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Ecofeminism describes movements and philosophies that link feminism with ecology. The term is believed to have been coined by the French writer Françoise d'Eaubonne in her book, Le Féminisme ou la Mort (1974). Ecofeminism connects the exploitation and domination of women with that of the environment, and argues that there is historical connection between women and nature. Ecofeminists believe that this connection is illustrated through the traditionally 'female' values of reciprocity, nurturing and cooperation, which are present both among women and in nature. Women and nature are also united through their shared history of oppression by a patriarchal Western society.
In the essay entitled "Ecofeminism: Toward Global Justice and Planetary Health" authors Greta Gaard and Lori Gruen outline what they call the "ecofeminist framework." This framework is intended to establish ways of viewing and understanding our current global situations so that we are better able to understand how we arrived at this point and what may be done to ameliorate the ills. The four sides of the frame are: the mechanistic materialist model of the universe that resulted from the scientific revolution and the subsequent reduction of all things into mere resources to be optimized, dead inert matter to be used, the rise of patriarchal religions and their establishment of gender hierarchies along with their denial of immanent divinity, self and other dualisms and the inherent power and domination ethic it entails, and capitalism and its intrinsic need for the exploitation, destruction and instrumentalization of animals, earth and people for the sole purpose of creating wealth. They hold that these four factors have brought us to what ecofeminists see as a "separation between nature and culture" that is the root source of our planetary ills. The essay which is available on-line at this link (http://lgruen.faculty.wesleyan.edu/files/2011/05/Gaard.pdf) provides a wealth of data and statistics in addition to laying out the theoretical aspects of the ecofeminist critique.
Vandana Shiva claims that women have a special connection to the environment through their daily interactions and this connection has been ignored. She says that women in subsistence economies who produce "wealth in partnership with nature, have been experts in their own right of holistic and ecological knowledge of nature's processes." However she makes the point that "these alternative modes of knowing, which are oriented to the social benefits and sustenance needs are not recognized by the capitalist reductionist paradigm, because it fails to perceive the interconnectedness of nature, or the connection of women's lives, work and knowledge with the creation of wealth."
Feminist and social ecologist Janet Biehl has criticized ecofeminism for focusing too much on a mystical connection between women and nature and not enough on the actual conditions of women. Rosemary Radford Ruether joins Janet Biehl in critiquing this focus on mysticism over work that focuses on helping women, but argues that spirituality and activism can be combined effectively in ecofeminism.
Ecofeminism was coined as a term in the 1970s. Women participated in the environmental movements, specifically preservation and conservation much earlier than this. Beginning in the late 19th century. Women worked in efforts to protect wildlife, food, air and water. Susan A. Mann an eco-feminist and professor of sociological and feminist theory considers the roles women played in these activisms to be the starter for ecofeminism in later centuries. Mann associates the beginning of ecofeminism not with feminists but with women of different race and class backgrounds who made connections among gender, race, class and environmental issues. This ideal is upheld through the notion that in activist and theory circles marginalized groups must be included in the discussion. In early environmental and women’s movements, issues of varying races and classes were often separated.
After the beginning of the environmental movement in the early 1970s intersections among feminists and other social justice movements emerged. The feminists that took interests in these movements explored how oppressions were linked through gender, race, class and ecology, as well as species and ideas of nationhood. These feminists developed texts, such as Women and Nature (Susan Griffin 1978), The Death of Nature (Carolyn Merchant 1980) and Gyn/Ecology (Mary Daly 1978). These texts helped to propel the association between domination by man on women and the domination of culture on nature. From these texts feminist activism of the 1980s linked ideas of ecology and the environment. For example, conferences for women devoted to living on the earth and protests against nuclear testing and other militarism that oppresses femininity. At the culmination of the decade ecofeminism had spread to both coasts and articulated an intersectional analysis of women and the environment. Eventually, challenging ideas of environmental classism and racism, resisting toxic dumping and other threats to the impoverished.
However, in the 1990s the advancing theories in ecofeminism began to be seen as essentialist. Through analysis done by post structural and third wave feminists it was argued that ecofeminism equated women with nature. The essentialist argument views Eco feminists as goddess worshippers, who are anti-intellectual.
