Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Tracking the Elusive Green Women: Sex, Environmentalism, and Feminism in the United States and Europe

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Tracking the Elusive Green Women: Sex, Environmentalism, and Feminism in the United States and Europe

Article excerpt

Ecofeminism is a set of theories variously claiming that, because of biological determinism, reproductive and maternal roles, the oppression of patriarchy and women's more holistic spiritual connection to nature, or the alternative perspective that feminism can provide, women are more concerned about the environment than are men. Apart from ecofeminist theory, "green" and liberal political parties and candidates in Western nations appear also to assume that women view pro-environmentalist policies more favorably. But can "ecofeminism" be identified in Western mass publics? Analyses of EuroBarometer 37, the 1992 American National Election Study, and the 1990-1993 World Values Study all reject biological contentions in ecofeminism, but do generate evidence for a connection between feminist orientations and support for pro-environmentalist positions on the part of both women and men.

The term "ecofeminism" originated with Francoise D'Eaubonne in her 1974 book, Feminism or Death (Merchant 1992). D'Eaubonne believed that feminism holds the key to confronting the environmental and inequality problems that beset contemporary societies. The term became the rallying point for a subculture within feminism which holds that women are especially attracted to environmentalism because of their reproductive biology and culturally defined role as nurturer.

Three distinct but interrelated perspectives converge in creating the dimensions of ecofeminism as a feminist subculture (Merchant's 1992 exposition helpfully organizes these perspectives). The first, derived from cultural feminism, argues that women and nature are both dominated by an exploitative patriarchal culture. Hence women are more sensitive to the assault against nature than the men who exploit it (Merchant 1990; Griffin 1978; Caldecott and Leland 1983). Beyond culturally oppressive and culturally constructed gender role, some ecofeminists also argue for a biological basis in explaining women's propensity toward consensus and nurturing. The confluence of biological determinism, gendered social role, and a shared sense of exploitation by the patriarchy constitute the basic construct of ecofeminism in these arguments (Henderson 1983; Griffin 1978).

Another ecofeminist perspective emerges from nature-based religious beliefs centered around a female deity and tied to elements of New Age spirituality Riane Eisler's book, The Chalice and The Blade (1987), is a critical argument within the goddess-based religion path to ecofeminism. Eisler writes that the most profound cultural transformation in the human experience came about when an early Mediterranean culture based on feminine qualities of consensus and nurturing-The Chalice-was overcome by waves of patriarchal warrior societies from western Asia-The Blade. She ties the domination model of patriarchy to the exploitation of women and nature and identifies the partnership model of The Chalice with contemporary ecofeminism.

A third path to ecofeminism was presented by Charlene Spretnak in a keynote address to a 1987 ecofeminist conference in Los Angeles (Spretnak 1987). Spretnak argued that women with liberal feminist orientations and environmental policy or science careers are exposed subtextually to ecofeminist analysis. They recognize a depth of understanding in ecofeminism that is not present in more conventional environmental policy approaches, she argues, and, as a consequence of the commingling of liberal feminism and environmental studies, adopt ecofeminist ideals. This approach is also linked to an ecofeminist argument that women tend to be nonlinear and more holistic in their reasoning and hence better appreciate contemporary research in ecology, chaos theory, and nonlinear analysis (Spretnak and Capra 1986; Leland 1983: chap. 7; Henderson 1983: chap. 24). Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is often pointed to as an early illustration of this kind of ecofeminism.

As virtually all feminist theories have also concerned themselves with practical political action, ecofeminism has moved beyond the realm of feminist theory and is now expressed in political action and interest group formation according to some theorists (Merchant 1992; Spretnak and Capra 1986). …

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