Eco Feminism

You may be familiar with mainstream feminist theory. However, there are a number of exciting feminist sub-branches just waiting to be explored. Ecofeminism is a theory that helps us to make links and think critically about gender relations and the environment. With the help of this article, you will have a chance to apply many familiar key terms such as patriarchy or gender roles.

Eco Feminism Eco Feminism

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Contents
Table of contents

    Ecofeminism is an ever increasingly significant theory to consider, as we collectively as a world face the effects of the climate crisis. Dive in to understand the basic principles of this theory, as well as how these can be applied to the world around us.

    Ecofeminism: definition

    In its simplest form, ecofeminism is a branch of feminism concerned with critically analysing and understanding the relationship between gender and the environment.

    Ecofeminism: a political ideology, linked with mainstream feminist theory, which seeks to understand and analyse the relationship between gender and the environment.

    Eco Feminism Symbol of Eco Feminism StudySmarterFig. 1 - Symbol of Eco feminism

    What's so important about Ecofeminism?

    As you are already familiar with mainstream feminism, you may be asking yourself, ‘what is so important or different about Ecofeminism?’

    Like other branches of feminism, ecofeminists seek equality between all genders in society. Additionally, Ecofeminism critically examines and analyses the relationship between gender and our environment. When thinking about the key principle of Ecofeminism, political scientists have suggested the statement below could be considered an ‘informal slogan’ for ecofeminists:

    Nature is a feminist issue.

    (Warren, 2000)

    Ecofeminism is a significant political ideology owing to its link with climate change and the global climate crisis. Highlighted by the International Panel on Climate Change, it is acknowledged that the effects of the climate crisis are likely to increase the number of obstacles faced by feminists on the road toward gender equity.

    The IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] found that gender inequalities are further exaggerated by climate-related hazards, and they result in higher workloads for women, occupational hazards indoors and outdoors, psychological and emotional stress and higher mortality compared to men.

    (Collantes, 2020)

    Key features of Ecofeminism

    One of the key concerns of ecofeminism is examining and critically analysing the connection between gender and nature.

    While women are often the centre of ecofeminist discussion, this is not to say that ecofeminism is a political ideology exclusively for women. It is important to note that the overall health of our environment is an issue that affects us all regardless of our gender or sexual identity. However, ecofeminism highlights that owing to the existence of oppressive patriarchal structures, the effects of environmental issues are more likely to have a detrimental impact on women and gender variant individuals. Like other branches of feminism, ecofeminists seek equality between all genders in society.

    Patriarchal structures: a structural societal imbalance, typically favouring the interests of cis-gendered men, often to the detriment of women and gender variant individuals.

    Ecofeminists highlight these structural imbalances, in an attempt to focus action to create more equitable societies. This would mean ensuring individuals of all genders are able to live in safe environments with access to vital natural resources such as water, food, and energy supplies.

    Data sets highlight that financially deprived women, living in economically developing nations are disproportionately affected by environmental issues such as natural disasters, deforestation, and water pollution.

    For example, in 2017, following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Oxfam found that women were hit hardest and faced the greatest challenges during the recovery stage from the worst storm in US history.

    Political scientists account for this disproportionate impact due to a number of factors created and sustained under patriarchal systems. These include:

    • Women are more likely to live in poverty.
    • Women have less access to basic human rights, such as the ability to move freely to avoid the effects of environmental problems.
    • Women are more likely to face systematic violence, a risk that increases during periods of environmental, economic, or political instability.

    What are the origins of Ecofeminism?

    Ecofeminism is a relatively modern movement and the term itself was devised in 1974 by French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne. Ecofeminism came about following a series of workshops and conferences held in the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The conferences were largely attended by professionals and academics.

    The original purpose of the meetings was to examine the ways in which environmentalism and feminism could be merged to encourage respect for the needs of all genders and the natural world.

    During the meetings, it was argued that the specific oppression of women and nature comes from associating women with nature. Ecofeminists at that time argued that women and nature were often depicted as irrational and chaotic, while men were frequently characterised as rational and controlled.

    Ecofeminists assert that this understanding has resulted in a hierarchical structure that gives men power and permits the exploitation of women and nature. For ecofeminists, this association of women with nature is why both are exploited.

    Eco feminisim Françoise d’Eaubonne StudySmarterFig. 2 - Françoise d’Eaubonne

    Examples of Ecofeminism

    Ecofeminism has evolved over the years. Thus, it is best to view its evolution chronologically.

    Early work

    Much of the early work done on ecofeminism consisted of historical documentation - specifically looking at the historical connections that exist between women and the environment and then examining ways to undo those connections. Theologian Rosemary Ruether, a founder of the ecofeminism concept, insisted that all women must first recognise and then work to end the domination of nature if women want to move towards establishing their own freedom.

