Green Politics

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Ecofeminism is a social and political movement which attempts to unite environmentalism and feminism,[1] with some currents linking deep ecology and feminism.[2] Ecofeminists argue that a relationship exists between the oppression of women and the degradation of nature, and explore the intersectionality between sexism, the domination of nature, racism, speciesism, and other characteristics of social inequality. In some of their current work, ecofeminists argue that the capitalist and patriarchal system is based on triple domination of the Global South (people who live in the Third World), women, and nature.[3]

Ecofeminist analysis[]

Ecofeminism, or ecological feminism, is a term coined in 1974 by Françoise d'Eaubonne. It is a philosophy and movement born from the union of feminist and ecological thinking, and the belief that the social mentality that leads to the domination and oppression of women is directly connected to the social mentality that leads to the abuse of the environment. It combines eco-anarchism or bioregional democracy with a strong ideal of feminism. Its advocates often emphasize the importance of interrelationships between humans, non-human others (e.g., animals), and the earth.

A central tenet in ecofeminism states that male ownership of land has led to a dominator culture (patriarchy), manifesting itself in food export, over-grazing, the tragedy of the commons, exploitation of people, and an abusive land ethic, in which animals and land are valued only as economic resources. Other ecofeminists claim that the degradation of nature contributes to the degradation of women. For example, Thomas-Slayter and Rocheleau detail how in Kenya, the capitalist driven export economy has caused most of the agriculturally productive land to be used for monoculture cash crops. This led to intensification of pesticide use, resource depletion and relocation of subsistence farmers, especially women, to the hillsides and less productive land, where their deforestation and cultivation led to soil erosion, furthering the environmental degradation that hurts their own productivity (Thoma-Slayter, B. and D. Rocheleau. (1995) Gender, Environment and Development in Kenya: A Grassroots Perspective).

Vandana Shiva makes it clear that one of the missions of ecofeminism is to redefine how societies look at productivity and activity of both women and nature who have mistakenly been deemed passive, allowing for them both to be ill-used. For example, she draws a picture of a stream in a forest. According to her, in our society it is perceived as unproductive if it is simply there, fulfilling the needs for water of women’s families and communities, until engineers come along and tinker with it, perhaps damming it and using it for generating hydropower. The same is true of a forest unless it is planted with a monoculture plantation of a commercial species. A forest may very well be productive, protecting groundwater, creating oxygen, allowing villagers to harvest fruit, fuel, and craft materials, and creating a habitat for animals that are also a valuable resource. However, for many, if it is not for export or contribution to GDP, without a dollar value attached, it cannot be seen as a productive resource (4 Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development 1988).

Some ecofeminists point to the linguistic links between oppression of women and land, such as the terms, "rape the land", "tame nature," and "reap nature's bounty." Terms also express nature as feminine (using the pronoun "she" and the term "Mother Nature") and women as "wild" and "untamed" (like nature). Ecofeminists also criticize Western lifestyle choices, such as consuming food that has travelled thousands of miles and playing sports (such as golf and bobsledding) which inherently require ecological destruction.

Feminist and social ecologist Janet Biehl has criticized ecofeminism as idealist, focusing too much on the idea of a mystical connection with nature and not enough on the actual conditions of women. However, this line of criticism may not apply to many ecofeminists who reject both mysticism and essentialist ideas about the connection between women and nature. This antiessentialist ecofeminism has become more prominent since the early 1990s [1] : it has an epistemological analysis of the Enlightenment,[4] places the spirituality in immanent world and then practices modern activism.[5] The materialist ecofeminism discuss economical and political issues and can use metaphorically the link of Great mother earth or Gaia (while the idealistic tendency uses it literally).[6]

Views on technology[]

Françoise d'Eaubonne proposed a cooperative system in small unities (villages) with autonomization, without alienating technology. With ecofeminist ideals and pagan practices,[5] these projects are sometimes seen as a form of primitivism. However, while some ecofeminists see technology as inherently alienating, many see a substantial role for modern technologies in the creation and operation of such villages. A number of ecofeminists advocate the use of technologies such as solar power[7] as a way to stay off 'the grid', which they regard as more important than relying upon poisonous industrial processes or materials. The ecological movement is itself split on issues like this. However, it is likely that an intermediate technology, appropriate technology, would be preferred in general if an ecofeminist movement sought to spread into developing nations quickly.

