The Essential Interconnectedness of Ecofeminism

How is feminism inextricably linked to environmentalism? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Ava Mohsenin, Environmental Studies Minor at McGill University, on Quora:

The principal way feminism is linked to environmentalism is the underlying connection between the exploitation of the environment and the oppression of women in society. The normative frames of thinking surrounding both areas has bred ecofeminism, the theoretical exploration of why these norms have been inherited, what justification Western society has used to permit this type of oppression/exploitation, and what mechanisms can be harnessed to alleviate these oppressive structures.

Ecofeminism is a term believed to have been coined by Françoise d’Eaubonne in her book Le Féminisme ou la Mort (1974), where she relates the oppression/domination of subordinate groups (women, people of color, the poor) to the oppression/domination of nature (biotic and abiotic). Some ecofeminists believe some of the ways feminism and environmentalism are linked (I’m not sure how inextricably so) are ways in which “feminine” values are present in the environment - reciprocity, cooperation, nurturing, etc. The pinnacle of ecofeminists thought is that the separation of nature and culture is the root of all societal ills.

For example, Vandana Shiva, in her influential book on ecofeminism (source below), explains how many women have special connections to the environment in their daily interactions, however the capitalist reductionist paradigm fails to perceive the value of alternative modes of knowledge that have fostered many of the social benefits we see today.

The role that women played in the early environmental movement also catalyzed the formation of ecofeminism as a philosophy and general coalition building among social justice groups. Susan A. Mann (an eco-feminist and professor of sociological/feminist theory) associates the beginning of ecofeminism with women of different race and class backgrounds who made connections among gender, race, class, and environmental issues - leading to the widely accepted notion among social justice circles today that marginalized groups must be included, if not leading voices, in the discussion of catalyzing change.

Beyond the the philosophical ways in which feminism and environmentalism are linked, modern-day ecofeminists are pointing out the hypocrisy of “pro-life” lawmakers who are also pushing aggressive drilling, fracking, and extraction methods that significantly reduce the Earth’s ability to regenerate and produce new life. Naomi Klein, in her revolutionary book This Changes Everything, argues that the exploitation of land is inherently tied to the exploitation of people, women and poor people hit the hardest and first, in most cases.

The last point I want to end on is that feminism and environmentalism can also be seen through the lens that both are rooted in the quest for equality and love - not for hatred of men or hatred of our Earth systems. Both movements call for respect and cooperation!

Some great related reading, if you would like to know more:

  1. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a great page about Feminist Environmental Philosophy that will give you more than you want to know about the subject! It’s divided well so easy to read parts of it.
  2. The essay “Ecofeminism: Toward Global Justice and Planetary Health" by Greta Gaard and Lori Gruen outline the “ecofeminist framework”. The four main points of the framework 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. An ecofeminist conceptual framework to explore gendered environmental health inequities in urban settings and to inform healthy public policy.
  4. Shiva, Vandana (1988). Staying alive: women, ecology and development. London: Zed Books.
  5. Shiva, Vandana. "Development as a New Project of Western Patriarchy." Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Feminism, edited by Irene Diamond and Gloria Ornstein, Sierra Club Books, 1990.
  6. You could find a lot of great sources on the Wikipedia page on Ecofeminism here.

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