    The late 1980s

    By the late 1980s, ecofeminism had moved away from its academic foundation and evolved into a more mainstream movement. Feminist theorist Ynestra King is widely believed to have contributed to this shift.

    One of King's most influential arguments asked all Americans to consider how their belief systems allowed for the exploitative use of the environment. Additionally, King asked her audiences to consider how the use of the environment has detrimental impacts, further increasing the oppression of women. In doing so, King introduced ecofeminist theory into the consideration of people's daily lives.

    King's work was published in The Nation in 1987, titled What Is Ecofeminism?

    Exploitative uses of the environment

    The exploitative use of the environment describes when natural resources, such as land, energy, or food supplies are used on a large scale for personal or financial gain. This comes at a detrimental cost to the environment.

    To apply King's argument, exploitative use of the environment may include excessive log felling to sell wood as materials for the construction industry. In an area of excessive log felling, this will have an environmental cost, as without the tree roots the terrain will become more susceptible to natural disasters such as landslides.

    In the instance of a landslide, the detrimental impacts are supposed to have a disproportionately negative impact on women. This can be accounted for by a number of factors created by patriarchal structures:

    1. Due to gender roles, women are expected to take on reproductive roles such as caring for family members. In the instance of a natural disaster, these caring duties will increase, making greater demands on women.
    2. Women can encounter economic and political barriers which can prevent them from owning or accessing land. In the event that land becomes unliveable or severely damaged, it may be unlikely that a woman can move simply to another plot of land in a safer area.

    Activity: firstly, take a moment to identify and consider a belief system that allows for the exploitative use of the environment. Secondly, consider how this may have a negative gendered impact.

    Sub-branches of Ecofeminism

    There are several sub-branches of eco-feminism. These include:

    1. Materialist Ecofeminism
    2. Spiritual Ecofeminism
    3. Vegetarian Ecofeminism

    Materialist Ecofeminism

    This sub-branch of Ecofeminism has close links to Marxist Feminism. Materialist Ecofeminists acknowledge the detrimental impact of capitalist patriarchal structures directly on marginalised genders and on the environment. This sub-branch focuses on matters such as the ownership and extraction of raw materials, land, and energy resources from the environment and how this creates unequal societies.

    Spiritual Ecofeminism

    Spiritual ecofeminists connect the Christian belief that God gave humans dominion over the earth with the attack on nature.

    Vegetarian ecofeminism

    As you may have guessed, vegetarian ecofeminists are strongly against humans having power over animals. This refers to the exploitative use of animals for food or materials.

    An example could include the killing of animals for the use of furs and leather in the fashion industry.

    Despite all being different branches, they all share a similarity: at their core, they believe that a patriarchal society has led to a disconnect between nature and culture, which has negatively affected marginalised groups as well as nature itself.

    The importance of Ecofeminism

    There are three main reasons why ecofeminism is important in today's society.

    1. Helping the environment.

    It brings the environment to the forefront of discussions surrounding feminism. This is important because of the continuing environmental degradation happening to the planet.

    2. Connecting social and environmental issues.


    Bringing together social and environmental issues is at the core of ecofeminism. This is important as it provides a new and unique perspective in looking at how the problems surrounding social and environmental issues are in fact connected.

    3. Core aim of equality.

    Finally, it is important to remember that ecofeminism is a type of feminism. At its core, the aim of ecofeminism is equality in society and eliminating the patriarchy. As such, when viewing ecofeminism in the context of its original aims it is important because any contribution to equality in society can trigger positive change.

    Critique of Ecofeminism

    Ecofeminism has been critiqued by women and academics alike. Below are some of the most common arguments against ecofeminism.

    Negative impact on the environment and women in less developed countries

    Ecofeminism has been critiqued because of the failure of women in developed countries to recognise the ways in which their own lifestyles lead to the further degradation of those (often women) in less-developed countries and of the environment as a whole.

    One example is the way in which ‘fast fashion’ involves sweatshops in developing countries. These factories produce cheap clothes that those in developed countries can buy. As a result, those in less developed countries have accused some ecofeminists of promoting the exploitation of women by partaking in the fast fashion industry.

    Fast fashion refers to the industry that oversees the quick mass reproduction of cheap clothing and accessories inspired by those items seen on the catwalks at fashion shows.

    The significant resources involved in the production of this clothing often impact the environment in negative ways because of the materials that are used. In addition, socially vulnerable women make up a large segment of the workforce that produces these clothes. These women often work long hours and are underpaid for their labour.

