Being a child of the US, I’ve only seen online, rather than face-to-face, the types of deeply vicious and misogynistic attacks which Maathai describes:
[C]ertain people were jealous and wanted me to be taught a lesson and put in my place. They took pleasure in what they perceived as my comeuppance. The message was clear: Every other woman who contested her husband or the (male) authorities was being told, “If you try to be anything but what you ought to be, we will treat you exactly the way we have treated her. So, behave, women!” (151)
Unfortunately I too have seen patriarchy-supporting women used by men to attack those courageous women who choose to stand up for their rights. I was astonished but sadly unsurprised to read, regarding Maathai’s struggle to unionize the women university staff and faculty so they’d receive (any) benefits, the same as men did:
However, the women refused to join us. Many said they’d been advised by their husbands not to be part of that struggle. … Fighting battles with women can be very difficult and sad, because both society and the women themselves often make it appear that most women are happy with the little they have and have no intention of fighting for their rights. I am often confronted by women who have waited until that security called “man” is no longer available to them to remember that they should have protected their rights, irrespective of the men in their lives (116).
Despite what I may have read online, however, the sheer viciousness of some of the slanderous attacks against Maathai were breathtaking to me. I can’t help but wish I knew some grassroots project (similar to the Green Belt Movement for environmentalism) that would help create a more just and gender-equitable society. If I knew of it, I’d certainly try to implement it here in the US, since (as I’ve noted) it’s not only Kenya which has a horrible record of male attitudes towards women. Indeed, I was keenly reminded of the nasty anti-immigrant dogma floating around my country nowadays, as I read:
I do not believe that people who have lived as neighbors for hundreds of years start attacking and killing one another with no provocation or support from those in power. What happens is that politicians stir people up and give them reasons to blame their own predicaments on people from other ethnic groups. This terrible tragedy has cost Africa many lives and many years that could have been used to promote development (236).
Less dramatically but perhaps more importantly, I found her description of the birth and growth of the Green Belt Movement to be absolutely fascinating. The sheer creativity and innovative experimentation she encouraged makes me wonder if it could be used in a wide variety of ecofeminist projects. To take something so small and simple — planting a tree — and turn it into a movement which promotes (amongst many other things) education, democracy, women’s emancipation, and environmentalism — all in one inspiring package — is nothing less than amazingly exciting to me.