*Warning: this is a dry and dusty post, one which largely serves to help me get through some writer’s block on the thesis front. Stop reading if you find environmental feminist ethics and activism to be dull as dishwater topics.*
…but not in the way you might expect. Certainly, as I head into the re-write of my most intense chapter (what I refer to as The Dreaded Chapter Three), I feel as though my thesis has taken over my brain. I am constantly thinking about new arguments I should tackle, new gaps in my logic, new documents I should include in my analysis. So ‘my thesis is my life’ in the usual grad student-type way.
Lately, however, I’ve been noticing how closely I’ve begun to live my life according to the theoretical foundations of my graduate work. Some background: the paper I’m working on is an argument in favour of re-imagining the political concept of citizenship as ecological citizenship. But not just regular old ecological citizenship; I’m interested in a re-imagination that is grounded in a feminist political ethic of care. Without bogging you down in the details, such an ecological citizenship would take as its starting point the idea that we are all embedded in webs of caring relationships with others, both people and ecological others; that is, we only exist as selves in (caring) relation. Ecological citizenship, so conceived, would be expressed through language that takes seriously the core values of care, such as attentiveness, responsiveness, and responsibility; environmental policy language, for example, would not be phrased in terms of either fiscal incentive or obligation, but rather in terms of responsibility, trust, respect, and attentiveness to the needs of (inherently ecological) others. I argue that this caring ecological citizenship is better able to motivate change and effectively address the numerous and interconnected environmental problems we face today, while simultaneously politicizing caring relationships through an acknowledgment of the complicated obstacles that people face in their attempts to live sustainably, and the potentially harmful relationships in which citizens find themselves day-to-day.
(This sounds a little flowery, I know, but trust me it’s awesome and considerably more well-thought out in my actual paper).
Anyway. As I say, my day-to-day life is becoming increasingly informed by my thesis. It started when I had Ewan, and suddenly became a care-provider to a small human. Previously, I had focused on negotiating my own needs with those of my surrounding ecological environment, which is challenging by itself. Balancing Ewan’s needs with my own and those of my husband, as well as those of the ecological space which our family inhabits, is very tricky business. It is harder, for example, to be proactive about environmental causes because of Ewan’s sleep schedule; meetings for environmental organizations are inevitably at night when I have to put my kid to bed, and rallies and protests are almost always during nap time. I also find my day-to-day environmental responsibilities (such as cloth-diapering, composting and recycling) much more time-consuming with a little dude “helping”. Equally challenging? Eating responsibly (with no car and limited time, I find getting to farmer’s markets much more difficult than I used to) and cutting back on water usage (particularly difficult if one is toilet-training or spending lots of time in the mud…so many baths!). Ultimately, since having a kid, I have found I have less and less time to dedicate to creative, ecologically-responsible life choices. In short, green mum-ing is hard.
I also find myself caring more about what happens in our ecological space. Air quality issues seem closer to home now that I have a small set of lungs in the house. Clean water, a healthy food supply and green spaces are all basic requirements for my child to thrive, and industrial, public and private activities that pollute these resources anger me to a level I can’t begin to describe.
Now before you get all uppity, I’m not suggesting that people who don’t have children aren’t as motivated as I am or somehow can’t care as much as I do. But I am arguing that having kids adds a new layer of motivation, a new layer of care. Thus in an effort to be responsive and attentive to the needs of those to whom I live in relation (which includes my family, my community, and my ecological space), I find myself getting around some of the aforementioned challenges of green mum-ing. I let some stuff go, certainly – my public environmental activism has taken a back seat, for now, because I feel it is more important for me to be home in time for naps. But I continue to compost, recycle, and reduce our personal waste by avoiding excessive packaging, disposable products, chemical-rich toiletries and cleaning products, and shopping for the sake of shopping. We try to buy second-hand, where possible, and we reuse everything we can. And Ewan spends his time at the park, in our yard, or at museums, rather than in front of the television, or at the toy store getting more stuff he doesn’t need.
In other words, I have negotiated and crafted a new ecological position for myself, in my current role as stay-at-home mum, one which emphasizes educating my son to be responsible and attentive to the (ecological) others around him. My act of ecological citizenship is therefore to raise a little ecological citizen. It is a position which requires constant re-negotiation, as the needs of our environment and of my family change, and it is one which is full of obstacles such as lack of time, money, and support from an unfriendly government. But it is also a position which has brought me closer to my surroundings and helped me to feel deeply connected to my environment, both human and non-human.
All this to say that my thesis has solidified for me the importance of ‘living in relation’. Even if this beast sucks in the end, the life lessons I have learned in writing it have made the whole thing worthwhile.
Right, back to The Dreaded Chapter Three.