Universal Remedies for Women & Nature

Ecofeminism: In Search of Universal Remedies for Women & Nature

“Women just see that there can be no liberation for them and no solution to the ecological crisis within a society whose fundamental model of relationship continues to be one of domination. [Women] must unite the demands of [their] movement with those of the ecological movement to envision a radical reshaping of the basic socio-economic relations and the underlying values of this society”

(Mellor, 1997, p. 297).

Ecofeminism cannot be seen as a single theory or strategy espoused by any specific organization or movement. Ecofeminism can in fact be viewed as a choir with many voices contributing a diversity of pitch, range, sharps and flats and indeed harmony in some cases as well. This paper reviews and critiques a variety of points-of-view — each of them related to the degradation of the planet’s natural resources and the linkage that degradation has to the global neglect of the feminine gender.

Chapter One: What are the links between the global political neglect of women and the global abuse of the natural environment?

Defining the terms that relate to ecofeminism. Respected theologian and philosopher Rosemary Radford Ruether views ecofeminism as “An interconnection between the domination of women and the domination of nature”

(Ruether, 2005, p 91). In her book, Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization, and World Religions, Ruether explores themes philosophically but defines her terms succinctly by placing the emphasis where it belongs: in an impressive critique of ethics, culture, history and gender-based society. On an ideological-cultural level, Ruether explains, women are viewed as being closer to nature (e.g., more identified with “body, matter, emotions and the animal world”) (p. 91). Those attributes are respected and admired, for the most part, in the global community.

However, on the socio-economic level, Ruether asserts, women are identified with “reproduction, child raising, food preparation, spinning and weaving” along with housework and other tedious duties and responsibilities (p. 91). This socio-economic image of women is “devalued in relation to the public sphere of male power and culture,” she writes (p. 91). Moreover, devalued classes of women are believed to be lacking in capacity for “intellect and leadership, denied higher education and located socially in the spheres of physical labor” (Ruether, 2005, p. 91).

Philosophy professor Karen Warren — and colleague Nisvan Erkal — insist they have “empirical data” to prove that nature plays a powerful role in feminine issues. Their narrative weaves a story of the abuse of the natural world juxtaposed with what actions women — who are at or near the bottom of the proverbial totem pole — take in order to mitigate the damage done. An alert reader posits that these empirical examples are microcosms of what is happening in other contexts to other women worldwide. In Third World nations women are more dependent on trees and products from forests than men are, Warren explains (Warren, et al., 1997, p. 5).

Trees provide five pivotal elements in many developing countries’ households. Those five are food, fuel, fodder, home products (building materials, gardens, dyes, medicines and utensils) and income.

“Understanding the empirical connections between women and trees improves one’s understanding of the subordination of women,” Warren explains (p. 5). Women in developing countries must walk farther then men and carry fuel (wood) and fodder back to their homes. In New Delhi, for example, women walk an estimated ten kilometers (about 7 hours) every three or four days (Warren, 1997, p. 6). When forests are denuded, women suffer.

Additional empirical examples. In an empirical survey, women in Sierra Leone villages were able to identify thirty-one products from trees and bushes; in the same research, men in those villages could identify only eight products (Warren, 1997, p. 6). Yet men own most of the trees and carelessly clear-cut forests without thought to the adverse affect on women. Water is among the most prized and precious commodities in the world, yet less than 50% of the world’s population has safe, potable water available. Women and children perform most of the collecting of water in India and elsewhere, Warren explains (p. 7). Wrongheaded policies — or basic arrogance or ignorance — in gender-based Third World governments relates directly to health risks from impure water sources; indeed, four million children die annually from various water-bourn diseases (Warren, 1997, p. 7). And while women perform the great bulk of the water-collection tasks in India, ironically it is “women and children who experience disproportionately higher health risks in the presence of unsanitary water” (Warren, 1997, p. 7).

Women farmers grow an estimated 60 to 80% of the world’s food crops; in Africa women raise 70% of food crops yet women are poorer than men “because their access to credit is limited” by the men who control the banks (Warren, 1997, p. 8). Finally, Warren explains that in a verifiable survey 38% of pregnant Native American women on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota suffered miscarriages due to uranium mining on their land. Corporations run by men own the mines but they use Navajos to do the labor.

