“We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth or we are not going to have a human future at all.” —Vandana Shiva
As an inspiring environmentalist and a self-proclaimed feminist, the concept of eco-feminism as always piqued my interest. The relation of nature and femininity is quite beautiful when you view it in a spiritual lens. While there is much to explore within the topic, there are also areas that are often critiqued by scholars within the field.
In short, eco-feminism seeks to reveal the connection between the oppression of women and the destruction of the environment. The core claim of this concept is that women’s liberation is intertwined with the liberation of the natural environment. Scholars seek to study and explain this concept with two main points, hierarchical thinking, and oppositional dualism.
Value hierarchal thinking is best to visualize in terms of a pyramid, with more ‘valuable groups’ (white, men, wealthy) at the top, and ‘less valuable’ groups at the bottom (women, poor, POC). We have seen many examples of hierarchical thinking throughout history and in our communities.
Oppositional dualism explores the process of ‘human versus nature’. Society often views gender and human’s relationship with nature as opposites, rather than on a spectrum. It is ‘male’ versus ‘female’, just like it is ‘human’ versus ‘nature’. These dualities often expressed with language, link feminine terms with nature, giving it the same perspective of vulnerability and inferiority. Phrases such as ‘mother nature’ and ‘fertile ground’ help to solidify this. Both hierarchal and oppositional thinking help to give momentum to the subjugation of both nature and women. These binary distinctions leave little room for acceptance and community.
These ideas correlate with other theories concerning society, but with every theory there is critique, right? Some argue that eco-feminism lacks an intersectional framework to include ALL women. The movement with eco-feminists has commonly been controlled by white women with little regard to women of differing minorities. While perspective of treatment of both women and nature is great, the movement is glossing over the differences between women.
Eco-feminism analysis CAN be a useful way to interpret how misogyny and environmental destruction of the world are interconnected. But it is important to understand that the theory can leave out vital aspects of subjugation of race, class, and ability. With any theory it is helpful to understand the critiques made by educated scholars to distinguish just how viable the lens can be.
The root of eco-feminism, however, is to really grasp the idea of domination. The way ‘man’ conquers nature is like the way women often feel conquered in their communities by these more ‘valuable’ groups. A main argument of this philosophy is that we must address social injustice when addressing environmental injustice. Furthermore, to address environmental injustice we must also challenge hierarchal and oppositional ways of thinking.
Well-known eco-feminists seek to use this branch to link feminist work and sustainability work to help create a world that is more inclusive to gender and more protective of the environment. The symbolical link between femininity and the environment can create a space for healing. We can only hope to use this healing in a way to give women a voice, and nature a chance of survival.
“Domination of women has provided a key link, both socially and symbolically, to the domination of earth, hence the tendency in patriarchal cultures to link women with earth, matter, and nature, while identifying males with sky, intellect, and transcendent spirit.” — Rosemary Radford Ruether