I see some hope in the emerging international Green movement. It provides a moral, and possibly a political, choice far more meaningful than the choice between, say, Republicans and Democrats in the US. Though almost as disorganised as the Peace movement of a previous generation, it does encompass an encouraging mixture of ecological, economic, and feminist concerns.
The eco-movement, dominated as it is by male organisers and achievers, has its dubious moments. Nevertheless, there is a strong female and feminist presence among the Greens; women have led many and many a grassroots campaign against major ecological criminals. For good and bad, there is a persistent tendency to associate and compare male sexual greed and abuse of women with capitalist greed and abuse of people and resources. Sometimes this leads to sickening oversimplification (help us defend poor, helpless Mother Earth from the vicious rapists) but at other times it leads to a healthy re-examination of male prerogatives and assumptions and of all forms of capitalist consumerism.
For example, the slick PR materials distributed by Big Industry (How Exxon is Saving the Caribou, DuPont Preserves this Beautiful Land for America's Future, etc.) are known among the Greens as eco-porn - which implies a very sharp awareness of the capitalist nature of pornography and also of its essential dishonesty. Two kinds of slick lies purveyed by exploiters in their own self-interest are here recognised for what they are, and I find that hopeful. It's a radical step away from the traditional Left, at least, with its knee-jerk defense of pornographers as trailblazers of liberation and free speech.
One of the best byproducts of the Green movement, and even of Green hype, is the introduction in the public mind of a skepticism about the worth of packaging. We are drowning in packaging, one way and another: overpackaged products are sold on their attractive wrappers rather than on the contents, and all that packaging - plastic, foil, cardboard, paper - gets thrown away as soon as it's bought.
The beginnings of a distaste for overpackaging, its inefficiency and foolishness, may (if we are lucky) lead to a cultural swing away from the concept of packaging, a mood of doubt, a demand to know essential facts rather than to be entertained by surface appearances. A public in this mood would not be distracted by pretty air manoeuvres over Iraq, but would be asking hard questions about the cost of our involvement and the real reasons for it; a public in this mood would question the wisdom of farming ever more photogenic and perfect fruits and vegetables with less and less guarantee of real taste or nutritional value or even of safety.
A public in this mood would think a woman more beautiful as she really looks than as the product of high technology, artifice, diet, and surgery. A nation in this mood would shrug at cosmetics and squint closely at commercials, detecting fakery and disliking it. A person in this mood would not be drawn to the hollow confections of pornographers or the simulated thrills of prostitution, but to some kind of reality. A preference for the natural over the artificial, the substance over the packaging, and reality over fantasy, is at the heart of both Green and feminist thinking.
Radical feminist objections to the commodification of women and of sexuality are well-aligned with Green critique of capitalist rapacity and the commodification of just about everything. Both share a radical critique of the meaning and appropriate use of property and of profit, and are deeply opposed to the prevailing free-market ethic. The presence or absence of this critique may be the essential distinction between the mainstream feminism of middle-class America (with its emphasis on integrating selected women into the existing machineries of state) and radical feminism (which aims to redesign those machineries from the ground up).
The Old Left succeeds when it demands a material (factual) analysis of people's working and living conditions instead of jingoism, rhetoric, sentiment or tradition. But it has failed, over and over again, when it cannot give up the tradition of female service to male fantasy, the jingoism of sex, the rhetoric of masculinity, the sentimentalisation of female sexual labour for male profit. The New Left, the Greens, the defenders of the natural world against the brutal greed of capitalism, might be able to cross that last bridge and declare that the consumption of people as product is just as unacceptable to them as the complete conversion of planet into product.
The Greens fail when they fail to consider the power that is specifically men's, as well as the power that is exercised by all humans over the natural world. They fail when they neglect to read and learn from the legacy of feminist research and thinking on male aggression and male hatred of women, the human body, and the natural world. They fail when they ascribe all evils to high technology and capital, without looking at the patriarchies which have thrived without either one. They fail when they romanticise all historical periods or cultures less technologically sophisticated than our own, disregarding the use of women and/or children as the slave labour which enabled the simple life. They fail when they forget what the technological revolution has meant to twentieth-century women in terms of personal freedom, survival of pregnancy, access to paid work, literacy, education. (They fail in the same way when they fail to imagine what technology and industry can mean to the poor of the world, when they prescribe that unindustrialised nations should remain so and be thankful.)
They fail when their rhetoric makes use of the tired old stereotype of the spoiled rich woman to personify capitalist greed and decadence, when they describe environmental devastation as the result of female demands on men. They fail when they appeal to women only as mothers and wives, when they describe environmental recovery as women's natural work and responsibility (cleaning up after the boys again?), when they suggest that we need to save the world for our children. They fail when they lump lesbians and gays together with the unnatural features of the industrialised world, when their attachment to a narrow conception of what is natural leads them to prescribe heterosexuality and childbearing as the Green way of life for women.
They certainly do have a long way to go. But the philosophy at the heart of Green politics is extremely compatible with the radical feminist tradition, and that feminist tradition, taken internally in large doses, will enrich and further radicalise Green thinking. Objections to the disposable society apply with particular force to the use of disposable women and children by the sex industry. Objections to rapacious consumerism, and luxuries achieved at the expense of others less privileged, apply with particular force to the traditional male sexual consumption of women and children. Objections to the reduction of whole species and ecotomes to their commercial potential apply with particular force to the reduction of female human beings to salable sexual commodities. One could say, in fact, that Green thinking is really the application of radical feminist ethics to the entire natural world. As such, it has tremendous potential.
It may yet fail to realise this potential. Green activists can afford to sidestep or betray feminist interests, in their search for ever-wider popular support. But feminists cannot afford to ignore the effects of free-marketeering, the new multinational economy, and environmental devastation, on women's lives. Although I look forward hopefully to a feminist radicalisation of the Green movement, my more realistic hope is for the interpolation of Green concepts and values into radical feminism.