Empirical research identifies women’s strong environmental sensibilities. Kari Norgaard and Richard York write in the journal Gender & Society that “Nations with higher proportions of women in Parliament are more prone to ratify environmental treaties than are other nations”

(Norgaard, 2005, p. 506). The authors note in their narrative the accurate generalization that in “an unequal society” the impact of “environment degradation” tends to fall “disproportionately on the least powerful”; hence females have been “uniquely and disproportionately affected by ecological destruction” (p. 507). Given this reality, and the fact that “the state is both capitalist and patriarchal” — hence, power is gendered and women are usually on the outside looking in — adds up to the unavoidable fact that “sexism and environmental degradation are interconnected processes” (Norgaard, 2005, p. 508). As to the empirical data to prove their contentions, the authors reference existing studies prior to laying out their own data. For example: a) Szagun and Pavlov (1995) researched and found that Russian and German girls had “higher levels of environmental awareness that boys”; b) in Australia, girls showed a higher level of “environmental responsibility” than boys did when socioeconomic levels were held constant; c) in Norway, research by Standbu and Skogen (2000) discovered that while boys and girls indicated similar interests when it comes to ecology and the environment, “girls were more likely to join environmental organizations”; and d) research by Navarro (1998) and others showed similar findings (more girls joining environmental organizations than boys) in Spain. (Norgaard, 2005, p. 509).

Since women both perceive environmental risks “as greater” and are “less willing to impose these risks on others” then, the authors assert, if women can achieve a “higher status” within states, it surely will lead to “more environmentally progressive policies” once women put their “views and values” into action (Norgaard, 2005, 509). Meanwhile, by using the scale that was developed by Roberts and Vasquez (2002) the authors have come up with some fascinating empirical data. To wit, in most cases their research shows that the higher the percentage of women in Parliament (or other designation for a representative political structure), the higher the ranking in the “state environmentalism” category.

In Sweden, 42.7% of Parliament is female and the country ranks 10th of out the 19 nations studied in terms of positive environmental laws. Denmark’s women hold 37.4% of the seats in Parliament and that ranks them #3 out of the 19 states. Norway is close to Denmark in percentage of women in Parliament (36.4%; they ranked 4th in elected females) and Norway ranks 7th in environmentally responsible legislative efforts. The Netherlands ranks 5th in percentage of females in Parliament (36% are women) and it ranks 2nd of the 19 nations in “state environmentalism” (Norgaard, 2005, p. 512).

Incidentally the United States is ranked 11th when it comes to good environmental stewardship and only 13.3% of the U.S. Congress is female. The data provided by Norgaard and York clearly shows that when women have political / legislative power, smarter environmental policies and laws are in greater abundance.

At the same time feminists are working to mitigate environmental abuses they may need to learn some pivotal ecological lessons from nature. Nineteen years ago professor Sue V. Rosser published a piece (“Lessons for Feminism from Ecology”) that is as thoroughly relevant to the theme of ecofeminism today as it was ahead of its time in1991. Rosser’s piece notes that feminists had hitherto used the “lens of gender” to critique the degree to which “androcentric bias” — a bias that assumes males are the dominant force and females are relegated to a sub-level — has twisted the practice and concepts of science. More recently, she asserts, ecofeminists have “extended this critique to ecology”

(Rosser, 1991, p. 143). and, Rosser continues, while male domination has precipitated the exploitation of both women and the environment it seems an appropriate time to explore what the theories and methods of ecology might contribute “to the critique of feminism” (Rosser, 1991, p. 143).

Moreover, the global neglect of women (in terms of science) is reflected in the fact that women have been excluded as experimental subjects in drug research, Rosser continues. Certainly pregnant women have been excluded from experiments with pesticides and radioactive materials, but beyond that Rosser explains that “these drugs and materials are then used without ever having been tested on women” (1991, p. 143). And yet notwithstanding their exclusion from testing, women’s research has led to a vast resource of knowledge vis-a-vis the natural environment.

To wit, Rachel Carson correctly extrapolated the deadly effects on the environment due to agricultural pesticides (DDT in particular), and in fact changed the way the government approached pesticides (1991, p. 144). Indeed, Carson’s books (“Silent Spring,” “Under the Sea-Wind,” and others) had an enormous impact on the nation’s grasp of environmental dangers and led eventually to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ellen Swallow Richards is credited with developing the evaporation tests for “volatile oils” — and her work has become the world standard (called the “Normal Chlorine Map”). Her standard is used to detect pollution caused by humans, cities and industry; indeed, Rosser goes on, Richards’ innovation led to the very first food laws and water purity measurements in the U.S. (1991, p. 144).

