

a heart yawning open and

if i listen careful

stirring spirits calling out

her name

so what if the winds will come

come cold and bitter tasting

deep layers of snow from darkening concealing sheathed

  1. Whirling bone white.

My arms round you now

our bodied warming

outside freezing

death cup temperatures

us for a time away

from their specific strategies for the

agony, torment, harrowing torture

of woman and all that is woman

unbearable to witness like we do

constantly live through each breath

we take it in and out. You say “Bird,

breathe deep, curl against, breath with me,

and squeeze my hand as hard as it hurts, okay?”

and I try

to keep it coming against all odds

in the wake

of constant disaster, dubious change

my fantasies flipping like a beached porpoise

back and forth. First

their evil blood flooding the soil

rich with new hope, then mine

thin with so many years of aching.

In all this hold forth

we tell each other

arms are raised high in secret clandestine ceremonies

it’s centripetal, some wolves still run free

and your here with flying feathered creatures like me

flinging past strong seething branches while

deer gather in far fields together.


Holding so delicate and sacred

your large cupped hands

round her bruised and broken feather bones

because hunted deer have to leap clear

and to attend to her

you have to be in the right place

at the right time

with all things wild


~ Susan Gesmer, 1988




(9) The last wolf


                        the last wolf hurried toward me

through the ruined city

and I heard his baying echoes

down the steep smashed warrens

of Montgomery Street and past

the few ruby-crowned highrises

left standing

their elevators useless


passing the flicking red and green

of traffic signals

baying his way eastward

in the mystery of his wild loping gait

closer the sounds in the deadly night

through clutter and rubble of quiet blocks

I heard his voice ascending the hill

and at last his low whine as he came

floor by empty floor to the room

where I sat

in my narrow bed looking west, waiting

I heard his snuffle at the door and

I watched

he trotted across the floor


he laid his long gray muzzle

on the spare white spread

and his eyes burned yellow

his small dotted eyebrows quivered


Yes, I said.

I know what they have done.

– Mary TallMountain, In Green, (1984)




(10) Kopis’taya

      (A Gathering of Spirits)


Because we live in the browning season

the heavy air blocking our breath,

and in this time when living

is only survival, we doubt the voices

that come shadowed on the air,

that weave through our brains

certain thoughts, a motion that is soft,

imperceptible, a twilight rain

soft feather’s fall, a small body

dropping into its nest, rustling, murmuring,

settling in for the night.


Because we live in the hardedged season,

where plastic brittle and gleaming shines

and in this space that is cornered and angled,

we do not notice wet, moist, the significant

drops falling in perfect spheres

that are the certain measures of our minds;

almost invisible, those tears,

soft as dew, fragile, that cling to leaves,

petals, roots, gentle and sure,

every morning.


We are women of daylight; of clocks and steal

foundrys, of drugstores and streetlights,

of superhighways that slice our days in two.

Wrapped around in glass and steal we ride

our lives; behind dark glasses we hide our eyes,

our thoughts, shaded, seem obscure, smoke

fills our minds, whisky husks our songs,

polyester cuts our bodies from our breath,

our feet from the welcoming stones of earth.

Our dreams are pale memories of themselves,

and nagging doubt is the false measure of our days.


Even so, the spirit voices are singing,

their thoughts are dancing in the dirty air.

their feet touch the cement, the asphalt

delighting, still they weave dreams upon our

shadowed skulls, if we could listen.

If we could hear.

Let’s go then. Let’s find them. Let’s

listen for the water, the careful gleaming drops

that glisten on the leaves, the flowers. Let’s

ride the midnight, the early dawn. Feel the wind

striding through our hair. Let’s dance

the dance of feathers, the dance of birds.

Paula Gunn Allen (1984) SU: from where?



(11)                        Sturgeon


i twist and gasp

open and close my mouth

searching for air

whenever a sturgeon is caught in the rainy river

i know

the feel of strange hands on my body

the struggle

to be free

the longing

to go where I want to go

i feel

the impact of stick or rock on bone

the splash of color

then the emptiness that is my head

my head like a midnight sky if the stars and moon

were captured by another heaven

i know

even when I am awake again

sitting at the kitchen table

staring at my plate with its bramble design

and rough chipped edges

i know


that is why i do not eat sturgeon

because i know

when a sturgeon is caught in the rainy river that

i am a sturgeon

and i dangle on hooks

Kateri Damm [from Bruchac, 1997, pp. 87-88]




(12)                        My Grandmother’s House


hardwood floors and walls

slats all waxed and shiny


basks in sunlight and order


it is a good place

it is a clean place

it is a bright place

like my grandmother’s house


but it does not feel right

something is wrong

something here has been changed

i turn quick to exit

and as my feet touch

the grass outside, gray wings

unfold and i fly

high into the trees,

i circle to swoop

down past the house again

and again wings brushing

the windows as people peer

out to see the great owl

i circle once more

before perching in an old maple

its bark in decay


wings spread and

i reel back into the sky

swooping past the house


this is not my grandmother’s house

i cry this is not

my grandmother’s house.