Schools of ecofeminist thought[]

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There are different relevant schools of feminist thought and activism that relate to the analysis of the environment. Ecofeminism argues that there is a connection between women and nature that comes from their shared history of oppression by a patriarchal society; this connection also comes from the positive identification of women with nature. This relationship can be argued from an essentialist position, attributing it to biological factors, or from a position that explains it as a social construct. Vandana Shiva claims that women have a special connection to the environment through their daily interactions with it that has been ignored. "Women in subsistence economies, producing and reproducing wealth in partnership with nature, have been experts in their own right of holistic and ecological knowledge of nature’s processes. But these alternative modes of knowing, which are oriented to the social benefits and sustenance needs are not recognised 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.”[8]

Feminist environmentalists study gender interests in natural resources and processes based on their different roles in daily work and responsibilities. Social feminists focus on the role of gender in political economy by analyzing the impact of production and reproduction of men and women’s relation to economic systems. Feminist poststructuralists explain gender’s relation to the environment as a reflection of beliefs of identity and difference such as race, class, gender, age, and ethnicity. In this way they try to explain the relation of gender and development. Liberal feminist environmentalists treat women as having an active role in environmental protection and conservation programs. This role can become problematic. There is a common symbolism in the idea of ‘man’ pitted against nature while nature is feminized and “woman” is assumed to have profound connections with her environment.[9] This becomes problematic because it places all the responsibility for conserving on her rather than him and doesn’t allow her to be seen as profiting from using the environment as well.

These views of gender and environment constitute feminist political ecology, which links feminist cultural ecology, political ecology, geographical ecology and feminist political ecology into one concept. It argues that gender is a relevant factor in determining access and control of natural resources as it relates to class, race, culture and ethnicity to transform the environment and to achieve the community’s opportunities of sustainable development.[10]

The ecofeminist approach that best fits the Nariva Swamp issue in Trinidad and Tobago comes from “Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism (1990) in which the editors, Irene Diamond and Gloria Orenstein lay out three strands in ecofeminism (quoted in Mack-Canty, 2004). One strand emphasizes that social justice has to be achieved in concert with the well-being of the Earth since human life is dependent on the Earth. Another strand in ecofeminism is spiritual, emphasizing that the Earth is sacred unto itself. A third strand emphasizes the necessity of sustainability—a need to learn the many ways we can walk the fine line between using the Earth as a resource while respecting the Earth’s needs. MacGregor (2004) writes that a focus on women acting on “survival” or “subsistence” imperatives erases moral choice and practices of making principled decisions to act, or not to act, in particular ways by focussing solely on “the view from below”: the moral insight that comes out of so-called unmediated experiences of survival. MacGregor (2004) states the problems that arise from the lack of acknowledgement that many of the women who ecofeminists romanticize as exhibiting a “subsistence perspective” or “barefoot epistemology” do so in conditions that they did not choose and that “lifestyle” does not necessarily determine human morality.

Other writers (Huggan, 2004; Driver. 2001) seem to mock moral arguments, ignoring the reality that both Christian and non-Christian populations use moral reasoning. Jacques (2006) claims that the environmental skeptic Peter Huber argues that humans have no moral obligation to non-human nature because humanity has the ability to dominate and control nature and this is what Judeo-Christian doctrine dictates (deep anthropocentrism - enlightened anthropocentrism favours saving coral reefs for future medical benefits or for biodiversity reasons and for resources that humans use currently and that may be used for future generations). Even the law in most former British colonies (and probably other countries) is based on Judeo-Christian religion, so how can morality be dismissed as a non-issue? Many of the laws on the books in Trinidad and Tobago have not been changed since their creation under the British colonial system (Tompkins et al., 2002). Huggan and Driver don’t seem to realize that it is in fact Nature that is the non moral agent.

Siurua (2006) discusses how David Schmidtz divides morality into two parts: a “morality of personal aspiration,”encompassing the ethical convictions and ideals according to which a person orients his or her actions, and a “morality of interpersonal constraint,” which forms the basis of institutional arrangements to regulate social interactions between individuals pursuing their personal goals. Schmidtz argues that strict preservationism (in the sense of a rejection of any instrumental utilization of nature in protected areas, often motivated by nonanthropocentrism) may be acceptable and justified as part of a morality of the first kind, but as long as the costs of actual preservation are to be borne by people who do not share preservationist values, the promotion of preservationism as the foundation of interpersonal morality is doomed to failure and consequently ought not to be undertaken. I would argue that preservationism ought not to be undertaken with people who do not have preservationist values who as I said at the beginning of the Introduction to this book - should have been relocated to a more comfortable environment at State cost.