The point of bringing these women’s accomplishments into her scholarly spotlight is to show that when women succeed in important research ventures their success is nearly always linked to science in a positive, helpful way. Their important work, Rosser points out, has aimed to “eliminate research that leads to the exploitation and destruction of nature” and also seeks to reverse trends that lead to “the destruction of the human race and other species, and that justifies the oppression of people because of race, gender, class, sexuality or nationality” (Rosser quoting Bleier, 1991, p. 144).

In spite of the fact that women tend to be neglected on a global level with reference to their ability to affect policies and governments, they nonetheless have authored research projects that challenge and change the damage done to the natural environment done by male “leaders” and politicians.

Another example Rosser uses is how housewife Lois Gibbs — with nothing more than a high school diploma — made a very positive discovery relative to the toxic dangers at the Love Canal in New York State. Her science, her ability to rally people to her cause, and her perseverance let the State of New York to recognize that illnesses were in fact caused by the toxic waste in the Love Canal. The state and federal government ended up buying all the homes in the Love Canal area (Rosser, 1991, p. 144).

The salient point taken from Rosser’s work is that ecofeminists have made “explicit” the link between “the domination of women and of the environment through the androcentrism of modern science” (p. 144). She carries the point to another level by positing that while science and ecology have learned — and benefited — a great deal from feminism, what, in turn, can feminism learn from ecology and science? (p. 144). As an illustration of her point, Rosser first goes into great detail criticizing previous feminist movements for being mainly concerned with the lives and viewpoints of middle class, white women — and largely ignoring, or seemingly so, those women of diversity from third world nations and other cultures.

Indeed, working class women, clerical women, and housewives have felt left out because many middle class white women have “exploited feminism for their own career advancement to the exclusion of other women” (Rosser, 1991, p. 148). That having been said, Rosser insists that to be truly relevant, feminists must be more like creatures in the natural world (learning from science). Those white, middle class, educated feminists must eschew elitism; they must change and interact with women of all socioeconomic and political leanings. Feminists must adapt to this larger world of women that are not like them, just as the creatures in the natural world adapt to radical changes in their environment.

This is the crux of her poignant analogy: for example, when earthquakes, volcanoes and other “natural phenomena” produce new and “uninhabited” land, soon a new species will evolve and establish a niche, and even thrive. The classic example of this kind of adaptation is the finches on Galapagos Islands, a species that was originally documented by Charles Darwin and later made dramatic adaptive adjustments to other totally new ecosystems (Rosser, 1991, p. 149). In summarizing Rosser’s narrative, the author (at the time she wrote her essay she was director of women’s studies and professor of family and preventative medicine) believes that while ecological theory has certainly benefited from feminist research and critiques, so too can feminist theory benefit from critiques “based on the principles of ecological theory” (Rosser, 1991, p. 149). Her 1991 position is plausible, plainly stated and a valuable contribution to the discussion of ecofeminism.

Chapter Two: What are the core differences between various scholarly positions on the subject of ecofeminism?

Going after understanding rather than theory. Activist and author Marti Kheel writes that ecofeminists have “by and large,” decided not to join the search for an “environmental ethic” or “savior theory”

(Kheel, 1993, p. 243). Kheel, writing seventeen years ago, asserts that the “vast majority” of ecofeminist writings up to the time of her essay reveals “a tendency to concentrate on exposing the underlying mentality of exploitation that is directed against women and nature within the patriarchal world” (p. 243). This criticism of course may not stand the test of time, but still Kheel hammers on the theme that no one, single theory has been sought after, or is “expected to emerge,” as the “most powerful or compelling” ecofeminist theory (p. 243).

There is a good and plausible reason for the approach that ecofeminists have taken, Kheel is quick to point out on page 244. That is, prior to being in a position to change the “current destructive relation to nature” individuals must “understand the world view upon which this relation rests” (Kheel, 1993, p. 244). When ecofeminists come to grips with that above-mentioned understanding they may find the “disease that has infected the patriarchal mind” has no cure.

Meanwhile Pam Alldred and Sarah Dennison suggest that feminists — embracing their ecological analyses — tend “increasingly” toward theory, while hard-core environmentalist (male and female) turn more and more to action. The writers believe third wave feminism has gone well beyond demands for equality and criticisms of dominant values and into the field of eco-action.