– Lenore Keeshig-Tobias in Bruchac, 1997, pp. 174-175



(13)                        The Strange People


All night I am the doe, breathing

his name in a frozen field

the small mist of the world

drifting always before me.


And again he has heard it

and I have gone burning

to meet him, the jacklight

fill my eyes with blue fire;

the heart in my chest

explodes like a hot stone.


Then slung like a sack

in the back of a pick-up,

I wipe the death scum

from my mouth, sit up laughing

and shriek in my speeding grave.


Safely shut in the garage,

when he sharpens his knife

and thinks to have me like that,

I come toward him,

a lean gray witch,

through the bullets that enter and dissolve.


I sit in his house

drinking coffee till dawn,

and leave as frost reddens on hubcaps,

crawling back into my shadowy body.

All day, asleep in clean grasses,

I dream of the one who could really wound me.


When he comes, more quiet

than the others,

I take him away with me.

On his head

fix the simple, cleft prongs.

I make him come with me to the trees and lie down.


Wind cries like a cat.

The leaves cut where they touch

and we curl from our wet flesh like smoke,

leaving the light of our hunger in the bones

that will burn till dew falls

in the ashes.


When you pass

these gray forms

that flake and shiver in the wind,

Do not touch them, turn back.

Human, Frail human,

Lope toward your own dark shelter.

– Louise Erdrich from Green, 1984, pp. 89-91


(14) See Adrienne Rich, “Yom Kipper, 1984” p. II


(15)            From the Monkey House and Other Cages


Monkey I




from the beginning

she was always dry   though

she’d press me close

prying open my lips:

the water warm

the fruit   sour   brown

apples bruised and soft.


hungry for dark   i’d sit

and wait   devour dreams

of plain sun and sky

large leaves   trunks   dark

and wet with sweet thick sap.


but morning

brought back the space

and cement   her weakened

body   my head against her

breast:   my mouth empty.

(Klepfisz, 1982, p. 5)



(16) Every Traveler Has One Vermont Poem


Spikes of lavender aster under Route 91

hide a longing or confession

‘I remember when air was invisible’

from Chamberlin Hill down to Lord’s Creek

tree mosses point the way home.


Two nights of frost

and already the hills are turning

curved green against the astonished morning

sneeze-weed and ox-eye daisies

not caring   I am a stranger

making a living choice.

Tanned boys I do not know

on their first proud harvest

wave from their father’s tractor

one smiles as we drive past

the other hollers


into cropped and fragrant air,

– Audre Lorde in Naming the Waves: Contemporary                                                 Lesbian Poetry 1989, Ed. Christian McEwen, The Crossing                                                 Press,Freedom California, p. 121.




  1. Helen, at 9 am, at noon, at 5:15


Her ambition is to be more shiny

and metallic, black and purple as

a thief at midday; trying to make it

in male form, she’s become as

stiff as possible.

Wearing trim suits and spike heels,

she says “bust” instead of breast;

somewhere underneath she

misses love and trust, but she feels

that spite and malice are the

prices of success. She doesn’t realize

yet, that she’s missed success, also,

so her smile is sometimes still

  1. After a while she’ll be a real

killer, bitter and more wily, better at

pitting the men against each other

and getting the other women fired.

She constantly conspires.

Her grief expresses itself in fits of fury

over details, details take the place of meaning,

money takes the place of life.

She believes that people are lice

who eat her, so she bites first; her

thirst increases year by year and by the time

the sheen has disappeared from her black hair,

the tension makes her features unmistakably

ugly, she’ll go mad. No one in particular

will care. As anyone who’s had her for a boss

will know

the common woman is as common

as the common crow.

From “The Common Woman Poems”

Judy Grahn, (1978) The Works of a Common Woman

The collected poetry of Judy Grahn, 1964-1977.

