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Post-Petroleum Woman

Two years ago when I was invited to watch the jaw-dropping DVD, The End Of Suburbia, I came away feeling terrified about the ramifications of Peak Oil, but only later did I reflect on the fact that there are virtually no women in the documentary—except the ditzy fifties caricatures who consumed everything that wasn’t nailed down. Subsequently, I began researching Peak Oil and then informing the students in my college history classes about what I consider the stellar historical event of the modern world, the end of hydrocarbon energy and probably the end of Western civilization. Yet consistently in the process of informing myself about Peak Oil, I encountered very academic charts, graphs, geological and economic studies, and lots of male voices. I had almost come to believe that the issue was exclusively a masculine concept when a female friend commented that the Peak Oil bell curve seemed to her rather phallic. My response was entirely the opposite: I had been perceiving it as a giant breast. Well, all Roschach testing and the dearth of women in the Peak Oil movement aside, what does the phenomenon have to do not only with women but the feminine principle itself? My answer: Everything!

By feminine principle, I mean the ancient archetype of "the feminine" which I believe is an enormous universal motif residing in the psyche of every human being. Thousands of archetypes exist, but a few common ones are: mother, father, child, savior, healer, warrior, trickster, teacher. They are common to all cultures around the globe, and besides feeling them in our bones, we see them depicted in art, literature, and music. When discussing them, however, it is crucial to distinguish between real people and archetypes. For example, the feminine principle is defined in a variety of ways which include: nurturance, acceptance, generativity, eroticism, warmth, generosity, openness, introspection. Specific women embody these qualities in varying degrees, as do many males. Particularly relevant to the Peak Oil issue, the earth itself for millennia has been archetypally experienced as feminine. In the traditions of indigenous peoples, "she" provides us with ecosystems and resources which make our planet more habitable and comfortable than any other in our solar system. The term Mother Earth has been around for a very long time and with good reason.

For this reason, I cannot help but wonder if Peak Oil is one indication, among others, that Mother Earth is very tired and "drained." Perhaps she has "nothing left to give" because like "the old woman living in a shoe, she has had so many children that she doesn’t know what to do." Not only have her "children" drained her, but they are poisoning her—a reality that experts on global warming have more recently heralded as an irreversible, observable fact. In other words, if every nation on earth began tomorrow the process of reversing global warming, it would be too late. Apparently, humankind cannot halt the ecological train wreck it has set in motion, in time to avert catastrophe. The same is true, Peak Oil experts inform us, of oil depletion. No amount or combination of alternative energies can be implemented in time to avoid a global energy crisis.

Enter the multi-dimensional aspect of the feminine principle: its light and dark sides. As implied above, the feminine principle resides in everyone, not just females. As basic psychology informs us, that which is disowned often appears in another form, and frequently with a vengeance. In the modern world, the price of dishonoring the feminine has been acting out its dark side in the form of what we have come to call "civilization." The life-supporting qualities of the feminine I mentioned earlier have their destructive counterparts which arise and erupt when the feminine is disowned so that generosity and nurturance devolve into greed and devourment—two distinctive hallmarks of the Western capitalist milieu. You may be arguing, "Yes, but these horrible acts of war, rape, pillage, and plunder have been committed for the most part by men." My point exactly. Those are precisely the human beings who have most disavowed the feminine principle, and anyone (male or female) who does so, will invariably end up living out its dark side. How might these men have behaved if they had been given permission to embrace the feminine aspects of their own psyches? Nor are men the only devourers. What about those fifties women I mentioned earlier who consumed like voracious banshees?

Having clarified the difference between the feminine principle and individual women, it’s time to ask: How will Peak Oil affect women, and how can we prepare for its effects on us? In conversations about Peak Oil, we’ve often heard that it will mean the end of the three-thousand mile Caesar salad, but what about the end of the three-thousand mile tampon? How will we cope with products that we rely on when they are no longer available? Will women in their menstruating years have to return to handling their monthly cycles similarly to their grandmothers? And what about contraception? How available will oral contraception, diaphragms, condoms, spermicidal jelly, IUDs, or contraceptive implants be? I suspect, about as available as that infamous Caesar salad. Will the dearth of contraceptive devices result in more abstinence (frown?) or will it lead to experimenting with novel ways to have sex (smile?) ? Our native female ancestors had intimate knowledge of abortificants and contraceptive herbs. I suggest that women of childbearing age familiarize themselves with these and learn how to use them safely.

