Does it work? Ecofeminism: building the bridge between Environmentalism and Feminism

Ecofeminism is a school of thought that on the surface combines the values of feminism and environmentalism: looking at the interconnections between nature, humans, and non-humans from an feminist ecological perspective. For ecofeminists like Greta Gaard, ecofeminism views the oppression on the basis of gender, class, race, species, sexuality, and mental/physical ability to be held by the same oppressor that dominates nature. For others, like Cecile Jackson, ecofeminism is derived from essentialist, ethnocentric, ahistorical, class-blind, ethnicity-blind, and all other oppression-blind thought.

With these two opposing views on ecofeminist thought, the question remains: does ecofeminism successfully combine feminism and environmentalism?

In terms of development, ecofeminism from Jackson’s viewpoint is essentialist and ethnocentric, especially in terms of women in the global south who deal with environmental issues that are more visible than those in the global north. Contending the idea that women are predisposed to be more “in tune” with nature or automatically have knowledge about nature that men do not have simply because they are women undermines feminism in that it enforces gender essentialism. Likewise, ecofeminists who try to speak for women who live in third world countries but do not live in third world countries themselves, fail to recognize the different implications for third world women’s seeming participation in environmental issues.

For instance, Jackson uses the culture in Zimbabwe to exemplify how women may not willingly participate in either “sustainable” activities or having to endure the effects of climate change due to their position as caretakers in the global south, but that sometimes men are the ones increasingly being responsible for gathering firewood or women’s relationship to the land in their culture is more alienated than men and nature.

Does this mean that ecofeminism is akin to “white-streamed”/ “main-stream” feminism in that it purports a non-hierarchal structure where oppression is the same between humans, non-humans, and nature? Whittling down social justice and environmental justice as “because women are oppressed, nature is oppressed” and vice versa? Where women becomes a term that is homogenized without accounting for each woman’s (person’s) lived experience as different?

Ecofeminism as a tool to link the goals of feminism and environmentalism recognizes the different oppressions hindering humans, non-humans, and nature alike in opposition to Jackson’s belief that ecofeminism is oppression-blind. Gaard argues that ecofeminism is not a single based movement, instead ecofeminism needs to rely on coalition building strategies in order to fulfill its belief that liberation for oppressed groups have to be addressed simultaneously. In essence, ecofeminism embraces the ideology of intersectional feminism but with the inclusion of non-humans and nature as subjects who experience oppression as well.

Ecofeminism can embrace the ideals of resisting oppression for all but can also fall under the guise of counteracting intersectional feminism through essentialist and ethnocentric views. Those who find the women and nature connection to be essentialist, miss the idea that women and nature may not be inherently intertwined with one another, rather they share the same oppression and oppressor.

If you search up feminist environmentalism or environmentalist feminism, both lead you back to ecofeminism. However, in several articles concerning feminism there seems to be this divide between ecofeminism and feminist environmentalism/environmentalist feminism. The latter seem to like redacting themselves from ecofeminism due to its association with gender essentialism or just disagreeing or failing to understand ecofeminism. As if neither have the same goals by just replacing a label.

For those who believe that ecofeminism fails to address the needs of feminism and environmentalism in cohesion, what other alternatives are there for ecofeminism?

One suggestion comes from Stacy Alaimo and her analysis of Donna Haraway’s feminist cyborg — a metaphor that transgresses the human/nature divide. The embodiment of conflicting dualisms creates a space where the two can intermingle and in a way can work between their differing ideals in retaliation to systems of domination. In this way, breaching the divide between human and nature can allow agency for nature by depositing itself into conversation with its place in history alongside people.

But, what would transgressing the human/nature divide look like and how can it be an alternative to ecofeminism?

If we were to breach the human/nature divide, we would first have to recognize nature as its own actor but also how nature is in us as people. We would have to look past nature as a passive resource or something far beyond us as humans because in a way nature is also made by us.

Like how the labels of ecofeminism, feministic environmentalism, or environmentalistic feminism are somewhat interchangeable with somewhat the same goals, following Haraway’s metaphor for the feminist cyborg branches out into what else ecofeminism can be. There is still the goal of trying to address oppression undertaken by humans, non-humans, and nature and how to eliminate such oppression but instead of glorifying nature or turning environmental problems straight into people problems, coinciding human and nature as parts of each other instead of just women and nature can build a focus on addressing how to halt all the “-isms” (sexism, racism, classism, speciesism) at the same time — just how ecofeminism aspires.

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