Ecofeminisms in the 1990s dealt with a lot of criticism. The view that ecofeminism was essentialist and continued to reinforce patriarchal dominance continued to grow. Feminist thoughts surrounding ecofeminism grew in some areas as it was criticized, vegetarian ecofeminism contributed intersectional analysis, and ecofeminisms that analyzed animal rights, labor rights and activisms as they could draw lines among oppressed groups. However, the inclusion of non-human animals also became to be viewed as essentialist. Ecofeminism as it propelled into the 21st century became aware of the criticisms and ecofeminisms with a materialist lens began doing research and renaming the topic, i.e. queer ecologies, global feminist environmental justice and gender and the environment.
Some eco-feminist critiques are that the dichotomy between women and men and nature and culture creates a dualism that is too stringent and focused in the difference of women and men. That eco-feminism too strongly correlates the social status of women with the social status of nature, rather than the non-essentialist view that women along with nature both have masculine and feminine qualities, and that just like feminine qualities have often been seen as less worthy, nature is also seen as having lesser value than culture, or the qualities involved in these concepts.
Ecofeminism is further criticized as essentialist because of the contrasting views of what constitutes participation in oppressive structures. Modern feminism strives to make it possible for women to occupy positions of power in business, industry and politics, as prominent roles in society improve gender equality, pay equity and influence through visibility and direct involvement. In contrast, many ecofeminists would stand in opposition to active engagement in these arenas, as these are the very structures that the movement intends to dismantle. Ecofeminism further contradicts the mainstream feminist defense of abortion rights, as it promotes a mystical reverence for all life, including the human fetus. In the view of many ecofeminists, to exclude the human fetus from the category of sacred life is an arbitrarily narrow, reductionist and paternalistic distinction.
In Ecofeminism (1993) authors Vandana Shiva, Maria Miescritique and Evan Bondi ponder modern science and its acceptance as a universal and value-free system. Instead, they view the dominant stream of modern science as a projection of Western men's values. The privilege of determining what is considered scientific knowledge has been controlled by men, and for the most part of history restricted to men. Bondi and Miles list example including the medicalization of childbirth and the industrialization of plant reproduction.
Bondi argues that the medicalization of childbirth has marginalized midwife knowledge and changed the natural process of childbirth into a procedure dependent on specialized technologies and appropriated expertise. Similarly, the dependence of agriculture on industrially produced seed and fertilizer makes a natural, regenerative process dependent on technological input.
A common claim within ecofeminist literature is that patriarchal structures justify their dominance through binary opposition, these include but are not limited to: heaven/earth, mind/body, male/female, human/animal, spirit/matter, culture/nature and white/non-white. Oppression is reinforced by assuming truth in these binaries and instilling them as 'marvelous to behold' through religious and scientific constructs.
The application of ecofeminism to animal rights has established vegetarian ecofeminism, which asserts that "omitting the oppression of animals from feminist and ecofeminist analyses […] is inconsistent with the activist and philosophical foundations of both feminism (as a "movement to end all forms of oppression") and ecofeminism." Vegetarian ecofeminism combines sympathy with the analysis of culture and politics to refine a system of ethics and action.
Ecofeminism as materialist is another common theme in ecofeminism. A materialist view connects some institutions such as labor, power and property as the source of domination over women and nature. There are connections made between these subjects because similarly there are varying values in production and reproduction.
Trish Glazebrook - Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at University of North Texas, Glazebrook has researched and published on topics in ecofeminism, Heidegger studies, ecophenomenology, ancient philosophy and science and technology.
Karen Warren -received her B.A. in philosophy from the University of Minnesota (1970) and her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1978. Before her long tenure at Macalester College, which began in 1985, Warren was Professor of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in the early 1980s. Warren was the Ecofeminist-Scholar-in-Residence at Murdoch University in Australia . In 2003, she served as an Oxford University Round Table Scholar and as Women's Chair in Humanistic Studies at Marquette University in 2004. She has spoken widely on environmental issues, feminism, critical thinking skills and peace studies in many international locations including Buenos Aires, Gothenburg, Helsinki, Oslo, Manitoba, Melbourne, Moscow, Perth, the U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (1992), and San Jose.
Also see ecotopian literature and feminist science fiction
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