The push towards quantifying Nature as ‘ecosystem services’, or the economic benefits provided by natural ecosystems is part of a market-oriented mechanism for conservation says McCauley (2006) in a much-discussed article in the journal Nature. The underlying assumption is that if scientists can identify ecosystem services, like the Manzanilla Windbelt, Bush Bush and Bois Neuf islands for birds, other wildlife, and the mud volcanoes and the tourist potential they represent, then they can quantify their economic value, and align conservation with market ideologies. This will then move decision makers away from environmental destruction (McCauley, 2006).

This McCauley claims is akin to saying that civil-rights advocates would have been more effective if they provided economic justifications for racial integration. Nature conservation should be framed as a moral issue and argued as such to policy-makers, says McCauley, since policy makers are just as accustomed to making decisions based on morality as on finances.

See also[]



Further reading[]

  • Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations, edited by Carol J. Adams and Josephine Donovan
  • Ecofeminism: Animals, Women, Nature, edited by Greta Gaard
  • EcoFeminism & Globalization: exploring culture, context and religion, edited by Heather Eaton & Lois Ann Lorentzen
  • Ecofeminism and the Sacred, edited by Carol J. Adams
  • The Politics of Women's Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power within the Feminist Movement, edited by Charlene Spretnak
  • Reclaim the Earth, edited by Leonie Caldecott & Stephanie Leland
  • Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, edited by Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein
  • Women Healing Earth: Third World Women on Ecology, Feminism, and Religion, edited by Rosemary Radford Ruether
  • Mack-Canty, Colleen. 2004. Third-Wave Feminism and the Need to Reweave the Nature/Culture Duality NWSA Journal 16 (3): 154-179.
  • MacGregor, Sherilyn. 2004. From care to citizenship: Calling ecofeminism back to politics. Ethics & the Environment 9 (1):56-84.
  • Huggan, Graham. 2004. "Greening" Postcolonialism: Ecocritical Perspectives. MFS Modern Fiction Studies 50(3): 701-733.
  • Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, by Helena Norberg-Hodge
  • The Body of God by Sallie McFague
  • The Chalice & The Blade: Our History, Our Future, by Riane Eisler
  • Ecofeminism by Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva
  • Ecofeminist Philosophy by Karen J. Warren
  • Environmental Culture by Val Plumwood
  • Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, by Val Plumwood
  • Gaia & God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing, by Rosemary Radford Ruether
  • Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization, and World Religions, by Rosemary Radford Ruether
  • Neither Man Nor Beast by Carol J. Adams
  • Refuge: A Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams
  • The Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature, and Place in a Hypermodern World by Charlene Spretnak
  • Sacred Longings: Ecofeminist theology and Globalization by Mary Grey
  • The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  • The Spiral Dance by Starhawk
  • Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development by Vandana Shiva
  • Thinking Green! Essays on Environmentalism, Feminism, and Nonviolence, by Petra Kelly
  • Tomorrow's Biodiversity by Vandana Shiva
  • Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her, by Susan Griffin

Also see ecotopian literature and feminist science fiction

  • A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski
  • Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come Out Tonight by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk
  • The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper
  • The Holdfast Chronicles by Suzy McKee Charnas
  • Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
  • The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
  • The Wanderground by Sally Miller Gearhart
  • Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
  • The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant
  • Bear by Marian Engel
  • The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker

External links[]

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br:Ekobenelouriezh de:Ökofeminismus et:Ökofeminism el:Οικοφεμινισμός es:Ecofeminismo fr:Écoféminisme gl:Ecofeminismo hr:Ekofeminizam nl:Ecofeminisme ja:エコフェミニズム no:Økofeminisme pl:Ekofeminizm pt:Ecofeminismo sh:Ekofeminizam fi:Ekofeminismi tr:Ekofeminizm


  1. What is Ecofeminism anyway?, retrieved on May 28 2007.
  2. Template:Cite book
  3. Introduction in Ecofeminism by Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva
  4. see chapter 1 of "ecofeminism" Mies and Shiva, which applies to materialist and spiritualist ecofeminism
  5. 5.0 5.1 see Starhawk
  6. "ecofeminism" Mies and Shiva
  7. Vandana Shiva, for example
  8. (Staying Alive: Women Ecology and Development, 1988:24).
  9. (Varadarajan, "Women and Environment Eco-feminists’ perspectives". In Empowerment of Women and Ecological Development 2002:445)
  10. (Rochelau, Thomas-Slayter and Wangari, 1996).