The two ask pertinent questions in Feminist Review, queries that cry out for further understanding because they depart from other feminist analyses. For example, they wonder if perhaps feminism has made such powerful inroads into Britain’s political consciousness that the contributions of feminism “have been taken on board in current movements”?

And if that is so, they continue, has the need for “specific feminist theory or politics” become ambiguous or irrelevant? This is a vastly different approach to ecofeminism; Dennison believes in fact that feminine analyses of environmental issues have been very important historically, and have helped “form eco-activism as it is today” (Alldred, et al., 2000, p. 124).

Alldred insists that the ecology movement has moved past the ignorance and chauvinistic negativity she witnessed at a campground session that was part of a protest sit-in a few years earlier. In that scene, there was “militaristic machismo and misogynistic campfire humor” which suggested to her that a coalition of ecofeminists and hard-core, radical ecologists could not be sustained (Alldred, 2000, p. 125). However, subsequent to that event, pro-feminist eco-warriors in England have endeavored to educate their colleagues of the need to work with ecofeminists for the greater good — preserving the natural world and educating the public about the need to be environmentally responsible, according to Alldred (p. 125).

Chapter Three: What ecofeminist positions are the most conclusive and plausible?

Plausible positions. Dianne Rocheleau and colleagues take the ecofeminism issue into a little different context, calling it “a new conceptual framework”: “feminist political ecology”

(Rocheleau, et al., 1996, p. 4). The “new” part of this approach to ecofeminism is explained in three themes: a) “gendered knowledge” (this includes the creation, maintenance, and protection of healthy environments “at home, at work, and in regional ecosystems”; in other words, environmental activism should begin in the home); b) “gendered environmental rights and responsibilities” (this includes property, resources, space “and all the variations of legal and customary rights that are “gendered”); and c) Rocheleau calls this theme “gendered environmental politics and grassroots activism” (by this the author alludes to women’s new and vigorous activism in the “collective struggles” regarding the natural resources of the world and the need to protect them.

Applying new titles to the theme of ecofeminism is the author’s way of finding a better means of bringing these issues into focus. The bottom line reality that women must face in the U.S. is that while quality of life issues (toxic waste disposal, environmental justice for companies that pollute, food contamination and genetically engineered food, and workplace hazards due to environmental problems) are very important for ecofeminists here, in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, environmental issues are linked to survival (Rocheleau, 1996, p. 10). For example, the women’s Chipko movement in the Himalayas focuses on protecting the forests and watersheds in the lower altitudes of the Himalayas — and this is every bit as environmentally crucial to that culture as toxic waste disposal is to ecofeminists in the U.S.

Moreover, the ecofeminism movement in Africa (Kenya) is concentrating on planting trees and the conservation of wildlife in the face of constant poaching by lawbreakers trying to earn money any way they can. Meanwhile, though women have proven to be far better stewards than men in Africa, women lost influence in Kenya when first the colonial government, then the newly independent government issued land reform policies that excluded women from resources they traditionally held title to. Here again is the crux of the problem and the reason that ecofeminism is valid in terms of research within the movement and decisions / policies put forward by the movement. Women previously had rights and access to lands in Kenya; they understood what stewardship truly is. But when a new policy was put into place that kept women out of the conservation picture in Kenya, that privatization of those lands has led to “destruction of forests, grasslands, water resources and soils” (Rocheleau, 1996, p. 11).

It is plausible and reasonable, Rocheleau implies, to vigorously object to gender-themed political decisions made in nations and regions that exclude women and hence slow down those feminine-based movements designed to replenish forests and water resources. In Eastern Europe and in the Balkans — similarly to what has taken place in Africa — political “reforms” have turned land over to “traditional patriarchs and male heads of household” and in the process have excluded women (Rocheleau, 1996, p. 11).

Rocheleau’s point about “gendered knowledge” is pertinent relative to the problems occurring in Gambia. Indeed, political decisions about land and labor rights have “destroyed the women’s traditional floodplain fields” (p. 11) in Gambia. These political decisions and policies in Gambia also altered the rules governing men’s and women’s cropping systems and hence, “serious conflicts” broke out at the household and community levels. Reading through Rocheleau’s narrative, the gender-related problem at any level in any country continues to sound the same; e.g., either “women’s rights are often nested within rights controlled by men,” or women hold rights to resources “that are allocated by men’s institutions or organizations” (for example, men’s cooperatives, clans, lineages, and political committees) (p. 12).

