Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Gender And Globalisation


‘Save Mother Earth’. Between the Feminisation of Nature, Gendering of Bodies, and Toxic Masculinity. An Analysis of the agenda and public perception of the climate change movements Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion.


‘Mother Earth’ is a term frequently used in early ecofeminism and environmentalism. The intention behind this symbolic image is to emphasise the strength of the earth as life-giving and nurturing and entails furthermore an equation with women, who have similar traits. Human’s actions such as deforestation, pollution, nuclear catastrophes destroy the planet and threaten the existence of people not only in the present, but mobilise freshly founded climate change groups like Fridays for Future (FFF) and Extinction Rebellion (XR) who warn about the endangered future.

Activists choose strong metaphors to get more attention for their protests and highly visible groups like FFF and XR show some similarities with ecofeminism, which sees the destruction of the earth caused by capitalist and patriarchal structures. The term ‘Mother Earth’ feminises nature and naturalises women at the same time. This connection, however, which has been chosen by several ecofeminists as an empowering step to value female traits, has its downsides considering hegemonic structures in society. Firstly, the equation of land and female bodies happens to be a powerful strategy to legitimise e.g. colonialism and exploitation of women and nature; secondly, this emphasis can also lead to reinforce the own female oppression and support the structural differences; and it lastly forges women as well as the earth to controllable instances, especially when they do not act in the way that society expects them to. The consequences of this long-lasting powerful connection of nature and women based on socially created dualisms within ecological thoughts are profound, which I show with the example of the young, female leaders of FFF. Greta Thunberg, for example does not fight as a woman but is perceived by society and the media solely on her body. Gendering is a powerful tool because it leads to a general devaluation of women’s actions, patronising behaviour and also to accusations of FFF-activists being used by their parents or environmental groups. Most striking, it makes them victims of toxic masculinity when they pursue their climate agenda and act as bodies out of place. The underlying concept of the discourse of nature and women in dialogue with gender relations is an essential part of the dissertation.