Lording It over the Goddess: Water, Gender, and Human-Environmental Relations
Focusing on human engagements with water, this article steps back from specifically cultural or historical contexts in order to trace the larger patterns of social, religious, and technological change that have transformed most societies' relationships with their environments. It examines transitions from totemic “nature religions” to male-dominated and hierarchical belief systems, and considers how these intersected with shifts to settlement and agriculture, differentiated gender roles, and stratified sociopolitical arrangements. With developments in farming, enlarging societies moved from egalitarian partnerships with other species and ecosystems to more directive interactions. Irrigation channeled water into human interests. Initially seen as embodying female principles, it became the gift of male religious beings. From being a common good, it became subject to male property rights. Long understood as the substance of social and spiritual regeneration, it was reframed as an economic “asset.” Observing these transformations, the article also considers long-term contraflows: indigenous struggles; subaltern religions; and environmentalist and feminist challenges to sociopolitical inequalities.
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