“Why women? Why now?” In Rocheleau’s viewpoint, if women have less authority and power when it comes to issues “about” the environment, it is due to the fact that those issues are “inherently political” and certainly not “politically neutral” (p. 15). Access to and power over existing environmental resources are “inextricably linked to the position of people by gender, race, class and culture,” Rocheleau continues; hence there are three action structures for ecofeminists who are active or planning on become active, as outlined in Rocheleau’s essay. They are: a) Policy and environmental management issues (the focus here is on problems, policies and hazards that pose potential harm to towns, people, and households); b) distribution of and access to resources that are in decline environmentally (on a global level groups are uniting and agreeing on policies that allow the sharing and management of local resources such as gardens, capital, and important informational sources); and c) political change and environmental sustainability (sometimes the problem is attacked simply because there is “environmental and economic impoverishment” but as women organize they soon “come to the sharp realization of the politics of survival”) (Rocheleau, 1996, p. 17).

Plausible positions. Rosemary Radford Ruether, referenced in an earlier chapter and considered a giant in this genre, explains that some feminists object vigorously to “any link between the domination of women and that of nature” (Ruether, 2005, p. 92). Ruether explains that those above-mentioned feminists see this link as “reduplicating the basic patriarchal fallacy that women are closer to and more like nonhuman nature than men” (p. 92). Those feminists put forward the view that women need to “claim their equal humanity” with males, and fight for their “parallel capacity for rationality and leadership,” according to Ruether’s thinking (p. 92). They indeed believe that like the male gender, women are “separate from and called to rule over nature”; however, this suggested solution to the subordination of women would conclude with “a few elite women” being assimilated into “the male master class, without changing the basic hierarchies of the ruling class over dominated humans and nonhumans” (Ruether, 2005, p. 92).

Conclusive evidence that ecofeminism has a poor reputation among some feminists.

There is no possible way that those who adhere to traditional first wave or second wave feminist movements will automatically embrace any offshoot or aspect of feminism — such as ecofeminism. There will always be reluctance to accept a new formula or theme that is an apparent restructuring of old formulas and themes; it just isn’t in the nature of social change movements to allow the new “kid on the block” to have the floor. Meanwhile, Noel Sturgeon, professor of women’s studies at Washington State University, writes that ecofeminism “reworks a longstanding feminist critique” pointing to the “naturalization of an inferior social and political status for women” which includes the effects on the “environment of feminizing nature”

(Sturgeon, 1997, p. 24). However, though ecofeminism is both substantive and complex in terms of being a political phenomenon, and though it is a generally popular movement that projects valid and “far-reaching goals,” it has a “poor reputation” (Sturgeon, 1997, p. 24).

Why the poor reputation among some academic feminists, a fair share of mainstream environmentalist and even “some environmental activists of color”? Sturgeon explains using several approaches. Since the American society is — in many ways — anti-nature (our culture is supposedly superior to nature), Sturgeon asserts that relating to women as “more natural” or closer to the natural world “dooms them to an inferior position” (p. 30). Traditional feminists want no part of inferior positions, hence they are reticent in many instances to accept ecofeminism; “ecofeminist theory remains in a tenuous relation to feminist theory,” Sturgeon continues (p. 31). Additionally, ecofeminism is viewed by many as a “feminist rebellion within radical environmentalism” and notwithstanding the common ground — vis-a-vis protecting the planet — between radical environmentalists and ecofeminists, “feminists had to challenge both male leadership and patriarchal thinking in order to make room for a feminist analysis and presence” (Sturgeon, 1997, p. 31).

Feminism and the mastery of nature: plausible. It is indeed particularly ironic for the late environmentalist / ecofeminist Val Plumwood to publish a book with the phrase “master of nature” in the title. Plumwood was certainly anything but a master of nature as she went canoeing alone in 1985 in Australia. A large crocodile attacked her canoe and seized her “between the legs in a red-hot pincer grip,” whirling her into a “death roll” underwater, into the “suffocating wet darkness”

(Plumwood, 1986, p. 3). She briefly escaped, but the crocodile grabbed her again and once more thrust her underwater. After finally escaping its hideously sharp teeth and steel-trap-strong jaws, Plumwood saw that her “left thigh hung open, with bits of fat, tendon, and muscle showing”; she also sustained severe damage to her groin area, but eventually was rescued, hospitalized, and was considered healthy until she passed away of natural causes in 2000.