New York: Saint Martins Press, p.61




(18)            1V. Carol in the park, chewing on straws


She has taken a woman lover

whatever shall we do

she has taken a woman lover

how lucky it wasn’t you

And all the day through she smiles and lies

and grits her teeth and pretends to be shy,

or weak, or busy. Then she goes home

and pounds her own nails, makes her own

bets, and fixes her own car, with her friend.

She goes as far

as women can go without protection

from men.

On weekends, she dreams of becoming a tree;

a tree that dreams it is ground up

and sent to the paper factory, where it

lies helpless in sheets, until it dreams

of becoming a paper airplane, and rises

on its own current; where it turns into a

bird, a great coasting bird that dreams of becoming

more free, even than that – a feather, finally, or

a piece of air with lightening in it.

she has taken a woman lover

whatever can we say

She walks around all day

quietly, but underneath it

she’s electric;

angry energy inside a passive form.

The common woman is as common

as a thunderstorm.

Judy Grahn, ditto all above citation info, p, 67




(19)            V1. Margaret, seen through a picture window


After she finished her first abortion

she stood for hours and watched it spinning in the

toilet, like a pale stool.

Some distortion of the rubber

doctors with their simple tubes and

complicated prices,

still makes her feel guilty.

White and yeasty.

All her broken bubbles push her down

into the shifting tide, where her own face

floats above her like the whole globe.

She lets her life go off and on

in a slow strobe.

At her last job she was fired for making

strikes, and talking out of turn;

now she stays home, a little blue around the edges.

Counting calories and staring at the empty

magazine pages, she hates her shape

and calls herself overweight.

Her husband calls her a big baboon.

Lusting for changes, she laughs through her

teeth, and wanders from room to room.

The common woman is as solemn as a monkey

or a new moon.

Judy Grahn, Ditto above citation, p. 71




1) here

a tree

wonderin the horizon

dipped in blues &

unattended bones

usedta hugs drawls

rhythm & decency

here a tree

waitin to be hanged

Shange, Ntozake (1979). Nappy Edges.

New York: Bantam. Fragment from

“nappy edges (a cross country sojourn),

  1.                         86-88


(21) Crossing The Border into Canada

We looked the part.

It was well past midnight, well into

the weekend. Coming out of Detroit

into the Canada side. Border guards

and checks. We are asked, “Who are you Indians,

and which side are you from?”

Bareny answers in broken English.

He talks this way to white people

not to us. “Our kids.”

My children are wrapped

and sleeping in the back seat.

He points with his lips to half-eyed

Richard in the front. “That one, too.”

But Richard looks like he belongs

to no one. Just sits there wild-haired

like a Menominee would. “And my wife.”

Not true. But hidden under the windshield

at the edge of this country we feel immediately

  1. These questions, and we don’t look

like we belong to either side.


Any liquor or firearms?” He should

have asked that years ago. And we can’t help

but laugh. Kids stir around in the backseat, but

it is the border guard who is anxious.

He is looking for crimes, stray horses

for which he has no apparent evidence.


“Where are you going?” Indians

in an Indian car trying to find a

Delaware powwow that was barely mentioned

in Milwaukee. Northern singing and

the northern sky. Moon in a colder air.

Not sure of the place, but knowing the name

we ask, “Moravian Town?”


The border guard thinks he might have

the evidence. It pleases him. Past midnight.

Stars out clear into Canada and he knows only to ask,

“Is it a bar?”


Crossing the border into Canada, we are

  1. Lights and businesses we drive toward

could be America, too. Following us

into the north.

P. 98 In Songs from this earth on Turtle’s back (Bruchac, ed.,                                     1983)



(22)                        Battle Dirge


Well, what was it this time?

how many, how hard?

with her lover dead behind her a five mile crawl

He watched them for three days

his porno dream come true

and then he got his gun off

the way that men do


Hold me close, oh, love, gather me to you,

take me to the sea

when the night comes down I will wait

for the stars to remain

for the rage to return to my heart


Now the women slumber

dying where they’ve laid

and the ground beneath couldn’t be a darker shade

from the blood of the bruises

the tearing of the rape

at the hands of men for the pleasure of their hate




Bricks and stones, your heartbeat, explosives,

the flights of birds, fire, fists and spells

take these weapons, use them well

to call up the rumble when sleeping women rise

with freedom like steel glinting in their eyes


then I’ll call, oh, loves, gather around me

come, fly, to the sea

when the night comes down we will dance

for the blood that has passed

for the rage had returned to us all

for the rage has returned to us all.

Lierre Keith, Song. (1988)















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