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Founding Philosophers of Ecofeminism

  • Francoise D’Eaubonne
    • Originated the term in 1978
  • Carolyn Merchant The Death of Nature, 1980
  • Karen Warren—professor of philosophy
  • Vandana Shiva—professor of philosophy and physics

Core Beliefs of All Ecofeminists

  1. The oppression of women and the domination of nature are fundamentally connected.
  2. This is because patriarchal dualism places women and the concept ‘Nature’ in the same classification, which is deemed to be of less worth than the ‘Culture/Masculine’ classification. Culturally and economically womyn are placed in subordinate positions.
  3. Therefore any process that makes humanity more ecologically aware must also overcome the oppression of women.

Ecofeminist Concerns

  • General Definition
    • Ecofeminism is a philosophical movement that seeks to explore the connection between the domination of womyn and the domination of nature. At the core of their value system is a belief that once we recognize this connection and seek to eliminate duality that creates hierarchy/separation, we can begin to end the oppression of both.
      • “Ecofeminism is a movement that sees a connection between the exploitation and degradation of the natural world and the subordination and oppression of women. It emerged in the mid-1970s alongside second-wave feminism and the green movement. Ecofeminism brings together elements of the feminist and green movements, while at the same time offering a challenge to both. It takes from the green movement a concern about the impact of human activities on the non-human world and from feminism the view of humanity as gendered in ways that subordinate, exploit and oppress women.” –Mary Mellor
      • ‘Ecofeminism is about connectedness and wholeness of theory and practice. It asserts the special strength and integrity of every living thing. For us the snail darter is to be considered side by side with a community’s need for water, the porpoise side by side with appetite for tuna, and the creatures it may fall on with Skylab. We are a woman-identified movement and we believe we have a special work to do in these imperilled times. We see the devastation of the earth and her beings by the corporate warriors, and the threat of nuclear annihilation by the military warriors, as feminist concerns. It is the masculinist mentality which would deny us our right to our own bodies and our own sexuality, and which depends on multiple systems of dominance and state power to have its way.’ ” –Ynestra King
  • Elimination of Duality. Ecofeminists are primarily concerned about duality, our tendency to separate man/woman/nature/human, leader/follower, teacher/student. These types of dualistic constructions create hierarchy, as one side of the dualistic construction is valued over the other. Western patriarchal thinking is based on ‘dualism’, a world view that orders the world by dividing it into opposed pairs of concepts: Mind is split from body, spirit from matter, male from female, culture from nature. One concept in each pair is deemed superior to the other. This ‘other’ is sometimes demonized and always discriminated against. Concepts on both sides are bound into complex relationships which become mutually reinforcing. Groups that are oppressed in our society are often associated with the body rather than than the mind and may be portrayed as intuitive but overemotional. Marti Kheel explains the sense of duality at the heart of much ecofeminist criticism: Despite temporal and geographical variations, masculinist traits are characteristically opposed to traits commonly perceived as female.11 In addition, they are assessed through their (superior) relation to the larger natural world, which they symbolically transcend. In the modern era, the traits most commonly associated with masculinity are: (1) rationality, (2) universality, and (3) autonomy. These traits are counterposed to (1) nonrationality (or emotionalism), (2) particularity, and (3) relation and dependence.12 From these contrasting traits a series of dualisms emerge: culture/nature, male/female, good/evil, domestic/wild, conscious/unconscious, subject/object, human/animal.
  • Redefinition of Feminism. The primary aims of ecofeminism are not the same as those typically associated with liberal feminism. Ecofeminists do not seek equality with men as such, but aim for a liberation of women as women. Central to this liberation is a recognition of the value of the activities traditionally associated with women; childbirth, nurturing and the whole domestic arena.
  • Concern about Patriarchy. The patriarchal belief system valorizes ‘male’ qualities of reason and analysis and characterizes intuitive, emotional ‘female’ qualities as passive, weak and irrational and therefore inferior. Qualities such as passivity, weakness and irrationality are not in themselves bad, but they are within the ideology of Patriarchal dualism. Patriarchy and dualism combine to generate a belief system that devalues the voices of womyn.
  • Definition of Progress. Other ecofeminists focus on the ideological shift that occurred during the 18th Century European Enlightenment.
    • Carolyn Merchant describes how the organic cosmology that had helped protect nature for centuries was overturned by the scientific and cultural revolutions of the Enlightenment. She focuses on the emergence over last two hundred years of a scientific, technological and capitalist ideology obsessed with ‘progress‘.
    • Judith Plant believes that pre-industrial Western society used organic metaphors to explain self, society and nature. These metaphors served as ‘cultural constraints’ because the earth was understood as alive. (See ‘Women and Nature‘). The scientific revolution of the Enlightenment replaced these organic metaphors with mechanical ones. The Universe was no longer understood as a living organism, but as a machine, and nature became perceived purely as a resource for human use.

Two Schools of Ecofeminist Thought

  • Biological Ecofeminism
    • Asserts the connection between womyn and nature. Beause womyn are inherently more connected to the natural world—childbirth, lactation, life-giving, their voices should be value and listened to.
    • Tends to be the original position of Ecofeminism—most ecofeminists have moved away from this point of view
  • Social/Cultural Ecofeminism
    • Other ecofeminists argue that though there is a deep connection between women and nature, it is socially created. Revaluing this bond is important, but it is also vital to change relationships between men and women and between men and nature.
    • The danger is a patriarchal worldview that privileges and overvalues patriarchal, masculinist values