Woman and Nature Critical Essays

Susan Griffin


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In Woman and Nature, Griffin catalogs how Western patriarchal attitudes are embodied in the language that science, commerce, and the arts generally use to describe and comprehend the natural world. This language is not neutral or value-free. The section that begins Woman and Nature is entitled “Matter” and immediately adopts a distanced, authoritative, and judgmental tone that is a “parody of a voice with such presumptions.” One of the two voices that dominate the entire text, this voice implies that it alone is in possession of absolute truths and “recognized opinion.” The voice of patriarchy is realized by Griffin’s use of impersonal pronouns and declarative sentence structure (“It is said”) as well as by passionless descriptions of very personal and passionate events, such as a breast operation or a clitoral excision: “The mass is exorcised. Tissue posterior to it is sectioned. Deep sutures are tied as the pins are removed.” Additionally, the voice of patriarchy is represented in a standard typeface, unlike the words of woman, which are represented in italic and intervene in the spaces left by patriarchal language. As Griffin’s text develops, the language of woman appears more and more frequently as well as more forcefully, eventually appropriating the text itself.

“Matter” is the longest section and sets up the dichotomies between the voices and the content of those voices that pervade the entire work. Among the analogies that Griffin offers to the reader are the comparisons of the selection of trees for timber and the perfect office worker or of women’s bodies and those of horses or cows. For example, Griffin links such seemingly dissimilar “animals” as women and mules when she writes: “And we know we are not logical. The mule balks for no apparent reason. For no rhyme or reason. We remember weeping suddenly for no good reason.” As a result, both women and mules need to be controlled by the more objective and rational males, who apparently do not “balk” without an “apparent” or “good” reason.

After exploring the development of the patriarchal viewpoint regarding “matter,” Griffin’s next section, entitled “Separation,” considers the implications of the many kinds of separation developing from and required by patriarchy. Like the other sections that make up Woman and Nature, book 2 begins with a citation from a woman, in this case Emily Dickinson’s “I felt a...

(The entire section is 1018 words.)