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Loch and Load 

Is shopping really all that women can do to save the earth?


When I got back from bonnie Scotland, I was very happy to see in my emailbox a wee press release with a subject line announcing how women will be the ones to get us out of this planetary mess we're in.

"Of course we will," I thought smugly as I clicked. "Haven't we seen that the old patriarchy fails us? Haven't we seen what happens to societies when women are oppressed? That it was left-brained lameness that got us into this crisis in the first place?"

In Edinburgh, I had already been musing on the plight of women and the stupid things men in power did to them in ages past to keep them from having influence. In the most beautiful, gothic-looking graveyard I've ever seen—not far from the cafe where J. K. Rowling scribbled out her first draft of Harry Potter—there were reports of violent ghosts in one spot we were not allowed to enter. I guess the ghosts were pissed off, and rightly so. These were victims murdered for political views. "It's the place where they locked up the Covenanters [political protesters including women] and left them to die," my friend said, pointing to a fenced-off section of the graveyard.

A few blocks away at another spot, she pointed to a statue just beside a cathedral and said, "Here's where they cut off prisoners' heads." The severed heads were put on spikes. I guess the location made it easier to get to church before or after each execution.

A few blocks farther along was a site where women and children were once bricked alive into a building and left to die because some of the children exhibited plague symptoms, and the city fathers weren't going to take any chances.

Far below the blood-stained streets that slope downhill from Edinburgh the castle, lovely lawns and flowers and trees mark the site where there was once a sewage-filled lake, a loch where women with brains and talent who happened to offend the men in charge were tied up and tossed in the water to test whether or not they were witches. Some misogynistic moron scratched his head came up with this one: If she sank, she was not a witch—but then of course she was dead by drowning. If she floated, she was a witch, so they had to kill her. When they finally drained the loch, the bottom was filled with skeletons; some of the trussed-up female skeletons had stones attached to them.

It was uplifting, then, to come home to an announcement promising that women were the heroines of the green era. But I was a bit let down when I opened the message only to find that it was one more vote-with-dollars pronouncement, an innocuous little economic-based strategy that urged women to buy green products and thereby force industries to make more of them. Right. Sure. "Ladies, get us out of this mess: Go buy 'Ninetieth' Generation cleaning products and save the world!" No wonder the woman behind that press release was allowed to present on Fox Ruse—I mean News.

OK. I'm sorry. I write about sustainability, so I know we do need to buy green products. Of course! But the ghosts of that long-gone loch still haunt me. No woman of vision and courage will ever be herded into a concentration camp and left to die for buying earth-friendly products. As long as we propose solutions that require spending money, women are safe from accusations of witchery, safe from forced drowning—except the kind that comes from endless immersion in nondisruptive behavior that involves shopping.

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