I’d love to know what eco-feminism is. I know that’s a pretty basic question, but I think we’re going to have to start at the bottom and work our way up. Although I am a feminist myself, I have not really talked or heard a lot about eco-feminism.
What Are The Intersections
Outlandishly jargon-heavy notions of queer theory are twisted into conversation more readily than practical implementations for addressing eco-feminist concerns these days. Eco-feminism fuses political and philosophical ideologies that recognize the interconnectedness of feminism and environmentalism. Some academics quietly speculate eco-feminism is dead, while others claim the term “eco-feminism” retreated following backlash in the 1990s, but currently nests under framing which encapsulates facets of “gender and the environment.” So, is eco-feminism dead, or has it been refurbished under an opaque guise?
The eco-feminist movement recognized the connections between sex and gender, race, class, nation, ecology and human’s domination of nature and animals. Social-change organizations, activists and scholars generally resist labeling themselves as eco-feminists. Instead, activists merge environmentalism, and access to natural resources, with gendered interests, alongside international advocacy for women through policy making, economic, health and social justice. Eco-feminism can leverage a Gender and Development framing, international policy and economic scope, or a post-structuralist concern with identity across intersections of race, class and gender. Academics defy eco-feminism by framing their work along axises of “gender and the environment.”
The eco-feminist movement sprang to life in the 1970s on the axis of feminist research in philosophy in theory, ecology-and feminism-based social movements which subverted militarism, corporatism and nuclear power. Eco-feminism saw the same male-dominated institutions that oppressed women, as institutions that were also destroying the environment. In the late 1970s and into the 1990s, for instance, ecofeminists protested the nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire as part of a larger coalition that protested nuclear power plants across New England.Because eco-feminists viewed violence against women and the environment as inseparable, male-dominant institutions were simultaneously destroying women and the environment.
Feminist organizers in the ’80s exposed the cross-cultural and historical lineages of women’s persecution under male-dominated institutions. Some eco-feminists celebrated goddesses and spirituality as a cornerstone of togetherness and empowerment. Eco-feminism is a diverse discipline, held together by the shared idea that women and the Earth are innately connected.
One of the largest actions organized by grassroots eco-feminists was the Women’s Pentagon Actions in November 1980 and 1981. Two thousand women encircled the Pentagon, a nonviolent protest technique, and issued a two-pronged Unity Statement. The statement called for social, economic, reproductive rights for women, alongside demanding an end to the Cold War nuclear arms race, and the exploitation of the environment’s resources. The statement begins, “We are gathering at the Pentagon on November 17 because we fear for our lives. We fear for the life of this planet, our Earth, and the life of our children who are our human future…We have come here to mourn and rage and defy the Pentagon because it is the workplace of imperial power which threatens us all. Every day while we work, study, love, the colonels and generals who are planning our annihilation walk calmly in and out the doors of its five sides.”
Eco-feminists distinguished the U.S. military and medical industries as being particularly egregious offenders. Institutions such as American gynecology, foot binding, female genital mutilation, militarism culture were identified by eco-feminists as institutions which undermined peace and perpetuated a culture of fear. Feminist scholars contended that male-dominated institutions feminized women and the Earth. Eco-feminists speculated women and the earth were feminized as a dual method to legitimize violence and aggression of women’s bodies and as a channel to overwork the Earth’s resources. Eco-feminists anticipated the twofold protection of women’s health and conserving the environment as a way for the revival of a women’s language, spirit and intellectualism.
Eco-feminism gained momentum in the 1980s. By the end of the ’90s, however, critics pegged the movement as being contaminated by gender-essentialism, and therefore as anti-feminism. Gender-essentialism is the notion that biological sex and gender-roles are natural, reoccurring patterns that create the distinction between the dominant social understanding of men and women. Feminist critics of eco-feminism thought gender-essentialism undermined social change efforts, because it relied on biological notions that did not allow for an understanding of gender as constructed by social factors.
Post-structuralists and other third wave feminists dismissed all eco-feminists as unsophisticated and exclusively essentialist. Narratives of the goddesses spirituality were used as a testament of all eco-feminist’s illegitimacy. Emerging feminist thought exterminated eco-feminisms breadth and multi-pronged approaches with an oversimplified critique.
In the wake of recent environmental news and debates such as Hurricane Sandy, the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Alaskan Pebble copper mine, feminist initiatives should hold ground amidst bipartisan squabbling. The movements that establish a clear understanding of overlapping and interlocking inequalities reel tremendous power to dismantle the institutions and corporations who are destroying the lands, animals, ecosystem and peoples.
The revival of a movement that privileges environmentalism and women, with an addition of a collective understanding that undoing racism and classism are integral to environmentalism, can spark tangible, holistic earthly change. We need realistic directives, clear goals and parameters, and to understand eco-feminism’s history if we are to refuel eco-feminism.
Peace & luv,
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