The End of Growth is a Women's Issue!

Perhaps the first widely read piece I wrote was entitled "Peak Oil is a Women's Issue" and focused on the ways that an energy decline might affect women. At the time it was written (the earliest version appeared in 2004) the peak oil movement was largely a group of men, mostly geologists, oil men, a few economists and journalists interested in a growing issue.

My argument (more refined variations of which I've continued making for years) was that women need to organize around energy and environmental issues, because they stand to lose a great deal in a society that has fewer resources to go around.

At least one critic accused me of writing a "handmaid's tale" and raising an alarm about nothing, which I find sort of funny, because we all *know* that in hard times women and children tend to suffer the most. Assuming that won't be true requires an argument for why this time will be different.

The UN has already described the ways that the first and most profound victims of climate change will be women. Energy depletion, and the end economic growth will be no different, unless we act to make them different. We need a new women's movement that has a profound understanding of the ways that energy has shaped women's expectations and experience, and that can respond to a radically changing society.

Thanks to reader Vickey, we can see that thus far, events aren't different - women are paying the price again.. Consider what's happening in Topeka as a more extreme version of decisions being made all over the country:

In Topeka, Kansas city officials are considering a controversial move to decriminalize domestic violence in the city after the Shawnee County government offloaded domestic violence enforcement on to city governments. Cities facing budget cuts and lost revenue are turning to many different cost-cutting measures, but this is perhaps the most extreme. Already, the county government has turned away at least 30 domestic violence cases.

We know that most domestic violence isn't reported, that most battering victims are so ashamed and afraid that they won 't call the police, so the 30 + cases that were turned away are just the tip of the iceberg - we know that women will die unless batterers can be stopped.

Legal protections for women and children should be fundamental, but we live in a society that regards them as optional luxuries to be abandoned in hard times. Without a shift in the way we regard women's issues, we are likely to see more of this horror.


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I saw a t-shirt in Wal-Mart a couple of months back. I doubt it will make the "People of WalMart" photo gallery.

"Got hit? Get out!"

It was chilling to see that, boldly, out in public. I stopped the lady, asked where the shirt came from. She works with a tribal domestic abuse organization, got the t-shirt at a convention somewhere. I could wish more of these were boldly, out in public.

Unfortunately, (or as Dilbert would have it, "as it turns out"), *leaving* somewhere, like an abusive home, means having to *start* somewhere else. And fear of change, fear of consequences -- fear of the violence following you to splash onto someone else -- are big stumbling blocks.

Starting over can only get more difficult, with fewer resources. But I think opening up paths to "starting over" has to be a priority. I don't know how do we make the shelter, the escape, more attractive, and less scary, to those needing a safer way to live.

We aren't even addressing the problems of picking a partner for the purpose of making a family, and only choosing someone with the skills, aptitude, and character to be a stable and emotionally healthy mate and co-parent. We argue about teaching "sex ed" in school, but not about character, personal, family, and community values.

We don't even discuss with our children how raising their own children is a means of continuing family and community culture. Or that we can choose to actively support and defend our local cultural values. "Reputation" has to do with more of character than willingness to engage in casual sexual contact. Reputation must include honor, honesty, respect, acting out against authority, bullying, willful disobedience, situational (that is, lacking) ethics. It has to include histories of violence in families, and traumatic life events.

Domestic physical violence is only one aspect of abuse, and too often it happens from ignorance of what is responsible and productive.

I don't see Peak Oil as just a women's issue. In times of reduced resources, I imagine fewer men will be able to find a "good woman" and be able to support a family. It is families, and raising children, that can build a stronger tomorrow. Peak Oil is a family issue, a challenge to adults raising children that contribute to the community.

Blessed be.

As for Topeka, perhaps they could institute a program to open up domestic situations. Say, cut property taxes and utility rates for a family that takes in a family from a domestic violence shelter.

Enabling those with the heart and resources to take on someone needing to make a transition should be worthwhile to the city.

I highly doubt that this has anything to do with a shortage of resources. This sounds like just another case of a biased police force. What proportion of cops in Topeka are women?