On page 17 of her book, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Plumwood offers a series of quotes from various noted authors and philosophers in order to set the stage for her position on ecofeminism: a) “A woman is but an animal and an animal not of the highest order”

(Burke 1989: 187); b) “Women represent the interests of the family and sexual life; the work of civilization has become more and more men’s business” (Freud 1989: 80); and c) “A necessary object, woman, who is needed to preserve the species or to provide food and drink” (Aquinas 1989: 183) (Plumwood, 1993, p. 19).

Getting down to the heart of her position on ecofeminism, Plumwood is certainly plausibly perceptive when she insists that “many forms of feminism need to put their own house in order” before passing judgment on ecofeminists (p. 23). Feminists are correct when they assert that “women cannot be handed the main burden of ecological morality”; in particular, asking women to “carry the world’s ills in recognition of motherly duty” is unconscionable because it “misconceives the power of the private household” (Plumwood, 1993, p. 23).

Chapter Four: Socialist feminists vs. ecofeminists: discussion and debate.

Kate Soper on Mary Mellor. In her 1992 essay “Eco-Feminism and Eco-Socialism: Dilemmas of Essentialism and Materialism,” Kate Soper takes on some of the assertions made by prominent feminist socialist Mary Mellor.

In the first place, Mellor, and other feminists who may or may not embrace a Marxist/socialist point-of-view, find the “woman-nature” link a bit on the condescending side; that is not news at all since it has been a bone of contention in the feminist literature for many years. Why? Simply because using “woman” and “nature” and “biology” in the same argument seems to imply maternal and nurturing roles (Soper, 1992, p. 112), limiting females to domesticity and out of the loop of mainstream politics and policy.

However, as Soper points out, Mellor wants to have it both ways. To wit, she disapproves of the idea of any spiritual affinity between women and nature but she approves of comments by writers (Kelly, Gilligan, et al.) that support the legitimation of “women” connected with “nature” in a way that Soper says gives credibility to the confinement of women “to maternal and nurturing roles” (Soper, 1992, p. 112).

If this argument seems to be more about semantics than substance, the alert reader is obliged to dig through the rhetoric to pin down where Soper’s real objections reside. On page 113 of her critique on an earlier article by Mellor, Soper states that on the one hand Mellor insists socialist feminists should take into account the “materialist” analysis (women are the primary caretakers of the young); but on the other hand Mellor explains that the “materialist” approach must target the “exploitation of women” that has been perpetrated through women’s “cultural construction into the nurturing role,” and the socialist / feminist’s political agenda must be directed toward “dismantling this conventional division of labor” (Soper, 1992, pp. 112-113).

According to Soper, Mellor believes the only strategy that makes sense is to “prioritize” the woman’s nurturing role and hence “relieve women of the imposed altruism of their nurturing and caring work” (Soper, 1992, p. 113). In this reference, altruism applies to a woman’s loving, caring and nurturing of her children, hence Soper views Mellor’s position as an equivocation, or a circular argument that ends up where it started. Yes, women are the essential caretakers of their offspring, but why should a mother’s role as nurturer limit her participation in environmental activism — notwithstanding radical feminist views that somehow a mother’s image restricts her involvement with politics and policies vis-a-vis environmentalism.

More on Mellor. Interviewed by Tracy Sorensen of the journal Green Left in Australia, Mellor sheds a bit more clarity on the concept of “imposed altruism” (Sorensen, 1991, p. 2). She ties imposed altruism to a woman’s obligation to that limits her opportunity to do what men do. “Women’s lives are based on the idea of unboundaried time. Someone has to be availableto drop all they are doing, drop their own needs, in order to take care of the needs of others” (Sorensen, 1991, p. 3). Men on the other hand can simply leave behind those things that need to keep families and children sustained because they know women will pick up the slack, Mellor said. Mellor continued:

“Therefore men can behave and act to construct society as if we are not biological creatures, as if we don’t have needs which can occur at any time. And therefore they construct a world that does not take account of that. As a consequence, that world has been able to develop mechanisms, structures, that are destructive of human existence and destructive of the natural world” (Sorenson, 1991, p. 3).

The message Mellor delivers is clear; men have had the time and the inclination to become politically active and ultimately mesh with powerful decision makers who wreak havoc on a natural world that women are left out of for the most part.

Chapter Five: Religion and Ecofeminism.

