Eco-feminism is a transformational endeavor or movement that critically examines the historical relationship between the subjugation and denigration of women and the natural world. Furthermore, it explores the roots of patriarchy and the consequent philosophies that sanctioned the exploitation of nature and women for the seemingly sole benefit of the male species. Other conditions of oppression studied include racism, classism, imperialism, age discrimination, and heterosexism.
The term Eco-feminism, was initiated by French author, Francoise d’Eaubonne, in 1977. Her vision was to have women start an ecological movement to save the biosphere and liberate women from male oppression and dominance as a joint intervention, given both entities were being oppressed for similar reasons.
Eco-feminism is not based on women’s equality with men as in women’s liberation but is directed at liberating women as a goal in itself. Essential concerns are restoring value to women’s contributions to society that include: childbirth, nurturing behaviors, deep connection with nature, aesthetic sensibilities and including the more playful, emotional and irrational elements in the context of living.
Historically, women have been attributed to have a closer relationship to nature than men and nature has been metaphorically attributed feminine characteristics. Given women are the givers of life and follow lunar cycles in their menstrual cycles, they are viewed as embedded in natures rhythms. Unfortunately, women’s emotional responses to these cycles has been attributed a disposition of irrationality and instability psychologically and thus a perceived justification for control by the male species. Eco-feminism is concerned with men’s negative perceptions toward women historically and how those notions have resulted in women being devalued and dominated.
Remember that early human cultures valued and admired women for their significant contributions to the partnership relationships that flourished at that time. The advent of patriarchy changed the former egalitarian bond to one of domination and subjugation and forever changed the male-female relationship.
Patriarchy is not just a critique of men but also the acknowledgement of a context of thinking that can oppress men, women and wild nature simultaneously and disrupt evolutionary development of the entire biosphere and even destroy all entities on this planet.
There also arises the question of whether men and women perceive their relationships with nature and each other differently as a function of differentiated genetics and psychological development. As this notion might seem tempting to accept given our current state of functioning as a species and recent historical evidence, we still must look to the hunter-gatherer and Neolithic cultures that thrived in a harmonious human partnership and non-exploitative existence with wild nature far longer than the modern Western world has existed.
Cultural developments and misconceptions about our relationship with nature appear to be the causes of our current malaise. The shift towards aggression and domination only came into being about 10,000 years ago and progressed as humans became more industrial, technological and distanced themselves from their covenant with the biosphere. The shift from hunter-gatherer to agriculture also caused a disconnection from nature as was discussed in the early chapters in this treatise.
In summary, many factors created change in the course of human perception and behavior and their exact effects are hard to quantify in any specific way. However, our current state of alienation with nature is a relatively new development and is certainly not representative of our entire history with our habitat.
Most ecofeminists argue that men can have the same connection with nature that women have if they are open to being more vulnerable and authentic and can let go of the need to control and dominate. If you study the environmental literature, you will note the abundance of male authors and activists who are taking a stand against patriarchy and a return to partnership values.
Important Eco-Feminist Perspectives
The oppression of women and nature are related concepts and actualities: both must be resolved to restore nature to an entity of intrinsic worth and liberate women to their status as valuable sentient beings.
The way we interact with the natural world and each other are related. When we exploit nature, that philosophy transfers into exploitative relationships with other people as well. Patriarchy comprises dualism and hierarchy, the chief components of the oppression of humans and natural systems. From patriarchy derive colonialism, racism, fascism, the disparity between rich and poor and all other social injustices.
The edifice of science and formal logic or reductionism has resulted in values and attitudes that promote environmental degradation and the control and management of humanity, particularly women who are perceived to be irrational and in need of supervision by men.
Science has been almost entirely based on objective observation and facts and has rejected subjective input such as intuition, random occurrences, mythology and religious perspectives.
Eco-feminism must remain open to a continuing conversation about the workings of the universe and of human evolution in order to nurture the male-female connection and ensure respect and appreciation of wild nature.
Despite the fact that patriarchy has been a significant devastating development in human culture for about 10,000 years or more, it does not imply that all men act oppressively towards women or that all women are being oppressed. It also does not deny the fact that women can also act in this manner and subjugate men as well. Women and men must come together to create the type of society that will serve humanity and nature in a healthy fashion as an ongoing evolutionary endeavor.
The Eco-feminist movement includes information from many sources such as indigenous revelations, experiential knowledge and from new discoveries to formulate direction and purpose of its fundamental ideas and principles.
Vandana Shiva summarized the goal of Eco-feminism as the goal of creating “a democracy of all life”.
The Ingredients of an Ecofeminist Society
All entities, including organic and inorganic have intrinsic worth.
Democracy is a deciding factor for all of Earth’s creatures.
Diversity in the biosphere and in human societies should be promoted.
Predation is a symbiotic reality in nature.
Bioregionalism should be practiced versus using political boundaries to define nations, countries, states and provinces.
Local economies should derive subsistence needs directly from the immediate environment as much as possible and not tend to rely on a global market economy.
Humanity will democratically use knowledge and power to influence actions that will affect their viability as a species.
Society will encourage the autonomy of all entities including beliefs, attitudes and behavior as long as these differences are symbiotic.
Peace, care and compassion will be promoted globally as a way of life.
The sacredness of life will be honored and respected universally.
Feminist psychology offers the environmental movement a vision of a preferred future; a vision of what human experience could become if we gave up the need to dominate and control. This future would include an appreciation and respect for the diversity of life, an attitude and practice of sustainability and a striving to live in harmony with the biosphere. Feminine attitudes and qualities that might guide us in this pursuit might include openness to new experiences, playfulness, being more aware of sensuality, embracing the absurd and the irrational, relying more on intuition and feeling, being more connected to our bodies, spontaneity, embracing the pleasurable moments in our daily lives and perceiving nature as an extension of ourselves.
Eco-feminists view science as limiting and only one framework from which to understand the world. Indigenous cultures and women are drawn to perceiving the world through participatory, subjective-experiential and embodied knowing versus the objective context of formal science.
We would also have to come to grips with nature on its own terms. This would include becoming familiar with and accepting the chaotic, strange and frightening aspects of the world along with what we already know, appreciate and are comfortable with.
Another important aspect of feminine influence is in the bioregional movement that suggests that we reconfigure social structures to coincide with nature’s natural ecosystems. An example of this would be to use natural systems to define political boundaries instead of for social or economic reasons.
Also relevant is the fact that the feminine represents beauty and the laws of attraction. Without this dynamic, life would have little pleasure or meaning and organisms would not be so inclined to procreate and evolve. It is perplexing that the physical, which is the basis for life, has been regarded as a lower form of being, and has been demoted by religion, philosophy, psychology and science throughout history. We must begin to discard this past erroneous programming regarding the negative value of the physical world (the feminine) and allow ourselves to embrace and experience her as the essence of our being.
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“What is Ecofeminism?” Women and Life on Earth, Updated January 2018, wloe.org/what-is-ecofeminism.76.0.html. Accessed 31 May 2020.
Miles, Kathryn. “Ecofeminism: Sociology and Environmentalism.” Britannica, britannica.com/topic/ecofeminism. Accessed 31 May 2020.
Harris, Adrian. “Ecofeminism.” The Green Fuse/Topics, thegreenfuse.org/ecofem.htm. Accessed 31 May 2020.
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The Rape of the Well-Maidens: Feminist Psychology and the Environmental Crisis by Mary E. Gomes and Allen D. Kanner, pp. 118-121. Accessed 31 May 2020.