The Topeka situation is not quite as bad as a city saying that domestic violence should not be a crime. This is a dispute over which agency's budget should bear the cost of enforcement. According to information I received ont he Kansas women's Attorneys' Association listserve the County announced it would not prosecute domestic violence because it was also a city crime and the city could prosecute it. City's response was to propose deleting it as a City crime so the County would have to pay for and do the prosecuting. Either way a sign of bad things in terms of financing government but not exactly Topeka saying domestic violence shouldn't be prosecuted. BTW County prosecution generally speaking results in more serious consequences than city prosecution.

By Stephanie (not verified) on 10 Oct 2011 #permalink

"Legal protections for women and children should be fundamental, but we live in a society that regards them as optional luxuries to be abandoned in hard times."
I think it might be more accurate to say there are likely always going to be some idiots who regard them as optional luxuries. Not that things are perfect here, either, but I live in a county with a domestic violence task force, and a local volunteer who has gotten every school to have their children take a pledge not to hurt others or themselves with hands or words. City and county officials take the pledge about once a year, publicly, too. The next county up has a domestic violence task force that includes experts on animal abuse. Different places, different situations, as with all things.

You say, "Legal protections for women and children should be fundamental, but we live in a society that regards them as optional luxuries to be abandoned in hard times. Without a shift in the way we regard women's issues, we are likely to see more of this horror."

Not simply "likely" - you know we absolutely will "see more of this horror".

I have little faith that anywhere near enough wisdom, civility, and logic will be carried into the barbarous days ahead. Men are brutish beasts, I fear. And the overabundance of religious fundamentalists/extremists of all flavors is the scariest specter of all.

I'm glad to know that its not quite the slap in the face that it appears at first glance, but it is still a case of the city being willing to decriminalize violence against women, which will send a societal message even if it is for allegedly economic reasons.

Will the City of Topeka also be deleting laws against the non-violent sale and use of drugs? Against letting dogs run loose? Or not mowing the lawn? Why don't they just delete all of their laws that are duplicated at the county level. Think of how that would streamline their system! (Ok, those last two examples probably aren't codified at the county level. But still.)

Meanwhile, our town wants to do away with 90% of the funding for our best-in-the-area senior center. Let 'em sit home alone and watch TV, I guess.


By Thrivalista (not verified) on 10 Oct 2011 #permalink

Funny how they're decriminalizing domestic violence before, say, drug possession.

By Katharine (not verified) on 11 Oct 2011 #permalink

NM, what's the rate of domestic violence in your county compared to similar counties without this pledge?

Micheal, I think enough passion and effort on this issue could make a huge difference - the question is whether people will organize around it or not.


Thrivalista, unlike the examples you mention, prosecuting domestic violence does not hinge on economic issues. Stopping domestic violence is the kind of job that in the right hands doesn't need remuneration to keep going.

In the absence of any rebuttals, I will assume I was correct that the Topeka police consists almost completely of men. Fire half of them and replace them with women, at the same wage.

Women are just as capable of being cops as men, and what the heck happened to all the women who could've mentioned that already?

(Comparative rates): That is a good question. I don't know; will have to look into it. I think the effort is less than a decade old, so if the idea is to influence future adults, it may not have yet had a chance, and I don't know how much children can affect already-abusive adults. Presumably some, not all. Having public officials take the thing is a publicity stunt; I doubt it actually accomplishes much, although it may help to influence their thinking about the importance of setting policy. But getting the notion ingrained in children's heads does seem like a really good idea, albeit a long-term project.
Passion and effort from large numbers of people; Richard Wrangham had some really interesting things to say about that in his book "Demonic Males;" Clif Notes version was just that; it takes society, and careful social structures.

I think firing half the men to replace them with women would be illegal. Also, while it is important to have women as well-represented as men in institutions of power, when they are trained in and enter already male-dominated professions, they don't always turn out as feminist as one might hope. Your thinking gets heavily influenced by the people around you. I'd place more hope in short-term, heavy, negative publicity, followed by continuing the long-term efforts to get more women into power, and create strong social structures emphasizing equality and non-violence. It is, unfortunately, a very long-term, difficult project. Consider how long it has taken us to get this far.