Breaking Boundaries: Ecofeminism in the Classroom

By Gardner, Catherine Villanueva; Riley, Jeannette E. | Radical Teacher, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Breaking Boundaries: Ecofeminism in the Classroom


Gardner, Catherine Villanueva, Riley, Jeannette E., Radical Teacher


This article examines our experience team teaching a course in ecofeminist theory and practice. Identified as a theoretical methodology in the 1970s, the term "ecofeminism" was created by Francoise D'Eubonne to "signify the conjoining of radical ecological and feminist thinking in a variety of perspectives" that seek "to eliminate gender inequalities and hierarchies in a way that value[s] the environment and articulate[s] parallels between women's and environmental exploitation" (Buckingham 153). In particular, ecofeminism argues that systems of oppression based on race, class, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity stem from a set of cultural ideologies that enable the oppression of nature. Ecofeminism has long been characterized as both a feminist ecology, and an ecological feminism; in other words, solutions to environmental problems require a feminist perspective, and feminist theory and practice require an environmental perspective.

However, while this initial characterization is useful, it fails to elucidate the political scope of ecofeminist thought and practice. As Greta Gaard points out, ecofeminism has developed from not just feminist inquiry and activism, but also from various social movements, including environmental, peace, labor, and anti-nuclear movements, among others. In particular, ecofeminist theory and activism draw upon "the insights of ecology, feminism, and socialism, ecofeminism's basic premise is that the ideology that authorizes oppressions such as those based on race, class, gender, sexuality, physical abilities, and species is the same ideology which sanctions the oppression of nature" (Gaard 1). As such, ecofeminism as a theory and practice strives to end oppression for women, unrepresented groups, and nature.

By its very nature, ecofeminist theory and practice demand an approach to teaching that eschews traditional formats, pedagogies and (hierarchical) classroom structures. Ecofeminist theory and practice also dictate that we cannot bring alternative approaches to teaching to the classroom that are too pre-formed; rather, our teaching is something that we learn about and develop as we engage in its actual practice.

THE COURSE

Our course explores ecofeminist theories, literature, and practice, including ecofeminist ethics, and the applications of ecofeminism to the lives of individual men and women, as well as to cultural institutions and organizations. Working with our students during the semester, we hope that they achieve several learning objectives that are specific to the study of ecofeminist theory and practice, among them the ability:

* To define ecofeminism and identify ecofeminist practices;

* To understand the roots of ecofeminism and ecofeminist theory;

* To gain an understanding of various ecofeminist literary approaches (fiction, non-fiction, poetry);

* To learn various ecofeminist approaches to local and global women's issues;

* To apply ecofeminist analysis to specific literary texts; and,

* To understand diversity and difference in cultures outside the United States.

Of course, we also work toward the accomplishment of other learning objectives central to the higher education classroom, among them the ability to reflect critically in writing and verbally about the materials we read and view; to communicate effectively through verbal discussion and written work; and, to develop research skills (research paper and individual presentation). Our primary focus, however, is on ecofeminist principles and analyses.

We begin the course by looking at the roots of ecofeminist theory, reading the core texts that make up the foundation of ecofeminism today. Our readings cover all of these aspects in an effort to demonstrate how ecofeminists weave together these different interconnections for their theory and practice; however, the complexities of defining ecofeminism provide a challenge for the actual teaching of these readings. …

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