Ecofeminism-- A New Perspective
It has taken a long time to work itself through, but two of the most potent and durable ideas of the 1960s--feminism and ecological politics--have begun to come together in a new and fruitful way at last. The resulting hybrid, "ecofeminism,' has finally taken on a distinct life of its own and appears to be influencing a growing number of groups and movements across the continent.
The ramifications of ecofeminism are quite profound, I believe, in both philosophical and practical ways, but its basic theses are not complicated. Put simply:
The patriarchal societies now familiar to us developed only in the past 5,000 years or so, succeeding a long series of relatively benign, gynecocentric and often goddess-worshiping societies of the late Paleolithic and early Neolithic eras.
Unlike those earlier cultures, patriarchies were (and, alas, are) based in large part on the domination and manipulation of nature and women--to some degree, in fact, on a hatred of both--who were seen as existing to serve a hierarchical, male-organized system.
Indeed, by identifying women with nature (e.g., Mother Nature), patriarchies have sought to justify their mastery (the word is apt) over both through the concept of a superior and advancing "civilization.'
Similarly, by objectifying women and nature, patriarchies can treat them as "the other,' something apart, and thus manipulate, use and even despoil them in the name of patriarchy and civilization.
Those patriarchal forms of oppression are now widely understood to be highly dangerous and insupportable, indeed life-threatening; they must be replaced, and quickly, with new attitudes and practices toward nature and women, without hierarchy, domination, exploitation and oppression.
This ecofeminist perspective, as it is now being fleshed out and developed, is obviously confrontational and controversial, but for many it is exciting and energizing as well. It creates a synergistic mixture of two important contemporary schools of thought and offers a whole new direction in which at least some parts of the ecological and feminist movements can proceed. But more, it offers a way in which those two movements can work together, in harmony and with mutually reinforcing power.
For feminists, ecofeminism has provided the intellectual substructure of a fairly well-developed philosophy of nature to accompany their recently buttressed analyses of gender and sexual roles. And it has given a larger and more useful philosophical perspective to many women who felt they had come to a dead end in the traditional feminist movement-- as, for example, many "liberal' feminists originally concerned only with equal rights or career opportunities have found ecofeminism useful in showing the shortfalls of "piece of the action-ism' and the traps of, in the words of ecofeminist and leading feminist theoretician Ynestra King, "capitulation to a culture . . . both misogynist and antiecological.' This has been particularly true for women in the environmental and Green movements who, after their experience of trying to work within the system, have come to understand that the problems are of culture and values more than politics and laws, and have gained a new insight through ecofeminism into the nature of the system and its substructures of dominance.
For ecologists, ecofeminism has provided a way to make connections with the political and social worlds that they otherwise have tended to ignore, and thus it insures a human side to their often abstract analyses. And by showing them the dark, underlying cultural causes of environmental destruction, ecofeminism has provided a very clear understanding of the kinds of real-world changes that have to be made before there can be any kind of ecological sanity.
There is one further bonus of this amalgam: Ecofeminism can, if allowed to, …