Ecofeminist Literary Criticism

By Britany Bach

Ecofeminism is a social and political movement that focuses on the oppression of women and nature as they are interrelated.  The term–often attributed to Francoise d’Eaubonne’s 1974 essay, “feminism ou le mort”– actually sprung up in many locations through dialogues among feminist and environmental thinkers and activists, who recognized conceptual and material connections between the oppression of women and the mistreatment of the natural world.  Since its early origins in 1980s activisms, ecofeminist philosophers of the 1990s branched out to explore the interconnections between sexism, the supremacy of culture over nature, racism and social inequalities.  So now, ecofeminism is not only concerned with the dominations of gender and nature, but also race and class.

Ecofeminism is important because it shows how environmental policies impact our everyday lives.  Women, children, working class individuals, poor people and people of color are the most powerless populations and their rights to health should be protected.  To further this notion, research has shown that women are the ones who are first affected by ecological degradation and atmospheric.  Environmental awareness and environmental health are crucial; political, economic, and social changes are needed to help bring about this awareness.

What are the Causes for Change?

By re-evaluating history, ecofeminist writers have formed conclusions for the change of man’s relationship with women and the environment.  Here are a few examples.

  • Some spiritual Ecofeminists believe that there was a time in history, around 250,000 years ago, when cooperation was valued, not competition, and that women were extensively worshipped in society.
  • Chellis Glendinning believes that humanity’s separation from nature occurred 20,000 years ago when humans evolved from hunters and gatherers to domesticating plants and animals.
  • Others think the relationship changed after the 18th Century European Enlightenment, when scientific and cultural transformations took place.

Why is there a perceived connection between women and nature?

                                    For example, mother nature, Gaia (Greek Mythology).

“Throughout history nature is portrayed as feminine and women are often thought of as closer to nature than men.  Women’s physiological connection with birth and child care have partly led to this close association with nature.  The menstrual cycle, which is linked to lunar cycles, is another example of closeness to nature’s rhythms,” (The Green Fuse/Topics).

The Western Culture

 In the Western Culture, women are valued as less than men, and nature is inferior to culture.  Most times humans perceive themselves to have no connection with nature; this lack of connection causes humans to abuse the environment.

Hierarchy of value

1. God

2. Man

3. Woman

4. Children

5. Animals

6. Nature

This hierarchy of value demonstrates both sexism and speciesim; woman and nature are inferior to man.

An Example

Vandana Shiva, an Environmental Activist and Ecofeminist, shares an example to further the understanding of the relationship between women and nature.  In doing so, she draws a picture of a stream in a forest.  Shiva believes that this stream is unproductive since it is simply there.  Although the water from the stream is used by the women’s families and communities, it is not considered “productive” until engineers come in and generate hydropower from the stream.

Through this she illustrates how society views productivity, economic gain.  Shiva furthers this by stating that both women and nature are considered passive, “land” in which man owns.

 Toward an Ecofeminist Standpoint Theory: Bodies as Grounds

“We are a culture generally deaf to both our bodies and the rest of material life, deaf at an increasing cost,” (Slicer, 61).

“It is nonsense to assume that women are any closer to nature than men.  The point is that women’s reproductive labor and such patriarchal assigned work roles as cooking and cleaning bridge men and nature in a very obvious way, and one that is denigrated by patriarchal culture.  Mining or engineering work similarly is a transaction with nature.  The difference is that this work comes to be mediated by language of domination that ideologically reinforces masculine identity as powerful, aggressive, and separate over and above nature.  The language that typifies a woman’s experience, in contrast, situates her along with nature itself.  She is seen, and accordingly sees herself, as somehow part of it.  Although men and women both wear historically manufactured identities, in times of ecological devastation, the feminine one is clearly the more wholesome human attitude,” (Slicer, 52-53)

“The earth is not a woman, not a single body but millions,” (Gaard, 13).

 

Discussion Questions

1.)  In Slicer’s Standpoint section, it is stated that, “The claim of ‘epistemic privilege’ amounts to claiming that members of an oppressed group have a more immediate, subtle, and critical knowledge about the nature of their oppressions that people who are nonmembers of an oppressed group,” (50).  What do you think about this claim? Are members from the “superior” group unable to understand nature, or build the same connection oppressed groups have previously made?

2.) Slicer’s third section, analyzes Jane Smiley’s novel A Thousand Acres.  The connection of the female body and nature is evident throughout the piece, focusing on the relationship between three females and their father (Larry Cook).  In one section it says, “When Larry, like Lear, suddenly decides to divide his kingdom among his appropriately obedient daughters, it becomes painfully obvious that Ty has been dreaming of this sort of inheritance all along.  The women’s bodies, like the body of the land, come to matter, come to meaning—in this ancient patriarchal system of exchange,” (63).  How do you perceive this statement?  Do women have control of their bodies, or does the power go from the father to the husband (similar to the land)?

Videos

Ecofeminism and the Green Belt Movement http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DM0275Uqiho

Information on the Green Belt Movement http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/a.php?id=178

And Ecofeminist Perspective http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NQbMVyPzRg

Work Cited

            “Ecofeminism.” The Green Fuse/Topics. Web. 27 Apr. 2011.           <http://www.thegreenfuse.org/ecofem.htm&gt;.

“Ecofeminism.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 27 Apr. 2011.             <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecofeminism&gt;.

“Ecofeminism: Women and the Environment.” Feminist Majority Foundation. Web. 27 Apr.         2011. <http://www.feministcampus.org/fmla/printable-       materials/women_environment.pdf>.

“YouTube – Ecofeminism and the Green Belt Movement.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Web.    27 Apr. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DM0275Uqiho&gt;.

“YouTube – TEDxGrandValley – Julia Mason – An Ecofeminist Perspective.” YouTube –    Broadcast Yourself. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NQbMVyPzRg&gt;.

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About envirolit

Professor of Environmental Literature
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One Response to Ecofeminist Literary Criticism

  1. Ross Wolfe says:

    I recently wrote a blog entry critiquing the Green environmental movement from a Marxist perspective. It covers the locavore and organic foods movement, deep ecology, permaculture, lifestyle politics (veganism, freeganism, etc.), ecofeminism, and “radical” environmentalism (Green anarchy, veganarchism, and anarcho-primitivism). I’d really like your feedback — comments, questions, or criticisms are welcome.

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