    Cultural appropriation

    Some critics have also argued that the advancement of ecofeminism has led to the marginalisation and appropriation of indigenous cultures.1 Thus, modern ecofeminism must acknowledge this. One solution to this problem

    is ensuring that ecofeminism highlights the voices and activism of ecofeminists around the globe. This would require minority cultures to be represented in mainstream discussion related to ecofeminism, plus the sharing of resources to ensure these groups are able to successfully establish their own form of ecofeminism that takes into consideration local cultures.

    It is particularly important to ensure an intersectional ecofeminist approach is applied, which acknowledges the additional barriers faced by marginalised genders due to factors such as race, socio-economic status, and sexuality.

    Reinforces patriarchal ideologies

    Another critique levelled at ecofeminism targets the ecofeminist assertion that women are biologically closer to nature. Critics believe this only strengthens the patriarchal ideology of domination, arguing that it is hypocritical and limits the efficiency of ecofeminism.

    Cons of ecofeminism

    In addition to the critiques of ecofeminism, there are others who argue that ecofeminism simply does more harm than good. One of the strongest arguments against ecofeminism comes from the essentialism point of view. Essentialism is the trend to portray women in ways that might be inaccurate. For example, by identifying women as the gender that should care more about the environment.

    While ecofeminism goes further than this portrayal, it can be argued that any explanation of ecofeminism always starts with an analysis of how women are more connected to nature and the environment than men are. Critics argue that by avoiding these assumptions about women and nature, ecofeminism could be a stronger theory.

    As we have discussed, ecofeminism highlights the fact that women are disproportionately affected by environmental issues. There are statistics and studies which support this argument. Notably, a report from the United Nations showed that women around the world tend to rely more on the natural environment and have less financial resources than men. Because of this reliance, they are more likely to be displaced by climate change and have to travel farther for critical resources like water.

    Books on ecofeminism

    Here are five books you can read to increase your knowledge on ecofeminism:

    1. Ecofeminism by Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva (1993). This text explores the connections between patriarchal society and environmental destruction.

    1. Ecofeminist Philosophy: A Western Perspective on What It Is and Why It Matters by Karen J. Warren (2000). This book is a rationalisation of the arguments for ecofeminism written by an environmental feminist.

    1. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature by Val Plumwood (1993). This book incorporates philosophy and how it links to environmentalism and feminism.

    1. Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation by Ivone Gebara (1999). This text looks at why ecofeminism has come about.

    1. Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams (1992). This takes a different writing approach as it is more of a memoir and contains personal experiences.

    Eco Feminism - Key takeaways

    • Ecofeminism is a branch of feminism that explores the relationship between women and nature.

    • Ecofeminists argue that masculine dominance in society is linked to social justice, climate change, and gender equality.

    • This movement came about following a succession of workshops and conferences held in the United States throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    • Early work on ecofeminism focused on historical documentation of the connections between women and the environment and examining ways to undo those connections.

    • Ecofeminism has been criticised because of the failure of women in developed countries to recognise how their own lifestyles were causing further degradation of the lives of those in less-developed countries and of the environment as a whole.



    References

    1. Noël Sturgeon, ‘Ecofeminist appropriations and transnational environmentalists’, Identities 6: 2-3, 1999.
    2. Fig. 2 - Françoise d'Eaubonne (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fran%C3%A7oise_d%27Eaubonne_wikip%C3%A9dia.jpg) by unknown author licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Eco Feminism

    What is ecofeminism in simple words?

    Ecofeminism is a political ideology, linked with mainstream feminist theory, which seeks to understand and analyse the relationship between gender and the environment.

    What is an example of ecofeminism?

    Ecofeminism brings the environment to the forefront of discussions surrounding feminism. An example relevant to Ecofeminism would include the findings of the International Panel on Climate Change in 2020. The panel acknowledged that the effects of the climate crisis are likely to increase the number of obstacles faced by feminists on the road toward gender equity.  

    What is Ecofeminism and how does it relate to environmental justice?

    Ecofeminism is a significant political ideology owing to its link with climate change and the global climate crisis. This political ideology relates to environmental justice as ecofeminists aim to challenge and remedy the disproportionate harms of climate change on poor and marginalised communities. Specifically, ecofeminists propose that imbalanced gender relations are a key barrier to achieving environmental justice

    What is the difference between ecofeminism and feminism?

    Like other branches of feminism, ecofeminists seek equality between all genders in society. Additionally, Ecofeminism critically examines and analyses the relationship between gender and our environment. In doing so, ecofeminists challenge the exploitative use of the environment via patriarchal structures.  

    What is the purpose of ecofeminism?

    Ecofeminism offers a political lens, through which we can view the world around us. The purpose of Ecofeminism is to highlight and critically examine imbalanced gender relations and roles. Additionally, Ecofeminism draws attention to the impact of imbalanced power structures, such as the patriarchy, and how these are exacerbated by the ongoing climate crisis and the existence of climate injustice. 

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