Tea With Nina Simons & Nina Utne

A chat about healthy feminine qualities and gender balancing


| November-December 2005



male-female

Image by Flickr user: Daquella manera / Creative Commons

Our planet is seriously out of balance. Just look around: environmental destruction, war, poverty, disease, famine, and power run amok. Nina Simons, a truly original thinker and longtime social entrepreneur, believes we need to elevate the aspects of our natures that traditionally have been considered feminine in order to restore balance. Nina is a living example of how the feminine can transform our businesses, our society, our relationships, and our lives. She’s also a close friend, and we have spent many hours together thinking out loud. 

You can see the principles of the feminine at work in Bioneers, the nonprofit she runs with her husband, Kenny Ausubel (bioneers.org). It is one of the best sources of hope I know. Bioneers’ work is growing at the speed of mushrooms after a rain; new projects include satellite conferences, a radio show, and a book series. The group describes its mission as promoting “practical environmental solutions and innovative social strategies for restoring the earth and communities.” In practice, that mission takes the shape of gathering, informing, and inspiring networks of innovators who share the belief that the best way to heal both environmental and social ills is to begin with the wisdom and principles of nature. The two Ninas talked over tea (alas, long distance).—Nina Utne 

Nina Utne: I’ve heard you say that you see the world through gender-colored lenses. Why do you see things that way? 

Nina Simons: About 10 years ago I saw a documentary film called The Burning Times, which told the story of the 500-year period throughout most of Europe when many women were accused of being witches and killed. Huge numbers of women were tortured and burned at the stake. I was shocked to the core to learn about this momentous event, which I saw as a root cause of our culture’s disease. It seemed to awaken an ancient memory in me. 

I began to research, discovering a rich vein of thinking and writing that has informed my perspective, and I learned of several interesting correlations. Prior to this period, women owned more property and had more wealth. Before, women were the healers, the midwives, and the herbalists. Afterward, only men were permitted to practice medicine. During this era many pagan and indigenous traditions were driven underground with the rise of Christianity. I came to see the “burning times” as the hidden history of women and a shadow history of our culture. 

I started to see the world differently as I recognized the full extent to which all of the characteristics, values, and qualities that have been associated with the "feminine" have been systematically devalued and denigrated in our culture. Attention to process, relationship building, empathy, intuition, and the collective wisdom of groups have all been chronically derided. I saw that in every social system, and throughout all our relationships, our idolization of “masculine” values has gotten us into trouble. Actions that are decisive, that assert certainty, heroic individualism, aggressiveness, rationalism, and single-minded obsession have been lauded.