Ecofeminism

Ecofeminism is a common contraction for ecological feminism. Ecofeminists attempt to bring together the concerns of feminism with considerations about ecology. The body of ecofeminist research explores how recognizing and revaluing gender roles might have a positive effect on the relationship between society and the environment. Ecofeminism, which arose as the result of the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, looks at the relationship between gender and ecology from both cultural and social standpoints.

The view of ecological feminism is that women are dominated by men and nature is dominated by society due to the patriarchal culture inherent in Western society. According to this perspective, patriarchy is predicated upon the domination of one thing or sector by another. However, say the ecofeminists, it is important to note that such domination is not practiced across the spectrum. Not all men dominate women and not all of society is complicit in the domination of nature.

An aspect inherent in ecofeminism is the belief that caring about ecology without being a feminist, and vice versa, will not be a strong enough effort toward reversing the damage wrought by Western culture to nature and to society. For example, feminists have fought for women to obtain rights equal to those of men. But if this struggle succeeds without an accompanying concern for the environment, there will surely be damage done to nature. Women will have earned the right to a lifestyle previously denied them -- one that places a heavier burden on the planet.

The same is true of reproductive technology. Feminists may gain the right to partake of reproductive technology, but such technology may have a negative impact on nature and on other women. However, any environmental movement which ignores issues of equality lays itself open to accusations of eco-fascism. Eco-fascism is the state of being in which nature is prized more than specific societal sectors (women, the infertile, the needy, minorities). A fascistic, antisocial environmentalism element existed in the Nazi party.

The term ecofeminism was coined by Françoise d'Eaubonne in 1974, when she called upon women to lead an ecological revolution to save the planet. Since that time, ecofeminism has undertaken an exploration of how nature and society are interrelated and how both might be transformed. This exploration occurs on two levels: through cultural ecofeminism and through social ecofeminism.

Cultural ecofeminism sees a positive and powerful interplay between nature and women. This interplay is manifested through the reproductive functions specific to women, for instance menstruation and childbirth. Ecofeminists argue that these functions link women and nature together and prove the superiority of women over men as appropriate advocates for the protection of nature.

Social ecofeminism puts forth the argument that since women and nature have been dominated by men, it is women who are better placed to advocate for nature since women and nature have a shared experience of domination. The social ecofeminists disagree that the reproductive functions of the woman are somehow more closely connected to nature than those of a man. They oppose the cultural ecofeminist belief that a woman possesses an essence which is synonymous with nature.

Cultural ecofeminists point to a two-pronged philosophy as the basis of the Western mindset. There are characteristics that are seen as opposites, for instance masculine/feminine and natural/abstract. However, there is no equality between these opposite characteristics and one is held in greater esteem than the other. For example, masculine/abstract/logical is seen as superior to feminine/natural/chaotic. These attributes are used to allow one group to dominate another. The cultural ecofeminist works to reverse this trend by illustrating the positive aspect of characteristics that have formerly been thought of as inferior, and through emphasizing the necessity of the woman-nature relationship to the ultimate survival of nature.

Social ecofeminists argue that all bodies, both those of women and those of men, are equal in their proximity to nature. However, since women have been set aside in favor of men, their social role makes them more suited to ally with nature. According to this perspective, social engineering is the force behind the bond between womankind and nature. Women have stayed home to nurture their children, embodying the way that nature provides for human needs, while men have distanced themselves from caring and domesticity.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature
Greta Gaard.
Temple University Press, 1993
Ecological Politics: Ecofeminists and the Greens
Greta S. Gaard.
Temple University Press, 1998
Mapping Women, Mapping Politics: Feminism and Political Geography
Lynn A. Staeheli; Eleonore Kofman; Linda J. Peake.
Routledge, 2004
The Greening of Protestant Thought
Robert Booth Fowler.
University of North Carolina Press, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "The Ecofeminist Challenge"
Made from This Earth: American Women and Nature
Vera Norwood.
University of North Carolina Press, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "'She Unnames Them': The Utopian Vision of Ecological Feminism"
Rationality and Nature: A Sociological Inquiry into a Changing Relationship
Raymond Murphy.
Westview Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: "Ecofeminism" begins on p. 84
Green Politics: Dictatorship or Democracy?
James Radcliffe.
St. Martin's Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Eco-feminism and Post-modernism"
Gendered Fields: Rural Women, Agriculture, and Environment
Carolyn E. Sachs.
Westview Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "Ecofeminism" begins on p. 38
Earth Muse: Feminism, Nature, and Art
Carol Bigwood.
Temple University Press, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Toward and Backward: An Ecofeminist"
Feminism and the Mastery of Nature
Val Plumwood.
Routledge, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Feminism and Ecofeminism"
Socialism, Feminism, and Philosophy: A Radical Philosophy Reader
Sean Sayers; Peter Osborne.
Routledge, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Women, Humanity and Nature"
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