Ecofeminism has become an increasingly important field in both contemporary feminist and environmental studies. Although, as Diamond and Orenstein note, ecofeminism is really ‘a new term for an ancient wisdom’ (Mies and Shiva 1993: 13), it first came to prominence in the early 1980s, its bases in feminist philosophy, environmental activism and the European and American peace movements of the late 1970s. The term itself was first used by Françoise d’Eaubonne in 1980 (Mies and Siva 1993: 13) and was increasingly adopted by both scholars and environmental activists. Organised in response to the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, the 1980 ‘Women and Life on Earth: A Conference on Eco-Feminism’ focused on ‘the connections between feminism, militarization, healing and ecology’ (Mies and Shiva 1993: 14). The adoption of the term had also been preceded by much women’s poetry and fiction in the 1960s and 70s, and has gained increasing prominence through the work of philosophers Val Plumwood and Karen Warren. It has also been adopted by other disciplines through the writing and activism of Arundhati Roy and Vandara Shiva.
Ecofeminism stresses the indissoluble connectedness – both physical and conceptual – of the earth itself, and all life on it. Humans, as a part of this community depend on earth and sea, and the life this generates for survival;but they are even more fundamentally of it,one component part of the living whole. As Val Plumwood notes, the basic interconnectedness of all matter and psyche is such a ‘truism’ that it is puzzling that it should need to be remarked at all. ‘But the reason why this message of continuity and dependency is so revolutionary in the context of the modern world is that the dominant strands of Western culture have for so long denied it, and have given us a model of human identity as only minimally and accidentally connected to the earth’ (Plumwood 1993: 6). Even though we all have a ‘formal knowledge of evolutionary biology’, this disconnection ‘remains deeply and fatally entrenched in modern conceptions of the human and of nature,’ continuing to ‘naturalize domination in both human and non-human spheres’ (1993: 6).
Ecofeminists, however, reject the notion that ‘man’s freedom and happiness depend on an ongoing process of emancipation from nature, and an independence from and dominance over natural processes by the power of reason and rationality’(Mies and Shiva 1993:6). The tenets of Enlightenment reason rely for their continuing power on a number of linked and hierarchized binarisms: nature and culture; black and white; civilization and savagery; the human and the animal. As Mies and Shiva argue,‘wherever women acted against ecological destruction or/and the threat of atomic annihilation, they immediately became aware of the connection between patriarchal violence against women, other people and nature’ (14). The ‘corporate and military warriors’ aggression against the environment was perceived almost physically as an aggression against our female body’ (14).
To stop the exploitation and despoliation of, in Plumwood’s phrase, the ‘more than human’ world, radical changes in Western and Westernderived capitalist thinking are required. Central to such rethinking is the dismantling of those dangerous and divisive dualisms of patriarchal economies whose modern roots in Western cultures are traceable to the dictates of reason.Reason is interrogated not, as Plumwood stresses, to instantiate the unreasonable, but to understand the historically and philosophically contingent bases of the subjugation of women, nonwestern people and the natural world.
Western rationality, which still assumes that the basis of human civilization consists in a progressive detachment from ‘nature’, also dominated the colonial period.The more closely associated with nature non-European peoples and women were considered to be, the more ‘inherently’ inferior they were; inferiority ensured and justified patriarchal/Western civilization’s destruction and domination of other lands and peoples. Land itself, cast as a female and ‘new’ to Europeans, was ‘ripe’ for conquering and taming.
The legacy of the dominant discourse, as ecofeminists recognize, is environmental devastation and on-going destruction of plants,animals and other subject peoples in the name of capitalist ‘progress’ identified as ‘civilization.’ Ecofeminism thus seeks to establish – or in the case of some colonized cultures,to re-establish,a sense of interconnectedness of being, through ontological change and political activism replicating the philosophy of connectedness in an amalgam of theory and practice. As its affirmation of the shared ground of all being suggests,ecofeminism (especially in the United States) has strong spiritual as well as political and scholarly dimensions;modern retrieval of the traditional confluence of material and spiritual being intimately connected to place and the earth in many pre-colonized cultures.
Source: Post-colonial Studies The Key Concepts Second edition Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, Routledge 2007.
Further reading: Mies and Shiva 1993; Plumwood 1993; Warren 2000.