Author Heather Eaton offers some stark and dark reviews of the Bible and of Christianity to set the table for her discussion of ecofeminism and religion. Eaton explains that Christianity has played an important role in the “dual subjugation of women and the natural world”; indeed, it is “undeniable,” Eaton asserts, that Christianity was “a key player” in early society’s oppression of women and the domination of the natural world

(Eaton, 2005, p. 64). Eaton is not just alluding to the history of Christianity but also she implies that those who believe in a literal translation of the Bible today tend to also support the subjugation of women and the environment. Eaton in fact goes beyond mere accusations and provides examples of how Christianity led to the “negation and domination of the natural world” at the same time it was oppressing women with misogynist policies and attitudes (p. 64). Daughters in the Bible, and “extra wives,” are “considered to be property, given away as dowry, or as concubines to men,” Eaton explains on page 64. When a man in a Biblical story wishes to extend “hospitality” to a male friend, that man often provided his daughter “to be raped”; moreover, wives were returned to “brothers, fathers or uncles if they are widowed” (Eaton, 2005, p. 64).

Certainly, Eaton is quick to qualify, there are “liberating motifs” in the bible (justice, freedom, positive options for those in poverty) and Jesus is largely portrayed as offering constructive policies for women. However, there is also a legacy of misogyny and environmental abuse in the Bible and in the history of Christianity, she insists. The reason she brings the subject up is that today’s present “ecological crisis” has created the need for a “new context for theology” and religions, for the most part (not just Christianity) are “not equipped to respond” to the very serious environmental crises challenging governments and cultures (pp. 67-68). That having been said, Eaton goes on to insist that “all world religions” deal with the interactions between humans, the natural world and spirituality (or, “the Devine”), and hence those world religions should use their “prophetic voices, claims for justice, notions of revelation, rituals, symbols and languages of the Sacred” toward a goal of ecological sustainability” (p. 68).

The reshaping of theology in order to “adequately address ecological and feminist concerns” should be on the plate of every thinking, caring religious leader, Eaton writes on page 72. The “core issues” that are raised when ecofeminism encounters theology include: a) ecofeminists and theologians should locate those passages in the Bible that “negate ecological destruction and promote responsibility”; b) leaders in faith-based organizations (in cooperation with ecofeminists) should eschew denominational dogma and instead emphasize “earth-centered” issues (the earth is primary since no life and no religious faith can survive or flourish without a healthy earth); and c) the Bible, and other religious documents (the Koran, et al.) should be seen as sacred texts springing from human history, not necessarily as guideposts reflecting how the Earth should be treated today (Eaton, 2005, p. 74).

The Hebrew religion opened the door for social change. Christianity comes in for criticism in this paper, justifiably, but early Hebrews are to be praised for their relative enlightenment well before the appearance of Christ on the planet. Janet Biehl writes that the ancient Hebrew religion separated the “Divine” from nature. Hence, in a “truly extraordinary” step the ancient Hebrews made the social order “secular, human” and subject to improvement through change and human agency (Biehl, 1991, p. 62). In other words, if ancient Hebrews raised injustices against nature and women, religious leaders could not (and probably did not) say it was “God’s will” that caused the bias or unfairness to exist. It was the work of man.

The initial launch of ecofeminism. Carolyn Merchant’s influential book, the Death of Nature, published in 1993, is considered “one of the founding texts for the articulation of ecofeminism”

(Thompson, 2006, p. 506). In Merchant’s book however the renowned author cautions that while ecofeminism seeks to give women more power in their countries — to presumably pass earth-friendly laws — “no one set of values can be assumed to benefit all women (equally),” according to Thompson’s critique of Merchant (p. 510). Moreover, visions of nature that place it in a “pristine” light have been employed — “implicitly and explicitly” — in laws that turn out to be “deeply sexist, racist” and anti-immigration in substance, Thompson points out (p. 510). The salient them of Thompson’s critique is that “not all ecological visions” match ecofeminism and in fact not all environmental laws “apply to women equally” (p. 510). And as to the reason many feminists have been considered a bit tardy to the ecofeminist movement, Thompson asserts that many “prominent feminist theorists” come through the scholarship of the “humanities” (social studies, psychology, history, and literature) and “somehow the high humanities more or less missed out on the environment” (p. 511). For those feminist scholars that either ignored or otherwise were distracted from the environment, Thompson offers a Merchant quote that should be a watchword for the future of ecofeminism: It is necessary, Merchant insists, to “re-examine the formation of a world view and a science that, by reconceptualizing reality as a machine rather than a living organism, sanctioned the domination of both nature and women”

(Merchant, 1990, p. xxi).