I hasten to add that we cannot discuss Peak Oil without also discussing global warming and global economic collapse which is likely to precede the full ramifications of Peak Oil and most certainly exacerbate them. I refer to these three as the Terminal Triangle—a configuration of formidable occurrences which will unequivocally end the world as we know it today. Far and away the single most daunting impact on women in a post-petroleum, post-collapse world will be the health factor. For the past thirty-five years, women in most developed countries have been able to rely on vastly improved medical care. The Terminal Triangle will severely impact the availability of all forms of health care. Yearly mammograms, pap screenings, pre-natal care, and bone density scans may very well no longer exist, as well as the medications and supplements we may currently find necessary for maintaining our wellness. Women nurses and physicians who are familiar with the consequences of Peak Oil would serve all of us well by teaching classes in performing gynecological exams. All of us could benefit from reading two fabulous books, Where There Is No Doctor and Where There Is No Dentist, which offer health care fundamentals for those who have not been trained in them.

A parent’s job is to provide for and protect his/her children. In a world where food will be scarce and terribly expensive, it is imperative that parents learn how to grow food. Not only will adults suffer from lack of healthcare, but children even more. Pediatric nurses and physicians can prepare parents for the post-peak dearth of medical services by offering training in caring for sick children when no doctor or medication may be available. Parents, learn all you can about organic gardening, permaculture, and treating illnesses on your own.

Many individuals who can afford to do so are creating or joining intentional communities. Only hindsight will be able to tell us how useful such communities are when the severe repercussions of the Terminal Triangle are upon us. What is more likely is that in the midst of collapse, spontaneous communities will form in order to provide for each other’s basic survival needs. While it may be the twenty-first century, I notice that too frequently in progressive groups or organizations, women are still the stereotypical nurturers, caretakers, and "fixers" of thorny situations. In a collapsing world where loss and trauma may attend us every day, I anticipate that more than a few men will rely on women, even without realizing that they are doing so, to provide comfort and soothe their terror. I have written about group interpersonal issues more extensively in my two-part series for From The Wilderness entitled, Creating And Maintaining Harmonious Community: Is It Possible? The traditional role of women as caretakers must be challenged in a collapsing world. Women learning carpentry and men learning how to sew may facilitate the demise of roles, but more importantly, women must honor their limits and boundaries, and men must learn how to comfort themselves and each other.

On an optimistic note, a post-petroleum world means an end to endless chauffering of children in SUVs from soccer games to dance classes to doctor’s appointments. It will mean remaining at home for long periods of time with children who may not have access to the myriad electronic devices to which they have become addicted for stimulation. It will be a much more labor-intensive world where families will be forced to spend more time together and work as a team in order to meet the most fundamental daily needs. Families may become families again instead of roommates occupying the same boarding house. As the severity of collapse intensifies, individuals, families, and friends will be forced to reflect on values—what really matters right now, what will get them through a single day, what is ultimately most important in a world where everything, and I mean everything, is radically altered.

I invite women to participate fully in the Peak Oil awareness movement and to network with myself and Paula Hay at Adaptation regarding our concerns and contributions for a post-petroleum world.

———

Carolyn Baker, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of history, a former psychotherapist, and a freelance writer for From The Wilderness. She is the author of U.S. History Uncensored: What Your High School Textbook Didn’t Tell You, which will be available, summer, 2006. She has also written two books on psychology and spirituality, Reclaiming The Dark Feminine: The Price Of Desire and The Journey Of Forgiveness: Fulfilling The Healing Process. She may be contacted at Carolyn@carolynbaker.org

Editorial Notes: A thought provoking article. We'll be publishing another look at Peak Oil and gender, this one by Shepherd Bliss, in the next few days. -AF

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