Lording It over the Goddess: Water, Gender, and Human-Environmental Relations


Strang, Veronica. 2015. “Lording It over the Goddess: Water, Gender, and Human-Environmental Relations.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 30 (1): 85–109.

Author: Veronica Strang


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 socio- political 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. 


The article begins by tracing the transformation of societies from nature religions, which embodied more egalitarian principles, to an increasingly male-dominated and hierarchical belief system. By studying the history of water one is able to see such a transition as water, considered the embodiment of female principles, came to be under male ownership, a signal of shifting gender roles. The author examines the history of water and its representation in ancient cultures and religions, specifically the feminization of the source. A shift in human-environmental relations took place that focused on meeting human needs and divine purposes, thus personal privatized ownership of water and water resources developed. Parallels between the exploitation of nature, specifically water resources, and the subordination of women were argued. The author concludes by mentioning that, although counter movements have emerged in recent years, patterns of exploitation and subordination need to be considered in order for gender roles in water resource management to improve. 

Topics: Development, Environment, Gender, Masculinity/ies, Gender Roles, Gender Analysis, Femininity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Gender Hierarchies, Gender Equality/Inequality, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation, Religion, Rights, Women's Rights

Year: 2015

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