Alldred, Pam, and Dennison, Sarah, 2000, ‘Eco-Activism and Feminism: Do Eco-Warriors and Goddesses Need it?’, Feminist Review, No. 63, 124-127.

Biehl, Janet, 1991, Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics, South End Press, Cambridge MA.

Eaton, Heather, 2005, Introducing Ecofeminist Theologies, Continuum International Publishing Group, New York.

Kheel, Marti, 1993, ‘From Heroic to Holistic Ethics: The Ecofeminist Challenge’, in Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature, G. Gaard Ed., Temple University Press: New York.

Mellor, Mary, 1997, ‘New woman, new earth — Setting the agenda’, Organization & Environment, Vol. 10, Issue 3, 296-309.

Merchant, Carolyn, 1990, the Death of Nature, Harper & Row: San Francisco.

Norgaard, Kari, and York, Richard, 2005, ‘Gender Equality and State Environmentalism’, Gender and Society, Vol. 19, No. 4, 506-522.

Plumwood, Val, 1993, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Taylor & Francis, New York.

Plumwood, Val, 1985, ‘Prey to a crocodile’, Aisling Magazine, retrieved July 20, 2010, from http://www.aislingmagazine.com.

Rocheleau, Dianne, Thomas-Slayter, Barbara P., and Wangari, Ester, 1996, Feminist Political Ecology: Global Issues and Local Experiences, Routledge, New York.

Rosser, Sue V., 1991, ‘Eco-Feminism: Lessons for Feminism from Ecology’, Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 14, No. 3, 143-151.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford, 2005, Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization, and World Religions: Nature’s Meanings, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD.

Soper, Kate, 1992, ‘Eco-Feminism and Eco-Socialism: Dilemmas of essentialism and materialism’. Capitalism Nature Socialism, Vol. 3, No. 3, 111-114.

Sorensen, Tracy, 1991, ‘Mary Mellor’s search for an eco-feminist socialism’, Green Left, retrieved July 19, 2010, from http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/843.

Thompson, Charis, 2006, ‘Back to Nature? Resurrecting Ecofeminism after Poststructuralist and Third-Wave Feminisms’, Isis, Vol. 97, 505-512.

Warren, Karen, and Erkal, Nisvan, 1997, Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

M. Mellor, 1997, ‘New woman, new earth — Setting the agenda’, Organization & Environment, vol. 10, issue 3, p. 297.

R. Ruether, 2005, Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization, and World Religions, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD.

K Warren and N. Erkal, 1997, Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, p. 5.

K. Norgaard and R. York, 2005, ‘Gender Equality and State Environmentalism’, Gender & Society, vol. 19, no. 4, p. 506.

S. Rosser, 1991, ‘Eco-Feminism: Lessons for Feminism from Ecology’, Women’s Studies International Forum, vol. 14, no. 3, p. 143.

M. Kheel, 1993, ‘From Heroic to holistic Ethics: The Ecofeminist Challenge’, in Ecofeminism: Women, animals, Nature, G. Gaard Ed., Temple University Press, Philadelphia, p. 243.

A. Alldred and S. Dennison, 2000, ‘Eco-Activism and Feminism: Do Eco-warriors and Goddesses Need it?’ Feminist Review, no. 64, p. 124.

D. Rocheleau, et al., 1996, Gender and Environment: A Feminist Political Ecology Perspective, Routledge, New York.

N. Sturgeon, 1997, Ecofeminist Natures: Race, Gender, Feminist Theory, and Political Action, Routledge, New York.

V. Plumwood, 1986, ‘Prey to a crocodile’, Aisling Magazine, retrieved July 20, 2010, from http://www.aislingmagazine.com.

V. Plumwood, 1993, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, New York, Taylor & Francis.

K. Soper, 1992, ‘Eco-Feminism and Eco-Socialism: Dilemmas of Essentialism and Materialism’, Capitalism Nature Socialism, vol. 3, no. 3, p. 112.

H. Eaton, 2005, Introducing Ecofeminist Theologies, Continuum International Publishing Group, New York.

J. Biehl, 1991, Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics, South End Press: Cambridge, MA, p. 63.

C. Thompson, 2006, ‘Back to Nature? Resurrecting Ecofeminism after Poststructuralist and Third-Wave Feminisms’, Isis, vol. 97, p. 506).

C. Merchant, 1990, the Death of Nature, Harper & Row, San Francisco.

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