The Climate, The Patriarchy and Me
At times, it may feel like issues we face environmentally but also socially are big daunting all consuming beasts. In this essay, Molly Huggan (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata) arms us with a breakdown of why these issues exist and how dismantling one will simply not suffice - they all must fall.
This article was inspired by an essay written by a good friend of mine, Lillian Balfour.
“Tama tū, tama ora. Tama noa, tama mate. Tama toa.”
To stand is to live. To sit is to die.
The words of Ngā Tamatoa are a reminder of the protesting nature of our people across history. We can find strength in our whakapapa to maintain our identity and agency within the colonial structures of today, as they did. Their activism inspires transformative change today to protect our planet, and in turn our people. These trailblazers have brought the torch to this moment and we must carry it on.
As a takatāpui wahine in the climate justice space, I am exposed to the stories and realities of my takatāpui whanaunga and the joy, strength and courage that binds us. The intersectional nature of our identities are profound and undeniable. My activism in one space is activism in another, they all play into each other's forms of rebellion. It has been striking to see that many youth activists, at both the national and local levels, have been queer and or women. There is a distinct lack of masculine representation within these spaces. Which brings into question an unconscious conformity to anti-ecoloigcal, hegemonic masculinity that leads cis-gendered, white men to lead lifestyles that use and abuse nature instead of standing with it.
The greatest crisis we face as humankind is the threat of climate change. It is directly related to the social systems that oppress our communities. The colossal implications of the climate crisis will impact some groups more than others because of these intersections of social injustice. These groups, however, are not just the passive victims of this reality, they are the active voices of transformative change. This crisis is not a result of a naturally progressing climate. A crisis of this severity has been created by a series of ideologies that fail to account for planetary boundaries, instead exploiting land for profit, consumption and the extraction of finite resources.
In the beginning, the link between the climate crisis, the patriarchy and indigeneity can seem unclear. However, if you exist in this world as anything beyond the bounds of hegemonic masculinity, this can be understood intuitively. All colonial systems set up over 150 years ago continue to exist today. The importation of colonial ideologies was a planned, and implemented system of oppression that restricts our innate connection to te taiao.
Te ao Māori informs the understanding of the natural environment and our existence in parallel with Papatūānuku. Within this relationship we are mutually protecting, nurturing and providing for one another. In a simple way, land is not just land. Land is the ancestor, the mother and ultimate care-giver. This is the fundamental disconnect between Indigenous cultures and the dominant occidental cultures. At its core, colonisation is an institutionalised outcome of ideologies where the expansion and accumulation of land through violent ontological dominance is justified. With this largely hidden or purposefully disconnected history, Indigenous justice is a core component of climate justice.
In the process of colonisation, separating femininity and masculinity into binaries was a necessary step to severing Indigenous connections to the whenua. These binaries were set up to support male dominance and subjugate femininity. They are exploitative, harmful and have allowed for the domination and colonisation of cultures inherently connected to nature, justified in the name of ‘civilisation’ and ‘control’. The natural political resistance against the patriarchy and its expectations leads women and queer people to pursue leadership and participate in political activism. By reclaiming and empowering our identity, we are breaking the mould of what is expected of us, a daily act of rebellion. This places us on a pathway of action that turns our feminine attributes into an anti-patriarchal, decolonial tool that strengthens the climate justice movement.
Many activists have had to pose themselves an unfair question; “What would I be doing if I wasn’t doing this?”. The lived reality of activism is that we must be resisting all injustice until it no longer exists; to not stand for the oppression of ourselves, of others and of the planet. This, I have found, is not a question that my male identifying friends have had to ask themselves. The way that patriarchy and climate change intersect means that men are more inclined to maintain, rather than oppose these injustices as its maintenance justifies and secures their masculinity and success. This hierarchical value system of the patriarchy also means that they are not willing to address the systems causing climate change, because they receive the benefits it produces.
As a takatāpui wahine, like many other protectors in these movements, our experiences have an intrinsic connection to climate justice. Our communities are already rooted in anti-patriarchal social justice, and the meer existance and thriving nature of our queer whānau is an act of rebellion against the very same system causing atrocities against our planet.
The stories that we hold have a rich history of developing and mobilising for human rights and responses to crises. The skills we have acquired over this time have been well-practiced in dismantling oppressive institutions, cultural homophobia and general attitudes towards us whilst maintaining community.
This reiterates the vital need for collaboration between all marginalised communities in our fight for climate justice. The hegemonic nature of the patriarchy brings social justice for women, tangata whenua, tangata whaikaha (disabled people), and takatāpui to the forefront of climate justice. Each of our experiences within these marginalised communities, whether it be of one or multiple of these lived realities, is linked to the same system that ensures the degradation of our environment and natural ecosystems. There is a necessity to remain critical of our positions within these movements, even if marginalised groups are present, as we can fall back into a response that remains rooted in hegemonic dominance of masculinity and the patriarchy.
The radical and violent nature of these interlocked systems of oppression require an equally radical response. However, it is important to recognise that a radical response to these systems does not look violent, as it is coming from the nurturing and compassionate femininity found in the caretaking of the planet, society and each other. To truly break ourselves free from the hegemony within all our social systems, we must work in lockset to remove all oppression from all people. One cannot occur without the other and no one can be left behind in this fight. As Reni Eddo-Lodge said, “faced with a collective forgetting, we must fight to remember”. In the festering frustration of complacency, it is hard to fight against the injustice we intrinsically feel as members of these marginalised groups, but we will not forget.
Often regarded as the ‘valuable victims’ of these systems, we know we are the very agents of systematic change. We know youth-led, Indigenous activism and whakaaro is the guide to creating effective and transformative systemic changes. But it is exhausting being the only ones fighting. The connection between the climate crisis and the patriarchy makes it clear that there is only so much we can do without those who uphold hegemonic masculinity standing with us. The privilege of masculinity must be acknowledged and dismantled by those it benefits through the guidance of those who it oppresses. We must all stand up and live.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.